Monday, February 8, 2010

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

-My homepage is at
-My photography site is
- My main music site (w/lyrics)
-MP3 editons of my new albums & &
NEW! Audio excerpts of Paul's interviews with pop culture icons &

All posted text on this website written solely by Paul Iorio.


Some sort of software glitch is stopping me from

posting new material to this site. Until it's

fixed, I'll be posting new Daily Digressions at Please visit

there for all the latest. Paul


for February 8, 2010

New Paul Iorio Song Censored by Microsoft

Is "Draw Me a Picture" Too Hot for Bill Gates?

[more to come; my site has apparently been hacked into]


for February 8, 2010

I've just finished writing and recording four brand new

songs; will be posting lyrics and MP3s as soon as I

solve website software problem (Feb. 8, 2010).



for February 2, 2010

The other day I mentioned (in this space) a humorous

feature story I'd written and reported for Details

magazine in 1994 called "Choosing My Religion," and

some are wondering how they can get a copy

of the piece.

Well, look no further. Here is the story I wrote, as I

originally wrote it, for the magazine. Enjoy!

* * * *

As many of you know, I was the first journalist anywhere to

have conducted an audiotaped interview with Phish bandleader

Trey Anastasio (it happened in January 1989).

One reader wonders how certain I am that my interview

with Anastasio was conducted in January 1989.

My answer is: I'm 100% sure that it was done in January 1989.

How do I know? Easy. In the taped interview, you can clearly

hear Trey talking about shows that he and has band have

just performed and concerts that are coming up. So, for example,

he says, last week we performed at the so and so cafe (and

research shows that gig happened in January 1989). And

Trey says, next week we'll be performing at the so and so club

in Boston (and research shows that gig happened in

February 1989).

Thankfully, the Q&A is loaded with such date references, which

make it easy to figure out when I did the interview.

My Anastasio interview was ultimately published in the

December 25, 2003, issue of Miami New Times (so it, of course,

went through a rigorous level of fact-checking and verification

by the editors at New Times before it was published).

I've posted an edited transcript of the interview at and have some of

the audio posted at

* * * *

As some of you know, my main music website is at But I've just launched

another music site that has more informal, day-to-day

info and messages about my music. It's at

But I digress. Paul



for February 1, 2010


The Death of J.D. Salinger

What the Townspeople in his Hometown Thought About Him

J.D. Salinger has died, at age 91, meaning he lived

in the tiny U.S. town of Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, in

seclusion for 57 years. By all accounts, he was as

reclusive in the end as when he was when

he first moved to town on January 1, 1953, back

when President Truman was still in the White House.

The author moved there around 17 months after the release

of his first and only full-length novel, “The Catcher in the

Rye,” at a time when he was “tremendously relieved that the

season for success of ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ is over,”

as he told the Saturday Review magazine in 1952. Little did

he know the season had just begun.

The townspeople of the Cornish Flat area grew

accustomed to him and usually left him alone to live

his day to day life with his wife, a quilt and

tapestry designer around half his age, in a house

near a covered bridge (how fitting it's a covered

bridge!) that leads to Vermont. (He moved down the

road to his current Cornish house after divorcing

his previous wife in 1967.)

Most people in the area do not talk about him,

but some do. Or at least they did in

2004, when I conducted the interviews

for this story, unpublished until now.

"People know who he is, yet he acts like nobody

knows who he is," says Lynn Caple, who runs the

nearby Plainfield General Store, where Salinger

and his wife occasionally used to stop in to buy the

New York Times and other items.

"Very straight-faced guy," says Caple. "I've only seen

him smile once. I've been here four years."

Other neighbors, like Jerry Burt of Plainfield, have

actually been to his house, which he says is at the

end of a long driveway and atop a hill on hundreds

of acres owned by the author. "We would

go over to watch movies in his living room and have

dinner with him," says Burt, who claims he hasn't

seen the author since 1983.

"He's got a big living room with a deck that looks out

over the hills of Vermont, way up high, very private,"

he adds.

Burt recalls one dinner party at Salinger's house

twenty-some years ago at which Salinger, who is said

to enjoy health food, served meatloaf. "No Julia

Child," he says of Salinger's cuisine. And

the conversation was rarely literary. "He talked

about movies and the gardens and his children," he says.

The books Salinger usually talked about were not novels

but non-fiction works related to “health, being your own

health provider -- and gardening."

Of course, none of the guests dared to mention


"You'd never even think to do that if you were around

him," he says. "He'd just give you a look. He's a

very tall man and stern looking. You just know not

to do that. He'd probably show you the door and

say, 'Don't come in.'"

“He never talked about his work except to say he wrote

every morning faithfully,” he says. “And he said if I was

ever going to be a writer, I would have to do that.”

He also says Salinger had a big safe -- like a "bank

safe" -- where he kept his unpublished manuscripts. "I've

seen the safe, I've looked in it. And he told me that he kept

his unpublished [work] there....It's huge," says Burt. "You

could have a party in there."

At one get-together in the 1980s, Salinger screened Frank

Capra's 1937 film "Lost Horizon," about a group of people

who find a paradise called Shangrila tucked in a remote

corner of the Himalayans. "He liked all those old things,

those old silents, Charlie Chaplin," he says. (His

description of the Salinger party almost resembles the

scene in the 1950 movie “Sunset Boulevard” in which a

has-been screens old movies for friends in a remote house.)

Another neighbor, this one in Cornish, is much more

circumspect about what she says about Salinger and

takes great pains to defend him. “He has been a wonderful

neighbor,” says Joan Littlefield, who lives close to

him. “The minute we moved into the neighborhood, he

called and gave us his unlisted number and said,

‘We’re neighbors now.’”

Littlefield spontaneously defended the author against

some of the allegations in the memoir by Salinger’s

daughter Margaret A. Salinger, “Dream Catcher: A Memoir”

(2000). That book claimed, among other things, that

Salinger was involved in offbeat health and spiritual

practices, such as drinking urine and Scientology.

“This thing about telling him to drink his own urine

or something that I heard that somebody wrote about,”

said Littlefield. “...I think that if any of these

reporters did some research into Ayurvedic medicine

or the medicine of China or the Far East, they would

probably find out that the medicine people over

there recommend this sort of thing.” (Ayurvedic

medicine provides alternative health treatments -- including

urine drinking -- that have origins in ancient


Littlefield defends Salinger on smaller issues, too.

“Absolutely ridiculous things have been written about

him, like that they had two Doberman attack dogs,”

she says. “For Pete’s sake, they had two little

Italian hounds of some kind that looked like Dobermans,

and they were skinny and tiny as toothpicks!”

(My request for an interview with Salinger went

unanswered over the years, though I did speak

with his wife, who was not at all pleased that I was

writing this story.)

The author was, of course, famous for not granting

interviews and gave only around six interviews,

some of them brief and grudging, to reporters since

the release of “Catcher."

Most other people in the area saw Salinger only when

he was out in public, if at all. “He’s great looking for his

age,” says photographer and area resident Medora Hebert,

who has spotted him twice. “He’s dapper, very trim.”

“It was a long time before I could actually recognize him

because he looked so ordinary,” says Ann Stebbens Cioffi,

the daughter of the late owner of the Dartmouth Bookstore,

Phoebe Storrs Stebbens.

But Salinger himself once said that he thinks others don’t

see him as ordinary. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind

of man," Salinger told the New York Times in 1974. And

some agree with him: "He's a very strange dude," says

Hanover resident Harry Nelson. Burt agrees: “He had a

weird sense of humor,” he says.

What emerges as much as anything is that the

author was a serious book lover and serial browser

who shopped at places ranging from Borders Books to

the Dartmouth Bookstore. “He was uninterrupted

during his hour or two of browsing for books,” says

a person answering the phone at Encore! Books in West

Lebanon, New Hampshire, describing his own Salinger


“He does come in reasonably frequently,” says someone

who answered the phone at the Dartmouth Bookstore in

Hanover, New Hampshire, around 20 miles north of Cornish.

“He’s a pretty good customer here but doesn’t really

say anything to us.”

"He frequented the Dartmouth bookstore," says an

employee of Borders Books Music & Cafe in West Lebanon.

"I talked to people who worked over there one time;

they say he wasn't very nice, wasn't the most cordial

person. So I kind of keep my eye out for him

here, go my own way."

Adds Medora Hebert, "One of my daughter's friends

was a cashier at the Dartmouth Bookstore. And they warned

him, 'If J.D. Salinger comes in, don't talk to him,

don't acknowledge him.'"

And there had been many reports of Salinger

browsing the stacks at the Dartmouth College

library. “I’ve talked with people who have met

him in the stacks and whatnot,” says Thomas

Sleigh, an English professor at Dartmouth College.

Salinger was also said to enjoy the annual Five-Colleges

Book Sale at the Hanover High School gym, a springtime

sale of used and antiquarian books that raises money

for scholarships.

In Hanover, as in Cornish, he kept to himself. "My

wife [says] Salinger always said hello to Phoebe

and no one else," says Nelson, referring to Phoebe

Storrs Stebbens, who was a year older than

Salinger (and incidentally shares the same first

name as a major character in “Catcher”).

And area booksellers say Salinger’s books are

displayed just as prominently as they would be

if he were not a local.

Then again, Salinger didn't have many books to

display, since he published only three besides

“Catcher,” all compilations of short stories or

novellas that had been previously published, mostly

in The New Yorker magazine. His last book,

“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and

Seymour, An Introduction,” was released in

January 1963. His previous books were the bestsellers

“Franny and Zooey” (1961) and “Nine Stories” (1953).

By the way, The New Yorker magazine actually

rejected "The Catcher in the Rye" when Salinger

submitted it as a short story/novella that was

substantially similar to the novel, according to

Paul Alexander's book "Salinger: A Biography."

In 1997, he had planned to publish a fifth book,

essentially a re-release of his last published

work, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which appeared in The

New Yorker in June 1965. The book’s publication

was ultimately scuttled.

But “Catcher” eclipses everything else he’s

done -- by a mile. It’s one of the most

influential 20th century American novels, a

coming-of-age odyssey about high school student

Holden Caulfield, who wanders around New York

after being kicked out of prep school. And

it's arguably the first novel to convincingly capture

the voice of the modern, alienated, American


"Catcher" was successful in its initial run but not

nearly as successful as it would become by the end

of the 1950s, when it started to turn into a

freakish cult phenomenon. To date, it has

sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and

continues to sell hundreds of thousands more each year.

Over the decades, the book has appealed to a wide

range of readers that even includes certified

wackos (John Lennon’s killer had a copy on him

when he was captured). So it’s not surprising that

Salinger had to fend off obsessive

fans even at his private Shangrila in Cornish

Flat, which has a population of under 2,000.

“People approach him a lot,” says Burt. “And they

stole clothes off his clothesline. They stole his

socks, underwear, t-shirts. And they’d come up on

his deck. It’s a huge picture window that

goes across the front of the house looking out to

Vermont...And he said he’d get up and open the

drapes and people would be standing there looking in.

It really pissed him off.”

And there was also a much publicized scuffle outside the

Purity Supreme grocery store (which he used to jokingly

call “the Puberty Supreme,” according to two biographies)

in 1988, in which Salinger reportedly mixed it up with

a couple photographers who tried to take his picture.

But for the most part, people in the area didin't bother


“People in Cornish are quite protective of him,” says

Cioffi. “I can’t think of anyone who will tell you

a word about Salinger,” says a woman who answered

the phone at the Hannaford Supermarket in Claremont.

Apparently, Cornish is the perfect place to go if you

vant to be alone. “This is also a part of the country

where [writer Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn lived in his

enclave -- and his kids went to public

schools,” says Bob Grey of the Northshire Bookstore

in faraway Manchester Center, Vermont, referring to

the Nobel laureate’s former home in Cavendish,

Vermont, which is around 20 miles from Cornish.

“It’s the kind of place where, if you’re going to move

to be left alone, it’s not a bad place to be.”



for January 30 - 31, 2010

It's official: my song "Love's The Heaven You Can't Reach"

is the song of mine that (lately) is most ripped-off by other

songwriters. I wrote the song in 2008 and it first got

radio airplay some weeks alter (for which I'm grateful! My spiel

here, by the way, is not at all directed at the great radio people

who have played my stuff, and I hope they continue to play it).

Currently you can hear the song for free on MySpace here:

Look, I don't wanna be a spoilsport and name names (which I'm

not gonna do). But hey, I'm the small fish here. And when

better-known musicians steal one of my ideas, it devalues my

original tune. Someone who is more affluent than I am ends

up making money off of my idea without compensating me. And I

don't know how you call that fair.

As I said, I ain't naming names but the most prominent people

who have ripped that song off are: a late night TV talk show host

and his house band (stealing it so flagrantly that I could probably sue

them, but I won't); and a singer-songwriter I admire, who merely took

my idea and modified the song's main line. (Even one of my old

friends is sort of trying to rip the song off retroactivbely,

trying to make it look like one of his own old songs was

kind of about the same theme (when in fact his own song had

nothing to do with the theme of love-being-out-of-reach and

was merely a psychedelic tableau).)

There are other songs of mine that have been nicked by other

recording artists in recent years (I'm not going to go through

the litany, but suffice it say that the idea for my

2000 song "Wait for Girls" was stolen by (you can guess

that one!) and my 2008 song "Bang, Bang, Shoot, Shoot" was ripped

of by (I bet you can guess that one, too). I generally post

my songs online as I write them so that people can enjoy

'em, but I might have to rethink giving out cyber-freebies

in the future. I mean, my music site is apparently becoming

a backwater where some musicians-on-deadline feel they

can easily steal an idea or two.

Three reasons songwriters and performers shouldn't steal

from my songwriting catalog are: 1) I have a good attorney,

and if anyone crosses the line and lifts a substantial

part of one of my songs, that person will be sued; 2) if anyone

steals one of my songs but cleverly does so in a way that

is just outside the boundary of formal copyright violation,

I'll merely publicize the theft on this website and

elsewhere, and you'll have the reputation you deserve; 3) it's

not fair.

Here's an idea: next time a performer likes one of my songs,

write to me at and arrange for permission

and payment to use it. What a concept!

Thankfully, I have had a longstanding habit of

sending my songs to myself in an email shortly after

I've written them (I've been doing this via email since '97). Hence, I

know exactly when I came up with almost all of

my songs. And my email and hard drive say: I finished

"Love's The Heaven" on August 9, 2008, at around 9:30 AM.

(Studio version is from an August 19, 2008.) For anyone

interested, here's the top of the email I sent to myself:

The song is about my belief that we fall in

love with those who are just out of reach,

probably because they are just out of reach,

and (absent first-hand contact with the person)

we tend to imagine that she (or he) is heaven.

* * * * *

Exposing an Apocryphal Story

One of the great things about blogs is you can

address persistent nasty rumors or false stories

about yourself (or others) in a way that one never

could before the invention of the Internet.

So I'd like to clear up one particular false and irritating

story about me that I've heard echoed over the years.

In 1987, when I was a writer/reporter for a music trade

magazine in New York, I struck up a conversation with a

publicist who had recently been fired from her job. She

seemed to be unusually loquacious, which might have been

motivated by the fact that she trying to get me to say

something embarrassing that she could later quote (I think

she was pissed about something I had written about one

of the artists she represented).

Anyway, the talk turned to my schedule for that evening. In

those days I would regularly attend a couple concerts a

night -- a night -- in between attending an industry party

or conducting an interview. Very busy sked in those days.

That night there were around two concerts and another event

I had to cover in Manhattan, where I was based. And that

meant I had to miss a big David Bowie concert out in New

Jersey that night. (That particular Bowie tour had already

been reviewed by the L.A. bureau of my magazine some time

earlier, so (for obvious reasons) I wasn't going to cover it.) But

this publicist hooked on to the fact that I wasn't attending

the Bowie show. Why not?, she asked. And I explained that

the magazine had already covered his tour -- and besides, I

joked, it was going to rain and I might melt.

Admittedly, not a good joke. But a joke nonetheless.

Ever since then, a willfully distorted version of that story has

gotten around in order to make me look like 'Paul's-not-a-hardy-reporter,

he can't even brave a rainstorm.'

Well, excuuuuuse me! For the record, I've covered stories during

bomb threats, death threats, blizzards and earthquakes.

Besides reporting on an unsolved murder that almost cost me my

life, and venturing alone behind the Iron Curtain during

the Cold War, I've also braved more ordinary inclement elements on

the job (like getting a bad case of clinical frostbite while

reporting "Choosing My Religion" for Details magazine in

late December 1993, as I had to walk around from church to church

in Manhattan when it was 30 below zero. And, by the way,

I'd gladly get frostbite again to do a story as humorous

as that; thanks to the people who were at Details then

who understood what I was doing and let me do it!)

Twenty-three years later, I can finally put an end to a

distorted little story that misleads people about who

I am.

