Monday, October 13, 2008

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

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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 about 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.

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 never

said 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

prefers "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


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 "Backseat 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" CD.) Truth is,

no single McCartney show could possibly include even half

of the great songs he's written.

* * * *

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

any 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. [photographer 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 2008.]



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 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

(And 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 the 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 position.)

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, "Set him free." [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!" Mark my words.

* * * * *

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 hold

a joint press conference by the end of today saying

that Palin is no friend of the women's rights movement

and she 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 The 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 sub-heds 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 its 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: make sure to 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
states 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 -- real 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 nearly 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 hudreds 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 yesterday

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

[sll 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 had played 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 Caldecott 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



for April 17, 2008

The 'Gotcha' Debate

I just saw the ABC debate, in which four millionaires

who have top-notch health insurance talked for two

hours in prime time about everything except

health care reform. Or at least it seemed that way.

The short math is this: Hillary won the debate,

with Stephanopoulos coming in a close second,

Gibson third, and Obama fourth.

Thing is, Clinton has really grown to the point where

(now that she's losing) she finally seems like a

credible president. Too late. Too bad.

Obama seemed winded, weary, tired, on defense. The

Wright thing hurts him. The Ayers thing hurts him.

The flag lapel, Bittergate -- it all mounts up. Pretty

soon he looks pretty unelectable against McCain.

Gibson/Stephanopoulos seemed to be harder on Obama than on

Clinton, who they should've pursued on the sniper lie; the

question Steph should've asked but didn't is: what were

you confusing the Bosnia incident with?

The odd thing is that I began to think in mid-debate, gazing

at Obama, that he could very well become the most

unlikely general election winner in presidential history.

Reason I thought that is because they showed a clip

of McCain, who looked so old and creaky as he stumbled over

his words, and I felt that, with McCain's health problems, he

might become disabled by, say, a stroke, before

November and have to be replaced by his running mate,

probably Romney, who Obama could handily beat.

Just as Obama became a US Senator because of a

fluke -- remember how the main contender had to drop out

because of scandal, leaving the GOP to consider Mike Ditka as

a contender? -- so Obama could become president because

of the random nature of politics.

Anyway, Hillary has also become much more entertaining and got off

the best zingers of the night: Dick Cheney is the 4th branch

of government, this may be the first time a president

took us to war but refused to pay for it. I think that Crown

Royal has opened up whole new doors of perception for this

former Goldwater gal, who may yet be the nominee,

but probably won't.


If I were at NBC Entertainment, I'd immediately

start creating a new prime-time sitcom starring

Kristen Wiig (called "The Kristen Wiig Show" or

"The Kristen Wiig-Out!" or "Flip Your Wiig"

or something like that), in which the SNL

player would play a thirtysomething

nervous wreck in the style of some of the characters

she plays on SNL. It's becoming increasingly

obvious that in the constellation of stars

at SNL, she's outshining lots of 'em. (She nearly

brought down the house with her "just joking" bit

last week and with the "surprise party" sketch

from the previous week, and I'm still chuckling over

her Peter Pan; by the way, one of the magical things

about Penelope is the way she appears unexpectedly,

almost floatingly, in different parts of the master shot

throughout the sketch.) Just don't name it "The New

Adventures of the Old Kristen." Just joking.


Wow, the Daily Digression seems to be setting

trends these days -- or at least it's preceding

the coverage agenda in some publications.

For example, The Digression has been talking for

weeks about Obama being the new Dukakis and/or

Stevenson (I called him "Adlai Dukakis" the

other day). Now, in Maureen Dowd's latest

column in the New York Times, she makes the same

comparison (though, truth be told, I don't think

she's a Daily Digression reader).

Also, I wrote an interesting line the day before

yesterday in one of my Digressions:

"One predicts the future, to the meager degree that one

can, by looking at the past, not at the future," I wrote.

Nice line (if I should say so myself!).

In today's Times, I hear an echo: "By looking into history,

we can see the future," the paper quotes some

guy saying in today's paper in a story about a Tibet

museum; I'd love to hear the interview tape on

that one; I may be wrong but I

bet it's one of those things where the reporter is

virtually putting the words in the source's mouth,

i.e., "Why does history matter? Is it because that's

how we see the future?")

There are other examples, too, both at The Times and

at other publications, but I don't have time to

detail it; I'm too busy coming up with the stuff

they'll echo in coming days.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- You know, I hear there are expensive journalism

schools that offer courses like: "How to Get Away with

Plagiarism in a Completely Legitimate Way by Slightly

Modifying an Idea or a Sentence, Putting the Words in

Someone Else's Mouth or Rushing Stolen Ideas From

Obscure Sources into Print Before the Originator

Does: 101." If they don't offer that course,

it's learned by some on the job.



for April 16, 2008

Now More Than Ever, We Need an LBJ

Strong persuader.

It's about health care, stupid.

Because this has gone on too long. The impasse

feels permanent, and probably is.

In order to provide health insurance for the

48 million Americans without it, we need a president

who's an arm twister, a son-of-a-bitch,

someone who's gonna make threats and make good on

them, step on toes, be merciless -- and all in an

effective way.

We need an LBJ.

Remember Lyndon? He could be rude and coarse and a

bully, but He rammed major

civil rights legislation through the

Congress as president -- even if he had to make ugly

ultimatums about canceling that bridge project in your

district or had to get in your face as he thumped your

chest with his finger.

And his tactics are, frankly, the only way the

8 million uninsured kids in this country will

be able to see a doctor if they're sick. (I mean,

think of it: 47 million people. That's the entire

population of South Korea! The whole population of

England is only around 10 million more than that.)

Problem is, there is no LBJ, or anyone nearly as effective,

running for president this year.

Yeah, Hillary is feisty but more often merely mean (and sort

of weak), and she has already failed at pushing through

health care. Whatever her excuses, her legacy so far has

been one of ineffectiveness.

Obama is a strong persuader -- but it's discouraging and

telling that his golden oratory about health care has not

inspired the current Congress to pass a single payer plan

or anything close to it. One has to wonder whether he'd

fare any better as president.

John McCain sounds like someone who has been rich too

long to understand what a shrieking nightmare it is

not to have health insurance; perhaps if he

were forced to use only Clearasil to combat his next

bout of melanoma, or to use Listerine to treat his

root canal, he'd get it. (And don't tell me

about the deprivations of McCain's youth; that was

too many decades ago to be relevant today.)

The 44th president of the United States is not

likely to provide health care to the 47 million

uninsured, because there's just too much money in

the Health Care Industrial Complex. I mean, making

huge profits off of sick people is what the insurers

and Big Pharma do, which is why I'm surprised

there isn't more of a popular uprising

and revulsion about it.

It seems as if protest -- coupled with a sympathetic

president -- is the only way sick people are going

to get care in this country.

If activists would put aside relatively marginal issues

for a time to focus on the Big Kahuna, we might be able

to save lives. In other words, come down from your oaks

(once you've saved them), take your minds off gay marriage

and the WTO for a couple years, and unite and focus solely

on effective, extreme civil disobedience and protest

that target the health care moguls who are making money

off the sick. Find out where the CEOs of the top Pharm

companies and health insurance providers live, and then

organize big raucous protests in front of their mansions


If we can't get an LBJ in the White House in January,

then the people themselves will have to become the


But I digress. Paul

[above photo from Life magazine]



for April 15, 2008

I betcha Barack tries a cowboy hat next.

Yup, any day now I bet Obama's handlers

are gonna put him in a Stetson and have him

do a two-step to George Strait or maybe have him

croon some Toby Keith for YouTube consumption.

And he'd better do that or something like it quick,

because this race is quickly shaping into a contest

between Dwight Dole and Adlai Dukakis.

Unpopular truth be told, Barack was right when he

said people cling to religion and guns out of a sort of

bitterness or desperation. Yes, religion is the opiate

of the people (as you-know-who once put it),

the delusion of last resort for the hopeless. But

I don't expect that my own non-theistic views about

religion will become mainstream for another, oh, 400

years or so. Until the mysteries explained

away by science are accepted by people who haven't

studied science, which is to say most voters, religion

will continue to exert its irrational hold on the


How do I know that's likely to be true? By seeing how

far we've grown in 2008 from the literalist

Christianity rampant 400 years ago, in 1608, and then

extrapolating that trajectory into the next 400 years.

And the trajectory of the centuries is clearly in the

opposite direction of religion, or at least in the

opposite direction of fundamentalism. (One predicts

the future, to the meager degree that one can, by

looking at the past, not at the future.)

But then, see, I can speak the truth because I ain't

running for anything. Barack is.

And if I were running for office, I wouldn't say what he

said in San Francisco last week; it suggests that he doesn't

have the level of circumspection required of a world

leader. It implies that he is more prone to say, as

president, that (for example) some of the people of

the Northwest Territories of Pakistan are backward in their

fundamentalist beliefs -- which may be true but is not

something you want to say if you're negotiating with the

new president of Pakistan.

It's funny: now that Americans have gotten to know him,

Barack seems less too-black and more too-Harvard to his

opponents (which is always what happens when you get to

know somebody from a different ethnic group; at some point,

they stop being Irish or Mexican or Jewish or African-American

and start being that snob or that dullard or that

artist or that really intuitive guy -- i.e., an individual).

In the end, in November, the central irony of the

2008 election may be that the first major black candidate

for president, Obama, spouting rich guy Harvardisms too

true for the campaign trail, was defeated because he was

too white.

But I digress. Paul



for April 14, 2008

humor by paul iorio

Little-Known Popes in Papal History

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the U.S. this week for

the first time since becoming pontiff in 2005, and he

is, of course, not the most famous pope in

Vatican history, though he's also not the most


In fact, there have been many lesser-known popes

through the centuries, and now may be the time to

remember some of them. Here are ten:

Mad Pope Napoleon the 13th's brief reign was marked by grandiose
plans and an obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte. He was deposed
when he tried to turn the Vatican into a nuclear power. (1952)

An experimental pope who advocated praying to the Devil and to
God in order to cover all bases. (431 A.D.)

For all the arrogance of his name, Jesus God 2 actually turned
out to be somewhat humble and unassuming, noted mostly for his
punctuality. Was convinced the Old Testament had been penned by
a guy named Smith. (1564)

With the Ottomans threatening Western Europe, the Vatican
decided to throw Constantinople a bone by elevating a former
imam to the top spot. Muhammad the First, a lapsed Muslim who
fled Turkey and converted to Catholicism, fell from favor after
he proposed building minarets atop St. Peter’s Basilica. (1627)

A hippie pope known for his casual manner and affinity for
pop culture, he dispensed with Latin rites in favor of
"happenings." (Sept. 1974 to Sept. 1974)

As his expansive title suggests, Saskatoon might have been
a bit more preoccupied with claiming long-denied status
from the folks back home than with his duties as pope. (1910)

Took transubstantiation far more literally than most; after
a car accident, he insisted Vatican doctors give him a
blood transfusion using Chianti Classico instead of blood,
a fatal decision. Advocated medical care for the dead, who
he called the "as yet unrisen." (1960)

An American greaser of the 1950s -- and self-styled
"Method Pope” -- who rode a Harley to work. (1956)

The first hip hop pope. Expanded the use of "signs of the Cross"
to include gang hand signs. (1998)

Not officially a pope or a rabbi, and operating for a time
from a psychiatric facility in Antwerp, where he occasionally
broadcast a syndicated faith program called “This Week in Eternal
Damnation," he actually convinced several dozen people, mostly
Belgians, that he was the first Jewish pope. (1988)

But I digress. Paul



for April 8, 2008

Of all the cities in North America, I'd say

San Francisco is probably the last place

that one would want this year's Olympic torch to

pass through, unless you're looking for turbulence.

As everyone knows, San Francisco virtually

invented protest and demonstrations and civil

disobedience, I think. Or at least it perfected

dissent, raising it to a craft as a high as the

protesters on the Golden Gate bridge yesterday


The Chinese government is learning what the idiot

hijackers of United Flight 93 in 2001 also

quickly discovered: people in the Bay Area don't

acquiesce when it comes to tyranny and don't

take well to totalitarian types and will "place

their bodies on the gears of the machine"

to stop it from running altogether, if necessary,

to quote Mario Savio.

So it's as puzzling as a Puzzle Tree to see that

the powers-that-be are allowing The Torch to wend

its way through the streets of San Francisco tomorrow,

because there is no way that Free Tibet activists are

going to let that happen without incident. It's not

a question of whether there will be disruption on

Wednesday (or as the San Francisco Examiner once put

it, "Wensday"), but how much disruption there

will be.

* * *

Was listening to the "Moonlight" sonata the

other day and caught myself thinking,

this is almost as brilliant as "Street Spirit"

or "Lucky" (I bet Yorke/Greenwood's melodies

resonate into the far reaches of this century --

the part we won't be a part of -- and maybe

beyond. By the way, Radiohead headlines

a 3-day music fest in Golden Gate Park

in San Francisco in August, two years after

the band memorably premiered a dozen tracks

from its latest album, "In Rainbows," in

Berkeley and elsewhere.

* * *

NBC has an institutional memory that reminds

it that "Seinfeld" took a few years to find

its audience, and that may have played into the

its decision to renew "Friday Night Lights"

for a third season, starting in early '09 (after

a fall run on DirecTV).

By the way, I was re-watching Edward Burns's

amazing "The Brothers McMullen" the other night,

after not having seen it for many years, and

couldn't help but think of Coach Taylor's wife in

FNL every time Connie Britton, who plays Molly

McMullen, appeared on screen. It was Britton's film

debut, and it's easy to see her performance in

a whole new light, now that she's so identified

with "Friday Night Lights."

* * *

Wow, whatta setlist. Nearly half of the "Some Girls"

album, the cream of "Exile," rarity "As Tears Go By"

(not played in concert until the months preceding this

show), the underrated "She Was Hot" (from the not-underrated

"Undercover" album), and "Connection" from that treasure

trove of mini-gems, "Between the Buttons").

Can't wait to see "Shine a Light," Martin Scorsese's

Rolling Stones concert film docu. I'm told this is

the list:

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
She Was Hot
All Down the Line
Loving Cup
As Tears Go By
Some Girls
Just My Imagination
Faraway Eyes
Champagne & Reefer
Tumbling Dice
You Got the Silver
Sympathy for the Devil
Live With Me
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar

But I digress. Paul



for April 6, 2008

Is The Impeachment of President McCain Now Inevitable?

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- March 19, 2010 -- The Impeach President McCain

movement has gained enough steam this week, on the 7th

anniversary of U.S. involvement in Iraq, that it's now

considered more likely than not that articles of

impeachment will be introduced by the House Judiciary

Committee early next month, insiders say.

A bi-partisan majority in the House now agree that

the president's secret bombing raid on the suburbs

south of Tehran last week was the last straw and

proof that McCain is out of control, as he conducts

an ever-escalating and expanding war in both Iraq

and now in Iran without so much as consulting Congress

(in his defense, which he'll soon have to tell Judiciary,

McCain says he can't afford to reveal American

strategy publicly, as that would be revealing it to

the enemy, too).

And all this comes a mere 16 months after McCain's

solid electoral win over Senator Hillary Clinton in '08.

Today, in 2010, the triumphant landscape of '08 seems

distant. McCain's political capital is all gone. His

job approval ratings in some polls are as low as 17%.

And his increasingly surly, defiant press conferences

tend to stoke the flames of the Impeach McCain crowd.

Like last week when he declared, "When it comes

to waging war, I listen to the generals, not to the

people. The people are militarily illiterate."

Dems immediately noted that President McCain was

speaking a few blocks from a D.C. neighborhood burned

down in the summer of '08 by rioters angered by the

denial of the nomination to Sen. Obama -- a neighborhood

still not rebuilt. (By the way, where is Obama now? His

"burn, baby, burn" remark during the riots, caught by a

sneaky reporter's hidden mic, has likely ended his

political career for good.)

One White House correspondent says McCain may

try to head off impeachment proceedings by declaring

early that he will not seek re-election in 2012, due to

the recurrence of his skin cancer (which he also

is being secretive about). But not even that

will save his political skin if the Mahdi Army

keeps slaughtering Americans at a clip not seen since Tet,

because the public has clearly lost its patience with

a war it thought was coming to a close nearly two years

ago. McCain's latest "surge" (he seems to be addicted to surges

these days) has only strengthened the hand of Prime Minister


Insiders say Vice President Romney has spoken privately

to friends about the possibility of having to assume the

presidency soon and appointing his own vice president

(he is reported to have already broached the subject with

Sen. Joe Lieberman, floating the idea of a possible

Romney/Lieberman unity team).

In any event, all this this makes Romney the clear

front-runner for the GOP nomination in '12, if only

because he's likely to be the incumbent by then. The

DNC, meanwhile, is reportedly feverishly trying to

convince Al Gore to run again, assuring him that

he would have a clear shot at the nomination and

that there would not be the fractious infighting

that doomed prospects for the Dems in '08.

The fact that pundits are already looking beyond the

McCain presidency to the '12 race is a sign that Chief

Justice Roberts may soon be swearing in the 45th president

of the United States. But if war policy doesn't

change dramatically, a 46th president may be taking

office shortly after that.

But I digress. Paul



for April 1, 2008

One of the reasons John McCain supports American

involvement in Iraq may be that he's seriously

uninformed about that war. In fact, he seems to

have a shockingly casual, almost amateurish grasp

of the basic facts about the conflict and

its ancillary issues.

I mean, there was the press conference last week

at which McCain said:

"Well, it's common knowledge and has been reported
in the media that al Qaeda is going back into Iran and
is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq
from Iran. That's well known and it's unfortunate."

Though his traveling companion, Joe Lieberman,

immediately corrected him, McCain still revealed a

lack of fundamental knowledge about the currents and

cross-currents in the region.

The big fear among foreign policy experts has always

been, post-Saddam, that there might be an unholy Shiite

alliance between Tehran and Baghdad. Is McCain also

unaware that Saddam was an enemy of bin Laden's and

that Saddam (for his own reasons) didn't want al Qaeda

to gain a foothold in Iraq because he saw the group

as a competing power base? (If we had been shrewd, we

could have built on and exacerbated the natural

animosity between the two.) One wonders whether

McCain would have supported the war if he had

been more knowledgeable about the issues involved.

To his credit, though, McCain hasn't yet

called the Sunnis "gooks." (Lieberman might

have warned him off that one.)

* * *

Hillary Clinton keeps using that line about answering

the phone at 3 in the morning, but, as I recall, when

she and her husband were in the White House, the

president wasn't even available for phone calls

at three in the afternoon! (Remember Bill's "sexy time"

in the middle of a weekday, when he had guests like Lloyd

Bentsen waiting in the lobby?) Then again, President

Clinton gave us results (e.g., peace, prosperity), so

maybe a bit of mid-day fellatio is part of the recipe

for successful policy-making. Give

me what he's drinking (just not so literally!).

* * *

Odd that Time magazine chose to publish a ranting

letter from Jeremiah Wright complaining about

a story in The New York Times -- a full year

after Wright sent the letter to the New

York Times (which ran a fair and accurate story, by

the way).

You know, I can't see how Wright could be considered

a very credible source these days about much of

anything, now that his history of making crackpot

comments has come to light.

I mean, how much credence can you give a guy who says

that "the government lied about inventing the HIV

virus as a means of genocide against people of color"?

It's hard to fathom the unhinged mindset of somebody

who would say something like that.

Wright's remarks recall nothing so much as Gen. Ripper's

lunatic belief that the communists were putting fluoride in

America's water supply in "Dr. Strangelove."

Beware if Wright starts writing letters that

mention his "precious bodily fluids."

But I digress. Paul



for March 29, 2008

Lately I've been looking at the three main

contenders for president and wondering

whether candidates were always this flawed or

whether I was just too young to notice the

imperfections in previous decades.

One candidate, John McCain, has an explosive temper

and has openly used the ugly ethnic slur "chink" to

describe Asians (he was in prison when "All in the

Family" was in its prime, which means he missed a

big part of America's cultural education and


Another hopeful, Hillary Clinton, talks about

landing under sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia

in the 1990s. Earlier I was thinking the

same thing that one television pundit later voiced

on Friday night: was she confusing the Bosnia

incident with another event in which she

actually did come under fire? If not, then how

does she explain the fact that she fabricated

the incident?

Finally, we have Barack Obama, who stands by a

crazy pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who says lots of

really idiotic things.

Hey, Mike Gravel is starting to look nearly normal!

Elsewhere in politics, it was also recently revealed

that the former governor of New York whored until he

was caught, the new guv of New York slept around and did

cocaine, the former governor of New Jersey had threesomes,

the mayor of Detroit was caught having steamy extramarital

sex, McCain appears to have had a thing for that Vicki

Iseman woman, and so on and so on.

I'm starting to get the feeling that the whole world

is having a wild Dionysian bash but forgot to invite

me. As I sit here on a Friday night, watching the

AccuWeather forecast and sipping Yuban, I'm beginning

to suspect I've been thrown out of the gene pool by

whoever controls the guest list.

Anyway, back to the flaws of the White House hopefuls,

specifically Obama's response to the Rev. Wright

controversy (I wrote about Hillary's Snipergate

below, hence I'm not playing favorites).

Anyone who would say "the government lied about

inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide

against people of color," as Wright did, is

seriously and dangerously out of touch with


And anyone who has the temerity to say that the

U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself (attacks

planned by bin Laden during the progressive Clinton

regime, when our military was actually siding with

Muslims and against Christians in a conflict in

the former Yugoslavia) is either stupid or

uninformed or both.

But what also bothers me is there were people

in the audience at his church applauding all

that crap.

Why didn't Barack Obama walk out in protest when

Wright started mouthing off like that? He should

know there are far higher values than loyalty in this

world. If Wright were a good friend of mine, I

would say, no friend of mine would be talking like

that, and I'd walk out in the middle of

his sermon and loudly tell people afterwards

that I strongly disagreed with what he said.

It's like sitting around with an old friend who

suddenly starts disparaging blacks and Jews; you

don't let it pass; you stop him right there and

make it clear that's not acceptable talk.

That's why Barack's speech on race was one

of his worst. It sounded so Adlai, so Taubman

building, so no-controlling-legal-authority.

What I didn't hear was genuine, visceral

revulsion at Wright's rants. I didn't see the

profile in courage of someone willing to take a

solitary, principled, "High Noon" stand and

walk out on both a friend who said the n-word

and the people who laughed when he said it.