But I digress. Paul



for January 27 - 28, 2010

exclusive, uncensored

Underwear Bomber's Islamic Group Once Posted Pro-Jihadist Writings

Muslim Organization More Extremist Than First Thought

Before he decided to become an international underwear model -- burned

in his first turn in the spotlight, alas -- Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was an

Islamic top banana at University College London (UCL). Elected president --

president -- of the college's Islamic Society in 2006, he ran the

organization until 2007, even organizing an extravagant week-long

conference on the war on terror at one point.

Today, of course, he stands accused of trying to blow up a plane that had

nearly 300 passengers on it -- and of doing so in the name of Islam.

In the wake of the attempted bombing, there has been a widespread

perception that UCL's Islamic Society was a moderate Muslim

group devoted almost solely to humanitarian causes, academic issues

and charity.

But this reporter has uncovered postings on the Islamic Society's website

that contradict that impression and show the group has posted

pro-jihadist commentary over the years. In 1999 and thereafter, the

Society posted an editorial advocating religious warfare, leading

with this unambiguous line: "With respect to Jihad, O my brother, in

this time and before this time it is fard ayn." (The phrase "fard ayn" means

individual duty and obligation. )

Elsewhere, the author -- identified as "Al-Albaanee" -- advocates driving

Israel "into the sea." "For here we have neighbouring us, the Jews who

have occupied Palestine, and not a single Islamic country has moved

to establish the obligation of making Jihad with them, and evicting

them and throwing them in the sea...," he writes on the site of the

group that Abdulmutallab once ran.

This sort of extremism is consistent with reports from The Guardian

newspaper and others that fundamentalist Muslims (and Christians) at

University College London have been virtually insisting that professors treat

religious myth as if it were scientific fact and on the same

level as scientific explanation.

As The Guardian reported in 2006, noting that both

Muslim and Christian students were advocating the teaching of

creationism in science classes: "There is an insidious and growing problem,"

said Professor [Steve] Jones, of University College London. "It's a step back

from rationality. They (the creationists) don't have a problem with science,

they have a problem with argument. And irrationality is a very infectious

disease as we see from the United States."

Of course, the Islamic Society's site has also published material

on many other subjects over the years, ranging from

restaurant guides for Muslims and information on where to go for Happy

Hour after Friday prayers to explanations of why women are

deprived of rights under Islamic law.

Interestingly, the postings during Abdulmutallab's tenure seem to emphasize

a Lonely Guyish pre-occupation with social activities. (Even a

charity walk for earthquake victims is (almost callously) billed as

"a great excuse to have a fun day out with sisters to see

the famous sites of London..." And the site abruptly juxtaposes an

announcement about the deaths of two colleagues with a notice

about a Paintball event.)

Here are some excerpts from UCL's Islamic Society website during

Abdulmutallab's tenure and before. (All punctuation and spelling is

exactly as it appears on the site; some of the material quoted here

was posted directly on the site, some was linked to it.)

"With respect to Jihad, O my brother, in this time and before this time it is fard ayn."
(The phrase "fard ayn" means individual duty and obligation. ) (titled: "Al-Albaanee on Jihaad," '99)

-- "Brothers: Happy Hour after Jumu'ah [Friday prayers] in Conference room, 2nd Floor
Bloomsbury." (main website, 2004 and beyond)

-- "For here we have neighbouring us, the Jews who have occupied Palestine, and
not a single Islamic country has moved to establish the obligation of making Jihad with
them, and evicting them and throwing them in the sea..." (titled: "Al-Albaanee on Jihaad," '99)

-- "Always keep in mind the reason we are here studying, and remember that every
action we perform should be for Allah." (main website, 2004 and beyond)

-- "It is obligatory upon the father when [his daughter] reaches the age of nine or greater
that he asks for her consent [before marrying her off]."
("Fataawa (Legal rulings) for women," '01, also posted on Univ. of Essex Islamic Society site)

-- "Any woman who perfumes herself and passes by some people that they smell her scent,
then she is an...adulteress." (from "The Obligatory Conditions For An Islamic Hijab," with the
quote attributed this way: "On the authority of Ad'Diya Al-Maqdisi, the prophet (pbuh) said...", '01)

-- "Brothers please do not use the toilets in the Henry Morley Building, these are for
SISTERS ONLY" (main website, mid-Oughties)
-- "[Smoking] is most spread among the low-class immoral people. It reflects blind imitation o
f the non-Muslims. It is mostly consumed in bars, discos, casinos, and other: places of sin. A
smoker may beg or steal if he does not have the money to buy cigarettes. He is ill-mannered
with his friends and family, especially when he misses taking his necessary "dose" at the usual time."
. ("Smoking: A Social Poison," by Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "Cut the moustaches and grow your beards. Be different from the Magians (followers of a religion
that dominated in Persia)."
("Shaving the Beard: A Modern Effeminacy," by Abu`Abdillah Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "The fast is valid for any person who wakes up in a state of sexual defilement "
(from "The Rulings of Ramadaan: A Comprehensive Guideline, adapted from the Hudaa magazine; posted in 2001.)

-- "Smoking refers to the action of lighting a cigarette, a pipe, a cigar...The object is then
sucked on with the lips to extract smoke...'Smoking' is now used to refer to the action
of producing this smoke in English, Arabic, and other languages."
("Smoking: A Social Poison," by Muhammad al-Jibaly,posted in '01)

-- "Ankaboot...A MUST try restaurant for every muslim." (main website, 2004 and beyond)

-- "The beard is defined as the hair which grows on the cheeks and the jaws."
("Shaving the Beard: A Modern Effeminacy," by Abu`Abdillah Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "Downloadable Quran recitations from around 50 choices of Sheikhs." (main website, mid-Oughties)

-- "Dua [Prayer] for Distress:...Do not leave me in charge of my affairs even for a blink of
an eye..."(main website, mid-Oughties)

-- "Dua [Prayer] After Studying: "Oh Allah! I entrust you with what I have read and have
studied..."(main website, mid-Oughties)

-- "You are a former British heavyweight boxer. The women are chasing after you, you've got
the muscles, you've got the money and the cars, you're making the back page headlines.
Why turn around and become Muslim?" (main website, 2006)

-- "Stairway to Heaven - Cruciform Lectrue Theatre 2...A solo tab for Led Zeppelin's
guitar hit? Nope, think again! This is an uplifting talk by Abu Aaliyah...Come down
and let's take the stairway to Heaven." (main website, 2006)

-- "thank Allah for a successful year, and pray that this coming year will follow in similar vain [sic]".
(main website, posted '01)

-- "He who raises his hands during the prayer, there is no prayer for him."
("The Prophet's Prayer," by Shaykh Muhammad Naasir-ud-deen al-Albaanim posted in '01.)

-- "Are the rulings for wiping the same for women as for men? Or is there a difference?"
("Rulings regarding wiping over the socks," by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih 'Aal-Uthaymeen, posted in 01)

-- "I was suffering from haemorrhoids (piles), so I asked the Messenger of Allaah...and he
said, Pray standing; if you are not able, then sitting down; if you are not able to do so,
then pray lying down." ("The Prophet's Prayer," by Shaykh Muhammad Naasir-ud-deen al-Albaanim posted in '01.)

-- "Anyone who ridicules any aspect of the religion of the Messenger of Allaah [saw],
or any of its rewards or punishments, becomes an unbeleiver."
("Ten Things Which Nullify Ones Islaam," undated, no author credited, on main site.)

-- "The beard is a major distinction between men and women. Shaving it removes
this distinction, and is thus a means of imitating women."
("Shaving the Beard: A Modern Effeminacy," by Abu`Abdillah Muhammad al-Jibaly, posted in '01)

-- "More than 5,000 people were killed, and thousands injured by the earthquake
that struck Yogyakarta, South Central Java [in[ 2006....UCLU Islamic Society has
organized a sponsored a walk around central London to raise money for this
deperate cause. This is a great excuse to have a fun day out with sisters to see
the famous sites of London..." (main website, 2006)

The new logo of University College London's Islamic Society?

[all writing, reporting, research by Paul Iorio. Graphic by Paul Iorio
based on UCL ISOC logo and Kurt Westergaard drawing.]

* * * *


A Fresh Look at Islam, Circa 2010

In the spirit of Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame,"
in which Murrow both reported his findings and provided
commentary on his subject, here is what my reportage
tells me about Islam...

When it comes to Islam, I'm with the late Norman Mailer.

Mailer once appeared on Charlie Rose and, as usual, made

clear and audacious sense, saying -- as Rose tried to

shush and sanitize him -- that the whole posture of Islam

is completely wrong, that to have your ass in the air

and your nose on a floor is such a negation of all

the beauty of existence.

It was liberating to hear Mailer, a leftist and progressive,

say such a thing flat out, not caring what the consequences

were, speaking without fear or favor, the way good

journalists do.

I had seen Mailer in person earlier, shortly after the fatwa

against Salman Rushdie in February 1989. And I was impressed,

even energized by his bravery in the face of a bomb

threat that temporarily emptied the pro-Rushie rally at

the Manhattan venue where he was speaking. Quoting Jean Genet,

Mailer addressed the person who made the threat: "Blow out your farts."

But getting back to Mailer's opinion of Islam, I have to admit

that the posture of Christians and Jews to the world -- on their

knees, with their eyes closed -- is no better. Why not celebrate

and worship the world by standing upright in a forest,

or in a great city, amidst a beautiful landscape, or enjoying

sex face-to-face with another person? Why negate all the

beauty out there by having your face on the floor or your

knees on the ground. (They have a song about pants on the

ground; how about a tune about how you look with your

nose on the floor?)

I used to think there was a larger centrist faction of

Islam in the world, but my recent research has taught me

that faction is smaller than I thought. In researching the

case of the underwear bomber, I read the past editions of

the University College London's Islamic Society website (UCL ISOC)

and realized that even there -- where you would expect a more liberal

and secular Muslim viewpoint -- it was virtually the 15th century.

On the UCL ISOC site were postings (that I've

compiled above) advocating jihad, giving advice about forced

marriages to girls who are nine years old and older, etc.

Backward stuff. And this is what passes for progressive

academic Islam in 2010? (Wanna see for yourself how

backward some of these postings are? Here's one -- posted

on the websites of at least two academic Islamic

Societies, where one would expect (in vain) a more

modern version of Islam. Read for yourself (if you can

stomach it) here how they defend "forced marriages"

to girls as young as nine years old:

I can only conclude that the difference between moderate

Islam and orthodox Islam is that the former is only 150 years

behind the times (before Darwin, the abolition of slavery,

women's rights, etc.) and the latter is around 500 years

behind the times (even reaching back before Galileo and Copernicus).

According to newspaper reports, Muslim and Christian

fundamentalist students in the U.K are bringing

their religious irrationalism into the classroom,

posing a problem for professors. For example,

students who are Christian and Muslim literalists are

answering science questions on exams with religious

answers -- and are rightly being flunked as a result.

On science exams, students are asked questions like:

The earth is around _______ years old.

The correct answer, of course, is 4.5 billion years old.

But devout Muslim students are answering:

"5,000 years old, according to Allah (pbuh)."

A professor would of course have to mark that answer wrong.

The professor might also suggest that the student save his religious

beliefs for religion courses, and apply his scientific knowledge in

science classes.

After all, you don't teach astrology in astronomy class in the

name of diversity. (You might however include a (brief)

discussion of astrology in a course about, say, Hindu folk

traditions.) And one wouldn't teach that the earth-is-flat

is an alternative scientific theory that some believe is true.

Problem is, many fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim,

come to college expecting a church or mosque, not a classroom.

They expect a preacher, not a teacher. They want dogma,

not verifiable knowledge or dialectic.

And isn't there an implicit intimidation factor involved

when a student answers "the earth is 5,000 years old,

according to Allah (pbuh)," an answer that is hostile to

what the professor is teaching and doing? Will

intimidation tactics cause more than a couple professors to, maybe,

tamp down their teachings of Darwin or Copernicus? Isn't this

a dangerous slippery slope?

First, the fanatics try to murder a novelist (Rushdie)

because they are offended by his novel. Then, they

murder a van Gogh because they are offended by his

film making. Then, they try to kill Kurt Westergaard

because they are offended by one of his cartoons. The

other week, in Malaysia, fundamentalists decided to

forbid non-Muslims from using the word "Allah." How long

before they start targeting professors who have the

nerve to teach that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old?

I must say, what a sensitive bunch, these religious fanatics.

Let me get this straight: these religulous souls are not the

least bit offended by burning people jumping to their deaths

from skyscrapers (see: 9/11) but they're suddenly reduced

to tears and anger over a mere cartoon.

Of course, Muslims (and Christians and Jews) have every right

to be offended by whatever they want to be offended by. Nobody

is saying they don't have the right to be offended by anything

or everything. What I am saying -- and emphatically -- is that

mass homicide is not the way to respond to being offended. Killing

is not only immoral and unacceptable in this context, but very

illegal, too. It's not a culturally protected practice or

defensible because of cultural relativism.

You see, when you're offended by something, you can respond

with lots of different tools. One tool is a boycott. Another tool

is civil disobedience. Another is picketing. Another is publishing

an essay in a newspaper (or on a blog).

But Muslim extremists, when offended, too often reach for only

one tool: homicide. They don't boycott Rushdie; they try to

kill him. They don't picket van Gogh, they murder him.

And that is precisely where the problem is with regard to

the Westergaard, Rushdie and van Gogh situations and

other similar ones. The problem is not that some Muslims are

somehow being offended or disrespected (everybody gets dissed

every now and then); the problem is the tool that the

devout use to respond to a perceived insult.

As I said before, Muslim extremists have the right to be

offended by whatever offends them. But they do not have

the right to get violent about it. An entire subculture,

it seems, needs anger management.

Let's not feed the sickness of religious literalists by

giving in to their irrationality. It truly is a slippery

slope. If they force us to ban a cartoon (or to self-censor),

then why not also ban (or discourage) non-Mulims from saying

"Allah"? It offends many of them, after all. And (using the

logic of the self-censors), why not encourage professors

to pass students who flunk tests because they have given

religious answers to scientific questions?

In most of the U.S. and in Western Europe, we try to let a

thousand flowers bloom. But absolutists want only their

own flowers to grow. And they want the flowers of others to

be replaced by their own flowers. They return our tolerance

and our attempts at diversity with no reciprocity.

Still, it's important to lead by example, to show Islam that

we don't silence voices that we disagree with. That's why it

was a correct decision by the Obama administration to grant

Swiss Islamist Tariq Ramadan a visa for entry into the U.S.

Though I disagree with Ramadan, and am even offended by

him a bit, I say, let him speak.

Now will you fundamentalists reciprocate and allow Kurt

Westergaard to express himself freely and live in peace?

If not, why won't you respect diversity and practice


(By the way, I encourage questions, answers and comments

from my Muslim readers (and others) at

* * * * *

Again, a few people are wondering about how I came up

with particular songs, namely "Hey There, Watcher,"

"You Know It Shows" and "If One Rainy Night."

I wrote "Hey There, Watcher" alone in my Berkeley, Calif.,

apartment one afternoon in August 2009. It came to me at

the end of a four or five hour solo jam session in which I

was coming up with riffs and ideas, and suddenly the

main chord progression of "Watcher" came flowing out.

I began singing whatever came into my head, which was

"Hey There, Roger," about a long-time pal, but then I

started thinking of that 1960s hit "I'm a Girl Watcher"

and changed it to "Hey There, Watcher," with lyrics

about an urban street tableau. That one eruipted very


I wrote both "You Know It Shows" and "If One Rainy Night"

in the late fall of 1980 and early winter of 1981, while I

was living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and working

for Delacorte Press. I penned and developed both songs

on the rooftop of the Beacon, 26 stories above NYC. "You Know

It Shows" has not changed a bit in the decades since I

wrote it. From the opening chords (influenced by a G.E. Smith

album I was listening to then) to the hook "and I'll show you why,"

the song has remained as I wrote it at the Beacon.

Even though I wrote it almost 30 years ago, I could probably

pin down the hour that I came up with"If One Rainy Night."

Because its genesis came after I watched a Dick Cavett

show in late '80 or early '81 on which Cavett said to a guest,

Oh, you protest too much!" That phrase stuck in my mind and

I immediately went to my guitar -- it must have been close to

midnight -- and wrote: "Don't protest too much/You'll give

yourself away/you still love that girl/no matter what you say."

And then I came up with the rest of the song, about an

off-and-on girlfriend I had at the time. That one also

hasn't changed at all in 30 years.