The speech on race sounded like Obama's exit

interview -- just as Romney's hyped speech on

Mormonism felt like an exit. Don't get me wrong,

Barack will probably be the nominee, but it was

an exit speech in the sense that we all now

know -- and so does he, at least unconsciously -- that

he is not going to be elected president in

November. No way, no how. Clip this, save this,

put it on your frig, and tell me I'm wrong on

the morning of November 5th.

And don't tell me about all the national polls

that have him leading McCain by however many points;

instead show me one credible independent poll that

has Obama leading McCain in Florida. Or in Ohio.

Or even Wisconsin. Without those states,

he can't possibly win the electoral tally.

By the way, Wright: the murders of 9/11 were

done for religious reasons, which is to say for

irrational motives (see: the letter

of intent found in the luggage of Mohamed Atta,

full of a lot of religious mumbo jumbo about

the way and the light and the path and nonbelievers

and god and other such junk).

Later on, of course, months after the fact, bin

Laden ladled on political reasons for having

committed the 9/11 massacres, but only

when he discovered the attacks weren't playing

so well in the Muslim mainstream.

I wonder if there's a clip somewhere of Wright

screaming, "God damn bin Laden!," and of Barack

applauding when he said that.

But I digress. Paul



for March 25-26, 2008

Intriguing but flawed story in today's

New York Times about East Germans escaping to freedom

during the Cold War by traveling to Bulgaria and

slipping across its border into Greece. The story

fails to note that Bulgaria is widely

and definitively known as having been among the

most -- if not the most -- totalitarian and brutal

of the Eastern Bloc nations (in fact, insiders used

to call it the 16th republic of the CCCP).

I'm surprised his editor allowed him to write it

without noting the country's overall Cold

War reputation. (Further, his story has the

unmistakable sound of a piece that a writer

writes when he subtly wants to even up a

score with another writer.)

It also quotes someone characterizing Bulgaria as

sunny and southern, which gives the wrong impression.

Yes, the small part of it that is near the Black Sea may be

a vacation spot, but that's not the bulk of Bulgaria, which

is mostly grey and drab and sober and insular and

super-provincial -- and not a lot of fun at all. And

any look at an atlas would tell you that it's

on the same latitude as New England (Sofia almost

never gets above 75 degrees, even in August).

As I've noted in this space before, I traveled through

Bulgaria (alone, by local train, as a

teenager in 1976) from its Serbian border to Sofia

through Plovdiv and to Edirne, which is the virtual

three-way intersection of Bulgaria, Turkey and

Greece (aka, Thrace).

And then I did it again in the reverse direction!

My impressions: it felt like a military state, as

opposed to a police state, which is what Yugoslavia

resembled. Its border with Serbia was a bit less

protected than the one at Edirne, a somewhat

scary checkpoint in that soliders rifled roughly

through passengers's luggage while wielding their

rifles and flashlights/spotlights in

intimidating ways.

In any event, it was sure easier to get into

Bulgaria from the Edirne checkpoint than it was

to get out. The border guards were far less uptight

(I didn't even have a double transit visa, required for

the return trip, but they bent the rules and sold me

one on the spot, enabling me to get back to Italy,

where I was studying at the time.)

As for the reverse journey from Bulgaria to Serbia,

through Dimitrovgrad, I mostly slept through it because

I'd become very sick on the train, probably because of

food poisoning at an Istanbul restaurant.

Frankly, I was more worried about returning through

Zagreb, where, days earlier, I'd been taken off

the train, stripped of my passport and briefly detained

by Yugoslavian cops (because I had an American passport).

In Bulgaria, I had no such personal encounter with the

authorities, though I had been taking notes and snapping

pictures at various points along the route, which might

have been considered provocative if they had caught me

doing it. In retrospect, I can see I was probably

simply lucky not to have had a run-in with the

Bulgarian border soldiers, who truly looked

and acted like serious motherfuckers.

But I digress. Paul



for March 25, 2008

Stream of Hillary ("Can You Hear the Drums, Fernando?")

The snipers are out again tonight, shooting from the nearby

hills as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, reminding

me of that night in Memphis when I was with Rev. Martin

Luther King, who I first met at age six -- and I have seven

paid campaign workers who will back me up thoroughly on this,

because I did see King when I was 12 and was the only

Barry Goldwater supporter in the joint when he spoke -- and

by the way I misspoke about meeting King at 6, I've been

distracted by snipers lately, coming at me from different

directions, giving me the vapors, reminding me I've seen

some "hard places come down in smoke and ash" in my 50

years as U.S. Senator, and, yes, I have the scars to prove

it, because Bill First once had me in a death grip on the

Senate floor as Trent Lott sniped at me with what looked like

a Confederate-era pistol from an upper floor, and suddenly

I flashbacked to that night in Memphis when I was at

King's side, presciently advising Jesse Jackson to drop

out of the South Carolina primary, but I digress and

should note that, if anything, I have had too much

foreign policy experience, having taken the SeaDream Cruise

of the Caribbean during spring break in college, coming

within 200 miles of Cuba and its snipers, and I don't

want to cry, but I really sincerely -- and this comes

from the heart -- I sincerely hate to lose, particularly

to a one-term Senator from Illinois, who stands in contrast

to my 53 years of Congressional experience, if you include

the times in my youth when I would walk by the Capitol

building late at night, a dangerous neighborhood with

potential snipers on rooftops -- experience that should

count for something, as should my experience as the

right-hand of Rev. King, who I cradled in my arms

in '68 on the balcony of that motel in Memphis, which

is in a state that has 11 electoral votes that I might

win if I become the nominee, though it looks like Barack

has it wrapped, and if he does win the nomination, I'll offer

him the second spot on the ticket, and I'll say, "I want

you by my side Barack, in case of snipers and to hear

my remembrances of Dr. King" -- but I must cut this short,

because I think I hear Kalishnikovs in the nearby hills,

I can hear the drums, Fernando, I can still "recall the

frightful night we crossed the Rio Grande," or it might have

been the Danube, or maybe the East River on the way to Zabar's.



for March 19, 2008

Today's Anti-War Protests in Berkeley, Calif.

A spirited group of protesters on Telegraph Avenue,
around 1:30pm today. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Five years after the start of the Iraq war, anti-war

demonstators took to the streets of cities across

America -- and Berkeley, Calif., the traditional

epicenter of protest, was no exception.

Here are a few photos I shot around a couple

hours ago in Berkeley.

Another shot of the Telegraph Avenue
protesters. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* *

A contingent of demonstrators on Shattuck
Avenue, after 2pm today. [photo by Paul Iorio]


Now it emerges in a newly released audiotape that bin Laden's

delicate sensitivites are still offended by the little

cartoons that satirists in Europe published a couple

years ago. What a fragle flower this bin Laden

fellow is, no? People jump burning from the twin towers,

and bin is unmoved. But bin sees an episode of

Huckleberry Hound and he's in tears. Awww.

Well, bin, if ya liked the the Mohammed cartoons,

you're really gonna like my own cartoon series, "Bin Laden,

the Jihadist Pooch," which (much to my surprise) has

spread virally over the Internet since I posted the

series last October. Perhaps you've already seen the

cartoons. But if not, lemme take this opportunity to

reprint the best of the series right here and now.

Viddy well and enjoy!

Series by Paul Iorio.

But I digress. Paul



for March 18-19, 2008

Race and the '08 Campaign

Well, the good news for the Dems is they're going

to win the White House -- in 2012. President McCain

will announce in late 2011 that he won't seek a second

term (because of health issues), leaving the field

open to Dems ravenous for a long-denied


So the Dems should set their sights on '12 and in the

meantime fix the holes in their nominating process

that perennially give rise to factional candidates who

simply can't cut it in the general election.

The Super Delegates invention was supposed to do just

that, but instead comes across as an imperious imposition

by national party insiders. Maybe Dems ought to

experiment with truly new ideas -- such as (off the top of

my head): having double primaries. What I mean is,

follow the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday and with

a mail-in New Hampshire primary on Thursday that pits

the two top contenders (who won Tuesday's vote) against

one another, with delegates going to the winner of

Thursday's vote, winner-take-all. (The other primary

states could do the same.) That way, whoever

progresses to front-runner status becomes front-runner

with a 50%-plus majority, not with, say, a 27% plurality.

The 27% plurality thing is what's keeping the Dems from

nominating an electable general election candidate.

The comparisons of Barack's juggernaut to Jesse Jackson's

presidential campaigns of the 1980s don't really obtain,

because Jackson was never as popular as Barack is now.

Rather Barack's candidacy is starting to resemble

George Wallace's run in '72, which Wallace probably

would've won, much to the extreme chagrin of party

regulars, if there hadn't been tragedy on the

campaign trail.

Meanwhile, the general election is taking on a

different shape altogether, looking increasingly like

Adlai versus Ike, circa '56 or '52 -- take your pick.

And Rev. Wright just finished cutting McCain's Halloween

scare ad for the swing states. The GOP now doesn't

have to find some obscure footage of Obama and Sharpton

embracing; it need only run Wright's "God Damn America!"

clip on a loop in the purple states on the weekend

before the general election.

In order to believe Obama will become our 44th president,

one must be convinced that he can win Florida and Ohio, or

at least Florida or Ohio, and I don't see how he could

win either. (If there is a credible poll that puts him

over McCain in either state, please send it to me at, because I've not seen it.)

Don't get me wrong, if Obama's the nominee, he will

likely win more states than Mondale or McGovern or

even George Wallace -- his electoral total will probably

be even bigger than Michael Dukakis's, though only


You know, around a week or so ago, before Rev. Wright's

sermon came to light, I saw some elementary school

kids -- black kids -- cheerfully walking on a sidewalk

as a car passed with an Obama for President bumper

sticker on it, and for a moment I had a sort of heartwarming,

almost corny, but genuine thought: their first memories

of a presidential election will be this one, in which

an African-American candidate is the leading Democratic

contender for the nomination. They will not know a world,

first-hand, in which blacks are prima facie excluded from

the top job in the land.

But the glow of that thought lasted only until the

Rev. Wright incident, which reminded me there

is still sickness and infection on both sides of

the racial divide.

As testament to that, one of the biggest issues that

is not even being discussed in the campaign (because

it's too incendiary) is legal reform to correct the

injustices that we've recently seen against both blacks

(in Jena) and against whites (in the Crystal Mangum

defamation case).

The Jena case points to a need for tort reform that

somehow takes into account the overarching context of

a crime (a reform that should go beyond the existing

"mitigating factor" standard).

The Duke case points to a horrifying hole in our legal

system that should be remedied by de-politicizing the

position of D.A., creating a serious penalty for

intentional aggravated slander (though this one would be

tough to pull off without infringing on 1st amendment

rights), understanding how serious the crime of false

accusation can be, etc.

Duke and Jena should both be exposed to the

disinfectant of sunlight in this campaign, otherwise

the infection on both sides of the racial divide will

continue to fester, and we'll continue to hear the

hate talk of the Rev. Wrights and the Bill



Stray thought: Of all the women I've known who

have changed their last names since college or

high school, I can think of only a few who have

changed it completely, without even hyphenating it.

So is the tradition of name-changing now mostly

a thing of the Boratian past? If we elect Clinton, might

she decide to turn into President Rodham somewhere

down the line?


OK, time to break for lunch and have a hamburger. Yes,

I've heard about how risky beef is this days, but frankly

a certain burger looks so good right about now I could eat

it all day, E. coli or not!

But I digress. Paul



for March 10, 2008

Alan Dershowitz said it best, in Byron Pitts'

excellent report (does Pitts ever do anything but

excellent reports?) on "The CBS Evening News":

in most countries, what Eliot Spitzer did would

not even be illegal. Spitzer was about to have sex

(again) with an adult woman behind closed doors,

which is really his own personal business and not

ours (unlike Larry Craig, who was planning to

have sex in a public restroom with someone who

could have been underage, for all he knew). Sure,

there's an element of hypocrisy in both cases,

but that's not a hanging offense. I've always

thought we'd be a better nation if we had the

prostitution laws of Holland (and the health care

system of Canada!), but for now America is stuck

with its Puritanism and sexual provincialism, which

I hope doesn't claim another victim in Spitzer, who

should remain in Albany.

Still, it's becoming an unmistakable pattern:

politicians and others who codemn sexual deviance the

loudest are often those who are involved in such

activities themselves.

But I digress. Paul



for March 9, 2008

I'm told Scarlett Johansson has recorded an

album of Tom Waits covers, "Anywhere I Lay

My Head," which'll be out in May and oughta

be interesting. Haven't heard it yet, but it's

amazing what -- at only age 23 -- she's already

accomplished in movies. She also appears

in's pro-Obama video, "Yes, We Can,"

directed nicely by Jesse Dylan (son of

you-know-who). Great to see that Jesse has

become a successful film director, by the way;

I've only seen him in person once -- albeit,

in a very memorable setting, on a boat on which

ZZ Top was performing for a few dozen people or so

on the 4th of July in 1986. We were docked in

New York harbor, and I remember walking to a

side of the boat to take a look at the Statue of

Liberty, sidling next to a couple. "Doesn't she

make you weak in the knees?," said the woman to

her friend, referring to the Statue. And when

she turned her head I saw it was Martha Quinn,

the pioneering MTV VJ who I think every

twentysomething guy had a crush on in 1986. With

her was a guy who looked like a charismatic rock

star but who I didn't recognize; later I was told

he was Jesse Dylan. But I didn't get to meet him.

* * *

There may be some talented editors at HarperCollins

but I've never met one, though I have come in contact

with some exceedingly dim editors there.

Now comes word from The New York Times that

HarperCollins is publishing a new book by James

Frey -- you know, the guy who made stuff up in

a non-fiction book, abused the trust of his

editors and readers, etc.

Doesn't surprise me. A couple years back, I had

dealings with HarperCollins and saw first-hand how

profoundly stupid some of their decisions were.

I was writing a biography of Richard Pryor and interviewed

a source, corroborated by other info, who said Pryor

had done, uh, xyz some decades ago. An editor at

HarperCollins, through my agent, said

great, write it up as a sample chapter about Pryor

doing xyz. So I did. When the editor received it, he

suddenly pretended to be shocked -- shocked -- that I

had written that Pryor had done xyz. I told the dolt,

that's what you requested and that's what my info

was, so that's what I wrote. (Did he want me to

cover-up the info I'd uncovered?)

Well, he didn't really have a comeback for that. What

probably happened is that a top boss at the company

read the xyz thing and was shocked, and so my

editor suddenly had to appear shocked, too, even though he

had requested exactly that material.

Anyway, people wonder why people don't read anymore,

but I don't wonder. There's far, far more enduring value and

artistry in a single episode of "Friday Night Lights" or "The

Sopranos" than in most of the novels released by HarperCollins

in a given season. As for James Frey, I fell asleep

reading "A Million Little Pieces" even before the book

was exposed as a fraud.

* * *

The San Francisco Chronicle has yet another new

editor, a guy named Ward Bushee, who will need all

the luck he can get to save the struggling paper.

With the newspaper business collapsing almost

everywhere, my suggestion to Bushee is this: discontinue

the paper edition of the paper and publish it just

as an online daily. (That's where the industry is

going to be in ten years anyway, and here's your chance

to get there first.) And then I'd fire two features

editors who've been screwing up: David Wiegand, who

is a fraud, and Ed Guthmann, who is a thief.

(And this is coming from someone who wrote for the

paper for years.)

But I digress. Paul



for March 7, 2008

An Alternate Penalty for Florida and Michigan

If there is no penalty for Florida and Michigan

moving up their primaries in violation of Democratic

party rules, then in 2012 there will be no disincentive

for other states to do the same. Suppose

Alabama wanted to be a playa and moved its primary

to, say, Thanksgiving of 2011, and Vermont leap-frogged

Alabama and moved its own contest to Halloween, causing

Iowa to protect its first-in-the-nation

status by having its caucus on Columbus Day.

If there is no penalty, then there will be no order to

the nominating process, and the national party will not

be able to ensure that its grand design and overall

strategy are respected.

So the question becomes: what should the penalty

be for Michigan and Florida?

Stripping them of their delegates may be a little

harsh -- and counter-productive, too, given that

the general election may hinge on a handful of voters

in either Florida or Michigan. The DNC's retaliation

shouldn't be scattershot in a way that affects

innocent voters along with the party insiders who

should be punished.

My suggestion is to make the penalty an inside baseball

thing. The DNC should say nobody at this year's Democratic

National Convention from Florida or Michigan will be

allowed to give the keynote or nominating speeches (or

any other formal speeches from the podium). That way the

punishment is limited to the politicians guilty of

violating the rules.

Regarding the idea of a do-over vote:

Hillary has said, why don't we do a do-over in just

Michigan, where Barack wasn't on the ballot, but not

in Florida, where he was.

But that's not really fair because Hillary campaigned in

Florida and Barack did not.

The big question is: why did Hillary campaign in

Florida when she knew and agreed that that primary

would not count? Barack honored the boycott; Hillary

didn't. Her campaigning in Florida back in January

implies a disingenuousness about her support of that

boycott; in other words, there is the appearance that

she was cynically figuring all along that the Florida

vote would have to eventually count (if only because

she planned to make a stink about disenfranchisement

later on, as she's doing now).

Because she appears to have unfairly manipulated the

boycott to her advantage (by campaigning in Florida),

any do-over should include both Michigan and Florida.

And the penalty should affect the insiders,

not the voters.

But I digress. Paul



for March 5, 2008

Hold the Seltzer, Please

One thing that bothers me about the Margaret

Seltzer scandal is that it should've been

easy to figure out long ago. I mean, here's a

synopsis of the fraudulent book (as quoted by the

Washington Post):

It's "about her life as a half-white, half-Native

American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles

as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs

for the Bloods."

Hey, that almost sounds like a laugh line on Letterman!

Seriously, folks, some mysteries can be solved by

simple common sense. For example, if Joe Schmo claims

to have written, say, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," and

yet Schmo's own work is far, far less excellent

than "Howl," then one can conclude that Schmmo must

be lying about having written "Howl."

Another thing that disturbs me about the Seltzer

affair is that while the book publishing biz was busy

falling for her outrageous lies, while the industry

and reviewers and agents were absolutely

abuzz about this untrue story that they wanted to be

true, they were rejecting a lot of terrific,

honest manuscripts -- including my own proposal

for a fresh, expert bio of Richard Pryor, and for a

solid anthology of my own non-fiction stories

(now available online at

Same thing bothered me about the Jayson

Blair scandal. Sure, I greatly appreciate the

fact I was given the opportunity to write stories

for the New York Times in the 1990s (and I hope

I can do so again in the future).

But when the Blair scandal erupted, one of my

thoughts was: while Blair was fabricating stories

that wouldn't have been any good even if they had

been true, I was pitching several stories to The Times,

among them a groundbreaking piece on J.D. Salinger,

that the paper rejected (see story at, and judge for yourself).

The paper was apparently too busy publishing Blair to give

me a fair hearing.

At the same time Blair was fabricating, I wrote a

very well-received (and scrupulously accurate)

media piece that still stands as the only story

about the tv networks's immediate coverage of

the 9/11 attacks. The Times rejected that story

(and others) for no good reason (The Toronto Star

ultimately ran it, and I thank that paper profusely;

the story can also be found at

I sometimes wonder: if Jayson Blair hadn't been caught,

and he almost wasn't, he would've surely been promoted

up the ranks, with all flanks protected by management,

so that any whistle-blower who tried to complain about him

would be drummed out of the business, ridiculed and made to

look dishonest -- and you know that's true. And you have

to wonder how many Blairs-that-haven't-been-caught are

working in upper management at lesser newspapers than

the Times. At some companies it might be an epidemic.

But I digress. Paul



for March 4, 2008

-- So who's going to win in Ohio and Texas tonight?

Hard to predict. The best comment came from

Obama: "Remember New Hampshire."

-- Everyone's talking about Hillary's cameo on

SNL but the funniest stuff came later in the program

when the always-inspired Kristen Wiig played Peter

Pan -- truly hilarious.

-- Regarding my column of February 22 (below): someone

is curious about whether I went far into Bulgaria

during my '76 trip. I did. I traveled alone by

local train across the entire length of Bulgaria -- and

then back again! -- snapping pictures and taking notes

all the way. My account of it can be read at

-- Also, an old friend wanted to know if I've ever

co-written a song. My response: I've written

countless songs over the decades but I have never

co-written a song with anyone. By the way,

MP3 versions of 60 of my songs are posted at, and anyone with an Internet

connection can listen for free. And, yes, every note and

every line of all 60 songs were written solely by me

(only exception is "Waterboardin' USA," which is based

on a Beach Boys tune).

-- Also, I hope my "Holy Country Song" isn't

misunderstood -- I actually enjoy some gospel music

and think the folks at the CMAs have honored some

of the greatest recording artists ever. My song

is meant to be irreverent satire, and should be

heard in that spirit.

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for February 29, 2008

Regarding Hillary's ad about answering the phone at 3am:

At three in the morning, in the White House, I want

a president who's in the process of getting a good

night's sleep, so that he or she is fully ready

for whatever events erupt when he or she is awake.

We're not electing a receptionist who's responsible

for fielding and filtering every call that

comes through the switchboard -- the president

hires smart and capable people to do that and to

handle emergencies that might crop up in the

overnight hours. Her ad presents a somewhat

disturbing vision of a Hillary presidency, in

which she pulls all-nighters by the phone, popping

speed, drinking Yuban and waiting anxiously for that

hypothetical world leader to call.

And by the way, if you're awake at 3am, then you're

almost certainly asleep -- or awfully wired and

tired -- at 3pm, which may not be the way you want to

arrange your day as president or as candidate.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- With the selection of Matt Gonzalez as his

running-mate, Ralph Nader has now exponentially

increased his chances of winning most voters in

some parts of Haight Street.



for February 26, 2008

Regarding the photo of Obama in Kenya: frankly, he

looks a bit like Chef Boyaredee, doesn't he?

Look, I took off my shoes when I visited the

Haghia Sofia, and that doesn't make me a Sunni.

There's always an element of when-in-Rome in

both state and personals visits abroad (didn't

I see footage of Bush in a dashiki during an

African visit?).

That said, Hillary is inadvertently doing Obama

a bit of a favor, giving him a taste of the

nasty ads he'll be facing from the Republican

machine come October.

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for February 25, 2008

I really have nothing much to say about the Oscars

this year. I mean, I really admire Paul Thomas Anderson

and Daniel Day Lewis and "There Will Be Blood"

and the Coen Bros. -- and Cate Blanchett is exactly

as awesome as any woman can ever get, Hilary Swank

looks fabulous, and it's always great to see

Harrison Ford and George Clooney. But for the

most part it was snoozeville. I was even wondering

whether the writers' strike was still on when I saw the

Rogen/Hill bit, easily the most embarrassing and unfunny

comic segment in recent Oscar history.

And the overnight ratings have just come in, folks. The

80th Academy Awards telecast is now officially the

lowest-rated Oscar ceremony ever -- and they worked

overtime to earn that distinction, I can assure you.

Next year, here's an idea: bring back Steve Martin. Or

bring back David Letterman. I know his first try

didn't exactly light up the airwaves,

but Letterman is starting to look better and better

now that we've seen host after host fail.

But I digress. Paul



for January 25, 2008

Regarding Ralph Nader, let me say this:

A man who stands atop a mountain at noon

stands in sunlight; the same man who stands

atop that same mountain at midnight stands

in darkness. He who refuses to change changes

anyway, because the world changes around him. In

his youth, Nader was progressive; in his old age,

refusing to shift with the times, Nader is an utter

reactionary, one of the world's truly despicable


As Bob Dylan wrote: "Your old road is rapidly agin'/

Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand/

For the times they are a changing."

* * *

I'm flattered and gratified and a bit surprised that

my extremely irreverent cartoon series -- "Bin Laden,

the Jihadist Pooch" -- is being circulated on the web

as much as it is. I wrote, drew and posted the series

independently last October, not expecting it to

go very viral, but now I'm seeing it show up in lots

of places online.

And let me say if bin Laden or his people are

in any way offended by my series then I

just want to say that I sincerely and deeply

hope that you are offended on a fundamental level.

The series, "Bin Laden, the Jihadist Pooch,"

can be viewed at:


But I digress. Paul


-- the daily digression column celebrates its first anniversary today. it made its debut on february 24, 2007. thanks to all those who have linked it to their sites, quoted it or written with comments. a second year of digressions begins today! ---


for February 24, 2008

Ralph Nader in drag atop his beloved Corvair in the 1960s (or so say the people at Nader's nursing home).

It was a bit heartwarming to see Tim Russert

raid the nursing home to give some airtime to an

apparent Alzheimer's patient, though it was obvious

the guy's cognitive functions were clearly

compromised, so it was sort of exploitative to

see such a mentally disabled guy on "Meet the Press"

(he said his name was Ralph Nader and apparently

couldn't tell the difference between Barack Obama

and George W. Bush, when shown photos of the two).

People at the nursing home, though not reliable,

tell me he was once an automobile exec, responsible

for the Corvair or something, and also that Russert

took the time to pick up another resident of the

home, Doris Goodwin, in a package deal for his

show; she provided the much-needed Theodore Roosevelt

angle on the '08 election, an insight now spreading

like wildfire on the blogs and among cutting edge

academic thinkers.

I mean, hey, Russert coulda put some innovative

theorist or a brilliant Stanford prof or even

me on his show to talk about the '08 election,

and he would've been better off. (My qualifications

are at But I guess I

don't have the requisite experience as a

plagiarist, so that would disqualify me.)

After seeing Nader, I must admit I started to see the

Corvair in a new light. Looking at it from just the

aesthetic angle, and putting aside its considerable safety

flaws, I can now see its design as evocative of an entire

era of suburban pop culture in America -- it almost

qualifies as pop art, like a can of Tab. So in celebration

of the Corvair, I've posted a picture of Nader with his

classic vehicle (above).

* * *

Is Black the New Catholic?

Truth be told, some Dems aren't backing Barack because

they think most of America is still a bit too racist to

elect a black president.

But think of it this way: if the GOP ticket was

Condi Rice/Alan Keyes and the Dem ticket was

John Edwards/Bill Richardson, Republicans in red

states would vote in droves against the white

ticket and for the African-American one. Which proves

there is no inherent aversion to electing a black

president among even conservative voters, if they

feel that candidate can best represent their interests.

When thinking of bigotry in the U.S., think of the

white racist in a red state who gets himself into

legal trouble and decides to hire an ace black attorney

because he knows he's one of best in the biz. That

white guy still has an underlying bigotry toward

blacks, but he hires the African-American because

he knows his interests will best be served by him.

Likewise, if a white bigot in Utah has to have delicate

heart surgery and must choose between a black

surgeon whose medical judgment has been proved

correct time and again and a veteran white surgeon

who has had several malpractice suits filed against

him, who do you think the racist would choose?

That sort of dynamic may come into play in November,

if Obama is the nominee. Swing rednecks in purple

states might think this way: "I don't like black people

very much, but this Obama guy is smart and has

good judgment and will do my bidding most effectively,

so I'm voting for him."

Could it be that Obama is more like JFK than we imagined?

Could it be is the new Catholic?

Some months ago, which is to say centuries ago in political

years, there was misplaced concern that Mitt Romney's

Mormonism was like JFK's Catholicism -- a point of

prejudice that voters might not be able to overcome.

But voters ended up dismissing Romney for reasons

unrelated to his religious beliefs.

Turns out Mormonism wasn't the new Catholicism;

prejudice against African-Americans is apparently what

still needs to be overcome in '08 and what might

keep Obama from having his mail re-directed to

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next year.

But that prejudice seems to be fading fast as voters

realize that...this guy makes sense. And just as the

redneck in Selma will hire a brilliant black attorney

to get him out of a legal jam, so some borderline racist

voters might hire Barack to carry out their agenda,

because they know he's more effective than his rivals.

As I've written before, the black/white division in

this country is getting to be quaint, an almost old

fashioned way of viewing American ethnic diversity.

Out here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and along

much of the Pacific rim, the primary ethnic division

is between Asians and non-Asians, not between blacks

and whites. And as the population of other parts of

the country diversifies, the "black" classification

becomes increasingly meaningless and insignificant.

(I mean, does a dark-skinned Jamaican qualify as black?

How about someone of Jamaican-British ancestry who

has lighter skin than an Italian Calabrian? Ethnic

distinctions become increasingly irrelevant as more

diverse ingredients are added to the melting pot.)

More than race, age may be the driving factor in

the '08 campaign. It's probably less significant that

Barack is black than that he is the first post-baby

boomer, post-rock 'n' roll era candidate.

Over the decades, we've had our earful of boomer

candidates like Bill Clinton, who liked to don shades

and play bluesy sax like a jazzbo wannabe of the Beat era.

And we've seen amiable pols like Mike Huckabee, who have

a rock 'n' roll sorta cadence to their speechifying ways

on the road.

But Barack is the very first serious presidential

candidate who speaks with a hint of the cadence and

the rhythm of the hip hop generation. And I don't mean

hip hop in terms of race, I mean hip hop in terms of age

group, hip hop in terms of a rhythm and tone of talking

that almost qualifies as a separate pop culture dialect

from the rock 'n' roll dialect.

Obama's general flow of oratory is clearly influenced

by a post-rock era of expression, and that's probably

part of the reason why young people are responding to

the undertone and undertow of his message.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what

you can do for your country" was like a succinct and pithy

pop song of its era.

But listen to the expansive rolling flow of the post-rock

generation(from an Obama speech of 1/26/08): "And as we

take this journey across the country we love with the message

we've carried from the plains of Iowa to the hills of New

Hampshire, from the Nevada desert to the South Carolina coast,

we have the same message we had when we were up and when we

were down: that out of many, we are one..."

The generational divide will be even more vivid if it's

Obama versus John McCain, who is not only pre-Run DMC

but pre-Beatles in general sensibility.

But I digress. Paul



for February 22, 2008

The Birth of a Nation

Back when it was communist and run by Tito, and

when I was a teenager, I traveled alone by local train

through Serbia and the rest of the Balkans, the area

that's now in turmoil because of Kosovo's secession.

Hard to believe today that all those diverse countries

in that region I traveled through -- Serbia, Bosnia,

Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, etc. -- were once part

of a single unified nation called Yugoslavia.

That said, Kosovo's independence is a very welcome

development, and Russia and China should get on board

and recognize its sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the only effective protection the

Kosovars have against the historically hostile Serbs

that surround them. Have Russia and China forgotten that

the entire Kosovar Albanian population was on its way

to being mass murdered by the Serbs in the late

1990s -- before the U.S. got involved and put an

end to the genocide (euphemistically called

"ethnic cleansing")?

I mean, Kosovo is not a heavily populated area,

by any means (the entire population of the country

has around 2 million people, which is roughly the

size of Houston, Texas; Pristina, the only "big

city" in that area, has around half the population

of Oakland, Calif.). So the fact that the Serbs

killed at least 6,000 Kosovars in 1999 alone is

significant -- and that's a low ball estimate,

because the military folks in Belgrade burned a lot

of bodies to cover up their atrocities. Not only

that, but almost everyone in Kosovo (90%, for

crissakes!) was run out of his or her home in '99

(remember the endless stream of Kosovar Albanians

making that long march to safety to Albania?).

Meanwhile, the sadistic Serbian government at

the time actually used mass rape as a military

weapon in towns like Pec and Djakoivica.

What more proof does Vladimir Putin require to

see that Kosovo needs the protection of sovereignty?

Or does he not see the reality because of an overriding

preoccupation with the loss of the Soviet empire?

Remember, less than two decades ago, Russia was

the seat of the vast Soviet Union, which included 15

republics (16, if you count Bulgaria), numerous European

satellites and various allies elsewhere. Today, the empire

is in fragments, and even the fragments of the fragments

have fragmented.

To be sure, Yugoslavia was never formally an Iron

Curtain country. While nominally allied with the Soviets,

Tito always maintained some independence from the

Kremlin. But it was still, essentially, part of the

Eastern Bloc, which is why it now must be a bitter reality

for Putin to see Yugoslavia splinter into not two or three

pieces but into six independent nations -- and, as of

this week, seven!

Loss of empire is a tough reality for any country. And

Putin is merely reflecting his constituents's passionate

desire to be strong again, on par with the U.S. again,

a playa again, feared by enemies again.

For four years, I lived in a heavily Russian/Ukrainian

neighborhood in Los Angeles, so I was constantly in contact,

on a daily basis, with Russian immigrants. And almost every

time I talked with them about their homeland, they said

the same thing (to a person): they wanted Russia to be

strong again, like it was during the Soviet era.

And one really nice guy -- his name was Vladimir,

and he used to let me use his fax machine -- would always

smile and flex his biceps like Popeye when he said he

wanted his country to be powerful again.

And I can imagine that if that's how they feel

in east West Hollywood, they must surely feel that

way in Russia itself (coverage of Kosovo's secession

on the Russia Today (RT) news service shows that).

As I mentioned, I traveled deep into south Serbia

in '76, an area very few tourists ever see, and went

just east of Kosovo before crossing into the most

Iron Curtainish of all Iron Curtain countries, Bulgaria.

And what I remember (besides the spectacular Balkan

Mountains scenery, among other things) is that it seemed

to get poorer and more rural the farther south I went.

The area between Kosovo and Bulgaria was, frankly,

downright depressing, full of "empty roads, solemn faces,

dreary checkpoints," as I wrote in my journal at the time.

Today it's still one of the poorest regions in Europe

(even though the Kosovar Albanians are better off than

the Albanian Albanians, which isn't saying much, given

the enduring paranoid legacy of Hoxha). Common

sense says Kosovo and Serbia both have better chances

of improving their lots as separate entities. And

let's face it, the Serb's fixation on Pristina as

their national birthplace has to be a secondary

consideration, given the murderous practical

realities of the past decade.

By the way, yesterday's rioting in Belgrade was carried

out by a suspiciously small number of people (or at least

the burning of the embassy was); it didn't

look much like a real riot or a populist uprising where

the streets are overflowing with people who are overflowing

with passion. There doesn't seem to be evidence of a

extraordinary popular groundswell in Serbia against Kosovo's

secession, so I bet the new nation stands.

But I digress. Paul



for February 21, 2008

The John 'n' Vicki Scandal

The Man Who Missed the 1960s: did he discover free love only decades later?

I've done enough journalism to know that when a story

like the one about John McCain in today's New York Times

appears, there is almost certainly a vast amount of

reportage that the paper is withholding.

In other words, The Times probably knows that McCain and

Vicki Iseman had had a sexual affair, but the paper isn't

reporting it because some editors at the Times don't feel

they've nailed it. I mean, I have no inside info about

this particular story, but I do know, from having written

and reported for almost all the major newspapers in the

U.S. on a variety of subjects, that that's usually the

pattern, that only a small percentage of what you know

to be true actually sees publication, particularly in a

story that's as potentially explosive as this one.

Look at the reporting about Mark Foley's serial flirtations

with underage pages. In that case, papers like the

St. Petersburg (Fl) Times had solid knowledge of Foley's

indiscretions but didn't go to press with it, probably partly

because of pressure from the Foley camp. (And the Larry Craig

incident wasn't reported until months after his arrest.)

Thankfully, the New York Times bowed to no such pressure

in this case, despite the fact that McCain himself made a

personal phone call to Bill Keller, who runs the Times.

No, my intuition tells me the Times is being very

restrained in its reporting and that there's a lot more

to this than has already been made public. Kudos

to Rutenberg/Thompson/Kirkpatrick/Labaton -- and Keller --

for running the story.

But I digress. Paul

The Iseman Trophy? (Doesn't she look like the sort of woman who would be Vladimir Putin's "special personal assistant"? Or NASA's first female moonwalker?)

P.S. -- Now that he's in the national spotlight, McCain

is starting to show signs of a Nixonish furtiveness, if not

paranoia. Notice how he criticized Barack Obama for

saying that Obama would bomb Pakistan to kill bin Laden

whether the Pakistani government gave its consent or

not. McCain retorted that a world leader shouldn't

telegraph such intentions.

McCain is wrong. Sometimes you should telegraph your

intentions and sometimes you shouldn't. For example,

if we knew that bin Laden was in Karachi right now,

we would, of course, not signal to anyone that

we were about to attack his hide-out, lest we run

the risk of alerting bin Laden, who would then try

to escape.

But in speaking generally about whether we would

attack inside Pakistan if bin Laden were there, it

is important that we let the Pakistanis know

that our standing policy is that we're going to

take out Osama where ever we find him, without

asking any government's permission.

Telegraphing that intention in advance is strategically

important, because you don't want to run the risk of

surprising your allies in Pakistan with a bombing raid.

Telling them of your standing policy prepares them,

psychologically and otherwise, for the moment

when we do strike. (There are also examples where

signaling your intentions can serve as a deterrent

to bad actors. Remember the wisdom in the famous

lines in the Kubrick picture "Dr. Strangelove":

"Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of

the enemy the fear to attack" -- and "the whole point

of the Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret!

Why didn't you tell the world?!")

Psychologically, it appears as if McCain has

the mindset of a leader with a predilection

for secret foreign policy ventures. What

such leaders don't understand is that they're

conducting foreign policy at the behest of

the public, which has every right to know,

by and large, what's being done in its




for February 15, 2008

Don't act shocked. Don't act like it was an

isolated incident. Every four or

five months, there's a brand new massacre at some

school or at some mall, and every time it happens,

there is collective amnesia throughout the land.

Suddenly, conveniently, we forget all all about

the previous massacre that happened a mere few months

earlier, that one that happened at the mall in Colorado,

remember, the one in which the guy brought a bazooka into

a china shop and killed 87 people or something. Remember?

And remember the one before that, the one in Omaha, the

one where some guy in a trench coat opened fire during home

economics class? Or was that the one at the taco stand?

They all seem to blend together, like blood into blood.

Almost nobody in the media mentions the previous massacres

that happened two and five months ago when they mention

the current one. Could somebody tell me why that

is? Is it amnesia? Stupidity? Lack of journalistic

training? Pressure from the NRA? All four probably.

To show you how strikingly similar these shootings

have become, here's my Daily Digression column from

April 18, 2007 (after the Virginia Tech shooting):

Every few years we go through the same pattern in the

U.S.: there is an awful mass murder, everyone agrees the

massacre could've been avoided if there had been tougher gun laws,

and then we hit the snooze alarm. Several years later, there

is yet another unspeakable shooting, everyone agrees there should

be stricter gun control, and then we hit the snooze alarm again.

This time, following the tragic killings at Virginia

Tech, we will no doubt hit the snooze alarm once again.

Oh, there will inevitably be Senate hearings and high-minded

editorials in major papers, but that will all come to naught.

Because the gun lobby and the NRA are simply too influential.

Again, we will pursue all the wrong avenues. We will

focus on campus lockdown procedures when we should be focusing on

gun control. We will focus on monitoring creative writing

classes when we should be focusing on gun control.


And here's my Daily Digression from December 10, 2007 (after

the Omaha shooting):

Yet Another Tragedy Caused By Gun Permissiveness

Almost no news organization is reporting the Colorado

shootings this way: "In the wake of the Omaha


Yet every news organizaton should be mentioning Omaha

in its stories about Colorado. Context is Journalism 101.

But lots of tv news correspondents are saying, "Omaha?

What's Omaha? Ohhh that!! That was soooo 72 hours ago!"

So let's see: Omaha has been completely wiped from memory

now that there's this new shooting spree in Colorado.

And lemme guess the reason why certain tv newsers aren't

mentioning Omaha in stories about Colorado; they're

probably saying something like, "The shooter in the last

one used an AK-47 and the shooter this time used an AK-46,

which, of course, is a vast difference."

They fail to see that the common denominator is bullets.

Both shooters used bullets. If they hadn't, nobody'd be

dead today.

Now let's take a look at the real reason Omaha isn't

being brought up in stories about Colorado: it's

called the NRA. The NRA is so well-organized, so

lawyered up, with so many true believers who know

how to threaten you without threatening you, that

some news orgs take the path of least resistance

and leave out references to Omaha in stories about

Colorado, just as they left out references to Virginia Tech

in stories about Omaha, just as they'll leave out references

to Colorado in stories about the next shooting (and, by the way,

just as they left out references to Tawana Brawley in stories

about Crystal Mangum).

At some news organizations, they report the truth without fear

or favor -- unless the truth is too unpopular.

* * *

And here's my Daily Digression from December 7, 2007:

Oooops! I forgot! Gays, guns and god are forbidden

topics during a presidential election year, which is

why you're hearing absolutely n-o-t-h-i-n-g about gun

control in the wake of the Omaha slayings.

So I now have a new personal policy. From here in, I'll

not extend sympathies to victims of gun violence who

weren't in favor of stricter gun regulations before being

shot. Because everybody, by now, can see plainly and in full

light that gun permissiveness is precisely the cause of all

these mass killings.

After every one of these slaughters, gun fanatics always

say the same thing, and that is: "If a nearby bystander

had been armed, the gunman could have been taken out."

OK, fine. let's put that theory to the test. Name one

major mass shooting incident -- Columbine, Virginia

Tech, etc. -- where an armed bystander (not a cop or

guard) saved the day by shooting the gunman. Name one.

The reason you can't name one is because there isn't

one, and the reason there isn't one is because in a

random shooting 1) victims are taken by surprise,

and 2) it's all over within minutes, before anyone

else can lock and load, and 3) the gunman typically

ends the rampage by killing himself.

Even in robberies that unfold over a longer period of

time, there is still massive and unpredictable risk

when an armed bystander intervenes (it often ends up

more like the robbery sequence (in the pastry shop)

in the movie "Boogie Nights" than like a Charles

Bronson flick).


Only thing I have to add is that the "Today" show is

my favorite morning program, but the people on that

show are profoundly stupid when reporting about gun massacres.

Don't be so disingenuous as to ask "Why" on a segment

about the Illinois shooting that doesn't even

mention gun control issues. Don't think we can't

read that. In reality, you're afraid of the NRA;

but your phony public explanation is that you're

trying to be fair to the NRA. (And by the way, what the

fuck are you doing giving podium to a liar like

Al Sharpton on Today? You know for a fact

he's an extravagant liar yet you still give him

airtime. What's the matter? Doris Goodwin wasn't


Anyway, "why" is not the salient question

in this case. "Why" is a notably dim question

in this case because everybody already knows "why."

Why it happened is because a mentally ill person

had easy access to guns. That's why. The important

question is "how," as in: "how are we going to

prevent the next one?"

And now there's almost a let's-throw-good-money-after-bad

syndrome at certain news organizations; they're

not mentioning the preceding massacres because they

haven't mentioned them for months, so they justify

their bad judgment by continuing to exercise their

bad judgment.

At least we can applaud Congress; they're busy

making sure that future gunmen don't inject steroids.

My condolences to all the victims of the Illinois

shooting who supported stricter gun control before

this latest massacre.

But I digress. Paul



for February 14, 2008

To celebrate Valentine's Day, I've posted a new MP3

of one of my songs, "I'll Love You Forever (But Not

in This Weather)," which people seem to be enjoying.

Just go to and click on the name

of the song! (No downloads, no passwords, no payment.)

Some backstory on the song: I wrote it in Berkeley in

2003. In 2004, I self-produced a cassette tape version

of it. In 2005, a friend I hadn't seen in decades heard

that song (and others I'd written) and funded/produced a

CD version of the song.

Unfortunately, I've never been satisfied with the production

quality of either edition, so yesterday I self-produced a

new version of "I'll Love You Forever (But Not in This

Weather)," which I think captures the song best.

The song was sort of inspired by Dean Friedman's "Ariel,"

The Small Faces's "Lazy Sunday Afternoon" and The Kinks's


Anyway, as I said, people seem to enjoy it, so give it

a listen! (And happy Valentine's Day to -- I think

she knows who she is.)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Lyrics at



for February 13, 2008

Can somebody please explain why the hell Congress is

currently having hearings on steroids use by

sports entertainers rather than working feverishly

to provide universal health care for all Americans?

Oh, and also, isn't it a scandal that our current

governmment hasn't found Osama bin Laden after

six and a half years of searching? Uh, maybe that's

worth a Congressional hearing, dontcha think?

But no: instead Congress is spending valuable

time and money documenting who injected various

sports entertainers in the ass with drugs

that helped them do their jobs better.

You guys on the Hill have your priorities

right this morning (I said ironically).