BE AWARE! An ex-friend from my long-ago high school days threw some money at my music career a few years ago and now appears to be
going around dishonestly trying to grab credit for little bits of a few
of my songs that he didn't have anything to do with writing. For
the record: he wrote exactly zero percent of my stuff.(By the way,
by "my songs," I'm referring to the more than one hundred songs
that I've posted on my website (plus every
song on the "About Myself" albums, and many other songs I've not
yet posted), all of which were written solely
by Paul Iorio
[click here

While I'm appreciative of the person's financial backing, there never
was a deal to give him credit for material he didn't write. We've never
jammed together, much less written a song together. And, further,
his memory is fine, and so is mine; he's merely lying. Those who
know who I'm talking about: please don't let this person's lies go
unchallenged. It's irresponsible (and unfair to me) for people to
tolerate this guy's dishonesty. Anyone who lies (the way he appears
to be lying) needs psychotherapy. Guide him to that, please.
Problem is, this guy wanted to be a songwriter when
he was a teenager, but failed at it as an adult. Now he wants to
piggyback on my own late-breaking musical work.

I've thanked this person over the years for financially putting in motion my long-ago (now-shelved) "About Myself" album of '05; but, frankly, I never would have allowed him to invest his money in my music if I had known he would try to take credit for bits of material he had nothing to do with writing. As I've said before, every song on my site -- from its initial idea to its finished version and everything in between -- was written solely by me.

But I digress. Paul


for January 22, 2010

Late Notes on the Remastered Beatles Albums

Things You Might Not Have Noticed

Wanna hear something on a Beatles album that you

almost certainly haven't noticed before? Check out

the recently remastered "Rubber Soul" album and

put on "Norwegian Wood." Listen to the part

right after John Lennon sings the cleverly

suggestive line, "She asked me to stay and she told

me to sit anywhere."

A couple seconds later you'll hear somebody cough -- yes,

somebody is heard coughing in the background -- as if

to underline the cleverness of the preceding line (the way

Warren Zevon sort of grunted after the great lyric

"His hair was perfect" on "Werewolves of London"). On

the previous edition of the CD, superfluous handclaps

covered up the cough.

There are lots of little discoveries like that on the

remastered mono Beatles albums, which were released last

fall (though I'm just now getting around to them).

The full impact of the mono remasters comes through only if

you're as familiar with the band's work as you are with

your own face (as I am) and if you're able to contrast

the new versions with the previous CDs. And then you can

hear how radically different some of the production is.

My main questions are: who made the final production

decisions about the remasters? Was it George Martin,

or the surviving Beatles, or a combination of both?

Would those decisions have been different if John Lennon

and George Harrison were still around? Would Harrison, for

example, have insisted that his sitar-playing on "Norwegian

Wood" be remixed at a volume level equal to Lennon's

vocal? Is Ringo's drumming given greater prominence

on certain tracks because he is still around to influence

the final decision?

I'm assuming that by "remastering" they mean remixing

as much as remastering. By that, I mean, for example,

making sure the French horn on "Penny Lane" (analog

track overdub #3, let's say) is recorded at a higher

volume for the new final master. Or seeing that the overdubbed

cowbell on "Drive My Car" (analog track #2, maybe) is

reduced in volume to near-inaudibility on the final

master. (I've read that the masters were "cleaned up,"

but doesn't "cleaned up" really mean remixed? Doesn't it

amount to a de facto remix if, for example, a cowbell is

reduced to inaudibility or a harpsichord is put in

higher relief?)

Whatever they did and whoever made the decisions, this

feels like a masterful restoration of a great painting

by Leonardo or Raphael. The remastering does not correct

errors in sound (thankfully) but restores what is already

there, putting all the elements in the best mix and balance.

Highlights are everywhere. (I've only listened to three

of the mono CDs so far, but here goes!) The harpsichord track on

"Fixing a Hole" is higher in the mix, creating brand

new textures and interplay. The bouzouki-like guitar playing

on "Girl" is now beautifully marbled into the sound. The second

orchestral cacophony on "A Day in the Life" sounds different

from the first cacophony, the former sounding like the

gathering of a swarm of locusts in the sky, the latter recalling

the acceleration of a powerful jet. Vocal harmonies on many

tracks are a cooler smoother blend (check out "In My Life"

and "You Won't See Me," for example).

The remastering also makes flaws more evident.

Yes, the blunt cowbell on "Drive My Car" is now

either gone or reduced in volume, a good thing.

But that means we can hear the very uncertain

tambourine playing (and I bet the cowbell

was used to blot out the flawed tambourine,

which was probably part of a track they

couldn't get rid of). There is overuse of

unison clapping on "With the Beatles" and

overuse of tambourine on "Rubber Soul." And

is there too much reverb on Lennon's guitar

on "I Wanna Be Your Man"? And I wonder whether

putting the harmonica higher in the mix -- maybe

even distorted, Little Walter-syle -- might

have elevated "Little Child"?

The remasters also provide a good excuse to relisten

to this stuff again, and the Beatles oeuvre just

gains gravity with time. Those who compare Lennon and

McCartney to Gilbert and Sullivan, underrating the Beatles

in a back-handed way, are way off. McCartney is more

like Irving Berlin or even Franz Schubert, though I'd be

hard-pressed to cite a Schubert melody as beautiful

as "Hey Jude" or "For No One." (And name

one Gilbert and Sullivan composition that comes

within fifty miles of even "Mother Nature's Son" or

"Golden Slumbers.")

I've said it before and will say it again: McCartney

is the world's greatest living composer. In any genre.

The magic of the Beatles is partly explained by the

fact that they came of age in the first full decade in which the

possibilities of what used to be called sound-on-sound (now called

overdubbing) were available to the human race. And they

were the first group with multiple brilliant composers

to fully benefit from overdubs.

Keep in mind that 90 years before "Sgt. Pepper," Thomas Edison

hadn't yet recorded sound for the first time. There might have been

95-year-old codgers in 1967 who had first-hand memories of the first

recording of sound and of the release of "Sgt. Pepper," that

massive triumph of the overdub.

I can't help but think of all the McCartneys and Lennons

of the 19th century and before who couldn't preserve

their musical inspirations on tape. Imagine all the

"Hey Jude"s and "If I Fell"s that were lost because

the composer didn't know musical notation and couldn't

save his or her ideas. Remember: the greatest pop

composers of the last 75 years, from Berlin to Dylan,

couldn't read or notate music -- and neither could

McCartney and Lennon.

Paradoxically, tape recorders (and higher tech recording equipment)

have brought composers closer to more low-tech natural writing. What I

mean is: a melody comes into your head as you hike through

the hills; you hum or sing the melody into a tape recorder.

Prior to the 20th century, that melody would have disappeared

into the air like smoke (unless you knew notation). Thanks

to recording devices, the magnificent melodies of "Eleanor

Rigby" and "In My Life" survive forever. And because of

overdubs, we have "A Day in the Life" and "Strawberry

Fields Forever" -- and not just from the more formal

sorts of composers who happen to know notation.

But getting back to my point about McCartney's

place in the pantheon of composers. Perhaps

comparisons to even Mozart aren't out of line.

Look at the greatest opera of all time, Mozart's

"Don Giovanni." If you see it fresh, it's just a

series of two and three minute songs (they call 'em

"arias"), inspired discrete bits unified, sometimes

tenuously, by lyrics (they call it a "libretto")

written by a guy named Da Ponte (so why isn't it

called Mozart/Da Ponte's "Don Giovanni"?).

So hail the two-minute song! Even Mozart did.

Were Da Ponte's "lyrics" of sexual braggadocio really

superior to the lyrics of "A Day in the Life" or

"Eleanor Rigby"? Were Mozart's best melodies ("Gio vinette

che fate...," "la ci darem la mano...," etc.) greater

than the Beatles's best, or were they just as great?

That's up to future generations to decide. The oldest

of Lennon and McCartney's songs were written only

fifty years or so ago. But every indication says

they'll last for centuries.

But I digress. Paul



for January 21, 2010

My list of the top ten films of 2009 (below) won't be complete

until I see "Me and Orson Welles," which I haven't had a chance

to catch yet. Everyone tells me it's excellent. By the way,

I saw Claire Danes, who stars in the film, on Letterman

last night and couldn't help but think she seems to get more

desirable with the years. Reminds me of a great cathedral.

All the more reason to see "Welles."

* * * *

Watched "Up" again last night and enjoyed it even more

the second time. It may be the most moving animated

feature ever made.

* * * *

Woody Guthrie's "This Land" seems to be the most ubiquitous

folk song of 2009/10. It's at the end of the docu "Food, Inc.,"

opens "Up in the Air," and was covered at a few concerts I've

attended in recent months (Adam Duritz sang it at the Greek

Theater in Berkeley, Calif., last summer; Tom Morello sang it at

the Hardly Strictly fest in San Francisco last October). I wonder

when people are going to petition to make it our national


* * * *

Google should be praised for refusing to censor

Internet search results in China. Bravo. All the more

reason to use Google instead of Bing.

* * * *

Looking forward to the new graphic novel by Daniel Clowes,

"Wilson," due in May. I'm told this is completely

new material that has never been serialized in "Eightball."

* * * *

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, whose exhibitions are

almost always fascinating and novel, is about to unveil

his latest work, this time in NYC: a movie theater for

house plants, a cinema where "house plants can watch

foreign travel documentaries." Read more

about it at

* * * *

Here's a cartoon I recently came up with:

But I digress. Paul



for January 19, 2010

No, the Daily Digression is not going 3-D...

* * * *

Many thanks to Hollow Earth Radio in Seattle for playing

one of my new songs, "I Was Young (Until Fairly Recently),"

and for writing about it on its website a week or so ago. If

you haven't heard Hollow Earth, you're in for a treat;

here's a link to their site:

And here's what they (very generously) wrote about

my new song:

And thanks -- again -- to Marshall at KALX for playing my

new song "Something in the Sky" a few weeks ago.

(His show, The Next Big Thing, always features great

music by obscure artists, and last night's NBT

was no exception: he played some amazing stuff by

a new band called For Fear the Hearts of Men are

Failing. I might even check out their upcoming show

at the Super Secret Circus in Berkeley, Calif.)

Also, thanks to the bloggers who have been enjoying my

songs and writing about them! Recently a blogger from

Bristol in the U.K. wrote this very nice review of my '09

song "Kim Jong-il":

Wanna hear my latest batch of songs? Here's a link:

* * *

* * * * *

Things are so bad at NBC that there are rumors
that Haitians

are now texting donations to Jeff Zucker.

But seriously....Zucker did appear on Charlie Rose last night

and actually insisted to Rose -- and he was emphatic about

this -- that the situation at NBC was not as bad as what

was happening in Haiti. Which I'm sure reassures everyone

at the network.

One of the things (that nobody has brought up) that contributed

to the Leno-O'Brien imbroglio is that NBC abandoned the

practice of having guest hosts on the Tonight Show after

Johnny Carson's tenure. The guest host idea worked so well

under Carson, allowing everybody to see who was most

successful in the Tonight format, who filled the chair --

and soon NBC had more than a couple contenders who

could sub well. And with repeat guest hostings, you could

even become acclimated to the replacement, almost

preferring him or her to Carson.

Whatever happens -- and nobody is bringing this up either -- Leno

is near retirement anyway and -- as funny as he is -- is not

the future of late night (or prime time) television. NBC is now in the

process of reinstating a host (Leno) who it will have

to replace (yet again) within five years, probably within three.

So perhaps NBC should stop being so short-sighted and

cut to the chase: get rid of both Leno and O'Brien,

and then immediately and decisively hire Jon Stewart as

the new host of Tonight. Make him an offer he can't refuse

(to coin a phrase).

Meanwhile, I feel sorry for Conan. In television history

he goes down as the first failed host of The Tonight Show

since the dawn of television. What worked at 12:35 didn't

work at 11:35. NBC is letting him go so easily because it

now knows what it didn't know in early '09: Conan doesn't

work in the 11:35 slot. So let Fox have him, NBC thinks;

why would he work any better there? Viewers attracted

to quirky and less mainstream late night humor will tune

into Letterman, who does it better than Conan.

If O'Brien had been allowed to guest host Tonight several

times over several years, everyone would have seen it

was a bad fit. As it turns out, "Late Night" was

his destination, not his stepping stone.

By the way, I predict...Conan will grow a beard in the

near future.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- OK. folks, I posted that joke (above) about
Jeff Zucker getting charity from Haitians at
8:45am (PT) on January 19, 2010. Let's see
how long it takes before someone rips it off
without crediting me!



for January 17, 2009

[the story I posted on today's Digression is generating unusual interest; I am temporarily taking it down from the site pending discussions with people who are interested in it.]



for January 13, 2009

Still haven't seen "Crazy Heart," "Me and Orson Welles,"

"A Serious Man" or "Star Trek," so this list might

still change. For now, here's my top ten of '09:

The Ten Best Films of 2009

1. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"
(Number one only because the first twenty
minutes stand as the greatest film making
by anyone last year -- and it's Tarantino's all-time best,
too. The rest of the film, unfortunately, not so much.)

2. Pete Docter's "Up"
(The vivid balloons alone are enough cause to fall
in love with this one.)

3. Lee Daniels's "Precious"
(Number three because it changed the way I view
people I pass on the street.)

4. Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story"
(Moore has been ahead of his time for some time, and history
proved him right last year. Here's his victory lap.)

5. "Nirvana Live at Reading"
(This never had a theatrical release but I'm
including it anyway because I enjoyed it immensely.)

6. Neill Blomkamp's "District 9"
(The imagery is startlingly original and
believable -- and it takes nothing from "Dances with Wolves.")

7. Michael Mann's "Public Enemies"
(Last summer in this space, I called this
a "symphony of violent light," and it is.)

8. Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker"
(It has everything a great movie
should have -- except well-drawn characters. Still, it's
better than every feature that I've ranked ninth or lower.)

9. Kenny Ortega's "This is It"
(This will take you by surprise. A terrific concert,
and inadvertently revealing about MJ, too.)

10. Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" I hesitate to put this on the list, and it'll
probably end up being replaced by "Crazy Heart" or one of the
others I haven't seen yet, but the first forty minutes are
fantastic. The last half is unwatchable.

But I digress. Paul



for January 9, 2010

I finally got to see the movie "Up in the Air"

this afternoon, and here's my review:

Ivan Reitman's "Up in the Air"

It may well be the most overrated film of 2009.

This is a movie for people who are more impressed

with immaculate craft than with genuine expression or artistry.

It's so scrubbed and neat and scripted to within

an inch of its life that it makes me want to rent a

couple of untidy semi-improvised movies by John Cassavetes

or Robert Altman to counteract its effects.

And the film also presents a jarringly pre-9/11 vision

of air travel as a cozy and completely safe ride, with

almost no hint that jetliners are the flashpoint of a war being

waged against us by religious lunatics. (American

Airlines, featured prominently on screen here, is

(coincidentally, I'm sure) promoting that very point of view,

too! American Airlines wants to assure its passengers

that there hasn't been an attempted terrorist attack

on a U.S. jetliner since, uh, well...a few weeks ago!)

In the wake of the failed bombing over Detroit last

Christmas, this film seems like even more of a throwback.

(Yeah, I know the odds of a bomb blast are long.

But in this era, anxiety about such an attack accompanies

every single flight. In fact, it is the main fact of

air travel in the 21st century. None of that is on screen.)

It sometimes feels like a late-1990s dotcom-boom comedy,

despite its clever use of various 21st century tech gadgets.

And despite the downsizing theme, the film, oddly, doesn't

capture the spirit of this recession. In fact, sometimes

the firings feel like they're played for yucks by rich film

makers far removed from the nasty realities of the

job market. In that sense, Reitman's timing couldn't

be worse.

The tantrums and tears of the fired start to seem formulaic.

And the film doesn't truly capture the outrageous unfairness

in the marketplace. (Among the truths left out or

glossed over in this film: brilliant players are dismissed

while the untalented nephew of the boss gets to keep his job;

rich employees who are fired don't face any of the

financial trauma that fired poor employees do; corrupt

bosses who should have been dismissed remain to slander

the honest employees who have been downsized; the

truth does not always out in the workplace (never

forget: Jayson Blair came shockingly close to getting

away with his malfeasance and, if he had, probably would

be virtually running the paper right now, in a position to

smear the ethical people trying to expose him); very often,

a boss will write a letter-of-recommendation because

he or she fears the employee knows too much dirt

about him or the company; a letter-of-recommendation

is often withheld for petty or vindictive reasons

(hey, Jayson Blair wouldn't have written a LOR for

a subordinate who had (rightly) accused him of plagiarism);

employers break contracts whenever it is expedient for

them to do so; an employer will assure you your job is

safe on Thursday and fire you on Friday; if a

company wants to fire you because of, say, a merger,

it will first try numerous dirty tricks and set-ups

to besmirch your reputation, so that axing you

seems more defensible to other professionals; the pension

you were counting on may have disappeared, etc.).

If you want to see, without Reitman's corporate

gloss, how job loss really affects people, check

out Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story,"

"Sicko" and "Roger and Me," and watch the unemployed

get evicted on Christmas eve, watch them lose

their teeth, watch them die prematurely.

And this film shows almost none of the after-effects

of the firings, how the lives of the downsized play out.

Reitman misses a huge opportunity to ingenuously

weave their lives into Clooney's. (There could have been

a plot twist in which someone who Clooney fired ends

up becoming Clooney's boss, or a finale in which Clooney

himself is downsized and has to take a job working for

someone he once fired, or scenes in which one

of Clooney's victims targets him for revenge. A lot of

promising plot possibilities weren't explored.)

Then, suddenly, at the one hour mark, the downsizing theme

disappears and the flick becomes something like

"Rachel Getting Married," with an irrelevant and

unintegrated sub-plot about a wedding.

Don't get me wrong: I liked some of this, and Clooney

is generally fun to watch. But all told, "In the Air"

comes off like the airline food served in first class:

tasty in a bland sort of way, but overcooked, unmemorable

and without much nutritional value.

* * * * *

The other day I posted my list of the best films of

the past decade, but I neglected to include three

that I absolutely loved: Larry Charles's "Borat: Cultural

Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation

of Kazakhstan"; Larry Charles's "Religulous";

Michael Moore's "Sicko"; and Paul Haggis's "Crash."

I've integrated the three films into the mix, expanding

my list to 19 films, and here it is:

The Nineteen Best Films of the Decade

1. Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic"

2. Roman Polanski's "The Pianist"

3. Rodrigo García's "Nine Lives"

4. Woody Allen's "Match Point"

5. Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset"

6. Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks"

7. Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler"

8. Andrew Jarecki's "Capturing the Friedmans"

9. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"

10. Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood"

11. Larry Charles's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America
for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

12. Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt"

13. Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men"

14. Larry Charles's "Religulous"

15. Michael Moore's "Sicko"

16. Paul Haggis's "Crash"

17. Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River"

18. Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale"

19. "Nirvana Live at Reading"

But I digress. Paul



for January 5, 2010

The Fifteen Best Films of the Decade

With the decade done, the Oscars nearing and the

critics summing up the Oughties, I've

finally decided what the best films of the past

decade were. Here's my list:

1. Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic"

2. Roman Polanski's "The Pianist"

3. Rodrigo García's "Nine Lives"

4. Woody Allen's "Match Point"

5. Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset"

6. Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks"

7. Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler"

8. Andrew Jarecki's "Capturing the Friedmans"

9. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"

10. Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood"

11. Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt"

12. Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men"

13. Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River"

14. Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale"

15. "Nirvana Live at Reading"

Coming soon: my best films of '09 list.

But I digress. Paul



for January 4 - 5, 2010

I've just seen a few new movies and here're

my reviews:

Nancy Meyers's "It's Complicated"

This is a smart and funny -- sometimes very funny -- romantic

comedy that will make you laugh, tear up and become wiser

about the joys and pains of adulterous (and non-adulterous) affairs.

It's sort of like a late-Oughties variation on Woody Allen's

great comic love stories of the Eighties and Nineties, and it

succeeds in a way that will probably have audiences

coming back to theaters for seconds.

And Meryl Streep -- is there a more intelligently attractive

woman on the planet? -- is as great as ever, playing the

role of a divorced mom (having an affair with her ex) so

naturally and effortlessly that she'll likely be

nominated for a best actress Oscar.

The script and plot are very knowing about

relationships and their afterlives. When

Streep's character and her former husband (played

memorably by Alec Baldwin) re-unite, the

same patterns and cycles of their past start

to repeat themselves. And she soon discovers why

she wanted him in the first place and, ultimately, why

she left him.

And Steve Martin had me laughing out loud at several

points, particularly in the scene when he's stoned

on pot at a party and can't find a way to

control his laughter.

As a sidenote, the flick explores baby boomers's

relationship to marijuana more entertainingly than

any film since "American Beauty." (Like most boomers,

the characters here had a lot of fun smoking pot decades

ago but haven't touched the stuff since. Until a

magic joint arrives in their social circle. "I

don't know what they've done to pot in the last 30

years," says a very stoned and happy Streep.)

The movie is a good ride. And anyone with an appetite

for romantic comedy will come out of the theater

fully satisfied.

* * * * *

Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock"

It's no wonder this movie flopped with both moviegoers

and many critics. It's -- what's the technical term

for it? -- awful.

Up until the one-hour mark, "Taking Woodstock" could easily

pass for a film about preparing for Bethel's outdoor LGBT

Film Festival rather than for the Woodstock rock fest (and

not because there's a mini-concert subplot).

Characters are more enthusiastic about a live Judy Garland

album than about any of the performers who actually

played at Woodstock -- and that's typical of Lee's

failure to authentically capture much of the true spirit

and zeitgeist of the era. (FYI, Garland wasn't really

a gay icon until years after her death.)

This is revisionist counter-culture history, sort of like

making a movie related to the Stonewall uprising of '69 that

focuses almost exclusively on, say, the drug-dealing

subculture at the periphery of that community. Or like

telling the story of the Stonewall riots from the

angle of Italian-Americans involved in the San Gennaro

festival in Little Italy -- with Stonewall seen as a struggle

against anti-Italian defamation.

Or like telling the story of Stonewall from the

angle of the feminist movement, emphasizing figures

like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan to the exclusion of

gay activists -- with Stonewall seen merely as part of the

overall struggle for women's liberation. Call it

"Taking Stonewall."

After all, Lee is not blending cultures

here -- that would have been admirable -- but

artificially superimposing his own

culture atop Woodstock, which, contrary to the

wishful distortion seen on screen here, had

virtually nothing to do with the gay rights movement.

In terms of Lee's own oeuvre, the director captured

the 1970s in "The Ice Storm" so much more realistically and

poignantly than he has evoked the Sixties here. In terms

of gay-themed cinema, "Taking Woodstock" makes "Milk"

seem like "Citizen Kane." (Hey, I know of only one

person who absolutely loves this film, and he's

also a fan of Charles Nelson Reilly's and has a bit of

a fetish for the mediocre.)

This flick ranks with "Pirate Radio" as one of the great

missed cinematic opportunities of the year -- and as one of

the worst films of '09 made from a promising premise.

But I digress. Paul



for December 29, 2009

Thanks to Marshall and KALX radio for playing

my new song "SOMETHING IN THE SKY" last night.

(I'm proud to say it was the Next Big Thing's

final song of '09!)

And I also love the fact that people are

connecting with a song whose chorus

I wrote completely unconsciously (the

chrous was running around my head, fully

formed, when I woke up one morning in

late October '09). That has happened several

times before in recent years, but it doesn't

occur often. (For the record, I wrote the rest

of the song awake!)

You can listen to "SOMETHING IN THE SKY" right

here for free:

I must confess Marshall's show spurs me

to write more and better new songs than I

normally would. Hope I'm able to write new

stuff in 2010 that's right for the

NBT and for all the other great radio stations

that have aired my stuff. Happy new year!




for December 28, 2009

Farther below are my film reviews of "Avatar," "The Blind Side,"

"Up," "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and other pictures.

But for now, let me show you some photos that I shot

in 1976 and haven't shown to anyone in decades.

* * * *

the ongoing 20th anniversary of Communism's fall

I Traveled Alone Behind the Iron Curtain During
the Cold War and Shot Photos That Haven't Been
Seen in Over 30 Years. Until Now.

When I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron Curtain

thirty-three years ago, I shot several pictures from the

train -- and developed them as slides, unfortunately. Because

they were slides, I haven't been able to share them with others

over the decades the way I would a set of prints.

Until now. The other day I found a way to convert the

slides to digital prints (and you can try this at home, too!).

Just scotch tape the slide next to a white light bulb and then

shoot the transparency with a digital camera, using the close-up

feature and with flash off. Then print out the digital

snaps. Voila!

Granted, the quality of the pictures would be considerably

better if I had a professional transfer the image from

slide to print, which I will do some day. But for now, you

can get a fair idea, via pictures, of what I went through

in my trek behind the Iron Curtain when I was a teenager.

I've since incorporated the pics into my story about

my journey, and you can read that here:

But in this space, let me share several of the new photos

that I shot in 1976:

My trip began here in Florence, Italy, and here I am around the time of my trek.

* * * *

This is how downtown Belgrade, Yugoslavia, looked in '76 from my vantage point on the train (you can see the word "Beograd" on the building to the left). [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Deep behind the Iron Curtain, August 1976. Here is downtown
Sofia, Bulgaria, which I shot from my train (even though
Bulgarian soldiers warned me not to take pics). [photo by
Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Just before I crossed into Bulgaria, five
Serbian guys absolutely insisted that I take their
picture! This was shot in southern Serbia, south of
Belgrade, west of Bulgaria, east of Kosovo. [photo by
Paul Iorio.]

* * * *

After the gray Balkans, western Turkey came alive in
Technicolor. Bright yellow sunflowers stretched for what seemed
like miles in this part of Thrace, and here's one patch of
sunflowers, west of Istanbul. [photo by Paul Iorio.]

* * * *

A wooden neighborhood in Istanbul. [photo by Paul
Iorio] After I shot this photo, the man in this
picture in the street chased me with a stick,
apparently because my shot partly included a
veiled woman (she's at right).

In retrospect, I now see that the larger risks of my trip
came not behind the Iron Curtain but in Islam (not only
did that guy chase me with a stick, but another man
almost became violent when I didn’t bow and scrape
at Istanbul’s Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, where
the Muslim Prophet Muhammed’s hair and teeth are
on display).

But what's also interesting is the diversity within
an Islamic city like Istanbul. The same neighborhood
-- the Sultanahmet district -- that included this
poor wooden fundamentalist section also
included a far smarter neighborhood slightly to the
east, centered around the legendary Pudding Shop
(which, as many of you know, was not primarily
known for selling pudding in the swingin' Seventies,
if you know what I mean). There, more liberal
and secular Muslim hippies would listen to banned
music like Cem Karaca and talk about western rockers like
Clapton and the Beatles.

* * * *

Istanbul's Galata Bridge, over the Golden Horn, featuring
a staggering parade of diversity. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *
* * * *

OK, how about a few more shots, these with nothing
to do with the Iron Curtain or Istanbul? Here goes:

The Palio horse race in Siena, Italy, from the front
row. I was so close to the track that clogs of dirt
from the horses hit me in the face. If I could have
transferred the slide better, you would see that the
blurriness creates a nice effect. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Olympia, Greece, with sunrise streaming through the
ruins. (By the way, my trip to Greece was completely
separate from my Iron Curtain/Istanbul trek and
occurred three or four months later in 1976.)
Again, if I had been able to transfer
this from slide to print properly, you'd probably
appreciate this one more. [photo by Paul Iorio]



for December 27 - 28, 2009

I've just seen a few new movies and

here're my reviews (posted below: reviews

of "Avatar," "Up" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox"):

James Cameron's "Avatar"

Overpraised, overpriced and unsatisfyingly

convoluted, James Cameron's "Avatar" is like

a film version of Roger Dean's cover art

for pompous 1970s albums by the prog band

Yes. Albums like "YesSongs" and "Tales from Topographic

Oceans" (see below). In fact, the resemblance to Yes

album art is so striking that one hopes Cameron

has paid him for his inspiration before Dean sues.

If you're into that sort of very detailed

fantasy stuff, gorge yourself here. But

if you're looking for something truly

original in a new sci-fi flick, go see

"District 9," which has a lot more wit,

a livelier imagination and more plausibility.

When "Avatar" is not busy imitating a

Yes album, it sort of resembles an

extraterrestrial version of "Dances

with Wolves," in that parts of its plot are about a

soldier going native and joining the army of an

enemy he is supposed to be fighting against

(even the blue skin of the aliens looks

like the face paint of Native American warriors).

Further, Cameron's anti-war allegory is trite,

obvious and heavyhanded.

As for the 3-D gimmick, it's now obvious, if it

wasn't before, that 3-D is not the future of

cinema or of anything else. It has cropped up

in almost every decade since the 1950s,

always pretending to be the new wave of cinema --

and flopping each time out. I have never been to

a 3-D movie in which the extra dimension added

anything except the feeling that I wanted

to take off the damn glasses and pop an

Advil for an oncoming headache.

Think for a moment: Can you imagine how tacky it would

have been had Stanley Kubrick turned "2001: A

Space Odyssey" into a 3-D feature? He

could have done it that way (and was probably

advised to do so by crass movie execs), but he didn't

need to do it in 3-D because his visuals were so

brilliant that they required no such enhancement.

That said, there are moments of visual magic

here (e.g., glimpsing, from Pandora, the planet that

Pandora orbits around; birds that look like

jellyfish in the sky; and mountains floating like clouds

over Pandora).

But the flaws are numerous, too: the dialogue sounds

written not spoken; the last half-hour is packed

with tedious battle scenes that look like

generic summer blockbuster action fare;

Sigourney Weaver's bossy persona is annoying and

not very interesting; Stephen Lang's character

is a cliche; etc.

All told, this is more a work of extravagance than

of imagination. And a few top critics should

explain their inexplicably excessive praise of this film.

Look familiar? Is it a Yes album cover or is it "Avatar"?

* * * *

Pete Docter's "Up"

Is "Up" the best movie of 2009? It may well be. At

the very least, the film includes the single cinematic

visual image of '09 (outside "Avatar") that is most likely to

resonate down the decades: thousands of vividly

multicolored balloons that lift a house across a

magical and amusing animated landscape.

It's the most beautiful collection of balloons I've ever

seen, onscreen or off, well worth the price of admission

just to see them. Like candy in the sky.

One of the most gorgeous creations in the history

of animated features.

I don't know if that makes it the best movie of 2009.

But keep in mind that this praise is coming from someone

who didn't like "Wall-E" at all (which, of course, was

also created by the folks at Pixar). "Up" has everything

"Wall-E" does not, particularly fully humanized cartoon

characters (and humanized animals) instead of automatons.

And what a bunch of characters! There's Russell the stowaway

kid, Kevin the bird, a dog who's the most adorable cartoon

canine since Huckleberry Hound and, of course, the main

character: codger Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner),

a lovable grump reminiscent of both Asner and late

Spencer Tracy.

I wouldn't be surprised if, in future decades, scenes

from "Up" are considered as iconic and indelible as

classic moments from the "Wizard of Oz" and "E.T."

* * * *

Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Not so fantastic.

The animation is clunky, stiff, not fluid at all. Most of

the time, it's like the director simply filmed a series of

stuffed dolls and teddy bears (a la Mr. Bill on SNL). Even

the best of the celebrity voices (Meryl Streep's) can't

save this, as the film weaves in and out (mostly in) of boring


If you must see it, wait for the DVD and watch

only the good parts (and there are around three minutes

of 'em!) at the 63 and 30 minute marks, and at the end,

when the great Marshall Crenshaw's "Let Her Dance" plays.

(By the way, when is Crenshaw going to be inducted into

the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame?)

But I digress. Paul



for December 20 - 21, 2009

Just saw a few new flicks -- here're my reviews:

John Lee Hancock's "The Blind Side"

This is like a two-hour version of those soft focus,

warm glow dramatizations in television commercials for

long distance phone service, Hallmark cards

and the Seventh Day Adventists. You've surely seen

those ads, the ones where there's always

a manipulative, heartwarming scene of incredible

altruistic generosity, forgiveness or camaraderie,

a depiction of a thoroughly idealized, retouched

and unrealistic view of reality. As in

"reach out and touch someone." "Because your dreams

matter to us." Such ads are also seen during the

Sunday morning talk shows ("Night baseball?! That'll be

the day!") Or in corporate commercials

that reenact the moment when Pitney first met Bowes

at the polo grounds, or when Merrill met Lynch at

the friendly neighborhood pawn shop.

Watching "The Blind Side" is also, at times, like

watching Yuletide logs burn in the fireplace on tv.

Or like listening to Christian rock that tries too

hard to be bad.

And occasionally, the movie is like "Precious"-lite, very

light, with lotza cream and way too much sugar and sticky


Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock, playing the main character, looks

and acts so much like Kathie Lee Gifford that I caught

myself wondering where Hoda was.

Yeah, it's all very heart-tugging that Bullock's character

takes in some poor homeless kid named Mike. But one has to

wonder why Mike seems to have none of the behavioral

problems or mal-adjustments associated with such a hard

scrabble background. He seems way too un-angry and

un-neurotic for someone subjected to a broken home,

abuse and abject poverty. I don't buy it. The film makers

seem to be glossing over the flaws and imperfections

that a character like Mike, coming from his background,

would surely have. (See "Precious" for a far more

realistic take on this.) True story or not, it doesn't

feel true here. (This is a feature not a documentary,

after all.) And Bullock even trusts him with her

kids -- with no supervision. (I don't know a

parent who would -- or should.)

To their credit, the film makers take some unpredictable

turns and keep your attention throughout. And it features

Bullock's most memorable performance to date, particularly

when she morphs into Sarah Palin later in the flick and

spouts dialogue that sounds like the lyrics

of a Gretchen Wilson song ("I'm in a prayer group with the D.A.,

I'm a member of the NRA, and I'm always packin'").

To be sure, the anti-racism of this movie is satisfying

and, obviously, very welcome. But this is 2009. One

has to wonder where these sorts of people -- the Mitt

Romney types, the white holy-roller suburbanites (aka,

the modern-day cultural equivalents to those who

opposed Martin Luther King back when) -- were in 1972

or 1962, when the civil rights movement really could

have used their help.