But I digress. Paul



for February 12, 2008

I've seen all sorts of Berkeley

protests and demonstrations in my day, but the

ongoing scene outside the Berkeley city council

building, which I photographed a couple hours

ago, has got to rank among the most eccentric of

'em all. At this hour, members of the U.S. Marines,

and their advocates, are squaring off against anti-war

protesters, as scores of police in riot gear

stand by to keep the peace.

The confrontation is the result of a recent

Berkeley city council letter that stated that

the Marines and their recruitment office

were unwelcome and unwanted within city

limits -- a letter that the USMC and its

allies vigorously objected to. Tonight

the city council is expected to formally

retreat on its condemnation of the Marines, much

to the chagrin of some anti-warriors.

Here's how things looked during the 6pm hour:

Supporters of the Marines are waving a vast number of flags.


the anti-war crowd was kept at a distance from the Marine supporters


Marines, cops and even a counter-cultural banjo player mill in the protest area.


police were in riot gear, just in case


If the photo developing machine hadn't chopped off the top of this pic, you'd see that some demonstrators had some wit -- like this guy with a sign reading, "I Can't Afford an Actual Sign."

But I digress. Paul



for February 10, 2008

Remembering Roy Scheider

with this immortal facial expression, Scheider convinced millions of moviegoers that "we're gonna need a bigger boat."

Sad to hear that actor Roy Scheider died a few

hours ago in Little Rock. Scheider was

very kind to me as a source in the spring of 2000

when I was busy writing and reporting a feature story

that had a fresh angle on the making of the

movie "Jaws," in which, of course, he starred.

I was so pleasantly surprised when he phoned me

at home and started talking at length -- and with

great humor and warmth -- about how "Jaws"

came to be. My story ran in the San Francisco

Chronicle on May 28, 2000, and here's the story

I wrote (before my editor made a couple minor but

counter-productive edits):

Reconsidering "Jaws"

By Paul Iorio

When Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" was released 25 years ago this

summer, it was upstaged by its own mechanical shark and then by its

unprecedented commercial success. Today, after decades of repeated

viewing, it's easier to see the movie for what many think it really is:

a quality thriller in league with such Alfred Hitchcock classics as

"The Birds" and "Psycho."

What emerges from my own interviews with the film makers is that one

of the best things to have happened during the making of "Jaws" was the

malfunctioning of the main mechanical shark (and the two supporting


"The shark didn't work," actor Roy Scheider, who plays police chief

Martin Brody, tells me. "And that left us with weeks and weeks

and weeks to shoot, to polish, to improvise, to discuss, to enrich, to

experiment with all the other scenes that in a movie like that would [usually]

get a cursory treatment."

"What happened was, [Robert] Shaw, [Richard] Dreyfuss and Scheider

turned into a little rep company," he says. "And all those scenes, rather than

just pushing the plot along, became golden, enveloping the characters. So

when the crisis came, you really cared about those three guys."

Those "three guys" are by now familiar to moviegoers everywhere:

Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss), an aggressive scientist from a wealthy family;

Quint (Shaw), a veteran fisherman unhinged by past trauma; and Brody

(Scheider), a phobic police chief from the big city trying to assimilate in

small town Amity ("A fish out of water, if you'll excuse the expression,"

quips Scheider).

Spielberg's problem in getting the shark to work was also one

of the main reasons he didn't show the fish until very late in the movie

(eighty minutes in, to be precise). This contradicts the generally accepted

explanation that the delay in showing the shark was a purely aesthetic

strategy meant to enhance audience anticipation and suspense.

"The shark didn't work," says screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, echoing

Scheider's words exactly. "It was a difficult piece of mechanical

equipment....It malfunctioned most of the time [so] we had no shark to


Spielberg and Gottlieb got the idea for withholding a glimpse of the

monster until the end from the b-movie "The Thing," says Gottlieb. But

the decision was more along the lines of, 'this is a way we can get around

the fact that our main prop isn't working' rather than 'this is a choice

that we would've made in any case,' according to Gottlieb.

Gottlieb's screenplay was based on a best-selling novel by Peter

Benchley, though the finished film differs from the novel in significant


Benchley initially wrote a couple drafts of the screenplay, before

Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Howard Sackler ("The Great White Hope")

took on the task, writing a couple drafts of his own. Finally Spielberg

brought aboard Gottlieb, a comedy writer and actor who had won an Emmy

for his work on TV's "The Smothers Brothers Show," to write the final

script. Others also contributed to the screenplay, including Shaw, Scheider,

Spielberg, and writer John Milius ("Apocalypse Now").

The script was another element that was inadvertently helped by the

shark-related glitches, since the downtime gave Gottlieb more time to

write and revise. And the screenplay did undergo lots of changes. Hooper's

character (which was almost played by Jan-Michael Vincent instead of

Dreyfuss) changed from a womanizer who had an affair with Brody's wife

to that of the monomaniacal scientist in the film. Quint (almost played by

Sterling Hayden) developed "from this crazy lunatic to this guy with a real

reason to hate sharks," as Scheider puts it.

And Brody (a role originally sought by Charlton Heston) became an

everyman rather than a conventional action hero. "Every aggressive and

macho impulse I had in my character, [Spielberg] would grab me and pull

me back and say, 'No, don't talk like that, don't speak like that. You

are always afraid, you are Mr. Humble all the time,'" recalls Scheider.

"He would say, 'What we want to do is gradually, slowly, carefully,

humorously build this guy into being the hero of the movie.'"

The first scripts did not include the part of the film that Spielberg

and many others consider to be the movie's best: the nine-minute

sequence on the Orca that starts with the three main characters

comparing scars, progresses through Quint's Indianapolis monologue, and

ends with the three singing sea songs together.

How exactly did that sequence evolve? "Howard Sackler was the one

who found the Indianapolis incident and introduced it into the script," says

Gottlieb. "Scar-comparing comes out of a conversation that Spielberg had

with John Milius. John said that macho beach guys would try to assert their

manliness and would compare scars...So Steven said, 'Great, let's see if we

can do something with that.' So I wrote the scar-comparing scene."

Meanwhile, several writers took a crack at Quint's Indianapolis speech,

in which he tells of delivering the Hiroshima bomb aboard a ship that

subsequently sank in shark-infested waters. "Steven was worried about the

Indianapolis speech," says Gottlieb. "My drafts weren't satisfactory.

Sackler's draft wasn't satisfactory to him."

"The conventional historical inaccuracy that has found its way into

most of the literature about the movie is that Milius dictated the speech over

the phone and that it's basically Milius's speech. I was on the phone taking

notes and the speech is not Milius's speech. It's close, it's got elements of

it. But what Milius was working from was my drafts and Sackler's drafts."

[Milius did not respond to our request for comment on this.]

Gottlieb remembers the moment when the Indianapolis monologue was

officially born. "One night after dinner, Spielberg, me, [and others] were

talking about the movie," he says. "Shaw joined us after his dinner with a

wad of paper in his pocket. He said, 'I've been having a go at that speech. I

think I've got it now.'...The housekeeper had just packed up; she dimmed the

lights as she left. Shaw takes the paper out of his pocket and then reads the

speech as you hear it in the movie....He finishes performing that speech and

everyone is in stunned silence. And finally Steven says, 'That's it, that's what

we're going to shoot.'"

"It took two days to shoot that scene," says Gottlieb. "Shaw was

drunk one day, sober the other. What you see on film was a very clever

compendium of the two scenes....If you watch that scene, listen for the tap

[on the table] because that's where it cuts from sober to drunk. Or drunk to

sober, I don't remember which."

And indeed there is a tap on the table by Quint that splits the two parts

of the Indianapolis monologue. Shaw appears to be drunk in the first six

minutes of the sequence and sober in the last three minutes. (For those who

want to locate the splice on video, it happens at the 91-minute mark,

between the phrases "rip you to pieces" and "lost a hundred men.")

By all accounts, the shoot at sea, off Martha's Vineyard, was

nightmarish and difficult. Originally, Spielberg expected to spend only 55

days on the ocean but ultimately stayed for 159. At times, there was tension

and conflict among the cast and crew. At one point, Gottlieb fell overboard

and risked being sliced by a boat propeller.

Further, Spielberg insisted on having a clean horizon during the Orca

sequences, in order to emphasize the boat's isolation at sea. If some vessel

happened to be sailing in the background of a shot, Spielberg would have

one of his crew drive a speed-boat a half-hour or so away to the offending

craft to ask the sailor to consider taking another route. "A lot of times

there was no other way to go, so they'd say, 'Fuck you,'" says Gottlieb.

"So we had to wait for the boat to clear the horizon."

And if the film makers wanted some food while they waited, they

had to settle for turkey and tuna sandwiches that had somehow lost their

freshness in the heat and salt water at the bottom of the boat. They'd sip

coffee that was sometimes four-hours old. And occasionally, the waves

would cause the boat to pitch and bounce in place ("Not a great thing early

in the morning on a sour stomach," says Gottlieb).

"You'd go home at the end of the day sea-sick, sunburned,

windburned," says Gottlieb.

But when the main shark worked, it was a wonder to behold, says

Scheider. He recalls the moment when he knew the movie was going to

succeed: when he first saw the shark sail by the Orca on the open sea. "They

ran [the shark] past the boat about two or three feet underwater," says

Scheider. "And it was as long as the boat. And I said, 'Oh my god, it looks

great.' I remember that day. We probably all lit cigars."

When the movie finally wrapped, nobody knew for sure whether it

would succeed or fail. The first clue came when they brought the film to

technical workers for color-timing purposes. The techies, who were looking

at the film only for purposes of checking the color density of the negative,

were almost literally scared out of their chairs during certain scenes. "Guys

in the lab were jumping," says Gottlieb. "So we started to have a feeling."

Still, nobody was certain how the general public would respond. The

tell-tale moment came during a sneak preview of the film in Long Beach,

California, in the late spring of '75. Gottlieb remembers driving to

Long Beach in a limo with his wife and Spielberg. "We gave Steven...tea to

calm him down on the drive," says Gottlieb. "He was so nervous."

His nervousness apparently subsided about three minutes and forty

seconds into the screening when the invisible shark ripped apart its first

victim. The audience went nuts, drowning out dialogue for the next minute

or so. "You could tell from the crowd reaction that it was going to be a very

important movie," he says.

When the lights came up after the screening, top executives from

Universal Pictures quickly headed straight to the theater restroom -- "the

only quiet spot in the theater," says Gottlieb -- and proceeded to change

the film's release strategy on the spot. Realizing they had a massive hit

on their hands, the execs immediately decided the movie would not be opened

in a normal gradual fashion, but in wide release. Amidst the summer toilets

of Long Beach, movie industry history was made that night.

"The idea of opening a picture simultaneously on 1,500 to 2,000

screens was unheard of," says Gottlieb. "After 'Jaws,' it became standard.

Every studio had to have a big summer picture."

By mid-summer, the film was taking in a million dollars a day. Within

a couple months, it had become the biggest grossing movie of all time.

Today, its domestic gross stands at around $250 million, making it the

13th top grossing movie of all time.

"I see it the same way I saw it then," says Scheider. "It's a very good

action adventure film...Plus it's well-directed, it's well-acted, it's

beautifully shot, it's got a great score and a fabulous story. So why shouldn't

it be a classic movie?"

[this is my original manuscript; a slightly edited version ran in
the San Francisco Chronicle on May 28, 2000.]



for February 9, 2008

The Other Stars of February 9, 1964: The Chicks!

Everyone knows the Beatles became megastars in America

44 years ago, after performing on "The Ed Sulliavn Show"

on February 9, 1964, but the other stars of the night,

the ones who became minor pop culture icons in their

own rights, were the screaming girls. Who can forget the

cutaways to the teenagers (and tweenagers) in the audience:

the modern-looking girl in horn rims, the one with braces who

stuck out her tongue, the carbonated girl who couldn't

stop jumping up and down? Who knows where they

all are now. (Sorry, boys, they're all in their sixties

at this point!)

Anyway, here's a gallery of the Beatles girls from that

legendary night:

Who can forget Brace Face?

She invented modern Pogoing!

Covering her ears, but not her emotions!

Pure sugar: this cutaway shot shows the crowd just
as the Beatles take the stage for the first time (notice
how every girl's mouth is open in unison).


Sorry, girls, he's been assassinated.

But I digress. Paul



for February 6, 2008

A few quick notes on Super Tuesday:

-- Yes, Huckabee, the jihadist candidate, surprised

everyone with his strong showing among holy rollers,

people who believe Creation just took one night,

but he's still far, far behind McCain, who'll almost

certainly be the GOP nominee.

-- Romney will almost surely have a "brainwashed" moment

(it runs in the family, you know) in which he says he

has seen the light and will not continue to spend his

family's inheritance on what now is a vanity run for the


-- Some pundit (I don't remember who) said it best:

if Super Tuesday had been on Thursday, Obama would have

won a majority of the delegates at stake that day.

Obama could still capture the nomination, what with

all the arcane party rules about super-delegates and

proportional allotment -- plus his own growing momentum.

His loss of California was a stunner; I wrongly predicted

an Obama win in Calif., not understanding the extent of

Hillary's support in Hispanic areas. (I was looking

at the Obama-mania in my own area, which doesn't have

many Hispanics.)

-- By the way, kudos to Ted Kennedy for taking time

to speak at a church on a blighted block of Oakland

last Friday. As I walked around the neighborhood near

the gathering (I didn't have time to hear him speak but

did drop by the event), I thought that he could have

taken the easy route and made the usual appearance at

someplace cushy like the Hyatt or the Commonwealth Club,

but instead he cared enough to visit an area that

obviously needs revitalization. I mean, across from

the church where Kennedy spoke was a boarded-up and

apparently burned-out building, and elsewhere was other

vivid evidence of urban rot.

And I thought: parts of this area look sort of like

the aftermath of Katrina. It looked like a Katrina

of neglect. A Katrina of neglect duplicated in

almost every major city in Amercia.

But I digress. Paul



for February 1, 2008

the Barack Industrial Complex is alive and well in northern California!

I don't know who the pollsters are talking to or

what their methodologies are, but I do know that

Barack Obama will win the California primary on

Tuesday. As I've been saying since last March,

in this column and elsewhere, there is absolutely

no evident enthusiasm for Hillary's candidacy in

the Golden State, no yard signs for Hillary,

very few bumper stickers for her -- and that's still

the case. But Barack signs and stickers are

everywhere, and leafletters enthusiastically hand

out copies of his latest speeches in front of local

supermarkets as if they were the next installments

in the Harry Potter series or newly uncovered Beatles


No, Barack will win here on Tuesday, and the only

suspense, it seems, is whether he'll win by a large

margin or a small one. Granted, I live in a very

liberal pocket of the state, but, even so,

it seems as if Hillary is showing no strength

even amongst her base of graying feminist pioneers.

Last night's debate made it obvious that we're

now looking at the Democratic ticket,

and Tuesday's primaries will determine only the order

of the ticket.

I have decided who I'm going to vote for on

Tuesday, but I don't want to publicly endorse

anyone, and that's because I'd like to cover the

upcoming campaign as a reporter for publications

other than my own Daily Digression, and I don't

want to be seen as an advocate for any one


However, I'll give you a hint as to who I'm voting

for: with regard to the Democratic contest, I

think the progressive agenda might be better served

by a brand new strong persuader in the White House,

someone who hasn't already failed to build the

coalitions necessary to pass universal health care

legislation, etc.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, the description of last night's

debate as a "one-on-one" debate is sort of a misnomer.

I mean, a one-on-one debate would be a

debate in which Clinton and Obama are on a stage asking

each other questions without a moderator or outside

interviewers (not a bad idea, actually).

When I, as a journalist, label one of my interviews a

one-on-one interview, I'm referring to the fact that I

interviewed the person without anyone else being

in the room (see: my interviews with Heath Ledger,

Woody Allen, Annette Bening, etc.). Last night's debate

didn't fall in that category.

[photo of Obama Store by Paul Iorio.]



for January 28, 2008

Our first female president should've been the second one from far right.

It has long been my opinion that the first female

president of the U.S. should have been Caroline

Kennedy's mother, Jacqueline, a woman of

intelligence and great style and courage. (By

the way, Jacqueline Kennedy is also the only Kennedy

I've ever personally seen close-up; in the fall

of 1981, when I was briefly working at the editorial

headquarters of Doubleday in Manhattan, I passed

right by her in the hallway, and I remember how

incredibly elegant she was and how she somehow reminded

me of the Eiffel Tower.)

But, sadly, she is no longer with us, and so

we have to choose from the current field of candidates.

Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama

proves, if there was ever any doubt, that Hillary

Clinton is not the feminist icon she's been cracked

up to be and is not even the candidate that most

progressive women are supporting. Womyn may be

supporting Hillary, but women are not. (Womyn are

older females who were shaped by the rough draft of

early 1970s feminism rather than by the version of

feminism that was revised and amended in subsequent


Let me put it a bit more vividly than many of my

readers would like: the main organ responsible for

a successful presidency is a couple feet north of

the vagina. Having a vagina does not necessarily mean

that you can push a feminist agenda more successfully

than someone with a penis. If Liddy Dole were our

first female president, she would not be a feminist

icon and would not even be seen as serving the

interests of women on issues like abortion rights,

gender segregation, etc.

Further, a mediocre female candidate, progressive or

not, is still a mediocre candidate. Witness Geraldine

Ferraro. (Who?, many younger readers might be asking.)

Ferraro is almost completely forgotten today by just

about everybody (except womyn, of course) -- or, more

accurately, is about as well-known today as William Miller,

Barry Goldwater's running mate in 1964. And for good

reason: she pioneered nothing, took no brave stands, put

out no original ideas, and came across as insufferably

local. (In fact, if she's known at all today by the

general public, it's probably because of the controversy

involving her husband -- which shows how easily she

could be outshone.)

All this means the following: being the first female

anything is no virtue or achievement if you're not good at

the job in the first place. I mean, there are plenty of female

Dan Quayles out there, and we shouldn't be giving such

people 10 extra points just because they have a clitoris.

In the 1990s, there was a mystique about Hillary born of

the mythology that she was somehow the brainy, underemployed,

mastermind of all that Bill did. But now that the curtain

has been parted, and we can actually see Hillary in harsh

light, we realize that the opposite is true, that the real

mastermind behind the Clinton administration, and behind

Hillary's own "work," was President Clinton.

Her candidacy is looking more and more like a "front"

candidacy, in which she fronts the ticket for the true

contender, her husband (how unfeminist!), who -- rest

assured, dear voters -- will be running things in the

WH if she's elected in November.

But a Hillary administration may not be as much of a

third Clinton term as you might think. For example,

if, say, bin Laden's location is pinpointed in Yemen,

and Bill comes into the Oval Office and says, "Hillary,

I think we should do an airstrike inside Yemen right

now," Hillary might just as likely say, in her scolding tone,

"Bill, I'm running things, not you, and I'll be deciding

whether I'm going to strike or not." And out of spite

or vain self-assertion, she might decide to override

Bill's smart suggestion just to show she, not he, is in

charge. Hence, a Hillary presidency might actually

(and dangerously) veer away from Bill's judgment

(even when Bill is correct) -- and for no good reason.

Hillary is not the first mediocre female candidate to have run for national office


ah, the days when the term dynastic royalty actually meant something

But I digress. Paul



for January 25, 2008

As things now stand, here's my prediction of how

the headlines will look on November 5, 2008:

The Thinking Behind My Electoral Map and Math

First, Wisconsin. If Dems sneeze, they lose it, which

is why you hear nothing about gun control

during prez election years, seeing how all those

moose lodgers in Wisc love their guns and all. This

year, the male vote will tilt it the third of a percentage

required for McCain to win the state.

Second, New Hampshire only went Kerry because Mass. was

next door; Hillary has no such advantage.

Third, just as Gore lost Tennessee in '00, so Hillary

will lose Arkansas. She's really not of Arkansas the

way Bill is, and she turned her back on the state to

run from NY, so Ark will return the favor come Nov.

Fourth, Louisiana, Missouri and Iowa are never really

in play for the Dems unless a Perot is siphoning votes

from the GOP, though Katrina may have changed the

calculus slightly in LA.

Fifth, Ohio is almost always 5 points from the Dems's

reach, and will be so this time, too.

Sixth, a Florida win for Hillary requires a majority

of swing voters along the I-4 corridor, which will

give her 45 percent of the vote -- tops (I know

because I used to live around there).

Seventh: oops! Should have added Maine to

the McCain column on above map.

Eighth, all other states are self-explanatory.

Ninth, Barack would fare even worse, though not

as badly as you might think; on a good day for

Obama, take the above electoral map and add Minnesota

to McCain's column. But there would inevitably be

dirty TV ads against Obama by the Republicans that

would run in heavy rotation around Halloween in key

swing states like Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin,

and they'd go something like this: "Can America Trust

Barack Hussein Obama?" would be the refrain, with the

final frame featuring Obama embracing Al Sharpton.

Whoever Obama taps as his veep, the GOP would see

to it, through negative commercials, that his real

running-mate in the eyes of swing state voters is Al

Sharpton. Barack could mitigate this possibility

slightly by having a Sistah Soldier moment with

Sharpton, but the ads would still eat

into his totals in the upper midwest, at least.

* * *

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

How to put this. Time and again I've watched

interview footage featuring Hillary Clinton and seen

the same thing, and maybe I should shut up

about it, but then again I'm a reporter, and reporters

are in the business of revealing, not concealing.

Anyway, back to the interview footage. Whenever Hillary

is interviewed by a drop-dead gorgeous woman, and this has

happened many times, Hillary sort of blushes and loses her

breath and sort of looks away and becomes somewhat shy in

the manner of someone who -- how to put this? -- has a

special appreciation of or passion for feminine beauty.

In other words, she sort of reminds me of how I, a

hetero male, react when I sit down and talk with a

super-model sort of woman. (You know how it is,

it's always sort of impossible to hide how you feel,

and it tends to come through even when you try to cover

it up.) Thing is, she doesn't seem to respond that

way to other interviewers, for whom she does her usual

bug-eyed thing.

And I'm talking about her involuntary, reflexive

reactions, as opposed to her conscious, deliberate


So what I am trying to say? I guess I'm observing that the

person who might become our 44th president appears to have

a, uh, special appreciation of feminine beauty -- not a bad

thing. And that her election may possibly -- just

possibly -- be a first for two groups.