All told, this is the sort of thing the "Friday Night Lights"

TV series does so much better and more artfully. (There's

more truth in any two-minute scene featuring Buddy Garrity

(Brad Leland) on "FNL" than in the whole two hours of "Blind Side,"

whose secondary characters are mostly just smiley faces.)

And it left me with an appetite for a feature film based on the

new "FNL."

* * * *

"Nirvana Live at Reading"

This may be the most exciting movie I've seen this year, showing

as it does Nirvana in fullest bloom, performing a concert from

start to finish near the end of its "Nevermind" tour. Like

a dream concert. Just the great stuff from the second album

with very little of "In Utero," which, frankly, doesn't wear

so well today.

With just three players and a stack of amps, Nirvana had

as much force and power as Led Zeppelin and the Stones

in their primes, using basic elements more resourcefully

and magically than any band since the Ramones.

And the DVD shows a group already comfortably on rock's

Rushmore, though its breakthrough album had been

released mere months earlier. We're simultaneously

watching a band just after one of the most

breathtaking and unexpected rises in recent rock

history -- "Nevermind" was expected to sell around

50,000 copies and went on to move over 10 million -- but

also a group at the dawn of a sophomore slump. After around an

hour and ten minutes, Kurt is clearly out of musical ideas

and starts repeating himself (using "Polly"'s bridge for

"Dumb," recycling the "Teen Spirit" riff to lesser

effect, etc.).

The DVD also shows Dave Grohl was being truly

underutilized by Kurt; when they harmonize or trade

vocals on "Been a Son" and "Dumb," it sounds so

terrific that one wishes they had collaborated more than

they did (and as we've since discovered, they could

have written together, too). Grohl, who powers this

stuff beautifully, would have been forever known as

the Ginger Baker of grunge, had he not eclipsed

his own fame by forming the Foo Fighters (another

unlikely, thrilling ascent) and Them Crooked Vultures

(lightning strikes yet again!).

The highlights are everywhere; the opening chords of "In Bloom"

sound like spring itself bursting out; "Lounge Act" is

irresistible; "Sliver" is funny; "Smells

Like Teen Spirit" has a strange sort of inimitable power.

And it's sort of humorous that Kurt delegates the Jaggeresque

dancing onstage to a guy named Tony, who dances expressively through

most of the show (he seems to be especially enjoying himself

during "Lithium").

Up close, Cobain, who appears to be having some sort of

problem with his jaw on this night, seems not fragile but

sturdy, though deeply angry and deeply introverted, a lethal

combination, as we now know.

All told, one of the very best live rock concerts on

DVD by anyone.

* * * *

Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant"

The best American cop flick since the underrated "We Own

The Night" (and what a great double bill that would make at a revival


Nicolas Cage plays a hallucinating crooked cop in

post-Katrina New Orleans, where corruption permeates

the city like stifling Gulf humidity. Cage's

performance is audacious and over-the-top and

somewhat redolent of the acting in "Chinatown" in the

sense that one sees the character, not the actor,

sweating bullets and under stress. On the downside,

Cage is, repeatedly, in perfect make-up when he

is supposed to be sleep-deprived and in a cold sweat.

Love the ending in which Cage's misconduct and

criminality result in -- you guessed it -- a

promotion to captain. Happens in journalism, too.

This should be spun-off into a television series.

* * * *

"The Jackson 5ive" Cartoon TV Series

What with all the interest in Everything Michael Jackson these

days, it's surprising the "Jackson 5ive" cartoon

TV series of the 1970s hasn't been released on DVD yet. A couple

weeks ago I was able to buy a copy of all 17 episodes of the

first season, which aired almost entirely in the Fall of 1971 (another

six episodes ran the following year as "The New

Jackson 5ive Show").

It's not as entertaining as, say, the Monkees TV show, though

it does thrive on the occasionally amusing high-concept

idea (e.g, all the members of the Jackson Five disband

and release separate albums as the Jackson One; there

is a Jackson Island; someone invents a Groov-o-tron; etc.). But

the execution is usually flaccid, the animation slightly

derivative of the Beatles's "Yellow Submarine" movie. Still, there's

at least one good joke or pun per episode.

The real value here is that the episodes are packed with

obscure tracks from the Jackson Five that aren't on

greatest hits compilations or easy to find elsewhere.

A series more fun to hear than to watch.

But I digress. Paul



for December 17, 2009

Wanna hear four brand new songs I wrote in

November 2009 and recorded a few days ago?

Just click this link to

listen for free! Enjoy!

* * * *

Why "Precious" Will Win the Best Picture Oscar

It now seems clear that Lee Daniels's "Precious: Based on the Novel

'Push' by Sapphire " will win the Best Picture Oscar on March 7. Not

necessarily because it is the best picture, though you could make

a case that it is, but because of the addition of five nominees to

the best picture category this year.

What might happen in the Oscar voting is the same thing

that occurs in politics when there are multiple candidates

in a winner-take-all contest in which there is no

run-off. And that is: factional or niche dark horses, who

otherwise would never stand a chance of winning, triumph

because more mainstream contenders cancel each other out.

It's like Meryl Street running against Meryl Streep (as she

is at the Golden Globe Awards this year); there's a chance

Streep will split the Streep vote, resulting in her losing and

allowing a long-shot to win.

Analogously, if the war movie "The Hurt Locker" runs

against the war movie "Inglourious Basterds" -- and

they would have likely been the two favorites for Best Pic

under a five-nominee system -- they might

end up canceling each other out. With a ten movie

ballot, the mainstream votes might be siphoned

by several contenders, allowing a unified

bloc of avidly enthusiastic fans of (in this case)

African-American cinema to prevail. Hence,

"Precious" might well win at the Kodak.

I say "in this case" because in the future the

ten-nominee structure will surely favor other

marginal genres and subgenres. For example, there may

be a fringe horror flick or a religious movie that

will win if the other nine nominees divide

the serious cinema vote. The ten-nominee

system, after all, benefits the cult film backed

by a small but unified band of voters. The intensity of

support for a film is a larger factor.

Or, more likely, a comedy might easily sneak through

if it's running against nine dramas -- and

comedies have rarely won for best picture.

There might also be a situation in subsequent

years in which two African-American-themed

films cancel each other out (perhaps denying

poor Spike Lee a much-deserved Oscar once again!).

When ten nominees were last allowed by the Academy -- between

1936 and 1943 (and also in 1932/33) -- it caused

such travesties as the defeat of "Citizen Kane" by

"How Green Was My Valley" in 1941 and the defeat of

"A Star is Born" by "The Life of Emile Zola" in 1937.

And it also let lighter fare like "You Can't Take it With

You" win over weightier films like "Grand Illusion."

(To be fair, there were also years in which such mainstream

quality pictures as "Casablanca" and "Gone with the Wind"


Further, between 1931 and 1934, the Academy tried

eight and then a dozen nominees for best picture -- and

the results? A comedy, "It Happened One Night," won over

DeMille's "Cleopatra"; and "Mutiny on the Bounty"

defeated "David Copperfield."

In recent decades, up until the current year, one

could guess with reasonable accuracy who would win

awards in major Oscar categories. All one had to

do was look at the winners of trade awards that are

traditionally predictive (e.g., the awards given by the

DGA, PGA, SAG, the Golden Globes, etc.).

Not anymore, at least not when it comes to the

best picture category. Why? Because the

Academy's ten-nominee rule is unique to the

industry and changes the chemistry of the contest.

The 10-picture idea was born in the wake

of the egregious injustice (as some saw it)

of last year's Oscars, when top films like

"The Wrestler" and "Gran Torino" were inexplicably not even

nominated for the top prize. And, of course,

many Hollywood moguls saw the new rules as providing

an easier path to a such a coveted nomination, which can

give a film lots of prestige and box office oomph.

But it appears as if the law of unintended consequences

is now taking hold. Somebody didn't think this all

the way through. Undeserving fringe contenders -- summer

action flicks, a splatter film, an exploitation pic,

a Scientology project -- could conceivably end up

with the crown some day. And future generations

of film students and scholars might read all

about how, say, "Saw 7" was the best picture

of 2012, or how the most celebrated film of

2015 was "Police Academy: Reunion."

For now, this year's expanded list of nominees may well

produce a thoroughly benign result -- and a worthy winner

(in "Precious"). But the shortcomings of the new rule

are starting to become obvious.

But I digress. Paul



for December 9, 2009

The Ongoing Phenomenon of Dick Cavett

Have you been reading Dick Cavett's op-ed pieces for

The New York Times? Fascinating stuff, some of it. It

would be great if a publisher compiled the best of

'em for a book (though it's hard to know who

would buy the book rather than read the individual

pieces for free via Google).

Cavett's most interesting recent column is the one about

his being targeted by President Nixon in the early

1970s. And the official Oval Office tapes do indeed

reveal that Nixon talked about Cavett, always disparagingly,

several times in 1971.

So when you're watching Cavett interview John Lennon, as

he did a few times on his ABC-TV series, you're seeing

two entertainers who the president of the United States

was actively trying to take down.

I recently re-watched Cavett's 1972 interview with

Lennon, and all I could think was: Look at how Nixon

destroyed Lennon.

By that '72 appearance, Lennon appeared to be unraveling and had

let himself go both physically (he was overweight and out of

shape) and psychologically (he was unusually defensive, insecure).

At the time, the former Beatle was understandably preoccupied

with the Nixon administration's attempt to have him

deported from the U.S. In fact, it was his main

topic of conversation.

Thanks to Nixon's Justice Department, Lennon was

no longer sure where he'd be living in coming

months and years and unable to plan for the long term.

And you could sense that Yoko Ono, who had longstanding

roots in the New York area, was not at all thrilled about

the prospect that she, too, might have to leave

Manhattan for sleepy London town for the sake of her

husband. (Child custody issues were another

complicating factor.)

A mere year earlier, in his 1971 appearance on the

Cavett show, Lennon was at peace and in good humor,

clearly enjoying his post-Beatles existence.

But on the '72 show, you could see Lennon had begun the

slide into the toilet that culminated with the 1974 incident

at the Troubador in West Hollywood, when Lennon, drunk and

out of control, punched a few people and otherwise

caused a scene during a reunion concert by the Smothers


Sure enough, Nixon had turned one of the great

composers of the 20th century into a puddle. Or at

least that's the way it looks from a distance.

Anyway, Cavett's interviews with Lennon (and with numerous

other pop culture icons) have been available on DVD for

years and are well worth watching and re-watching.

One of the great things about the Cavett DVDs is that

they include complete shows rather than edited clips (though

no contemporaneous commercials, unfortunately).

His ABC series of the early seventies can truly transport

you to the era of bucket seats; of people lighting up

cigarettes without even thinking to ask, "Do you mind if

I smoke?"; of the Noxzema advertising jingle being played

or sung every time someone removed an article of clothing;

of people showing up drunk on national TV.

Ah, the early 1970s! Seventy percent of what people did back

then is now considered unhealthy, taboo or illegal.

Even the second tier guests on his show are interesting

in Cavett's hands. Check out a surprisingly charming Debbie

Reynolds humorously imitating the fine difference between

the accents of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eva Gabor. Or former

Senator Fred Harris, a sort of rough draft of what

Bill Clinton would later become (a mid-western progressive

with presidential ambitions). Or Gloria Swanson,

looking so dignified in contrast to a feral Margot

Kidder. And an impressive Dave Meggyesy, a former

football player who wrote a book about how football

is little more than organized assault that is physically

destructive to its players (here's a

link to Meggyesy's appearance;

When interviewing rock stars, Cavett came off like a

guy with an essentially pre-rock sensibility who

jibed remarkably well with rockers (who were relieved

that they no longer had to deal with a square like Ed

Sullivan). Still, I sometimes wonder whether

Cavett actually liked the music by the rockers he had

on his show or whether he preferred another genre.

I met Cavett around a decade ago in Mill Valley,

California, and interviewed him for an around an

hour for a newspaper article. I think the most

striking thing you learn about him from meeting

him (that you wouldn't really know for sure from

merely seeing him on television) is how spontaneously

funny he is. On TV, you can't always tell whether something

is scripted or staged or made to look spontaneous. But in

person, you can see how Cavett comes up with good jokes

right on the spot (for example, when an employee of a

rental car company asked to see Cavett's

driver's license, he responded with: "Can't I just

describe it? It's rectangular with my name and picture...").

Now that he's writing on a regular basis, for the Times,

I can't help but wonder what would happen if he tried his

hand at scripting a comedic feature film or play. Maybe

there's another Cavett incarnation yet to come.

But I digress. Paul



for December 7, 2009

The Five Best Movies of 2009 (An Incomplete List)

No feature film of 2009 that I've seen, and I've seen

most of the major ones, has been great from start to

finish. Quentin Tarantino's new one is brilliant -- for

the first twenty minutes (as I noted in my Digression

of August 27). Steven Soderbergh's latest is amazing --

for the first forty minutes (see my column of November

5). And "Precious' is riveting -- but only for an hour

or so (full review in previous Digression).

So my best-of list includes mostly fragments of

films, because those are the only things worth raving

about this year. (My list is incomplete because there

are still a few important films I've yet to see.)

1. Ari Marcopoulos's "Claremont."

This short film reminds me of one of the best

sequences in Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider":

when Hopper and Peter Fonda imitate birds while

riding their motorcycles through the countryside

as Peter Stampfel croons his marvelously

eccentric "If You Want to Be a Bird." Almost no

other piece of cinema captures the sense of

pure frontier freedom, American style, or the

liberating spirit of the late 1960s the way

that scene does. And it also stands as the most

resourceful use of cinematic elements in an

American film since Orson Welles used hand

shadows on the wall in "Citizen Kane."

And "Claremont" captures that same feeling of

thrilling liberation and unlimited possibilities,

this time using skateboards instead of motorcycles.

The 11-minute film, which I saw at the Berkeley

(Calif.) Art Museum the other day (and is posted

online at, follows a

skateboarder as he rolls at high speeds through the hills at the

eastern edge of Berkeley.

Marcopoulos, known mostly as a photographer (and one-time

assistant to Andy Warhol), has a great gift for making short films

that you simply cannot stop watching, and this is one of them.

And his sense of motion and of the rhythms and shapes of motion

are masterful. Hollywood moguls should take note and hire him

to make a feature film.

2. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds":

Again, the first twenty minutes of this flick are

better than almost anything else released this year.

But the rest of the picture ranges from boring to obvious.

3. Kenny Ortega's "This Is It":

Surprisingly engaging and well-made documentary

about Michael Jackson's rehearsals for what would have

been his 2009 concert tour. The most consistent film

of the year and a rarity (for '09) in that it actually

gets better as it progresses.

4. Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant":

Following the cinematic pattern of 2009, this is half

of a terrific film. If only Soderbergh had been able

to sustain the brilliance of its first forty minutes.

5. Lee Daniels's "Precious":

This picture made me see everyday people on

the street in a new way, which is why it made

the list. But its first half is considerably

better than its second.

All for now. More to come after I see a few more key films.

* * * *

Blue Rondo a la Clinton

Fifty years ago, Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" album

was released -- and it's still going strong.

Last month, I went out to the Trieste in Berkeley to

hear one of my friends play with a jazz group and the

highlight of the evening was "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (my

friend played the piano figure on electric guitar and it

sounded great).

The piece makes 9/8 seem as natural as 4/4 (which, of

course, it is in Thrace and western Turkey). But my

favorite version is not on "Time Out" but on the live

album "Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond: Live Concerts

From the Late Fifties." Hard to find disc, but worth

checking out.

Anyway, I bring this up because last night,

Brubeck, Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, Bruuuce and

others were honored at the Kennedy Center in D.C. And

according to a report in The New York Times, Bill Clinton

is a big fan of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (Brubeck even gave

him a chart to the song, which he reportedly still has and

proudly displays). (Brubeck, by the way, turned 89 yesterday.)

Would love to hear a band play "Blue Rondo" with Clinton

on sax, Obama on guitar and Brubeck on piano. Now that

would be a bootleggable moment!

* * * *

The Amanda Knox Case

Whether Amanda Knox actually plunged the knife

into Meredith Kercher or not, she deserves to

serve at least 10 years. At the very least, Knox

is indisputably guilty of several secondary crimes.

As for the murder itself, Knox was either nearby

plugging her ears as Rudy Guede and her former

boyfriend killed Kercher, or she helped to do it.

Knox is at least an accessory. And what she did (or tried

to do) to tavern owner Patrick Lumumba, a completely

innocent man, is unconscionable. She tried to frame him,

knowing full well he had had nothing to do with the

killing. And that sort of criminal mendacity, which

shreds lives and can get a person killed, should be

punished with prison time in most cases. (False

accusation is the great underpunished crime of

our time.)

Did Knox think Perugia was Duke University, where

she could make a false accusation and have half the

population believe her bullshit?