By the way, seeing how things in this column tend

to get around (and are stolen by the

same publications that reject my findings when I

pitch them), I bet the Hillary camp neutralizes

this by having her hug both a gorgeous actress

and her hunky husband at a campaign

event -- on camera, of course. Or stage photos in

which women are looking adoringly at Hillary instead

of vice versa. Or something like that.

* * *

My favorite headline of the week: CJR's "To Check the

Facts, You Need the Facts," which tops a story that

fact-checks one TV network's fact-checking. Leave

it to the CJ Review to see through the

daily chronicle of distortions and lies by

official sources.

Remember, this is an era when people see the

Virgin Mary in a coffee stain and UFOs in every

wisp of smoke, so fact-based perception and

analysis are in short supply everywhere these

days. Add to that the fact that several

major news organizations don't even discipline

the plagiarists in their number, much less the

people who merely get their facts wrong.

But I digress. Paul

[above graphic by Paul Iorio.]



for January 22, 2008

Remembering Heath Ledger

My Unpublished (or Mostly Unpublished)
Interview with Ledger

What a shock and a tragedy to hear that Heath

Ledger died today.

It wasn't very long ago when I was sitting

around with Ledger in some hotel room in Beverly Hills,

conducting a one-on-one interview with the actor

for a story that I wrote and reported for the

San Francisco Chronicle. He was 21 then and rising

fast, so it hardly seems believable that he's

already gone.

To remember him, I'm posting here most of my

interview with Ledger, which has been unpublished

until now (except for 80 words of it, which I used

in one of my stories for a newspaper).

My interview with Ledger happened on June 3, 2000,

and my story on him -- also posted below -- ran in the

San Francisco Chronicle's June 25 - July 1, 2000 issue.


HEATH LEDGER: Yeah, so did I.


LEDGER: Yeah. I was there. Snuck in.


LEDGER: I was too consumed with the movie [laughs].


I loved it. Huge. Shit! Massive. Epic.


I have no expectations for what the movie's going to do.

[Ledger tries lighting a cigarette with a final match.]
That was the last match, too.


"Ten Things I Hate About You."


Quit smoking.

* * *


...The first reading I did was fucked. I went in there, I had two
scenes to prepare, and I was halfway through the second scene and I
dropped my head and I just said, "I'm sorry, I'm wasting your time,
I'm really embarrassed, God, I'm so sorry, I'm wasting your time and
I'm wasting my time, I'm sorry, if you want me to come back, I'll
come back and do it, but I gotta leave." And I walked out with my
head down and my tail between my legs.


Yeah, they called me back.


[The director] Roland [Emmerich] and [the producer] Dean
[Devlin] --


'Cause I was doing a lousy reading. I was just, like, not
there, and my morale was down by my feet.

* * *


Well, I was in the States for about two and a half years. I
was in L.A. And then I packed up my stuff in L.A., closed down my
home and went to South Carolina to shoot "Patriot." And after
that I had two months off, so I went and fucked off to New York
and hung out there for a bit. And then I went straight from
New York to Prague, and I was there for two months...where I'm
shooting "A Knight's Tale." And I've got eight days off now
to do all this shit and then I go back and have another two months
there [in Prague] and then I've got two weeks off and I go to
Morocco for four months to do "The Four Feathers" That's why I
don't really have a home right now, I'm just living out of bags.
Which is kind of the way I've been for the last five years, I've
kind of been on the road, living out of bags, which is good.


I don't know. I don't look that far ahead in the future. I
choose not to. If you live in the future or the past you
lose touch with the now. So I generally live every minute of
every day in the present. I don't have a diary, I don't have
a journal, I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow. I don't what
I'm doing after this. That's good. And it keeps
my life fresh and exciting. [coughs]


Well, they're all fucking idiots because they let their kids
watch fucking TV, they let their kids play computer games and
rip heads off people. They're hypocrites....It's ridiculous.
If they're going to complain about that, let them. Fuck
them, because, really, the world is so full of fucking shit
and chaos right now it's not funny. You put on the TV. I don't
watch TV. I haven't watched TV in fucking years. I don't have
one. I have one only for movies. I have a DVD and a video
player. I don't hook it up to fucking cable, nothing. It's
trash. And if they think ["The Patriot" is] trash, well,
fuck, there's something wrong. With computer games and all
that shit?! That's ridiculous. They don't have to worry about
this. They have to worry about the shit from the electronic
nanny they sit their kids down in front of so they don't have
to worry about their kids, so they don't have to create shit
for them to do and let them use their imagination and go, "hey,
go outside and run around in the garden." No, stick them in
front of here and you don't have to worry about them. They
can go fuck off. Fuck 'em. We're not teaching kids to do
[violence]. We're telling a story, that's all.

[top photo of Ledger is a still from the movie "The Patriot"; photographer unknown.]



for January 21, 2008

Remember Martin Luther King, Jr. Today!

To commemorate King, I'm re-running the Daily

Digression of September 6, 2007, which talks

about a television appearance by King. Here it is:

I recently watched the uncut version of the

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s appearance in 1967 on

"The Merv Griffin Show," in which he talked at length about his

opposition to the Vietnam War. And it's truly astonishing

footage, if only because almost everything Rev. King

said on that show about the Vietnam War could easily apply

today to American involvement in Iraq (e.g., that the U.S.

is involving itself in someone else's civil war, that the

"enemy" is not monolithic, that an escalation or surge is

not the solution, etc.). In fact, it might be interesting to

get a transcript of his remarks and replace the word Vietnam

with the word Iraq.

And by the way, what also emerges from that interview

is how truly brilliant and unflappable and dignified

and poetic Martin Luther King was. Truly Lincolnesque.

(And modest, too; he insisted that his father

was the number one pastor at their church in Atlanta,

and he himself was merely his number two.) As revered as he is

today, he's still underrated (and, frankly, I couldn't

help but think that, in a perfect world, he should have

been the Democratic nominee for president in 1968).

But I digress. Paul



for January 16, 2008

But I digress. Paul

[all three graphics above by Paul Iorio, though the praying hands are
from and the golf ball from]



for January 21, 2008

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

To commemorate King, I'm re-running the Daily

Digression of September 6, 2007, which talks

about a television appearance by King. Here it is:

I recently watched the uncut version of the

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s appearance in 1967 on

"The Merv Griffin Show," in which he talked at length about his

opposition to the Vietnam War. And it's truly astonishing

footage, if only because almost everything Rev. King

said on that show about the Vietnam War could easily apply

today to American involvement in Iraq (e.g., that the U.S.

is involving itself in someone else's civil war, that the

"enemy" is not monolithic, that an escalation or surge is

not the solution, etc.). In fact, it might be interesting to

get a transcript of his remarks and replace the word Vietnam

with the word Iraq.

And by the way, what also emerges from that interview

is how truly brilliant and unflappable and dignified

and poetic Martin Luther King was. Truly Lincolnesque.

(And modest, too; he insisted that his father

was the number one pastor at their church in Atlanta,

and he himself was merely his number two.) As revered as he is

today, he's still underrated (and, frankly, I couldn't

help but think that, in a perfect world, he should have

been the Democratic nominee for president in 1968).

But I digress. Paul



for January 15, 2008

Received my official ballot for the California Presidential

Primary Election the other day and was, as usual, sort of

amused by the presence of dozens of minor or completely

unknown contenders running as third, fourth, fifth and

even sixth party candidates.

So I decided to check out the official websites of several of them.

Two presidential contenders -- former Congresswoman Cynthia

McKinney, who thinks UFOs flew into the twin towers on 9/11

(isn't that what she thinks?), and Ralph Nader, who makes people

want to go out and buy a Corvair -- appear on the ballot

twice, in both the Green party and the Peace & Freedom party


Here are bits from the more obscure candidates' websites:

-- Mad Max Riekse of the American Independent Party.

Mad Max is also running for president in 2012, in case you were

wondering. He's from a place called Fruitport, Michigan. Notable quotes

from Mad Max include: "Get the MM word out" and "Don't get

involved with other people's politics or wars." His website has had

1,121 hits.

-- Jared Ball of the Green Party.

An assistant prof. Qualifications include: "I am the son of a

European-descended Jewish woman and an African-descended

Black man," he explains, and am married to a "powerful and dynamic

woman from Panama."

-- Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party.

Her site has not been updated since last December. "Money is

the Mother's Milk of Politics," begins her website, which is

equally riveting throughout.

-- Kent Mesplay of the Green Party.

"Urgent," warns Mesplay, "Homeland Security is preparing

to seize Apache lands!"

-- Ralph Nader of the Green Party.

I think everyone's heard quite enough from him for now.

-- Kat Swift of the Green Party.

Her web page looks vaguely like a porn site and also

has a dynamic calculation of "the cost of the war in Iraq"

that changes upward every few seconds.

-- Michael P. Jingozian of the Libertarian Party.

"Attacks against Jingo have backfired," he insists, adding:

"We have many things going for us. First, people are mad."

-- Steve Kubby of the Libertarian Party.

"You can smell it in the air -- voters aren't happy,"

says his website.

-- Alden Link of the Libertarian Party.

"New York City could convert the current U.N. building to

a hotel and gambling casino," says Link on his site.

-- George Phillies of the Libertarian Party.

"Under a Phillies administration, torturers will be despised,"

he says on his website.

-- Wayne Allyn Root of the Libertarian Party.

Root describes himself as "a highly recognized sports oddsmaker

and prognosticator who now lives in Vegas."

-- Christine Smith of the Libertarian Party.

"As President, my priority will be the American people,"

she says on her site.

-- Stewart A. Alexander of the Peace & Freedom Party.

Writes about a "gasoline boycott" and "free education."

-- John Crockford of the Peace & Freedom Party.

"Abolish vagrancy laws," says Crockford, who runs a

website design business.

-- Stanley Hetz of the Peace & Freedom Party.

"I have obtained ballot access," Hetz writes. Writes one

Hetz fan: "Hetz is a very intelligent, well-spoken man."

-- Brian P. Moore of the Peace & Freedom Party.

A Florida socialist. Qualifications include being "threatened

with arrest the other day by police in Brattleboro, Vermont."

But I digress. Paul



for January 10, 2008

Hillary Does. Big Girls Don't.

I was re-thinking Hillary's Muskie Moment

this morning and started wishing she had

said the following when asked whether it was

hard for her to get up every morning and ride

chartered buses and eat any kind of food she

likes. And I wished she had responded with:

"Is campaigning hard for me? I'll tell you

what's hard: changing bed pans for a dying

loved one. That's hard. I'll tell you what's hard:

dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear explosion when

hospitals are overflowing with patients with gamma

burns. I'll tell you what's hard: ordering the bombing

of a major city because its leader has just bombed us.

I'll tell you what's hard: having a terrorist

make death threats to your family members by name.

No, compared to all that, compared to what a president

has to deal with every day, campaigning is easy,

it's a walk in the breeze."

As a voter and a citizen and a media person, I really

wish Hillary had answered the question that way. Because

I want to have a president who is tougher than me,

someone who is cool and composed and in charge

when the bombs and bullets are flying nearby. I don't

want a leader who is in the corner crying or praying or

hiding when a dirty bomb has just been set off in a town

where he or she has relatives. I want someone taking

charge and being smart and making terrific decisions.

Can you imagine what would have happened if JFK had

addressed the nation about the Cuban Missile Crisis

and started tearing up? What message would that

have sent to a belligerent, macho guy like Khrushchev?

This isn't like Johnny Carson or Tiger Woods crying;

they weren't in charge of the nuclear arsenal, for


I talked with the late Frank Zappa on the phone in

1988, and he weighed in about the presidential contest

of that year with words that have stuck with me

ever since:

"You don't want a Perfect Little Man in the White House,"

Zappa told me. "You want a motherfucker in there!"

But I digress. Paul



for January 9, 2008

Hillary, last night in Manchester

First, this wasn't the Michigan or South Carolina

primary, where there's a huge African-American vote

that would be expected to turn out for Obama. This

was New Hampshire, virtually all-white New Hampshire,

and a black candidate just came within a heartbeat

of a-winnin' against a very well-organized, mainstream

contenda. That's one of the main headlines from

last night.

Second: what up with them thar polls?

Third: On Sunday morning, after the debates

and before I was misled by the polls, I wrote

in this space:

"If Obama wins, it will be by a slim

margin, and there's a chance Hillary

could pull it off by a whisker."

(The complete column is below, under the heading

"January 6.")

So from now on, I'm listening to my own instincts

and not to the pollsters!

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- If a news organization is going to

appropriate unique coinages and insights of

mine, would it please take the time to

cite the source (e.g., "as freelance

writer Paul Iorio wrote in his online column")?



for January 7, 2008

Hillary's Muskie Moment Foretold by The Daily Digression!

(by the way, I coined the phrase "Muskie Moment" before other reporters started using it)

There's something about New Hampshire in the winter

that tends to bring out the tears even in candidates

for the toughest political office in the land. I grew

up in early childhood north of New Hampshire, in Maine,

a latitude that produces more singer-songwriters per

capita than any other place on Earth, perhaps because

the vast expanses of snow and the eternal

winters (relieved only by the whiff of rhubarb in the

summer) breed melancholy, introspection.

So I felt bad seeing Hillary tearing up in Portsmouth

today, just as Ed Muskie did all those years ago, but I

could also understand part of the reason why: those

New England winters. Notice that candidates, win or

lose, don't cry while campaigning in fun, warm places

like Santa Barbara or Key West.

Also, I must note that the Daily Digression sensed this

might happen; back on October 14, 2007, I opened my column

with the following words (highlighted in bold):

Hillary's lead in the polls may be widening

but it's not deepening. Hard-core Democrats I've

spoken with, men and women, have approximately

zero enthusiasm for her candidacy. And she irritates

even feminist friends of mine. Bad sign.

That also means she's too susceptible to having

a Muskie Moment in the snow that destroys her

candidacy. She almost had a Muskie Moment in Iowa

last Sunday, when that "double agent" asked her a

question that was off script. There's bound to be

one in the coming months, once things get tougher

and when there really are plants

and hecklers in the crowd.

The entire column is archived below, under the heading "October

14, 2007."

* * *

Could an Obama/Edwards Ticket Beat McCain/Lieberman?

Now that it's obvious that Barack Obama is going to

win -- and win big -- tomorrow in New Hampshire,

another trend is emerging in subsequent primary

states: states where Clinton once had a double-digit

lead in polls in early December are now trending

unmistakably toward Obama.

Though post-Iowa state-by-state poll results are

scarce, the trajectory is the same almost

everywhere, with all signs pointing to Obama

winning the top five SuperTuesday states on

Feb. 5 (e.g., his home state of Illinois, California,

Georgia, New Jersey and even New York, where

Clinton serves as Senator).

And it's highly doubtful the next three biggest

SuperTuesday states -- Missouri, Arizona and

Tennessee -- would somehow be immune from the nationwide

trend toward Obama.

The speculation, at least on the Democratic side,

should now turn to who Obama will choose as his running

mate, a decision that, of course, would partly depend

on who the Republican nominee is going to be, and

that's uncertain at this point, though if I had to

guess, I'd call it for McCain. And, if I had to guess

again -- and, admittedly, it's way too early for this

sort of thing -- I'd say the Arizona senator has been

acting pretty chummy lately with his lonely comrade

in Iraq war boosterism, Joseph Lieberman, who would

provide That Special Blue State Wedge for a red

state candidate like Mac.

Meanwhile, Obama and his people must be

huddling around now, or will be huddling soon,

to draw up the proverbial Short List. And such a

list is surprisingly short when it comes to

potential veeps who have already been vetted by

voters and by the media and have had some

experience hiking the national campaign trail.

First, obviously, Obama would want to turn to

the candidates who came in second, third and beyond

in the primaries. But Hillary has too much pride

for the number two spot, and besides, the Democrats

can't afford to lose a Senate seat. Biden/Dodd/Richardson

are terrific statesmen but box office poison. Evan

Bayh's name always comes up in these things but,

face it, he couldn't even get through the

starting gate of the '08 race a year or so ago. Ditto

Vilsack. Obviously, a charismatic swing

state politician from Florida or Ohio might fit

the bill, but John Glenn is pushing 90, a bit of a drawback,

and Lawton Chiles is currently dead,

which would definitely rule him out.

Wesley Clark will probably be considered and rejected

(his '04 bid was anemic), as will Michael Bloomberg,

who will turn it down because he's thinking of his

own run. Oh, how the list is short of peeps who

wanna be the president's bitch for four years!

Of course, that leaves Barack with, pretty much, one

possibility. This next contender has already left

his job, so there'd be no loss in Congress, and

has plenty of time on his hands, which he's currently

spending on a (at this point) vanity campaign for

president. Further, he's already done the veep

thing and has a southern accent, which will play

nicely in some purple states. He needs no further

introduction, folks, he's That Two Americas guy

y'all been hearin' about: former Senator John

Edwards of one of those red states Obama would

love to pick off and put in the Democratic column

next November.

Then again, all bets are off if Oprah says, "yes."

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for January 6, 2008

Why McCain and Obama Will Win in New Hampshire on Tuesday

the likely winners on Tuesday

The reasons Barack Obama

and John McCain will win

the New Hampshire primary

on Tuesday are these:

First, the Iowa win has given Obama momentum in a race that

had been virtually tied in New Hampshire.

Second, it was plain to see that Obama won last night's

debate and Clinton lost and even seemed unsure of

herself (see analysis below), which has probably added to

Obama's total by a couple percentage points.

Third, at the GOP debate, McCain trounced Romney, who

looked weak and was already suffering from negative

momentum from his Iowa loss.

Incidentally, The Daily Digression has not yet endorsed a

candidate for president and may not do so (I try to keep my

analysis as objective as possible).

But I digress. Paul

[posted at around 10:30 am [PT] on January 6.]



for January 6, 2008

I've purposely not read or heard any of the spin or

commentary about last night's presidential debates

because I want to come to my own analysis fresh.

That said, the debate winners last night were -- by many

miles -- Barack Obama and John McCain, and the big

losers were John Edwards and Mitt Romney.

Romney, rapidly losing his favorite son advantage

in New Hampshire, came off worst of all, particularly on

the health care issue when he implied that things like heart

attacks and strokes are business proposals, not

diseases, and that one could go into an ER and get

a "repair" for a thousand bucks.

Suddenly, Romney seemed like Poppy Bush being

mystified by a check-out scanner at the supermarket,

the blue blood who has been rich too long to understand

what a shrieking nightmare the American health care

system really is.

By contrast, McCain came across like the disciplinarian,

spanking Romney on immigration and sending him to bed

without his pork rinds. Mitt seemed thin-skinned, defensive,

like the son of somebody instead of his own man

(a bit like Haven Hamilton's "nice" son in the movie

"Nashville"), trying for that Reaganesqe effect but

not quite getting it. If McCain had a lead in the

polls going into the debate, he clearly increased it

with his performance last night. (Still, if nominated,

McCain might turn out to be the Dole of '08.)

On the Democratic side, Edwards seemed distracted, even

losing track of a question at one point, and otherwise

appearing flabby in direct contrast to Obama.

Obama was the star of the show, dwarfing everyone else

onstage, and completely comfortable with being a leader

in every instance.

Hillary tried a bit too hard to show that she understood the

nuances of various issues, inadvertently revealing that she

tends to get mired in unnecessary detail. For example, in

response to the question of whether we should unilaterally

strike bin Laden in Pakistan, she noted the "inherent

paranoia" about India in Pakistan and how that might play

into a surprise strike. And with regard to withdrawing from

Iraq, she brought up the ancillary issue of how we would

withdraw the translators (I'm no expert, but I would guess

they'd board the same planes that the soldiers are

boarding). In sum, she was being too...too.

Elsewhere the Dems all scrambled to say that they would

deliver the troops back to their hometowns within nine months

or a year or your pizza's free.

Hillary also repeated her much stated bit about working

hard for change. But working hard in the service of a flawed

policy is no virtue at all. One could, for example, work 20

hour days, 7 days a week, phoning world leaders and chewing

them out one by one, and that would certainly be working hard,

but it would also be working hard in the service of a

seriously misguided goal. The folks who gave us the Iraq

war worked around the clock to make the war

happen in '03 but we all would've been better off

if Rumsfeld and Co. had taken a long vacation in Cabo

instead. It's more important to work smart AND hard.

Meanwhile Richardson asks, "Is experience a leper?"

The answer to that is, "Sometimes." The wrong kind of

experience is a leper. To note an extreme example: in 1944,

Hitler was a very experienced world leader -- and a hard

worker, by the way -- but he was also clueless about

his own evil and wrongheaded policies.

Richardson keeps touting his own foreign policy

credentials but the bigger question is whether he has

foreign policy wisdom.

Just ask Richardson two simple questions to find out if

he's actually smart about foreign policy:

1) Did you support the Afghanistan war BEFORE the Afghanistan
war in 2001?

2) Did you oppose the Iraq war BEFORE the Iraq war in 2003?

If he answers yes to both questions, then he does have sound

foreign policy judgment. If he answers no to even one of the

questions, he doesn't.

All told, Richardson looked generally befuddled (if he's so

smart, how come he's not so smart?).

Also, another winner tonight was ABCs Charles Gibson,

whose performance as moderator was, in a word, perfect.

Gibson made sure that this was truly a debate and not

just a series of joint appearances, and he ended up creating

the most revealing candidate forum in many, many years,

a striking piece of television journalism.

In the wake of the debates and the Iowa results, my

best guess is that the winners on Tuesday in New Hampshire

will be McCain and Obama (though if Obama wins, it will be

by a slim margin, and there's a chance Hillary could

pull it off by a whisker).

For the first time, I can envision a debate stage, circa

Halloween, featuring Obama and McCain. It may not happen,

but after last night I can actually see how it might.

But I digress. Paul

[posted around 6:15am [PT] on January 6]



for January 5, 2008

the best picture Oscar front-runner?

After seeing Paul Thomas Anderson's "There

Will Be Blood," I couldn't help but think

the film may turn out to be the major

picture of '07 -- and a front-runner for the best

picture Oscar, too (though, admittedly, I've not

yet seen some of the other major contenders).

It's the sort of epic, like "Citizen Kane" or the

flashback parts of "The Godfather, Part 2,"

that captures the thrill of a hard-scrabble

entrepreneur overcoming impossible obstacles to become

both a wealthy tycoon and the apple that doesn't

fall far from the tree.