What would be fair for Knox? Ten years, no parole, no

transfer to an American prison. Because even under

the defense's best case scenario, she has committed

major crimes.

Keep in mind Knox would have had no pang of

conscience about causing Patrick Lumumba, who

she knew was innocent, to serve life

in prison for committing no crime. Sympathy should

be directed to Lumumba, who had to endure two weeks

of false accusation and imprisonment, and to the

Kercher family.

On another issue: I'm getting a bit sick and tired of

the anti-Italian bias and hostility of some

American reporters and anchors. Some media people

have been sounding like this lately: "Oh, those

Eye-talians have these strange laws against

such obscure 'crimes' as sadistic murder. Can you

believe it? And their evidentiary standards are so

bizarre that -- get this -- if they find your DNA

on the murder weapon, they'll put you away! Grody!"

By the way, reporting on another subject a few

months ago on "World News," ABC's Charles Gibson

actually called Italy a "permissive nation."

I had to laugh out loud when I heard that one! Truly

ignorant. Anyone who has lived in Italy for any

length of time knows the Vatican is massively

influential in most parts of the country, creating

a much more conservative climate than you might


I've also heard lots of ignorance about Italy's

siesta structure of the business day. Let me

defend it this way. At Chrysler in Detroit,

Americans have worked eight and twelve and

eighteen hour workdays at a heart-attack

pace for decades. For all their trouble, they

have created only bankruptcy and cars that no

one wants to buy.

At Fiat in Italy, Italians have worked hard, but

with a three-hour siesta in the middle of the day

(which gives them two mornings of concentrated

productivity per day). As a result, Fiat's workers

have created a prosperous company and practical cars

that people truly enjoy driving.

And last I heard, Fiat now controls Chrysler.

Nuff said.

But I digress. Paul



for December 2, 2009

To those who oppose the Afghanistan War, saying

Obama is trying to fight the war Bush should

have fought eight years ago, I offer this


A bone broken ten years ago, since untreated,

remains a broken bone ten years later. It still

needs to be set and fixed. And, ten years later,

it probably comes with attendant complications

(i.e., inflammation, infection, ancillary

fractures, etc.).

The al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan is like

such an untreated medical condition (actually

more like cancer, but let's not mix metaphors

here). George W. Bush may have neglected the

broken bone in Afghanistan for eight years but

his neglect did not correct or cure the break.

Obama is saying, "That bone remains broken in

Afghanistan because Bush didn't fix it. So we're

sending in a team of doctors to set the bone,

clean up any infection and then leave."

To those who think the al Qaeda threat is not emanating

primarily from the greater Khyber Pass region, I have two

words for you: Najibullah Zazi.

To those who draw false parallels with Vietnam, I ask:

who is the homegrown mainstream populist a

la Ho Chi Minh amongst the Taliban? (Answer: there is none.)

To those who voted for Obama
but oppose the

Afghanistan war, I ask: didn't you listen during

the campaign when Obama said repeatedly and

unambiguously that, if elected, he would

wind down the war in Iraq and step up military action in

Afghanistan? Did you think he was joking?

To Osama bin Laden: there is no longer

a fundamentalist in the White House who is soft

on fundamentalist criminals like yourself. You'd better run.

(And don't forget your dialysis cycler.)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- If McCain had been elected, we'd still

be pointlessly bombing Tikrit.



for November 30 and December 1, 2009

Just heard Obama's speech. All I can say is that I

agree with every syllable and word he said this time.

If I were president of the United States, I'd have

made an identical decision about the Afghanistan

War and delivered a similar speech. On this issue,

Obama is not merely 99% right. He is 100% correct.

* * * *

Let me change the subject to movies;

here're my reviews of a few new flicks:

Lee Daniels's "Precious"

The generous view of this film is that it is, quite simply,

the best picture of 2009. The ungenerous view is

that it starts like an episode of "Jerry Springer" and ends like

an episode of "Oprah."

The truth is closer to the former than to the latter. And it

probably is the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar in

this recession year.

It's scalding, disturbing, unflinching, relentless and will

make you see people on the street in a different way the

next day. It will grip you within the first minute and make

you wish Obama had another three terms to undo the

damage done to the underclass by decades of economic


The movie should also rack up at least a few

Oscar nominations in acting and writing categories,

too (there's even a surprisingly credible performance

from Mariah Carey).

If I can find fault with the film, it's that it's too

unrelentingly bleak and depressing in its first 70 minutes;

after that, it loses some of its tension and steam and

starts to resemble one of Oprah's daytime tearfests (Winfrey,

by the way, is the film's executive producer

and -- surprise! -- is even mentioned a couple times by

characters in the film).

Come February 2, I predict it'll receive at least four

Oscar nominations, probably more.

* * * *

Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story"

Michael Moore is so ahead of his time that

"Roger and Me," released twenty years ago,

could easily pass for a 2009 documentary

about economic hard times in Michigan (or Ohio,

as Bruce Springsteen calls it!) and beyond.

Having been proved completely correct by history, Moore

returns to the themes of his first film with a renewed

spirit of insurrection and righteousness. There's

something refreshingly punkish and dangerous about

this particular Moore project, as befits the tough

times in which it was made.

He has also never been funnier (Jesus, in a voiceover, says

he can't heal the sick when there's a pre-existing condition)

and is as fascinating as ever.

Highlights include: telling clips of Regan with Reagan;

Moore putting "crime scene" tape around Wall

Street buildings; an interview with Wallace Shawn (who

has aged quite well); clips of Bush Jr. that remind us

how stupid this Harvard/Yale alumnus was; and footage of

Captain Sullenberger -- the main hero of 2009 -- showing

courage in testifying before Congress about the plight

of underpaid pilots.

The message of this film is the message of this era: hey,

corporations, you've gotta split your abundant money more


Moore makes so much sense that you sometimes

wish he'd move to Berkeley or Vermont and

win himself a seat in the U.S. Senate or House.

(Don't laugh -- Al Franken did it.)

Anyway, I'm going to see this one again and write

more completely about it later (the audio on my DVD

konked out near the end).

* * * *

Richard Curtis's "Pirate Radio"

There is a great movie to be made along these lines,

but this is not it. It's too long by half, tedious

throughout and almost unwatchable at the end

when -- like "2012" -- it decides to become "Titanic."

And it doesn't really capture 1966 -- and that's not

just because some of the songs on its otherwise

awesome soundtrack aren't from that year ("Jumpin

Jack Flash" is from '68, "Won't Get Fooled Again" is from

'71, etc.).

What is really missing here is the exhilarating sense of

radio people breaking new bands and records, the sense

of pride that someone was the first to air, say, the

Box Tops or the first to play a Beatles b-side in

the U.K. I mean, the Pirate radio people

of that era were genuinely changing pop culture -- and

there's no real feeling of that here.

That said, the soundtrack is gourmet pure pop: "Lazy Sunday,"

"Judy in Disguise," "The Letter," "The Happening," "She'd Rather

Be with Me," "Eleanor," "All Day and All of the Night,"

etc., some of the greatest pop songs of the last fifty

years. Missing in action: The Hollies's "Dear Eloise,"

Wadsworth Mansion's "Sweet Mary," The Kinks's "Picture Book,"

Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream" and The Monkees's "You Just

May Be the One" (all '66 in spirit if not in chronology).

So buy the soundtrack CD, skip the flick.

To the film makers: I'm your target audience for

this, and you missed.

* * * *

Roland Emmerich's "2012"

With all the countless crevices and fractures of the

earth's surface in "2012," it seems this movie has

more cracks than a Swedish porno flick.

At first, "2012" is a fat greasy bag of popcorn that

you can't stop munching on. But after finishing

the first half of the bag, the thrill is gone.

Emmerich begins to run out of tricks within forty-five

minutes and starts repeating himself. We see John

Cusack's character outrun the latest crevice (again)

as he hops on another in a seemingly endless supply

of airplanes (again) made available to him to fly

above the destruction of a cratering planet. By

the fourth time an airplane barely outpaces an

erupting crevice, it becomes a bit of a bore.

Don't get me wrong, there is the occasional gap of around

twenty minutes between showing new cracks and fractures -- we'll

call that a "crack gap" -- but not many. Occasionally,

Emmerich will dutifully inject a bit of obligatory

"characterization." But then it's back to the cracks!

Even Michaelangelo's painting of the creation of man

on the Sistine ceiling is -- how convenient! -- fractured

neatly between god and man! I mean, what're the chances?

Then the movie gets sucked into an even more

derivative vortex. It suddenly threatens to turn

into "The Poseidon Adventure." And then it threatens

to turn into "Castaway." And then it threatens to

turn into "The Wizard of Oz," what with little Toto

barely escaping a crack. And then, inevitably,

it tries to turn into "Titanic."

It's a cinematic echo chamber. Or like a highlight reel

of clips from classic blockbusters. There are echoes

of "Cliffhanger"'s opener. Echoes of "Armageddon."

At the end, the film finally decides it wants to be

"Titanic," but then changes its mind and opts for

an upbeat "Apollo 13"-ish finale -- sort of an

underwater "Apollo 13" (and I, too, didn't

think that was possible!). The only element missing

from this second-hand stew is...a school of sharks.

(I'm sure that'll surface in the DVD's deleted scenes.)

Apparently, the way to create a hit film in 2009 is:

Let's combine blockbusters! Let's have a ship sink

at the end and have all the passengers ripped apart by

sharks! "Titanic" meets "Jaws"! Or let's have the

Eiffel tower toppled and add a "Slumdog"-ish

dance number as a coda! We'll call it "Armageddon

Millionaire"! "Apollo Titanic"! Or "The Wizard of the

Titanic"! Wowee! Film making is fun! Watching such

stuff -- not so much.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Because the photo of me at the top of

this website is (intentionally) blurred, a

couple people have been curious about what

I actually look like. Well, to anyone who

cares, here's a photo of me several weeks

ago, in October 2009.

* * * *

P.S. -- Suggestion to Time magazine: this year's Man of

the Year should be Sully, an unsullied model of

how to conduct your life and work with innovative thinking,

modesty, dignity and a social conscience. Plus, he saved

lots of lives, didn't he? In this era of partycrashers,

balloon boys, snoozing pilots, and reality stars grabbing

every spotlight in sight, Sully stands out as a genuine hero.



for November 27, 2009

Ambassador Salahi and his wife sure looked the part, didn't

they? His trophy wife was gorgeous enough to have

the "power to cloud men's minds," or at least the minds of

the Secret Service and of the top brass of the United

States government.

Perhaps we've found our secret weapon against

al Qaeda: a woman so attractive and persuasive that she

just might be capable of penetrating (among other things)

the inner sanctum of Osama bin Laden himself. Let's set her

loose in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with a

budget and see what she finds and what Taliban

parties she can crash!

Keep in mind that al Qaeda has surely heard about this

party crashing incident, too, and might realize that the

the secret to getting past security anywhere in the U.S. look like a supermodel.

But I digress. Paul



for November 24, 2009

Here're my reviews of a few recent movies:

Nora Ephron's "Julie & Julia"

Meryl Streep continues her fairly amazing late

career resurgence with "Julie & Julia," though

this one ranks considerably beneath "The Devil

Wears Prada" and "Doubt." Here she disappears

masterfully into the role of Julia Child -- and that's

the best aspect of this film by many miles.

But the movie is fatally flawed at the conceptual level,

as it tries for a multi-generational split screen by pairing

Child's story with that of a blogger who is much younger

and much less interesting. ("Prada" came at its multi-generational

structure in a far more natural way.)

An infinitely greater film could have been made by

jettisoning the blogger half of the story and focusing

solely on Child's life -- on both her later career as a

star chef and on her earlier work as a spy for the

CIA (the OSS, as it was called then) during World

War II, a fascinating aspect of her life (involving

sharks and submarines!) that has never been fully

told on the big or small screen.

Instead, Ephron serves up a weak-minded

chick flick, Maureen Dowdism writ large

on a forty mil budget, a work that makes me

think I was wrong to have called her (in the

Eighties) the best female auteur since


In the universe of "Julie & Julia," women are

sainted and de-eroticized; men are throw pillows, cushions

to cry on, lean on, come on or punch.

The most inspired part of the movie is the

clip of Dan Aykroyd's devastatingly funny

"Saturday Night Live" impersonation of

Child from 1978. Which left me wondering

whether a far more interesting film could have

been made by casting Aykroyd in the lead role.

* * *

Robert Zemeckis's "A Christmas Carol"

There are a few moments here of Disney/Zemeckis/Spielberg

level cinematic stardust and magic, but not nearly enough.

Simultaneously overdone and underdone, it's both skimpy

(at 90 minutes) while including every bell and whistle

in the CGI stockhouse in Novato.

The last third of the movie -- after the Ghost of Christmas

Yet-to-Come shows Ebenezer his grave and how badly he's

regarded after his death -- is substantially better than

the sometimes tedious first part. And the ending does

give you a happy-to-be-alive kick, though it also left

me with an appetite for "It's a Wonderful Life"

more than for a re-watching of this film.

Not sure that this picture will do well at the

box office in relation to its production costs

(it's already in decline, having been released way

too early). Problem is it has limited use as a

family movie, its primary value, because of a couple

scary scenes that could give the kiddies nightmares.

Admittedly, seeing it on a bootleg DVD is not the

ideal way to view a movie in 3-D and performance

capture, so I may be wrong at the margins on this

one, but not by much, I bet.

* * *

F. Gary Gray's"Law Abiding Citizen"

This film is not as awful as many critics have made

it out to be, though it is awful in some ways. But it's

also interesting for what its popularity says about

the public's genuine anger and anxiety about the

shortcomings of the American justice system.

It's yet another picture in a long line, beginning (most

memorably) with "Dirty Harry" in 1971, that stokes anger

about criminals being acquitted or treated leniently

due to what are called "technicalities,"

which usually boil down to guilty people being set free

because of the exclusionary rule or Miranda

rights violations.

Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood have done this sort of

thing much better (the gold standard of cinematic outrage

over "technicalities" is the sequence in

"Dirty Harry" when Eastwood's character is told

that evidence he obtained by torture and without a

search warrant is inadmissible). Such issues are

as relevant today as ever before, what with the

case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the renewed

debates about evidentiary standards and the use

of (ahem) "enhanced interrogation techniques."

But those who cheer the sadistic protagonist of this

film -- and who condemn acquittals because of

disqualified evidence -- miss the fact that vigilantes

would have also killed Richard Jewel, an innocent

man -- a hero, actually -- who (in the spirit of

this movie) might have been lynched by the victims

of the Olympic Park bombing. (This "wrong man"

syndrome is addressed on screen by an oppositional

cinematic subgenre (see: "The Ox Bow Incident,"

"The Wrong Man," "Mystic River," etc.)

As it stands, the role of the protagonist here appears

to have been written for Mel Gibson, circa 1998,

and the script and plot have a similar lack of

complexity. Remember: while some of Eastwood's films

expressed outrage about killers going free, he also

made movies about vigilantes jumping to the

wrong conclusions.

* * * * * *

Why The Trial of Khalid Will Damage the Reputation of Our Civilian Courts

Problem with the idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in

a U.S. civilian court is this:

On the one hand, the Justice Department is saying,

"We're going to give Khalid the full benefits of

the American justice system." But on the other hand,

it's saying: "Don't worry, he won't be acquitted.

And in the highly unlikely event that he is acquitted,

we assure you we'll nail him for something else. "

So the Justice Dept. is being disingenuous. It's

pretending to give Khalid the full measure of due

process but is not going to allow him to be acquitted

if that's the verdict the system arrives at.

Well, that's a show trial, which is, frankly, all

Khalid deserves. And by putting such a show trial

into our civilian justice system, we're showing the

whole world that sometimes the verdicts

of our trials are determined in advance.

If we're going to have a rigged trial in which the

defendant has zero chance of being acquitted, then

let's not be disingenuous; let's move the case to

a military tribunal, where there are never any

false pretenses about a defendant being given due process

beyond a reasonable doubt.

By trying him in a civilian venue, we also risk

setting precedent that could threaten the

exclusionary rule and Miranda rights.

What I mean is that if a civilian judge allows evidence

that was illegally obtained, and Khalid appeals that

ruling, and his appeal is denied in higher courts, then

you have set a precedent that says that illegally obtained

evidence is sometimes admissible and that the Miranda

warnings are not sacrosanct. In the future,

attorneys can cite the precedent of "The U.S. v. Khalid

Sheikh Mohammed" as the basis for claiming that a search

warrant is not legally required in order to collect

evidence in a case.

So the net result of trying Khalid in a civilian court

may well be, ironically, the weakening of the

exclusionary rule and of Miranda.

There have always been circumstances in which a

defendant deserves only military justice and its

lower standard of proof, and Khalid's is surely one

of those cases. By trying him in federal court, we

risk the spectacle of a bureaucratic or biased judge

tossing out evidence against Khalid because of

the exclusionary rule or Miranda rights violations and

letting a clearly guilty mass murderer go free.