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a grand American

cinematic character, halfway between Noah Cross

and Howard Hughes, who starts his career as a miner

and ends up an oilman, building a fortune on a foundation

of blood and petroleum, both spilled liberally

throughout the film.

The imagery is novel and riveting. The

scene in which oil literally rains everywhere from an

unexpected geyser may well take its place in future

years in the pantheon of unforgettable, iconic cinematic

images. And I think it's safe to say

there has never been a murder on the big (or small)

screen quite like the one that ends this film.

To those who recoil at some of the violence in the movie,

I say that Plainview is not nearly as ruthless and brutal

as many of America's pioneering entrepreneurs, Plainview's

predecessors, who stole land outright (they didn't just

offer an unfair buy-out, as Plainview did) and killed those

who stood in their way. (America's founding capitalists

were also immoral enough to use free labor, which cut

their overhead considerably.)

This may be Anderson's best film to date but I bet it's not

the greatest he'll ever make, because parts of "There Will

Be Blood" hint at a future, even more brilliant film, an

Anderson "Godfather," still yet to come.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of "There Will Be Blood" from]


for January 4, 2008

In the wake of last night's Iowa caucuses, I really

don't have much to add to my column of three days ago

(see below) that accurately predicted that

Obama and Huckabee would be the winners of the Iowa

vote. My column, posted on January 1st, also correctly

noted the reasons why the victors would be Obama and

Huckabee, the reason being the fervor of their supporters

(the students and the evangelicals, respectively).

So I don't have anything else to add except to say that

lots of big budget news organizations got it wrong and

the no-budget Daily Digression got it right. Which

leads to the question: why don't certain editors give

me the next paid assignment that you're about to give

to the reporter who got it wrong?

But I digress. Paul



for January 1, 2008 (happy new year!)

Why Obama and Huckabee Will Win in Iowa on Thursday

It Looks Like The Pews Versus the Dorms (Again!) in '08

the likely winner in Iowa

First, John Edwards, you can surrender Friday morning,

if you'd like, but you probably won't, you'll probably

say something like, this doesn't settle or prove

anything, though you know it does, definitively and

forever. Thursday's Iowa vote will permanently end

Edwards's presidential prospects but I bet he might

let it drag on through the snows of New Hampshire in

the hope that South Carolina will recognize kin in

someone who talks like this. But it's over, John,

you bet the table's high limit on Iowa and lost, and (as

I wrote in a previous column) you're what Gephardt

was in '04: old news. You've served your party well

and honorably but, as Al Gore once said, it is now

time for you to go.

Second, Obama will probably win on Thursday for reasons

that are obvious to anyone who has attended one of his rallies:

he attracts true believers who support him with an unusual

level of intensity and who are likely to turn out to vote,

come blizzard or ice storm. Huckabee will win for the same


Just as in November 2004, the presidential race

is, again, coming down to The Students versus The

Evangelicals, The Pews versus The Dorms. As you may recall,

in Ohio, with the red vote and blue vote almost even, college

students started racking up totals for Kerry in Cuyahoga County

while churchgoers were coming out in droves for Bush,

both groups seeking to break the tie.

In all likelihood, both factions will again be the dominant

voting blocs on Thursday in Iowa, where I bet the finishing

order is Obama-Clinton-Edwards and Huckabee-Romney-McCain.

[For the record, this was posted at 7:30am on

January 1, 2008.]


* * *

Condolences to Bhutto's son, but in all honesty I think

he needs a lot more seasoning before he assumes any

throne. And one of his profs should tell him

"Democracy is the best revenge" is not a very good

or true line, because it's not the best revenge if the

other guy wins. Perhaps "Democracy is the best policy"

would have been a better bit. Speaking of democracy:

who voted for him? Maybe what he meant to say was,

"Nepotism is the best revenge."

But I digress. Paul

[photos of Obama and Edwards by Paul Iorio.]



for December 28 - 30, 2007

During the Writers's Strike, SNL Still Airs -- On DVD

E - I - E - I - O

My main girlfriend in my senior year of high

school brought me over to her house one night

in the spring of 1975 and after awhile phoned her

older sister in New York, who she wanted me to

meet. You've got to meet my older sister, she said

excitedly, her name is Marilyn and she writes for

"Rhoda" and is working on this new television show

for the fall (or was trying to become a writer for

this new television series).

So she dialed her in the kitchen, chatted some

sisterly chat and then handed me the phone. I talked

with her sister for a couple minutes at most and

remember I was sort of daunted speaking to this

star writer as she told me she was busy writing for a

brand new comedy series for NBC that would premiere in

several months (or perhaps she said she was trying to get

onboard the new series as a writer). Good luck, I said,

and we said goodbye.

I really didn't think of what she told me on the phone

that much until months later, late at night on October

11, 1975, when someone said something like come watch

this show, George Carlin's on.

It was, of course, the series premiere of "Saturday

Night Live," then dubbed "Saturday Night," and I instantly

figured out that that was the show my girlfriend's sister

had been talking about on the phone (by then she was an

ex-girlfriend because I had gone away to college, and so had she).

And when the credits rolled, either on that show or

on another one in '75, there was her name, in big

letters, on the tv screen: Marilyn Suzanne

Miller. Wow, I thought.

Anyway, that's a long, unnecessary but completely true wind-up

to saying that I recently re-watched six episodes -- numbers 13

to 18 -- from that golden first season of SNL and had a blast,

for the most part, doing so. Thing is, you get used to seeing

the first season material packaged with bits from the first five

seasons in best-of compilations and forget that there're lots

of forgotten sketches that are wildly funny amidst the overly

familiar classics.

In those six episodes are many of the all-time blockbusters

that still stand as SNL's very best material: "The Super

Bass-o-matic '76," "Lorne's Offer to the Beatles," "The

Ten-Letter Metric Alphabet," and Andy Kaufman's "Old MacDonald"

(Aykroyd's brilliant E. Buzz Miller didn't happen till the second


Loose notes on the episodes:

Episode 15, with Jill Clayburgh as host, is a real gem,

though episode 16, with Anthony Perkins as host, is a snoozer;

Desi Arnaz should've cleaned his teeth (dentures?) before

going onscreen; Ron Nessen and Jerry Rubin were not very

funny people (though seeing Nessen intro Patti Smith was

almost surreal); Chevy Chase had great stuff in Update (he

once reported that Charles Manson was no longer a threat to

society "unless society happens to cross his path"), though

his falls were clearly causing him pain -- and at least

one of his falls could have easily broken his neck. And, no

doubt about it, the reputed tension between Chase and John

Belushi is plain to see onscreen, particularly during one

Update sketch in which Belushi hauls off and punches

Chase at full velocity (see photo).

Also: Laraine Newman has such an expressive face that she

might have been a great silent movie star in another era; the

Bee and Samurai sketches were almost all formulaic

and tedious; Kaufman's "Old MacDonald" is unbelievably riotous;

the weekly "Home Movies" segment was truly the YouTube of its

day; even in the great fertile age of SNL, for every genius

bit like the Bass-o-matic or the offer to the Beatles, there

were around 17 duds.

Anyway, the vintage DVDs will have to do until the writers's strike

is settled.

Here are some pics from the first season:

pure genius (above and below)


the dawn and Dean of Update

John and Chevy didn't get along

But I digress. Paul

[photos of TV stills by Paul Iorio.]

P.S. -- So what ever happened to the relationship

between me and my girlfriend of 33 years ago (her

name is Judy, by the way)? Here's the

scoop (which even she doesn't fully know): I went to a party

in '75 (that she was not at) and snacked on some chips and

brownies and around an hour later started feeling a bit queasy.

And then I started feeling alot worse than queasy, as my heart

started racing and I felt sort of stoned though I hadn't

even had so much as a drink. I went home and slept it off

and when I woke up I felt fine but was wondering what had

caused the previous night's problem. And I remember that

I then wrote a letter to Judy, now away at college, and told

her that "something had happened" and that I'd had this

mysterious experience and didn't know what it was (hey, I

was 17, for crissakes!).

Shortly after I sent her the letter, the mystery was solved.

Later that day, the hosts of the party -- friends of mine

still -- confessed that they had (unbeknownst to me) put a

very large quantity of pot in the brownies that I'd eaten

the night before and that that had been the cause of my racing

heartbeat, etc. Not a funny practical joke, I must admit,

at least from my point of view. In any event, the letter to

my former girlfriend had already been mailed, obviously

before I could explain to her what had actually happened and

that there was no cause for concern, but I think the letter was

a turn-off to her and the damage had already been done. In any

event, we'd already drifted apart, and things were already

over anyway, so that was the last letter I wrote to her.

[this day's column updated January 2, 2008]



for December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto was the absolute opposite of so many

cowardly politicians and public officials worldwide

who play it safe, don't cause controversy and are the

last to take a daring stand on any issue. She openly defied

death threats, enraged the backward people of the northwest

territories and generally showed more courage than Osama bin Laden

has ever shown, as he hides in his doghouse and releases

cowardly videos from a big distance. Can you imagine

bin Laden having the balls Bhutto had and appearing at

rallies amongst his fans in Waziristan? (By the way, the

next time a bin Laden vid turns up at al Jazeera, would it

kill those tv reporters to break a sweat and try to track

down its chain of custody? Who gave it to the guy who

gave it to the guy? Was there any video surveillance

capturing its delivery to Jazeera? But I digress.)

All condolences about Bhutto's death must go to us all,

because her murder is a global loss and may well cause

enough turmoil to topple Musharraf, which would be a revoltin'

development, to say the least, because the country could

then topple into the hands of the Taliban.

If Pakistan and its nukes were to fall into the hands of the

Taliban or al Qaeda, the U.S. would, of course, have no choice

but to act immediately -- militarily and unilaterally, if

necessary -- to take out the new regime before it becomes

entrenched. There can be no violation of one inviolable rule:

the Taliban/al Qaeda cannot have access to nuclear weapons

under any circumstances.

On July 9, 2007, in the Daily Digression (see below), I

wrote: "Our anxiety should be centered on Pakistan, not

on Iraq. Iraq is soo '03. Pakistan may soon become soo '08."

And that now appears to be the case, or almost the case. Iraq

is becoming far less of a factor in '08 politics than it was

even six months ago, and there is the nauseating possibility

that Musharraf could be deposed in coming months (right in the

middle of primary season, no less).

By SuperDuper Tuesday, the dominant issue in the U.S.

presidential campaign may be our involvement in the war

in Pakistan.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, some have implied that my new song

"I Killed Osama bin Laden" incites violence against the

al Qaeda leader. To which I respond: and your point is what?

Look, I'm not going to sit here and explain my song (my music

website is at but I will say that I

think it would be great if Osama bin Laden were murdered.



for December 26, 2007

I've still not seen several of the major feature films

of 2007 (I'm certain I'm going to be knocked out by

the new Paul Thomas Anderson), so I'm not going to

write a ten-best of '07 list yet -- though I will say

that the two most haunting films I've seen this year

were released in '04 and '05.

The first is 2004's "Before Sunset," Richard Linklater's

sequel to his 1995 film "Before Sunrise," and what a

pleasant surprise to see the new one outshines the

original -- in fact, it may be the best two-person

ensemble picture since "My Dinner With Andre." Julie Delpy

can create the sense of falling in love like few other

actresses of her generation, and the last sequence of

the film, in which she opens up gradually like a flower

to sunlight, is very true and poignant and moving and

lovely and I'm running out of words to express exactly

how much I adore it. And that last line ("I know") is


The other film is 2005's "Nine Lives," directed by

Rodrigo Garcia, who also directed that memorable

episode of "The Sopranos" in which Carmela

has dinner and talks "Madame Bovary" with A.J.'s

schoolteacher. "Nine Lives" is pure ultra-realism,

nine separate, sometimes harrowing stories that climax

with the last, in which Glenn Close's character visits

a cemetery for a reason that becomes heartbreakingly

evident only if you're watching the last couple minutes

very closely and happen to notice the size of the grave

she's visiting. I'm surprised that some

otherwise perceptive crits didn't get or like it.

* * *

In terms of the best music released in 2007, I nominate

the following:

-- my bootleg tape of Jeff Tweedy live in Golden Gate Park

in San Francisco in October, an inspired performance of

nearly two dozen songs (amazing how strong the "Mermaid"

material is, not to mention "The Thanks I Get," "Passenger

Side," "I'm the Man Who Loves You," etc.). And I

sometimes wonder whether "California Stars" might

eventually become the unofficial (or maybe even the

official) state song of California.

-- my bootleg tape of Oakley Hall performing in

Berkeley, Calif., in May. I still don't know the

names of all the songs, but I enjoy them a lot and

listen to them more than I probably should.

I now see the band as a sort of indie Fleetwood Mac

and wouldn't be shocked if they came up with an

alt-country equivalent to "Rumors" in the future.

-- Bright Eyes's "Cassadaga," particularly the song

"Four Winds."

-- Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible," particularly "Intervention."

-- Paul McCartney's "Memory Almost Full," particularly "That Was Me"
(it's his best solo album in many years).

-- Feist's "The Reminder," particularly the irresistible "1234."

-- Bruce Springsteen's "Magic," particularly "Girls in

Their Summer Clothes," perhaps his best song since

"Brilliant Disguise" and one that I'd love to hear Brian Wilson

perform with the band that backed him on his "Smile" tour.

-- my bootleg tape of Paul Simon's '06 concert in

Berkeley, where he brought his more recent material to

vivid life and put a new light on some of his classics.

-- my bootleg tape of live versions of songs from

Radiohead's "In Rainbows," particularly "4 Minute

Warning" and "Down is the New Up."

* * *

Now that Sacha Baron Cohen has decided to forever abandon

his hilarious Borat and Ali G characters, maybe he might

consider developing a new persona that lampoons India-centric

hippies -- one of the last, uh, sacred cows not yet

touched by major satirists. A Mumbai Borat, if you will.

I thought of that after reading William Grimes's

marvelously witty review in today's New York Times

of Kirin Narayan's memoir "My Family

and Other Saints" (University of Chicago Press).

Haven't read the book yet, but the review is one of

Grimes's best. Here's an excerpt:

"Families can be so embarrassing. Imagine the agonies of
an adolescent girl whose house has become infested with
India-besotted hippies from all over the globe, whose
sarcastic father stumbles around in an alcoholic
haze and whose mother kneels at the feet of every
swami she meets. And let us not forget grandma, who
holds long conversations with her cow and once met
a 1,000-year-old cobra with a ruby in its forehead
and a mustache on its albino face...

....The god-saturated culture of India, which Paw
ridicules, seeps into Ms. Narayan’s pores. At the
same time she tries to interpret American culture in
Indian terms, a constant source of confusion. “Was
‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ a warning to the blue
baby Krishna that his wicked uncle King Kamsa
was sending demons to kill him?” she wonders. And why
was Bob Dylan saying, in another perplexing song, that
everyone would get pelted with rocks?"

Check it out in today's Times!

* * *

Uh oh! Could my humble Daily Digression column be

spawning imitators, or at least an imitator?!! Maybe.

An old high school pal of mine, who I hadn't seen for

decades (until a couple years ago), emailed me recently

and said he was naming his own blog "But I Digress."

That, of course, has been my sign-off for my column

since Feburary '07, as I told him in an email the other

week, though that apparently has not deterred him from

naming his own column, which has yet to launch, after mine.

Just so readers of the Daily Digression know: my blog has

absolutely positively nothing to do with his blog (the pal's

name is Bill Epps) and vice versa.

But I digress. Paul

[this day's column updated, 1/02/08]



for December 22, 2007

My column on "The Pat Robertson/Al Sharpton

Conservative Religious Axis" (see below)

seems to have caused a bit of (welcome) controversy.

One reader wants to know what harm it does to

believe in god and in the other supernatural

phenomena in the Bible. My answer: the harm it

does is substantial; religion leaves you

stuck in false hope and delusion, and when

the delusion wears off, and you come to, you'll

end up in more despair than if you had accepted

reality all along.

Further (and more important), religion has a negative

insidious effect on other aspects of a person's

life in that it lowers the bar and the standard of

proof that one sets in order to believe other things;

that's probably part of the reason why many in Pat

Robertson's camp believed Iraq had WMDs, despite a

complete lack of evidence -- and why many in Al Sharpton's

camp believed the lies of, say, Crystal Mangum, despite

copious evidence to the contrary.

When you're raised to believe something because "the Bible

told me so," you're also more likely later in life to

believe stuff like "Iraq has WMDs because Rumsfeld told me so"

and "the Duke Three did it because Crystal Mangum told me so."

Belief in the supernatural cripples your powers of reasoning.

But I digress. Paul



for December 18, 2007

The Robertson/Sharpton Religious Conservative Axis

Pat Robertson ("right") and Al Sharpton (right)

I recently re-watched some episodes of "All in

the Family" from its brilliant, edgy, thrillingly

audacious first season, and started wondering whether

the series, if it were premiering today, would ever

survive attacks from religious conservatives like

Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton.

Here's what might happen today. First, there would be

a boycott of its advertisers by Robertson. Second,

Sharpton would bring his bullhorn and protesters

to the Black Rock building in Manhattan. Then,

predictably, timid TV execs, with mortgages and private

school tuition to pay, would issue some insincere apology

and cancel the show in order to keep those paychecks


I also recently re-listened to parts of Richard Pryor's

landmark comedy album "That Nigger's Crazy" and thought

the same thing: if it were released today, how long would

it be before the Robertson/Sharpton crowd forced the

record company to either withdraw the album or to at least

re-title it and delete some of its bits?

And then it dawned on me that America is now less

culturally progressive than it was in the early 1970s.

Back then, Americans seemed to understand irony a lot

better and appreciated artistic freedom a lot more.

Today, I don't think some people in the Robertson/Sharpton

camp understand the nature of irony, were never schooled

in classic satire, have never understood parody. When

they should've been reading Jonathan Swift or Voltaire

or Woody Allen in school, these cultural conservatives were

instead reading stories from the Bible of highly variable

quality (I mean, the story of Abraham and Isaac is not only

crappy, but more than a little creepy). They've not been

properly educated in how one can use, say, ethnic slurs

in the service of condemning ethnic slurs. And so now we're

all supposed to lower our standards to the level

of people like Robertson and Sharpton who simply don't

get it.

The Robertson/Sharpton people should 1) not take the Bible so

literally and 2) develop a sense of humor.

I mean, I watched one episode of "All in the Family" in

which Archie used the ethnic slur "dago." Now, I have an

Italian-American last name and am very proud of my

Italian-American heritage, but I laughed and laughed when I

heard him say the word "dago" because I understood the context

in which it was said: an actor, Carroll O'Connor, was

portraying an ignorant, bigoted guy in a way that showed us how

hilariously ridiculous his ignorance and bigotry was. But if

you're schooled in literalism, which is to say unschooled, you

won't get it, and you'll probably end up insisting that

better-educated people lower themselves to your level of


* * *

The Veepstakes

Could an Obama/Bloomberg ticket be in the works?

For months, everybody has been talking about how

the presidential race of '08 might be a repeat of

the Giuliani versus Clinton U.S. Senate race that almost

happened in 2000.

But what was the ultimate fate of that match-up? And does

it tell us anything about what might happen in the 2008 race?

To recap: Giuliani quit the Senate contest (due to health

problems) and Clinton won against a weak second.

So is Giuliani fated to repeat that same pattern of

entering a high-stakes race, becoming a near front-runner

and then dropping out (for whatever reason)?

One could argue that that pattern already has repeated

itself, because Giuliani has effectively dropped out of the

race, or at least out of the early contests in Iowa, New

Hampshire and South Carolina, which may turn out to be

tantamount to dropping out of the race altogether (though

that is yet to be determined).

The other part of that equation is that, absent Giuliani,

Hillary wins against a nominal Republican opponent (that,

too, is yet to be determined).

By the way, now that Obama is a truly viable contender, it

may be time to speculate about who he'd choose for

his running-mate. My guess: Michael Bloomberg.

How an Obama/Bloomberg ticket would fare, of course, depends

on who the GOP nominates. Possibilities include:

Huckabee/Giuliani, Giuliani/Huckabee, Giuliani/McCain,

Huckabee/McCain -- though a McCain/Lieberman ticket

ain't in the cards in '08 (yes, McCain is presidential,

but actually he's more like a retired ex-president than

a future one). Least likely match-ups: Kucinich/Tancredo,

Gravel/Huckabee, Obama/Winfrey, Hillary/Gore, Giuliani/Ron Paul

and McCain/Kucinich.

* * *

Incidentally, it's a bit of a thrill that Led Zeppelin chose to

start its reunion show at O2 with newsreel footage that mentioned

the one Zep show I actually happened to attend as teenager

(see previous Digression).

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Robertson from unknown photographer; pic of Sharpton from; photo of Obama from; pic of Bloomberg from]



for December 10, 2007

Led Zeppelin reunites tonight in the U.K. for a one-off

gig, featuring the three surviving members plus Jason Bonham,

son of the late John Bonham, on drums.

I was lucky enough to have seen Zeppelin live in its prime,

when I was 15 years old, and to have caught a Zep concert that

actually made pop culture history.

The show was Zeppelin's 1973 record-breaking concert at

Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and its main

claim to fame is that it attracted more

paying fans than had ever attended a show by a single act in

the U.S., surpassing the previous record set by the Beatles at

Shea Stadium in 1965. (Zeppelin drew 56,800 fans, the Beatles

55,000. For the record, there were other bands on the bill at Shea,

though it was effectively a solo show.)

In rock culture lore, Tampa Stadium is where Led Zeppelin

officially dethroned the Beatles in the concert world,

and it happened on May 5, 1973.

To this day, on and off the web, some rock fans in the

region still talk glowingly about the concert as if it

were the Woodstock festival or the Monterey Pop fest.

Was Tampa Stadium a great Zeppelin performance? Some

of it was. Guitarist Jimmy Page was in rare form and the rest of

the band sounded excited about having broken the Beatles's

record. But Robert Plant was hoarse, a fairly substantial


I attended as a 15-year-old high school student,

arriving at the Stadium with a friend well before the

Saturday night concert began. After presenting our five-dollar

advance tickets (six on the day of the show), we took a

place on the field, around a third of the way to the stage.

The springtime atmosphere was mostly festive as the speakers

blasted such music as the Allman Brothers Band's "Revival"

(with its lyrics, "People can you feel it/love is everywhere").

But the crowd was occasionally rowdy, too, throwing bottles at

police officers at one point.

Zeppelin took the stage after 8pm, with the introduction:

"Ladies and gentlemen, what more can I say? Led Zeppelin!"

Fans screamed as if they were on fire.

Plant stepped to the mike. "Looks like we've done something

nobody's done before," he said, referring to the box office record.

"And that's fantastic," he added, according to my bootleg

tape of the show.

Page struck a practice chord. John Bonham played a drum

roll. Feedback filled the air. Then Bonham pounded

out the intro to "Rock and Roll."

As Plant started singing, it became obvious he was straining to

hit the high notes (due to some sort of cold), which was disappointing.

But Page more than made up for it, fluidly riffing through

a stunning twenty-minute opener that included "Celebration Day,"

"Black Dog," "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Misty Mountain Hop"

in quick succession.

Just before "Misty Mountain," Plant chatted to the crowd


"Anyone make the Orlando gig we did last time?," he asked.

Fans cheered.

"This is the second gig we've done since we've been back to

the States and uh..." Plant seemed speechless for a moment.

"And I can't believe it!"

But the lovey-dovey mood evaporated a bit after "Since

I've Been Loving You," when front row fans began getting out of

control, pushing against barriers and forcing Plant to play

security guard.

"Listen, listen," Plant said to the unruly crowd, according

to my tape. "May I ask you, as we've achieved something

between us that's never been done before, if we could just

cool it on these barriers here because otherwise there're

gonna be a lot of people who might get [hurt],"

Plant told the crowd. "So if you have respect for the person

who's standing next to you, which is really what it's all

about, then possibly we can act more gently."

"We don't want problems, do we?," Plant asked. The crowd


Several songs later, after "The Rain Song," it became clear

the crowd was now getting seriously out of control. Plant got


"We want this to be a really joyous occasion," he says. "And

I'm going to tell you this, because three people have been

taken to the hospital, and if you keep pushing on that barrier,

there're going to be stacks and stacks of people going. So for

goodness sakes...can we move back just a little bit because it's

the only way. If you can't do that, then you can't really live

with your brother. Just for this evening anyway."

"Can you cooperate?!," asked Plant, a bit exasperated. There

was tepid applause. "It's a shame to talk about things like

cooperation when there're so many of us. Anyway you people sitting

up the sides are doing a great job. [fans cheer] But these poor

people are being pushed by somebody. So cool it. That's not very


Plant also took the opportunity to publicly diss Miami. For some

unknown reason, the band was apparently still sore about a 1970

gig in Miami Beach that stands as the last time Zep played in

that area.

"We played the Convention Center in Miami, which was really

bad," said Plant to the crowd, just before

introducing "Dazed and Confused." "The gig was good, but

there were some men walking around all the time making

such a silly scene." He didn't elaborate.

The crowd problems seemed to dissipate after a few more songs.

By the time the group roared into "Whole Lotta Love," near the

end of the almost three-hour set, Plant shouted, "We've got 57,000

people here and we're gonna boogie!,” segueing into “Let That

Boy Boogie Woogie.” The crowd went nuts, acting like

Beatlemaniacs at Shea.

Unfortunately, I had to be home by around 11pm,

which meant missing encores "The Ocean" and "Communication


The highlight of the night, judging from a tape of the show and

from memory, was "Over the Hills and Far Away," if only because

of Page's incendiary solo, which was quite unlike his solos in

other live versions of the song. Also notable were extended

instrumental segments during “No Quarter” (courtesy

bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones) and “Dazed and Confused,”

a rousing “The Song Remains the Same,” and a predictable but

engaging “Stairway to Heaven.”

No doubt, some of the same songs will turn up on tonight's

reunion gig setlist. Here's hoping the band decides

to do a full-scale tour in 2008, 'cause it's been a long time.

* * * *

Yet Another Tragedy Caused By Gun Permissiveness

Almost no news organization is reporting the Colorado

shootings this way: "In the wake of the Omaha


Yet every news organizaton should be mentioning Omaha

in its stories about Colorado. Context is Journalism 101.

But lots of tv news correspondents are saying, "Omaha?

What's Omaha? Ohhh that!! That was soooo 72 hours ago!"

So let's see: Omaha has been completely wiped from memory

now that there's this new shooting spree in Colorado.

And lemme guess the reason why certain tv newsers aren't

mentioning Omaha in stories about Colorado; they're

probably saying something like, "The shooter in the last

one used an AK-47 and the shooter this time used an AK-46,

which, of course, is a vast difference."

They fail to see that the common denominator is bullets.

Both shooters used bullets. If they hadn't, nobody'd be

dead today.

Now let's take a look at the real reason Omaha isn't

being brought up in stories about Colorado: it's

called the NRA. The NRA is so well-organized, so

lawyered up, with so many true believers who know

how to threaten you without threatening you, that

some news orgs take the path of least resistance

and leave out references to Omaha in stories about

Colorado, just as they left out references to Virginia Tech

in stories about Omaha, just as they'll leave out references

to Colorado in stories about the next shooting (and, by the way,

just as they left out references to Tawana Brawley in stories

about Crystal Mangum).

At some news organizations, they report the truth without fear

or favor -- unless the truth is too unpopular.

* * *

Looks like NBC's long-shot gamble on "Friday Night

Lights" might actually be paying off. After

a season-plus of basement ratings, the critically acclaimed

series -- which is arguably almost as brilliant

as "The Sopranos" in its way -- was tied last week

for the number one spot in its time period among

viewers 18-49, the main demo advertisers

care about, though it was #3 overall for its time

period. Now the question is whether its momentum

will be slowed by the writers' strike.

But I digress. Paul



for December 9, 2007

Advice for the Six Major Presidential Candidates

when she was fab

Hillary Clinton

Hillary is losing altitude because she appears to

be overscripted, overhandled, overcoached,

overadvised -- and voters can see through it.

The latest example is her response to the hostage

ordeal at her HQ in New Hampshire. To me, she seemed,

above all, privately pleased that she was being given

an opportunity to look like she was in control in a crisis.

But I bet in reality she was handling the ordeal even

better than she was at that appearance; my guess is

she was behind the scenes making calls and intelligently

assessing the situation -- but that was all off-camera.

So her staged reaction seemed less flattering to her than the

way her actions probably unfolded off-camera in real time.

What I'm trying to say is that the real Hillary would

probably be more compelling to voters than the scripted

public one.

Maybe she should try to tap into the identity she

developed at Wellesley College, when she went from

caterpillar to butterfly and gave the commencement

address and wrote a ballsy senior thesis and had an

attracive style, before she married The Viking, as she

has affectionately called him.

Also, it does take a village, but -- much more important -- it

takes villagers. At this point, Hillary has the village, but

Obama seems to have a lot of the villagers.

* * *

not asking permission to take out bin Laden

Barack Obama

I've said it before and will say it again: the level

of enthusiasm for Obama is an extraordinary political

phenomenon -- it's like nothing I've ever seen before in politics

(in fact, it's more like rock star adulation).

I've already written about seeing him speak (see previous

Digressions), so I won't go into that again. But I will

say that just yesterday, I walked by shops in downtown Oakland,

Calif., and there were Obama placards in barber shop

windows and Obama bumper stickers on cars. To date, I

have seen exactly one Hillary '08 bumper sticker in

the Bay Area, a blue thing on a car that looked like some

sort of government vehicle.

My advice to Obama is: keep it up with regard to your

hard position on finding bin Laden -- it's not only the

correct policy, but it will play beautifully against

the Republican candidate in November, if you're nominated.

I think voters are now picturing each candidate in the

Oval Office and one of the things they're picturing is

this: If a President Obama received a PDB titled "Bin

Laden's Whereabouts in Waziristan Pinned Down," would

you believe for one moment that President Barack wouldn't

immediately swing into action, marshaling the support of

Musharraf and others for a lightning strike in the

northwest territories?

And voters are also picturing the alternative: a President

Hillary who would receive such an PDB and might get

over-advised, too cautious, afraid of spending

political capital, become over-concerned about how it

would look politically if we bombed Wazirstan, analyzing

it into fine dust until the moment was lost.

In other words, the way they run their campaigns is the

way they would likely run their presidencies.

* * *

he should schedule his withdrawal speech after McCain's next month

John Edwards

When Edwards first appeared on the scene in the primaries

in '04, he was electric, like a high voltage wire whipping

in a wind storm, like a brand new rock star.

Problem is, he began repeating his same speech at virtually

every stop -- the Two Americas thing -- and voters began

to sense a disingenuousness, a sort of pre-fab presentation.

It was like Steve Forbes's "hope, growth and opportunity"

bit -- at first it seemed somewhat fresh, and then it became

just so much cynical grandstanding. And after being

relegated to the second spot on the '04 ticket, and sort

of being spanked by Cheney at that one debate,

he lost his luster a bit. So when he came back for

seconds in early '07, he had the stigma of a loser,

and the freshness was way gone. (A sidenote: you know who

should probably run for office? Edwards' advisor Kate

Michelman, whose speech earlier this year in Berkeley

shows she has an engaging charisma.)

My only advice for Edwards is (hate to say it): start

writing your withdrawal speech, which you might have

to give a few weeks from now. Schedule it

after McCain's, and the press won't cover it as much.

* * *

Jesus was born in Provo, and Iran has nukes

Mitt Romney

Romney is like those pre-Beatles relics of the

1960s who used to organize so-called decency rallies,

appear with Anita Bryant, and act aghast over the

onstage antics of Jim Morrison.

His persona would've played nationwide even 15 years

ago, back before the dot-com revolution when old

guys in polyester suits still ran old-boy old-line

companies, and ex-hippies of the Baby Boom generation were

their subordinates. Today, however, the ex-hippies are

the entrenched power, and Romney seems, well, square and

antiquated even by the standards of 20-years ago.

And frankly, his dreadful religion speech, in which he

insulted non-theists while asking for respect for his

own belief system, looked more like a withdrawal or

resignation speech. (In fact, if you watch his appearance

with the sound down, it looks like he's resigning from something.)

* * *

the Earth was created 350 years ago

Mike Huckabee

I don't think I agree with Mike Huckabee on any issue, but

he's undeniably likable -- and his affection for Keith Richards

shows that he may be more open-minded than he seems. But his

views on evolution are, let's face it, straight from a Taliban

cave. You have to hope this guy knows better but is pandering

to those who don't. Or maybe not. Perhaps he's one of

the many who has no regard for evidence-based belief.

If he's nominated, he may be a Republican McGovern. Only

thing is, the Democrats may also nominate a

McGovern -- Obama -- so it would be a battle of the factions.

* * *

looking too long in the rear-view mirror

Rudy Giuliani

Hearing Giuliani on Russert this morning talking about

how he once shut down traffic around the Stock Exchange

when he was mayor, or something like that, I was reminded

that he's truly a small screen guy, not a big picture policy

maker. His focus is always on operations, tactics, details,

rather than on strategy, overall planning, policy, and that

is why people are sensing he's not really presidential.

And notice that his emphasis is always on 9/11 but

not on finding ways to stop bin Laden from attacking again.

If there were a terrorist attack and my building was on

fire, and Giuliani was my neighbor, he'd be the one I'd

follow to safety, no doubt about it. But I would not

vote to have him deal with the terrorists responsible

for the attack, because he tends to act too viscerally;

he almost has the mindset of a security guard sometimes

(remember when he personally ejected Arafat from Lincoln

Center in the Nineties?).

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Hillary by unknown photographer; Obama from; Edwards from; Huckabee from; Romney from; Giuliani from]



for December 8, 2007


The Beatnik versus the Class Clown in 2008?

High school yearbook
photos of Obama (l) and Huckabee (r)?

The rising stars this month among the presidential candidates

are Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee, and that means we may have

a clear, stark choice at the polls this November between two

American archetypes: the class clown and the beatnik.

And it also appears as if both of them attended C. Estes

Kefauver High School in the Sixties, according to my

research of the National Lampoon's "1964 High School

Yearbook Parody." Could the yearbook photo (above) on the

left be Obama (Swisher) and the one on the right Huckabee

(Weisenheimer)? Check out the resemblance.

And also -- who knew Dennis Kucinich (below) also attended

Kefauver High?

Kucinich in high school?

And could this former Kefauver student (below) actually be the

brilliant singer Amy Winehouse, circa several years ago?

Amy Winehouse at Kefauver High?

But I digress. Paul

[all three clippings above from "The Original National Lampoon 1964 High School Yearbook Parody," 1974 edition.]



for December 7, 2007

Mitt Romney gave an awful speech yesterday, showing

a disrespect for and implied bigotry toward nontheists,

while saying, essentially, that he's not going to open

up his Mormon beliefs to public scrutiny because

he knows full well that such far-out and strange notions

couldn't possibly stand up to scrutiny.

Well, Mr. Romney, you still have to answer to Ali G.

Here's an excerpt from Season 2 of "Da Ali G Show"

(wouldn't it be great if the next presidential debate

were hosted by Ali G?):



AUTHOR JOHN GRAY: It's the Mormons or the Muslims. In both those

religions it's ok to have more than one wife.

[Editor's note: for the record, Mormons no longer practice
polygamy, though they still hold other beliefs that are
shockingly bizarre.]

* * *

Oooops! I forgot! Gays, guns and god are forbidden

topics during a presidential election year, which is

why you're hearing absolutely n-o-t-h-i-n-g about gun

control in the wake of the Omaha slayings.

So I now have a new personal policy. From here in, I'll

not extend sympathies to victims of gun violence who

weren't in favor of stricter gun regulations before being

shot. Because everybody, by now, can see plainly and in full

light that gun permissiveness is precisely the cause of all

these mass killings.

After every one of these slaughters, gun fanatics always

say the same thing, and that is: "If a nearby bystander

had been armed, the gunman could have been taken out."

OK, fine. let's put that theory to the test. Name one

major mass shooting incident -- Columbine, Virginia

Tech, etc. -- where an armed bystander (not a cop or

guard) saved the day by shooting the gunman. Name one.

The reason you can't name one is because there isn't

one, and the reason there isn't one is because in a

random shooting 1) victims are taken by surprise,

and 2) it's all over within minutes, before anyone

else can lock and load, and 3) the gunman typically

ends the rampage by killing himself.

Even in robberies that unfold over a longer period of

time, there is still massive and unpredictable risk

when an armed bystander intervenes (it often ends up

more like the robbery sequence (in the pastry shop)

in the movie "Boogie Nights" than like a Charles

Bronson flick).

Look, I was robbed at gunpoint a couple years ago,

and I must confess that I would've been extremely

pleased if some armed onlooker had shot the gunman

dead in the head on the spot; but I also know that

that same hypothetical good Samaritan might have missed

him and hit me instead.

But I digress. Paul



for December 6, 2007

You always hear the same litany of cliches every

time there's some random shooting, whether at Virginia

Tech or at this mall or at that school. If the shooter

was a teenager or a young person, he or she is invariably

described as a loner, disaffected, alienated, etc. (which

pretty much describes most teenagers at one time or another,

by the way).

Never mind that even Lee Harvey Oswald, the archetype of

this cliche, was far from a loner: he had a wife, in-laws,

a steady job at the Depository with co-workers, and political

activist friends.

And the Columbine shooters were part of what was virtually

a high school fraternity.

No, we use the cliche "loner" because, after the fact, after

some nutcase does something criminal, suddenly nobody knows

him or her, and everybody pretends that the person was some

sort of complete stranger.

The most salient and telling and important detail about these

shooters is this: each one had a gun.

A gun. If that sicko in Nebraska hadn't had a rifle yesterday,

none of those people at the mall would be dead today. If he

had had only his fists to express his misguided

rage, maybe one person would have had a black eye before

he was restrained by a security guard. If he had had only a

knife, he might have injured only one person before someone

heroically restrained him.

How many of these shootings do we have to have

before people realize that we need vastly tighter

gun control and the banning of some weapons in this


Every time something like this happens, gun nuts blow all

the smoke they can to obscure the fact that guns were

primarily responsible for the tragedy. And

everybody seems to forget the eight or 12 mass

murders that preceded this one in the past few years alone,

Virginia Tech among them.

My sympathies to those affected by this tragedy.

But I digress. Paul



for December 6, 2007

Welcome to the Theistic States of America !

President Huckabee proposes a couple minor changes to the flag (above).

It seems as if the same people who object to perceived

slights against Muslims or Jews or Christians couldn't

care less about the fact that "under god" in the

Pledge of Allegiance deeply offends the nontheistic.

Those who walk on eggshells because of Muslim

touchiness about their religion, who see

anti-Semitism under every stone, who bend over

backwards to make aspects of Mormonism appear

less nutty than they are: such people also

show complete insensitivity about imposing theism

in a setting that should be free of religion.

In this era, it seems that every burqa in America

has been given federal landmark status and far-out

notions of fundamentalist Christians are considered

off-limits to satirists, yet the children of non-theists

are virtually forced to engage in religious chants -- and nobody

seems to bring up issues of tolerance and sensitivity as it

relates to them.

It's an outrage, which is why there is now a case pending

before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about removing

"under god" from the Pledge of Allegiance (or, more accurately,

restoring the Pledge to its original text).

Try to imagine what it feels like to be a public school kid

who thinks theistic beliefs are wacko yet is virtually forced

to join in a daily pledge that includes, effectively, a group

religious chant -- a group religious chant in a school that

is funded by taxpayers who are nontheists, Hindus, Christians,

etc. ("Group religious chant," by the way, is what "under god"

in the Pledge is. And the chant is essentially compulsory

because it's implicitly coercive in a school environment.)

By contrast, putting "in god we trust" on coins or buildings

is not really objectionable, because it's a passive part of the

landscape. And regarding Christmas, I and my Jewish and

nontheist friends celebrate a secular version of Christmas

every year. But all that is very different than forcing a

kid in public school to chant the word "god" with his classmates.

Nowadays, apparently, you have to throw a violent temper

tantrum and riot in order to have your philosophical world

view respected. I'm probably more offended by "under god"

in the Pledge than many Muslims are by the Mohammed

cartoons --- but I'm just nicer and more non-violent

about it, hence some feel they can run over my sensibilities

with impunity.

So when I'm irreverent in my writings toward various

religions, I'm merely taking my cue from how I've been

treated all my life.

To those who defend "under god" in the Pledge by saying

that it has no significant religious meaning, I respond

with: if it has no significant religious meaning, then

why include it? If the two words mean nothing to the

faithful but insult me, then why include them? If

those two words have no significant religious meaning, then

why not replace the words "under God" with, say, "under Allah"?

Why not? It's just two insignificant words. How would you

feel about that if you were a non-Muslim?

The obvious reason is that having public school kids

chant "under Allah" in the Pledge would violate the

beliefs of non-Muslims, just as "under god" violates my

own private beliefs. So why not take out those two words

if they insult people who don't buy the theistic fantasy?

We're talking about public schools, after all, in a

secular society.

As I said, the same people who twist themselves into

pretzels to understand the illogic of the Teddy Bear

Islamists or of the Mormons seem to care not one whit when

it comes to respecting the sensibilities of the nontheistic.

Meanwhile, I listen to presidential candidates spew cockamamie

religious theories -- I think one candidate believes the Earth

was formed 350 years ago, another one thinks Jesus was born in

Park City during the Ghost Dance of 1872, or something like

that -- and much of the press just nods like a bobblehead

doll and fails to ask the obvious hard questions: will your

policy decisions as president be based on the same non-rationality

evident in your religion? Will your decisions be faith-based?

Would you demand a higher standard of evidence and proof

when determining whether we should wage war than you demand

in gauging the truth of the claims in the Bible?

No, those questions are verboten. And any kid who refuses to

chant about god in school becomes a pariah. Forget about reforming

Islam -- America is the nation that needs an Ataturk.

But I digress. Paul

[flag montage by Paul Iorio.]



for December 3, 2007

The Fate of the Earth

(above) the reason human beings will one day become extinct.

The funniest movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick's

"Dr. Strangelove," is also one of the scariest

pictures ever made -- and it doesn't include a

single joke. But every time I see it, and I'm

sort of embarrassed to admit how many times

I've seen it, I laugh and laugh.

Kubrick began shooting his comedy about nuclear

annihilation 45 years ago last October, back when

it looked like much of the human race was poised

to die an awful radioactive death. And through

the Sixties and Seventies, everyone had a healthy fear

of the Bomb, though in the cushy, Seinfeld Nineties --

during that cozy period between the end of the

Cold War and the attacks of 9/11 ("Peace Breaks Out"

was a memorable newspaper headline of the era) --

we stopped being so afraid of nukes.

Experts diagnosed the proliferation problem many

decades ago, but it has only gotten worse over the

years. As the number of nations with nukes

has mushroomed, we seem to have become less, not more,

concerned about it. We hear more talk about global

warming nowadays than about nuclear winter, which

(if the latter ever arrives) will make even the

most extreme predictions of climate change seem

quaint and moot.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a gigantic admirer of Al Gore's

campaign to fight global warming, but when the story of

the end of the human race finally unfolds, the villain will

probably ultimately be radioactivity, not fluorocarbons, and

the truly prescient work will be Jonathan Schell's "The Fate

of the Earth," not "An Inconvenient Truth."

And it might not be the communists or the jihadists

who do us in, but rather some obscure dictator who has had,

say, an undiagnosed stroke that has made him or her clinically


When we sit there in the year 2022, watching tv meteorologists

tell us where the radiation cloud is headed today, trying to escape

on frozen highways to dodge a high pressure system that

will keep a dome of radiation over the area for a week or

two, we'll be saying to ourselves, "We saw this coming,

yet it still happened." It's like a car skidding on ice

and heading for a wall; you can slam on the brakes all you

want, but inevitably there's going to be a bad collision.

Perhaps there is no solution to nuclear proliferation (just

as there's no cure for most metastasized forms of cancer)

and the spread of nukes will continue unless, as Schell

wrote, we are willing to destroy all nuclear weapons along

with the means to produce them, which would also mean

reducing ourselves to a 19th century level of

technological advancement -- and that would be

impossible in any event, because the knowledge to create

a nuke would still exist.

So the human race has a chronic and probably fatal disease,

and as with any chronic illness, we can manage but not cure

it. Realistic hope lies in surviving not forever but

for as long as we can stave off what is probably

inevitable. Perhaps our next president will consider

creating a new cabinet-level position -- the Deptartment

of Nuclear Weapons Control -- to try to manage, in a

more focused fashion, the central crisis of our time.