And we risk the further spectacle of the Justice

Dept. putting him in chains after an acquittal

and trying him again, as if to say, "Khalid loses

if he wins, Khalid loses if he loses."

Rather than besmirch the reputation of our civilian

courts with a trial that might make us look a bit

like North Korea, let's turn the case over to

the military, whose reputation cannot be damaged

by a trial whose verdict is a fait accompli.

* * * *

I Spoke With Fela Kuti One-on-One in 1986

A whole new generation is now re-discovering

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, thanks to Bill T. Jones's

new Broadway show "Fela!"

Fela, of course, is the late Nigerian pop star and

political activist, probably best-known

today as the singer, saxophonist and composer

who created Afropop, which mixed jazz, rock,

funk and politics. Fela was also famous

for having fought against oppression in Nigeria;

in the early Eighties, he was imprisoned by

his country’s military regime for three

years for what was what later proved

to be a politically motivated charge.

After he was released from prison

in April 1986, he visited New York City,

appearing at a press conference

on June 13, 1986, in Manhattan before

performing on June 15th for Amnesty

International at Giants Stadium in New


On June 17, 1986, I conducted an exclusive one-on-one

interview with Fela, and a few lines from that talk

were published in the weekly magazine Cash Box,

in the issue that hit newsstands on June 21, 1986.

But most of the interview I conducted

for Cash Box has never been

published in the decades since. Here is

an edited version of that

conversation I had with Fela,

seven weeks after his release from prison in '86.


FELA: Yeah, it's a big change for me. It's a good change.


FELA: No. I just kept my brain blank. I left my mind blank in prison.


FELA: Kirikiri is one of the toughest prisons but it was not tough on me. I lived through it. It was tough on the body.


FELA: Much more stronger.


FELA: They just took me to the prison...And it was very very uncomfrotable, very far away from everybody. And visitors weren't allowed for me for about five months.


FELA: No, no, no. I was never afraid for my life....We just try to face the government...


FELA: No, I'm not going to back down. I still intend to [protest the government]. I'm not
backing down...


FELA: Yes, definitely.


FELA: Oh, yes. Everybody in Nigeria likes my records.


FELA: Not much. They tried to make people aware of it. But there's not much they could do...


FELA: The worst thing that happened to me [while I was in prison] was that my record was produced by somebody else -- Bill Laswell. And that really fucked me up in prison.


FELA: No, "Army Arrangement." Destroyed me completely. F----- my mind up...When
you're in prison, you can’t do anything about what’s happening outside.


FELA: Oh, yes.




FELA: Yes, exactly.


FELA: Yes, Bill Laswell’s production. I had a production before I went to prison. So they abandoned my production and put in a new one. They knew that [I’d given] instructions that it not be produced by anyone. They knew how I felt about it.


FELA: EMI did so many bad things. They didn’t look out for my interest at all. They just wanted to rush something out....”Live in Amsterdam” wasn’t a good recording. I only [made] it happen because the system wanted it, because the comapny complained...and demanded a live album.


FELA: No, I don’t.


FELA: I could never leave my home....It inspires me a lot.

But I digress. Paul



for November 21, 2009

I went down to the demonstration
to get my fair share of abuse...
Police in riot gear stand in front of Wheeler Hall on the campus
of the University of California at Berkeley at around 5pm yesterday, just as cops began the process of clearing the building of protesters who were occupying it.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

The occupation of a building on the campus of the

University of California at Berkeley came to an end last

night, following a few hours of tense confrontation

between police and protesters.

The 41 people who had seized a room in the building were

arrested, charged with misdemeanors and not jailed. Bathed

in blue light, they were led out of the west side of Wheeler

to wild cheers from the crowd after 7:30 pm.

Though there were reports of sporadic violence, and though

the stand-off between demonstrators and police was quite

edgy in the six o'clock hour, the occupation was resolved

without major incident. At various times, however, it seemed

as if violence was imminent. It was not known why police

chose to evict the protesters during dinner hour on a

Friday night, when one would expect the greatest

number of demonstrators, rather than wait until, say, 3am,

when few would be around.

The activists were protesting a 32% tuition increase

and layoffs throughout the UC system.

But I digress. Paul



for November 20, 2009

Welcome to the Occupation!
Protesters took and occupied a room in Wheeler Hall on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley this morning. Here's how the occupation looked at around eight o'clock this morning. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Here's a tight shot of the protesters, shown here on the second floor of Wheeler. They're protesting an unusually steep tuition increase for students at the University of California. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Two protesters at a second floor window of Wheeler Hall in the 8am hour today. [photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for November 18, 2009

I was in Chinatown in San Francisco yesterday and

saw a new form of enthusiasm for President

Obama on store shelves in that neighborhood (perhaps

because of his recent visit to China).

Anyway, on sale in Chinatown, just in time for

Christmas: a Barack Obama action figure -- dubbed

"an action figure we can believe in" -- on sale for

the low, low price of only $14.95!

It also offers this caveat: "Warning: Choking Hazard"

(though I don't think they're referring to what some

perceive as his hesitation in putting forward an Afghanistan


The ObamaDoll: now on sale in Chinatown!
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Detail of the ObamaDoll ("choking hazard," it says).
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

As the Golden State Goes Broke,
California Campuses Erupt in Protest Over Tuition Hikes

How the protests looked this afternoon at
the University of California, Berkeley.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Here's how the angry protests looked this afternoon

at the University of California at Berkeley, where

student fees are about to be hiked 32%.

Another shot of this afternoon's rally in Berkeley.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul


for November 17, 2009

Many thanks to Marshall and the NBT for playing

my new song "Tweet Number One" last night.

If I'm not mistaken, it may well be the very

first Tweeter-themed pop song aired on the radio

anywhere. (Is it? ) But I betcha it won't be

the last!

Anyway, you can hear "Tweet Number One" -- which I

wrote, performed and produced last month -- right here

for free. Enjoy!
Click here:

But I digress. Paul



for November 13, 2009

Heirs to the Warhol Legacy: Keats, Marcopoulos

Ari Marcopoulos's "White Room, Dizin, Iran,"
now on display at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum.

The last time I saw Andy Warhol in person was on a boat

in New York Harbor in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty,

July 4, 1986. Just before ZZ Top performed a private

concert for the small crowd on the boat, Warhol

emerged from the upper deck and walked down the stairs,

causing almost everyone onboard to stop and stare.

Warhol, accustomed to that sort of attention, had a characteristically

novel response: he pulled out a camera and started taking

pictures of partygoers as if they were the celebrities and

main attractions. Very, uh, Warholesque.

Sadly, around seven months later, Warhol was dead at age 58,

the victim (as some see it) of a botched gallbladder

operation that he should have survived by a mile. If he

were still around today, he'd be 81, with perhaps

several more years to live.

I must admit I never got to know him (I was a full-time

magazine writer at the time), but he was an

ubiquitous presence at the parties I attended in

New York in the 1980s, ranging from a bash

for the rock band Ratt to an MTV party.

Since his death, no one in the art world has

yet attained the nearly unanimous level of stature

and respect that Warhol had and still has.

Among the post-Warhol artists who might one day develop

into true heirs to Warhol are two whose art has his

same spirit of audacious and effective originality:

Jonathon Keats, a conceptual artist; and Ari Marcopoulus,

a photographer and former Warhol assistant.

Keats -- who unveiled his new conceptual art

work last night at the Modernism Gallery in

San Francisco -- is (as I put it in a previous

Digression) sort of a 21st century combination of

Wittgenstein and Warhol, specializing in "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.)

Marcopoulos -- whose work is currently on display

at the Berkeley Art Museum in Berkeley, Calif. --

shoots photos that are as fascinating and

original and striking as those by any other photographer

of his generation. As I wrote in a previous Digression,

I was so taken by his pictures that I went through

the collection once and then walked through a second

time just for the enjoyment; there are dreamers in

bedrooms, surreal ice, complexity in simplicity,

Alaska and Iran as you've never seen them and, everywhere,

people, characters you care about, as close as you can come

to photographing a pysche, in some cases.

Google both of them up and enjoy their works in

Google Images and elsewhere (and check them out when

their works come to a museum near you).

Jonathon Keats talking to his fans last night about
his latest work, "The First Bank Of Anti-Matter," at
the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco. [photo by
Paul Iorio]

* * *

A previous work by Keats: the OuijaVote balloting
system. [photo by Paul Iorio

* * *

A Marcopoulos photo currently on display at BAM.
(I think it's called "Juneau, AK.")
[photo of photo by Paul Iorio.]

* * *

Warhol's "Race Riot," an adaptation of a
photo of a 1963 riot in Birmingham, recently
at BAM. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

The Obama Administration's First Huge Mistake

Look, I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. And I'm very high

on his administration right now.

But let me state unequivocally: if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

walks and is acquitted at his upcoming trial, I will not vote for Obama

for president again. Under any circumstances. Period.

Why? Because his administration could have easily

put Khalid's case into the military courts, where it

belongs and where "preponderance of evidence" is the

standard of proof. The much-respected Nuremberg Military

Tribunals worked just fine in bringing German fascists

to justice in the 1940s; a similar (domestic) military tribunal

would surely work just as well in bringing Khalid and other

Islamic fascists to justice today. (And remember:

Khalid was collared by the military, not by civilian cops, as

some have noted.)

Instead, a civilian judge might well throw out Khalid's

case because of technicalities related to the harsh interrogation

techniques used on him years ago. If that were to happen, a truly

evil and dangerous guy, who committed one of the worst

acts of unprovoked warfare against U.S. civilians since the

Second World War, and who has confessed to those war

crimes, would be set free -- free to commit similar atrocities

in the future. And if that happens, I will be casting my vote in

2012 for someone other than Obama.

* * * *

Khalid, Who Rose From a 2-Bit Mass Murderer to Become a 3-Bit Mass Murderer
Khalid sez: "your pizza delivered in 30 minutes or your jihad is free!"

But I digress. Paul



for November 10, 2009


New York Times Praised al-Awlaki in 2001 Article

So how did The New York Times size up Anwar al-Awlaki in print back in

2001? No media outlet (except this website) has yet written about

a report about al-Awlaki that the Times published eight years ago.

Al-Awlaki, of course, is the imam who, on Monday, emphatically praised

gunman Nidal Hasan for killing 13 people and injuring another 42 last week

at the Fort Hood military base in Texas.

By the time The New York Times interviewed him in 2001, al-Awlaki

had already been under investigation for a couple years by the

F.B.I. for suspected al Qaeda ties, according to

the Times of London, and had admitted meeting with one of

the 9/11 hijackers, Hawaf al-Hizmi, several times.

The idea that he was somehow a moderate then and has only

recently turned radical appears to be a myth.

When he was praised by the Times in '01, al-Awlaki had also admitted

meeting Al-Hizmi's roommate and fellow hijacker Khalid al-Mihdar, who

was part of the team with Hani Hanjour (another attendee at al-Awlaki's

mosque) that crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the

Pentagon. In fact, the three hijackers and Hasan were all

attendees at the mosque where Al-Awlaki was an imam in 2001 -- the

Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.

Even though al-Awlaki had such a history, New York Times reporter Laurie

Millstein characterized al-Awlaki as "a new generation of Muslim

leader capable of merging East and West."

Here's what she wrote in an article that ran in The Times on

October 19, 2001:

"Mr. Al-Awlaki, who at 30 is held up as a new generation of Muslim leader
capable of merging East and West: born in New Mexico to parents from
Yemen, who studied Islam in Yemen and civil engineering at Colorado State

A close read of the article and al-Awlaki's quotes in it reveal

a sneaky ambiguity in al-Awlaki's words, a kind of plausible

deniability -- or perhaps, al-Awlaki was playing Millstein for a fool,

feeding her quotes that she thought meant one thing and he

intended as something else.

In the article, Millstein first summarizes, in her own words, the criticism aimed

at America by Muslim hardliners:

"Their most frequent grievances were sexual promiscuity, movies and media perceived
as anti-Muslim, racial prejudice and American foreign policy of supporting Israel,
blockading Iraq and bolstering what they perceived as corrupt Middle Eastern regimes
in Saudi Arabia and Egypt."

Then she quotes al-Awlaki's very ambiguous remarks, which I'm presenting here with

my own annotations in capital letters:

''In the past we were oblivious. [NOTE THAT AL-AWLAKI DOESN'T SAY
TO ALL THE BLASPHEMY OUT THERE."] We didn't really care
much because we never expected things to happen. [NOTE HE
Now I think things are different. What we might have tolerated in
the past, we won't tolerate any more." [HIGHLY AMBIGUOUS.

Millstein quotes al-Awlaki again in her story (and I've added

annotations in caps once more):

''There were some statements that were inflammatory [STATEMENTS
MUSLIM RADICALS?], and were considered just talk, but now we
realize that talk can be taken seriously and acted upon in a violent

After his time as imam at the Dar al-Hijrah, Al-Awlaki left the

U.S. in 2002 and moved to Yemen, his parents's birthplace.

He currently runs a popular jihadist website, Anwar al-Awlaki On-line

(at, where he writes the blog that, today (11/9),

praised Nidal Hasan, saying:

“Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to
Iraq and Afghanistan. How can there be any dispute about the virtue of
what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically
justify serving as a soldier in the US army is if his intention is to
follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.”

“The heroic act of brother Nidal also shows the dilemma of the Muslim American
community. Increasingly they are being cornered into taking stances that would
either make them betray Islam or betray their nation. Many amongst them are
choosing the former. The Muslim organizations in America came out in a pitiful
chorus condemning Nidal’s operation.”

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- It continues to amaze me that my song

"Kim Jong-il" is creating a bit of a buzz among

bloggers I've never met and among people emailing me.

Listeners seem to really enjoy that one!

Yesterday one blogger corrected my

pronunication of "Juche" -- and I stand

corrected. For those who haven't heard the

song yet, listen here for free:

[P.S. -- Inevitable. A jealous irrelevant friend

from my long-ago high school years had his

suggestions about my music rejected by me

a few years ago and so now is trying to interfere

with my music activities. What he doesn't

understand is this (and let me explain by

analogy): if I were to say to, say, Eric

Clapton, that he should do "Layla" as a reggae

song, and Clapton doesn't use my suggestion,

that doesn't make me a co-writer of "Layla."

Get the picture?)

If I had used Bill Epps's suggestions in

my music, I would have fully credited him.

But I did not use any of his suggestions at all,

not one of them, so I'm not going to credit

him for things he didn't do. It's that simple.

* * * *

P.S. -- Unsolicited advice for President Obama:

What's the best way to get the public option health

care plan through the U.S. Senate with a healthy


Find and kill Osama bin Laden.

After that, you could probably get single payer

passed in a landslide.



for November 9, 2009

I've just seen a couple more recent movies and here are

my reviews:

Kenny Ortega's "This Is It"

At least as electric as "Shine a Light," almost

as revealing as "Gimme Shelter," "This is It" is

as great as some of the best reviews make it out to be.

It's more akin to a rock musical like "Rent" (the play,

not the film) than to a concert film or docu,

what with the dancing and choreography and

sets and pyrotechnics counting for almost as much

as the music at times.

If this footage is any indication, Jackson was

preparing for what would have been a pop cultural

behemoth, the O2 concert series in London. And he was

readying all the good stuff, too, with opening night

a mere couple weeks away.

Highlights here include...almost every song:

the showstopping opener, "Wanna Be Startin'

Somethin'"; "Billie Jean," with its extended

percussion coda so Jackson could work his

magic on the dance floor; the unexpectedly

haunting "Earth Song"; the glimpse of him refining

his sound to perfection in "The Way You Make Me Feel."

At some points his dancing is fluid like water, like

Jagger; he had the moves and energy and grace of

someone half his age.

And then there are the personally revealing

behind-the-scenes bits, particularly during rehearsals

for the Jackson Five mini-set. As the reunited

brothers launch into a seismic "I Want You

Back," Jackson effortlessly falls into his old


But watch carefully; he seems emotionally

uncomfortable, uncharacteristically so, during the

Jackson Five segment, as if he's been exposed to

kryptonite, and afterwards complains

about an earpiece that "seems like somebody's fist is

pushing in my ear."

Pause that for a moment. Interesting that when he has

to get back into his Jackson Five persona, he's

suddenly talking images of being assaulted ("Like

somebody's fist is pushing in my ear"). And then he

repeats the "fist in the ear" image. (I know, he was

referring to something that was making him physically

uncomfortable, but he also appeared to be, unconsciously,

referring to something else entirely.)

No doubt about it, Jackson's memories of the

Jackson Five period were associated with being

physically abused and assaulted by his father.

In order to perform Jackson Five material,

Jackson had to work through some deeply unpleasant

and traumatic memories and links.

Hence, at the end of "I Want You Back" he

seems distraught and is talking about being hit

with a fist. Sad.