For now, we might as well have a good laugh, courtesy

of "Strangelove," about our probable impending doom,

because there will come a time -- say, after

the gamma burns -- when laughter will be very

hard to come by.

* * *

In Berkeley, It's a Two-Man Race: Ron Paul v. Barack Obama

What many pundits are failing to note in noting

the rise of Mike Huckabee in the Iowa polls is that

Huckabee is virtually a favorite son (Iowa borders Arkansas),

and favorite sons (like Harkin in Iowa or Tsongas in

New Hampshire) have often outpolled the eventual nominee

in their home regions.

On the Democratic side, the inevitability of Hillary's

nomination seems slightly less inevitable lately. I've

believed that Barack Obama would make a strong showing

since hearing him speak in Oakland last March 17 (see

Daily Digression, March 18, 2007). I mean, when a guy on a

crutch stands for around two hours in line to see him,

when a woman with an oxygen tank stands and

waits to catch a glimpse of his passing limo, you

know you're dealing with an extraordinarily

intense level of political enthusiasm for a


I used to think Obama was unelectable, mostly

because of his liberalism, but now I'm thinking...who

do the Republicans have to run against him?

The GOP doesn't have a formidable candidate. Obama could

conceivably win against a weak GOP candidate, particularly

in an election year that may also become a recession

year -- and there's nothing like a downturn

in the economy to feed the public's appetite

for dramatic change, which is Obama's calling card.

Meanwhile, John Edwards is looking increasingly

like Dick Gephardt circa 2004 -- a candidate

past his expiration date for freshness -- and my

guess is he'll be withdrawing next month,

probably along with John McCain and Fred Thompson

and a couple others who will likely

exit presidential politics for good.

In these weeks before the California primary, which

could be crucial, I've documented the political mood in

perennially activist Berkeley, Calif., by taking some

some photos of bumper stickers and placards

over the past couple weeks, and here they are:

there are lots of Obama stickers in Berkeley, but very few Hillary ones.

Who woulda thunk it? A GOP Texan is actually popular in Berkeley!

The only Edwards stickers I've seen are Kerry/Edwards '04 leftovers.

fueling voter anger. Will 2008 be a recession year?

The tree-sitters in Berkeley, who celebrated their 1st anniversary in the oaks yesterday, have evidently expanded their agenda. as their sign shows.

But I digress. Paul



for December 1, 2007

The Teddy Bear Islamists

jihadists riot over the darndest things! ("and if I ever have a teddy bear, I think I'm gonna name him Bill! George! anything but Mohammed!")

There's not an easy solution to the culture clashes now

going on in the Benelux nations and in France. Starting

with the unforgivable assassination of film maker Theo

van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri in '04 to the Islamic violence

against European cartoonists in '05 to the current riots in

France, the most liberal parts of western Europe are seeing

the weeds strangle the flowers in the garden.

The problem boils down to this: Muslim miitant immigrants are

very unlike immigrant groups of the past in that they want

to destroy the liberal framework that allows them to thrive in

their new homes.

The Muslim extremist immigrants in Amsterdam and Stockholm

are permitted to pray as they choose and speak as they wish,

yet these newcomers are fundamentally hostile to free speech

and freedom of religion.

Yes, we must let a thousand flowers bloom, but we should

never allow weeds that strangle the flowers to grow in

the garden.

Elsewhere, Muslim fundamentalists continue to show a shocking

intolerance for even the most innocuous free expression.

The latest case involves schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons who

is being jailed in Sudan for letting her students name a teddy bear


First, don't give me any cultural relativism crap, because it

doesn't apply in this case (common sense does), and we shouldn't

be making excuses for fanatics who act his way. Anyone who would

punish someone for allowing her students to name a teddy bear

Mohammed is backward. Period.

Judge Mohammed Youssef of the Kartoum North Criminal Court is

simply a reactionary -- and even more backward than Sonny Perude

and his holy raindancers.

I lived abroad for extended periods when I was a kid, so

I understand reflexively that every nation has both its

throwbacks and its progressives and its moderates and, frankly,

the same poltiical grid we have here, more or less.

There are red states and blue states (or provinces) in Nigeria

and in France and in Japan and in Sudan. And my early experience

helps me to see through an accent or a turban in order to

recognize someone as the David Duke of the Ukraine or the

Eugene McCarthy of Pakistan.

I find that it's always the most provincial Americans -- who

never traveled outside the U.S. in their youths and

were raised by redneck parents -- who now tend to overcorrect

for their own provinciality by trying too hard to see a logic

that isn't there in the jihadist argument.

The Teddy Bear Islamists are not speaking from logic or

reason but from an early religious indoctrination that

they are not able to overcome in adulthood.

If the Third Reich taught us anything, it's that an entire

culture of millions of people can all be very wrong, can

all suffer from a collective mental illness, can all have

no reasonable side to their side of the story.

There are those who only half-heartedly defend Gibbons by

saying, "She didn't mean to blaspheme," as if her punishment

would be somehow justifiable if she had intended some

religious irreverence.

Whether she intended or didn't intend to disrespect Islam

(and she obviously didn't), she doesn't belong in jail.

Religious free expression -- whether in favor of a

religion or in opposition to it or in satirizing it -- should

not be penalized anywhere, and all laws forbidding blasphemy

should be scrapped as antiques from a less enlightened era.

Of course, the fanatics have every right to be offended

by whatever offends them but have absolutely no right to

get violent about it and should work on developing

alternate ways to express their anger instead of reaching

for the violence option every time someone tells a religious

joke they don't like. And they should

learn to be tolerant and to appreciate (or at least not

kill) the diversity of a thousand flowers blooming.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of teddy bear from]



for November 19, 2007

If I Were Running All Television News, Here's What I'd Do

Create a prime-time show called "Conversations with Katie Couric."


miscast Katie, which is easy to do because she is a bit

too hard for "Today" but not quite hard enough

for "The CBS Evening News." And that's why CBS

should take her off the "Evening News" and create

a prime time (10pm) show for her, modeled

loosely on Murrow's "Person to Person," where

her gift for gab can flourish. Call it "Conversations

with Katie Couric," a weekly interview-centered

series with Couric doing the "get" interview of each

week; the first half would begin with five minutes of

breaking or headline news and then move into newsy

interviews, while the second half would feature Q&As

with entertainment figures, who would also perform at

the end of each show.

* * *

CBS's Matt Lauer?

MATT LAUER TO "60 MINUTES": Lauer's interviewing

has become much sharper after all these years -- to the

point where he now sounds like he'd fit right in at

"60 Minutes." It's time for him to take the next

step up.

* * *

International velvet -- but with a tough Q&A style.


velvet manner fool you -- she's a surprisingly tough interviewer

and would also be a strong addition to "60 Minutes," though

she's not quite at the Lesley Stahl level (who is?).

* * *

"Am I the only one who notices that people eventually retire?!"


Who will replace Rooney, who has served long and

humorously for his network, when he leaves? Could

Maureen Dowd be persuaded to contribute a weekly endnote?

* * *

Lots of guys see her and lose control of at least two glands.

ERIN BURNETT, "TODAY" HOST?: I'm suspicious of anyone who

gets a seal of approval from the odious Rush Limbaugh, but

there's no denying that lots of men lose control of their salivary

(and other) glands when they see Burnett. Plus she has

this rare ability to say memorable things about very

dry topics (there has never been a housing recession that

hasn't precipitated a general recession, for instance).

And she's postively carbonated. If I ran NBC News, I'd make

her a co-anchor of "Today" immediately.

* * *

A natural at being in charge.


who should probably be credited with the fall of Trent Lott

(remember her show on the Friday before the Lott storm?), runs

a usually terrific program. But there should be more David Sanger,

Linda Greenhouse, Martha Raddatz (she gets better each time

out), Janine Zacharia (hey, a reporter who's actually not

afraid to be inspired!), Janet Hook, E.J. Dionne. Less Michael

Duffy, less Joan Biskupic, far less Gebe Martinez,

* * *

An appearance on Leno might even it up with Williams.

BEST NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: Charles Gibson remains

the best of the anchors by many measures but Brian Williams

is close behind. Funny thing is, Williams's surprisingly

humorous SNL turn has actually made Gibson appear a bit

over-serious by contrast. Can a Gibson appearance on Leno or

Letterman be far away?

* * *

Astonishingly awful.

FIRE NANCY GRACE: Shrill and wrong-headed, Nancy

Grace shouldn't work another day in journalism until she admits

her failings in the biased coverage of the Duke Three case.

(Shouldn't there be a penalty for being wrong and a reward

for being right in tv journalism?)

* * *

Amazing grace.

CAROLYN JOHNSON TO ABC: Still mostly unknown to

national audiences, this local anchor at the ABC affiliate here in

the Bay Area is brainy and refined and pretty. If I were

running ABC News, I'd bring her to the network by (initially)

having her do some on-air health and science

reports for "World News." (Her colleague, Dan Ashley, is

also impressive.)

* * *

KPIX's coverage of the Jill Carroll hostage crisis.


a lot of talent at KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco,

the news division is almost comically error prone (see photo).

And it also has a morning anchor who pronounces "fiscal"

physical. Improvement required.

But I digress. Paul

[photo credits: Couric pic from; Lauer from; kay from; Rooney from; Burnett from; Ifill from; Gibson from; Grace from; Johnson by Paul Iorio; KPIX by Paul Iorio.]



for November 15, 2007

If the 2008 presidential race were determined by a

tally of bumper stickers, Barack Obama would become

the Democratic nominee and Ron Paul would be the GOP

candidate -- at least in the San Francisco Bay Area!

Hillary bumper stickers are around but not very numerous,

Edwards stickers exist mostly in the form of leftover

Kerry/Edwards '04 stickers (and there is a surprising number

of 'em still around), and the Kucinich-bumper-sticker-epidemic

of early '07 has sort of faded like UFOs in the mist (to mix

a metaphor). But "Obama '08" can be seen on a lot of fenders in

the area.

Lately, both in San Francisco and Berkeley, Ron Paul

stickers and posters have been cropping up; I saw one

sticker on the UC Berkeley campus the other week and

a poster in the window of an apartment in north

San Francisco the other day.

Which leads to an intriguing question: suppose (and

this is very unlikely, admittedly) the nominees are

Hillary and Ron Paul (who wins in some populist Internet

uprising)? There would then be a Republican candidate

to the left of the Democratic nominee on the war, causing

traditional Dems to vote Paul and trad Republicans to

vote Hillary.

To complicate matters, I saw a chilling bumper sticker

for sale on a stand on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley the

other day, and it read: "Nader '08." Of course,

in the above scenario, Nader would be in the bizarre

position of siphoning votes from the Republican candidate

this time. Go figure.

* * *

Now that Marvel Comics has put some of its superhero

comics online, can we expect some of the indies

to follow suit?

Specifically, wouldn't it be nice to have cyber-access to

Daniel Clowes's "Ghost World"?

Flipping through one of the few "Ghost World"s included

in Clowes's "Eightball" series in the 1990s, I was

reminded of the great powder blue twilight look of the

thing (the movie adaptation was amazing, but I keep

wondering whether it could have been filmed in blue/black

and white like the strip).

Anyway, for those who want to see "Ghost World" online,

here's a taste: the first page of the episode included in

"Eightball" #16:

But I digress. Paul



for November 14, 2007

Isn't it interesting that Sonny Perdue waited

until the AccuWeather Five Day Forecast was

solid before doing his kooky pray-for-rain

thing on the Georgia state Capitol steps? As

the Church Lady might put it, "How convenient."

Days before the pray-in, meteorologists were

predicting thunderstorms by Thursday in the

Atlanta area.

So now it's inevitable that some cornball tv news

anchor will get on the air on Thursday and say, "And

finally on this broadcast: today it rained in

the Atlanta metro area. In fact, it was a soaker,

just what the parched peach state needed. And this

comes merely two days after the governor of Georgia

prayed for rain on the steps of the state

Capitol. [Reganesque pause]Could

it be that someone up there likes him?"

Meanwhile, here are some other things Perdue might do to

create a rainstorm:

1. Avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk

2. Sacrifice a lamb and a goat, and co-mingle their blood with
parsley on top

For now, Perdue's imitation of the Taliban, which also believes

god and government should be one, will have to suffice.

But I digress. Paul



for November 12, 2007

First-hand report on the oil spill in San Francisco Bay

"Just come on down to the shoreline/Where the water used to be." -- Steve Forbert
Above: San Francisco Bay, yesterday afternoon. (photo by Paul Iorio)

Yesterday afternoon I took an eight-mile hike

through San Francisco, mostly to see and

photograph the damage from the oil spill that

happened near the Bay Bridge last Wednesday.

Walking along the north shore, I saw some places

that were devastated by the slick and others that appeared

to be untouched, though a lot of the shoreline was

cordoned off with ribbons -- and "Danger" signs were


The worst I saw was just west of Fisherman's

Wharf, around what is called Aquatic Park, where

gooey black oil was coating some rocks (but not

others) as if someone had splattered black paint

on them. I saw several Gulls with oil on them, but

none completely covered with it; one had oil on the

left side of its neck and on the bottoms

of its feet (see photo), the latter being

the most common condition among affected birds.

The contaminated Gulls and ducks appeared to be

notably less energetic and vibrant than the other

birds around them.

Bird stained by oil on the left side of its neck (and on its feet), on the north shoreline of San Francisco, November 11, 2007. (Photo by Paul Iorio)

Elsewhere, I didn't see any boats in the Marina

blackened (unlike the ones that were reportedly

damaged in Sausalito) and didn't see much spillage

along some of the shore north of Crissy Field to

the Golden Gate Bridge area.

All told, the real horror is that one of the

greatest bays on the planet could have been

thoroughly ruined for many years if the

Cosco Busan's fuel tank had had an even slightly

larger rupture. One way to try to stop oil spills

in the future might be to drastically increase the

fines against companies involved, so that they

have an extreme financial incentive to make sure

they don't put a drunk in the captain's seat or sail

a ship that is even slightly faulty.

For now, the Coast Guard might do well to post new

signs that quote the old song by Steve Forbert:

"Oil, oil/Don't buy it at the station/You can

have it now for free/Just come on down to the

shoreline/Where the water used to be."

But I digress. Paul

Oil on the rocks near San Francisco's Aquatic Park, November 11, 2007. (photo by Paul Iorio.)



for November 11, 2007

Remembering Norman Mailer

My only first-hand encounter with Norman Mailer was

a distant one and happened in February 1989 in Manhattan,

at a PEN reading in support of Salman Rushdie, freshly

marked for death by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Mailer

spoke and also read from "The Satanic Verses," and

the event was interrupted by a bomb scare of some

sort -- though he was completely undaunted by that

fact and even a bit fired up by it.

From the podium, Mailer noted that telephoned bomb

threats only cost a quarter to make -- and then he

challenged the religious right of Islam: "Blow out your

farts," he roared, quoting Jean Genet.

It was a memorable moment -- virtually everyone in the audience

was emboldened by Mailer at a time when we needed to

be emboldened.

Sure, he had his personal flaws. He really couldn't be credibly

accused of modesty (one of his books was even titled

"Advertisements for Myself"), but then modesty is an overrated

virtue, much easier to achieve once you've already received

your due (hey, Muhammad Ali, who Mailer vividly wrote about,

made pure poetry out of immodesty).

Truthfulness is more important. So is insight. And his very

best work had plenty of both -- and the power to make readers

see the world in brand new ways.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Mailer from; photographer unknown.]



for November 9, 2007

Since I've been focusing on the 1960s in the last
couple columns, here are two more Sixties-related
DVDs of note:

"It's all the same street," sings the Grateful Dead's

Bob Weir on a DVD called "Rock & Roll Goldmine." The

familiar lyric, of course, is from the Dead's "Truckin',"

which they perform live at an unidentified concert. But

the reason for watching is there's a wonderfully

spontaneous moment when Weir completely blanks out

as the song begins, missing the first verse and catching up

only during the "same street" line. It's revealing to see the

good-natured way both Jerry Garcia and Weir react to the

miscue -- and it's a nice live version of the song.

Also, 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 Jackson 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,

seeming almost dazed by the band.

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 like a 40-year-old, and at age 40, he acted like a


The 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,

etc.). 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 the freakish adult that

loss has produced.

But I digress. Paul



for November 8, 2007

Brokaw's "Boom!" and My Own Subjective Remembrances of the 1960s

the suburban kids of WWII vets came of age in the
1960s and looked something like this.
(photo by Paul Iorio)

Now that Tom Brokaw is making the rounds and talking up

his new book, "Boom!," about the 1960s, here are a few of my own

subjective remembrances of the Sixties.

First, there was a huge difference between the older

baby boomers, born around 1940 like Brokaw (the

Elvis-to-Beatles generation) and the younger ones,

born around 1957, as I was (the Beatles-to-Led Zeppelin


When Brokaw was eight years old, Perry Como and

Peggy Lee were duking it out for dominance on the

music charts.

When I was eight years old, everyone was talking

about the rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones.

And the next year, kids my age were wondering

whether the Monkees would eclipse the Beatles.

Yes, there was a moment, just a moment, if you

were between eight and twelve years old in the fall

of 1966 (Brokaw was 26), just after the Beatles had

played their last-ever live gig but before the release

of "Strawberry Fields Forever," when it looked like

the Monkees, with the one-two punch of "Clarksville"

and "I'm a Believer," might actually overtake the

Beatles (that was the-talk-of-the-recess-yard when I

was in the 4th grade and still carrying around my

Monkees lunchbox -- talk that was poo-pooed by my hip

babysitter, who knew better and would always remove my

Herman's Hermits and Monkees and Beatles 45s from

the turntable and put on full-length LPs by the

Mamas and the Papas, the Beatles, the Supremes, the

Beatles, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Beatles, etc.).

I sometimes think the Sixties actually began when Khrushchev

made his famous space-age "flying" gesture with his hands

during the Kitchen Debate with Nixon in 1959 -- a sign

that neo-psychedelic perception had already

started to permeate the mainstream.

It's hard to say when the 1970s began, but I do know the

1960s ended for good when the Ramones released their

anti-hippie debut in 1976 (see photo below).

The last vestiges of the 1960s were blown away for good in 1976,
with the release of The Ramones's debut. (photo by Roberta Bayley)

And, yes, it's true the '68 presidential election wasn't the

squeaker it has been made out to be (as I noted in The Daily

Digression of September 30, 2007, posted below, the combined

right wing vote -- Nixon's total plus Wallace's -- equalled

almost 60%). But that doesn't really say anything about

the conservatism of the era, because a big percentage of

anti-war Democrats -- put off by the party's unfair treatment

of Eugene McCarthy, depressed by the assassination of Robert

Kennedy and unenthusiastic about Hubert Humphrey, who they

considered a puppet of LBJ -- didn't vote.

My own remembrance of 1968: I was in the 6th grade and

unusually politically active for my age. (Below is my

6th grade class notebook cover, on which I wrote

"Julian Bond" for president. Bond had recently given

an impressive speech at the Democratic National Convention.)

Every weekend for a time in 1968, I'd write a new political

speech -- on the Abe Fortas controversy or on the ABM treaty or

on the latest bombing in Vietnam -- and deliver it on a garbage

can in the backyard of our suburban house; and my audience

was always exactly one person: my younger sister, who

would sit quietly and listen as brother Paul gave his speech.

I was for Julian Bond for President in the 6th grade.

Taking my cue from the college protesters of the

day, I initiated and organized a cafeteria boycott in

the 6th grade to protest a new rule that said students

were not allowed to go to the bathroom without

being accompanied by someone else (in

order to prevent graffiti).

The night before the boycott, I phoned almost everybody in

the sixth grade class at Riverhills Elementary School

in Temple Terrace, Florida, and asked them to bring

their own lunches and to boycott the school's cafeteria

food that week. Then I enlisted my younger sister

and had her call her own friends in the 4th grade

to ask them to join in, too.

Much to my surprise, my boycott was a massive success.

Nearly everybody brought their own lunches that week,

and the school had mountains of uneaten beans and rice

and Salisbury Steaks left over at the end of each day.

School officials were pissed. When they found out

I was the person behind the cafeteria boycott, I was

called in by the principal, who sounded like a George

Wallace supporter as she gave me a stern lecture

condemning the rebelliousness of Today's Youth.

I was eleven years old and was already seeing the

downside of being the Mark Rudd/Abbie Hoffman of

Riverhills Elementary!

The next year, I attended a progressive private

school where I was happy to have been given an outlet

for my political ideas: a newspaper called The Weekly

Wong. My first articles for the paper, in 1969, were

an anti-Nixon satire called "I Dreamed I Was Richard

Nixon" and an anti-war editorial (both are

posted below).

Satirizing Nixon, when I was 12 (aw, c'mon -- what d'ya expect? I was barely out of elementary school!!).

Opposing the Vietnam War, at age 12.

By 1969, when I was 12, I had already gone beyond student

politics to community activism, and some of it was even

covered by the main newspaper of my hometown at the time, The

Tampa Tribune (there was an article in the Tribune in '69

about my anti-war fundraising and another article in '73 or '74

quoting me about an Impeach Nixon rally I had helped to organize).

But my political outbursts had actually started

much earlier, at age seven, in 1964, when I wrote this

scathing "editorial" about the presidential race

(no, I wasn't a Goldwater Girl!):

scathing editorial I wrote at age 7.

And this one:

an endorsement, at age 7.

[Incidentally, my political activism happened almost exclusively

between the ages of 10 and 17; since age 18, I've not been

politically active. (I've taken a different direction and gone on to

write and report for almost all the major newspapers in the U.S. and for

several magazines.) Interesting that I was extremely involved in

politics in childhood but am not today, in contrast to my sister, who

was not very active in politics in childhood but is extremely involved

in it today.]

On a day-to-day level, what did the 1960s really look and feel

like in America? To be honest: like the suburban landscape

portrayed in the first part of the movie "Apollo 13," which

inadvertently captures the co-existence of both the Silent

Majority and the Baby Boomers. (And, yes, the break-up of

the Beatles was truly that traumatic if you were of a

certain age!) Now that I think of it, even more accurate

was the Sixties suburbia of Oliver Stone's "Born on the 4th

of July."

Sixties movies (and feminism) arguably began right here,
with Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura,"
which resonates even today (David Chase's
open-ended "Sopranos" finale echoes the ending
of the film).

But I digress. Paul



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