All told, this is a movie you can dance to, that's

for sure. But, as always, the fun was on Michael

Jackson's dime.

* * * * *

Kevin Greutert's "Saw VI"

Sadism that connects to no plot, characters or wisdom

worth watching. This sixth installment is a recession-era

artifact (health insurance execs get, uh, skewered),

though the franchise itself could only have come

into being in the years after 9/11 (the nightmarish

reality of people in the twin towers who had to

choose between burning to death or jumping to

their deaths seems to have created the climate

for "Saw"). The best I can say is it's not boring.

* * * * *

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, whose ideas never

cease to be fresh and amazing, has a new work he's

unveiling in San Francisco on November 12th at the

Modernism Gallery (685 Market St.). It's called

"The First Bank of Antimatter," his plan to restore

the global economy with antimatter! His work is always

worth checking out.

But I digress. Paul



for November 5 - 6, 2009

Here are my reviews of a couple movies currently in theaters:

Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity"

In the movies-made-with-a-credit-card subgenre, this one ranks

a couple notches below "The Blair Witch Project," "Tarnation" and

"Open Water." But it shares with "Blair Witch" the same somewhat

deceptive appeal of a faux documentary that doesn't draw

too much attention to the faux part. I bet a good portion of its

(and "Blair Witch"'s) success is due to some moviegoers

initially thinking they were seeing real docu footage

of a rare mystery.

The obscure mystery in this case is that a house, and the

twentysomething couple who live in it, seem to be haunted

by some sort of invisible paranormal spirit. But within

ten minutes, as soon as we see the couple consult a psychic

about their problem, we realize the film makers are playing

this premise straight and unironically, thereby missing a

major opportunity to create a smart campy horror film

that works on both a meta and literal level.

That said, the thrills and chills do kick in at around the

70-minute mark, and the finale is a skillful bit of film making that

recalls the end of Antonioni's "The Passenger" (in which

we see a tragedy unfold from a fixed point of view that creates

uncertainty about what is actually happening in unseen parts

of the house).

"Paranormal" is also the first example (that I can

recall) of a hit film that seems to have been

heavily influenced by reality TV shows, which it

resembles even though it's a scripted thriller. (Then

again, much reality TV is partially scripted, too.)

Instead of making a sequel, which is reportedly already in

the works, the film makers should spin it into a

reality TV series about several couples living in an

old abandoned villa they think is haunted. They can

call it "Micah and Kate Plus Eight."

* * * * *

Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!"

Without its upbeat Marvin Hamlisch score --

which gives the film the feel of an antic, zany

early Woody Allen comedy -- Steven Soderbergh's

"The Informant!" would be as sober and

earnest as "The Insider" or "Silkwood," for the

mosr part. To be sure, superimposing music on

a picture is a chintzy way to establish a

tone that is mostly unearned, as this is

largely serious material about a case of

real-life corporate malfeasance, its dark comedic

undercurrent not as sustained or consistent as

it should be. Hence, the Hamlisch, which tries to

give the film what isn't already there organically.

If Soderbergh had sustained the tension and inspired

brilliance of the first forty minutes, "The Informant!"

would be the best American film released so far this year.

Its first half is minutely-observed, very knowing about

the psychology of some corporate executives, subtly funny (a lonely

whistleblower who is being wiretapped says he enjoys

talking to the F.B.I. because "they're good listeners"),

marvelously acted by Matt Damon and others, and

wonderfully aphoristic ("Paranoid is what people who try

to take advantage call you when they're trying to get

you to drop your guard").

But unfortunately, the last half has no fizz, no

electricity, little focus, slack tension. Too bad.

Soderbergh almost created a classic.

* * * * *

[above, graphic by Paul Iorio.]
* * * * * *

Do You Need Any More Evidence That Religion Does NOT
Guide People to Moral Behavior?

"Allahu Akbar!," shouted Nidal Hasan as he shot dozens
of innocent people yesterday. He did this after saying his prayers, of course.
[photo of Hasan/Ft. Hood carnage by The Telegraph.]

Am I the only one getting mighty sick of the endless

parade of devoutly religious people committing

unspeakable crimes? Just in the last several months

the religulous Hall of Shame and Evil has included: Sunday school

teacher Melissa Huckabee, who apparently raped and

murdered a little girl earlier this year in California;

holy roller rapist and kidnapper Phil Garrido, who

followed in the footsteps of religious fanatic kidnapper

Brian David Mitchell; and, of course, Najibullah Zazi,

the Muslim fundamentalist who was plotting to bomb

New York City with a peroxide explosive a couple

months ago.

I'll tell ya, religion really guides people to the path

of righteousness, doesn't it?

The latest religious nut to surface from the

fundamentalist sewers (a world where people have to

actually consult a book before they know whether it's

right or wrong to kill an innocent person) is Nidal Hasan,

a devout Muslim who prayed many times a day and even

shouted "God is great!" as he murdered innocent people.

The truth about the killings -- that it was fueled

by religion to a significant degree -- was downplayed by some

reporters even after that fact had become obvious.

As late as seven this morning Pacific Time, a few journalists

were still saying Hasan had committed mass murder

primarily because he was [pick the characterization

that flatters yourself and denigrates your adversary]

mad about the war, mad about not getting a raise, mad from PTSD,

blah blah blah, (add your own motivation that dovetails

with your personal pet peeve or cause)!

Truth is, when someone bases his life on an

irrational belief system (i.e., religion), irrational

acts are likely to follow (with "God told me to do it"

always the justification).

But I digress. Paul



for November 4, 2009

New on DVD: "Whatever Works"

I was going to call "Whatever Works" Woody Allen's

worst movie ever, but then images from the

film hit me and stuck the next day, much like the

aftertaste of a distinctive but ultimately unsatisfying

and unpleasant meal. Even so, I still had the feeling

that, forty years after his directiorial debut, he had

finally invented a new brand of Woody Allen film:

a comedy that's 100% laugh-free!

But is it really his worst? Might there

be another that has slipped my mind that truly takes

the cake? The candidates for worst Allen movie, of

course, were all released in succession between

"Hollywood Ending" and "Whatever Works," between 2002

and 2007, with the one shining exception being "Match

Point" ('05), which is actually a plot-driven Hitchcock

film in spirit, very uncharacteristic for Allen and

thin in retrospect (do we remember the main character

Wilton for anything but his crime?). And Allen

has always called Hitchcock "second drawer," and for

good reason: Hitchcock is a "conscious" director, more

craft than art, and those are the same reasons "Match

Point" is the least of Woody's top tier works.

Then again, "Match Point" did have that

very, very clever moment when the murderer, planning his

crime meticulously, decides to kill someone in the most

discreet way possible: by talking his way into his target's

apartment in broad daylight, clumsily assembling a shotgun

in that person's living room and then shooting his

victim with the shotgun in the middle of

downtown London, where, of course, nobody would hear it.

In "Whatever," there are no such diabolically plotted

murders, though he does come down hard on all that loud

yeah-yeah-yeah moptop "music" the kids listen to nowadays.

I soon began to draw a blank when thinking about

"Cassandra's Dream" (was that the one where a woman

tries to replace a valuable piece of jewelry with a fake

but then loses track of which is which?) and

"Anything Else" (that was Biggs doing the Allen-like role,

right? Or was it Ferrell?). Lately, there always seems to be some younger

actor, or more marketable older actor (Larry David, say),

doing what would have been the Woody role in an earlier

era -- and sometimes, embarrassingly, doing the Allen

accent, too. (Who can forget Kenneth Branagh speaking

Allenesque in whatever that film was?)

So, is "Whatever Worse" appreciably worse than

"Hollywood Ending"/"Anything Else"/"Melinda and

Melinda"/"Scoop"/"Cassandra's Dream," the other

five contenders for worst Allen flick? It may well be.

It certainly proves that you can put two of the funniest

guys on the planet together in a movie and create

nothing worth laughing at.

* * * *

Muhammad and Man at Yale -- and in Hollywood

Funniest joke I've heard out of Hollywood this week is this:

some movie mogul is making a picture about the

Muslim Prophet Muhammad that will not actually show

Muhammad on the screen!

Hilarious, huh? The stuff of parody, right? 'Cept it's true.

And to add to the outrageousness, a few journalists, evidently

biased in favor of deism, are writing about it by going on at

length about peripheral issues without even noting the main

fact: you can't make a biopic without showing the subject of

the biopic. Never been done. Shouldn't be tried.

I mean, you'd have to stretch yourself out of shape to find

a precedent for this. Let's see: there's that Humphrey Bogart

film where we don't see the main character's face (played by

Bogart, in bandages after plastic surgery) for the first hour or

so. And then there's "Jaws," where we don't see the shark

until the middle of the film.

But in those cases, the film makers make the absence of the

central character work. And we do see the two protagonists -- the

shark and Bogart -- later in those movies. In any event, neither

flick is a non-fiction biopic.

Barrie Osborne ("Matrix," "Lord of the Rings") is the cowardly guy

behind this ridiculous idea, and a coward he truly is.

Cowed by militants, bowing to religious totalitarians, Osborne

is basically saying to the absolutists: "You've won, we'll adopt

your own right-wing suppression of free speech as our own

standard because, frankly, we're a-scared of you militants."

There's a wicked lack of reciprocity in the U.S. between western

liberals and Muslim reactionaries. We say to the religious, with

bottomless respect: "Come to America, build your mosques and

temples here, pray ten times a day if you wish -- and you

can also forbid any pictures of deities within your mosque. In

fact, if someone shows up at your mosque with a picture of

Muhammad or Khadya, you can have your own security guards

escort him or her from the premises."

So we allow them that freedom and then they turn around and

say: "The rules of our mosque must apply to the secular world

outside, too. Our religious rules say, no pictures of deities

can be shown in our mosque and we want that rule to apply

outside our mosque and to your secular newspapers and to

your Hollywood films, too."

And too many editors and movie people say, "Fine, we'll

surrender without a shot and agree to your censorship."

And that's precisely what religious totalitarianism is:

someone applying the parochial rules of the church to the

greater world.

The absolutists show no respect for the great diversity out

there, for those who believe, for example, that we should

be free to portray figures from history as we see fit. And

by bowing to their standards, we are reducing ourselves to

the ignorant, profoundly uneducated level of the madrassas and the


History will not look generously or kindly on guys like

Barrie Osborne or John Donatich, the similarly cowardly

editor of Yale University Press, who has published a book

about the so-called Muhammad cartoons that doesn't show the

cartoons themselves. History will look on them as reactionaries

motivated by cowardice.

The case of Donatich at Yale is even more dangerous than

Osborne's film, because the adverse implications for intellectual

inquiry and academic freedom are staggering.

Suppose a contemporaneous drawing of Muhammad

was unearthed by archaeologists and turned over to Islamic scholars.

Should the drawing be suppressed, censored, not taught in

classes on Islam at Yale and elsewhere, not included

in scholarly and other journals?

In college classes on Islamic civilization, should students

not be allowed to discuss the fact that Muhammad

had around a dozen wives -- and what that implies about him? Is it

out of bounds in an academic setting to discuss the

morality of someone who has had an unusually large number

of wives? Was Muhammad sexually aberrant? He's called

a "prophet," but was he really one? Didn't a lot of people and

pundits at the time predict the same obvious things about the

Battle of Badr and the Battle of the Confederates that

Muhammad did?

Can students even ask such question in a classroom, or must

they just accept the myths-as-written? Have the rules of the

madrassas now become the rules of the Ivy League, to some


Isn't the core reality this: we suppress such questions

and analysis about Muhammad because we're afraid

such ideas might offend people who like the guy. Should

we expand that over-cautiousness to the study of other

public and historical figures, too?

Should scholars and students be forbidden from asking whether

the translators of the Old Testament might have been incompetent

translators? Can we not ask whether Governor Pontius Pilate of

Judea might have had reasonable justification for giving

Jesus [The?] Christ the death penalty -- justification that we're

unaware of because we've never fully heard Pilate's side of the

story? Are these questions off-limits because they might be

offensive to people who admire Jesus?

Should we extend that excessively deferential approach to other academic

disciplines as well? When studying, say, Frank Sinatra in a course on

popular culture, should professors and students not bring up certain

criminal aspects of his life and career because that might

upset violent people? Should we use that same cowardly guide

when studying and teaching the mafia, "The Satanic Verses"

and Scientology?

Osborne's upcoming film is only the latest bit of proof that Muslim extremists,

using asymmetrical means, are enforcing the same sort of censorship that

used to be imposed only by governments and kings. Academia, and now Hollywood,

have embraced the new tyrant without even putting up a fight.

But I digress. Paul



for November 3, 2009

Election Day 2009 Predictions:
Who Will Win Today

Obama has energized the Palin wing of the GOP, which is purging moderates at its peril.

First, let it be known that a day before last year's

elections, I correctly predicted the outcome of all

eleven competitive U.S. Senate races (see my election

day 2008 Digression).

Which, of course, qualifies me to put forward predictions about

today's election contests!

Here's what I think might happen later today:


Corzine will win, but barely and only because

Daggett is draining votes from Christie.


McDonnell, by a mile.


Hoffman over Owens. (If Scozzafava had really wanted
to help Owens, she should have stayed in the race
to siphon votes from Hoffman.)
This pattern might
well play out in next year's races, particularly
in the GOP primary for the US Sen in FL.


I can't imagine that Maine will be more
liberal than California was last year when
the Golden State passed Prop 8, a similar


Bloomberg over Thompson, easily.


Menino, by a healthy margin.


Norwood will lead but fall short of
50%, will face Reed in a run-off.

ON NOVEMBER 3, 2009]

But I digress.



for November 3, 2009

Now that Jerry Brown has become the front-runner in

the race for California governor, a job he held in

the 1970s, and Roman Polanski appears to be on his

way back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1978,

I couldn't help but think that the Golden State, circa

2011, might end up looking a lot like the California

of thirty-plus years ago. And so I came up with this


[graphic by Paul Iorio; photo of highway by unknown photographer]

But I digress. Paul



for November 2, 2009

From "Paranormal Activity" to Jason Mraz's tour to the balloon boy
to the Afghanistan War,

The National Zeitgeist of the Fall of 2009 is:
No One is in Charge.
"Paranormal Activity": Searching for an adversary they can't catch
or find (just like in Afghanistan).

The widespread anxiety in this part of 2009 seems to be about nobody

being in charge, about a lack of center in American life.

In the film phenomenon of the season, "Paranormal Activity," the

main characters try to find and capture an adversary they

cannot see or catch. For much of the movie, the camera focuses

on subjective shots of...nothing. Empty rooms with nobody

in them. The camera is pointed at a subject that is not there.

Similarly, in America's current real-life war, we're pursuing a

vicious enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan that doesn't

have a fixed location and could be anywhere, including in

America, right now.

In television news, one of the highest rated -- if not the highest

rated -- news event of the year was the phony

drama of a boy flying in a balloon without a pilot. For hours,

the whole nation was transfixed, watching an imperiled little boy

who was not there. There was literally nothing at the center of

that drama. In essence, we all shared a national fantasy that

seemed to be rooted in a national anxiety that nobody is

at the wheel in America.

Likewise, another huge recent story that caught the public's attention

was the saga of the commercial airliner that, for around ninety

minutes, flew with nearly 150 passengers without a pilot at the controls.

And in Washington, there is criticism in some quarters that

no one is at the steering wheel in the White House when it comes to

the Afghanistan war, and that everybody is trying to grab the steering

wheel when it comes to health care reform policy. (I don't happen

to agree with people who think that; I think Obama's drone strategy

in Afghanistan and public option health care plan are exactly

the way to proceed; but many are starting to believe nothing's

getting done in D.C., which is probably the fault of a system

that has served a plutocracy for too long. But I digress.)

No one person seems to be in charge anymore anywhere. Or

at least that's the way a lot of people seem to feel. And that zeitgeist

appears to be creating nervous fascination with pilotless balloons

and pilotless airplanes, both fictional and non-fictional, and fear of an

all-too-real enemy that is not based in any one place.

The center is gone. Centralized control is dead. Nobody is

in charge. On the Internet, we buy from stores that have

no physical location and chat with people who

are based nowhere but in cyberspace. We get our news

(in this very un-Cronkite age) from an uncountable

number of Internet, cable, broadcast and print

outlets. In top videogames like Guitar Hero, no one

is in charge of the music -- because everybody is

and anyone can be.

The trend toward decentralization can also be seen in

big rock concert tours of 2009. The Counting Crows

tour of this year was structured as a sort of variety

show -- dubbed The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers

Traveling Circus & Medicine Show. -- in which the headliner

was de-emphasized and two other acts gave performances

interspersed throughout the concert. Likewise, Jason Mraz's

concerts of '09 also had a de-centralized

structure that featured a host -- the lively Bushwalla -- who

not only introduced the opening acts and Mraz, but

became something of a central presence of the show

with his humorous patter and his own musical

performances, sprinkled throughout the concert.

And another top tour of the year, the Chicago

and Earth, Wind & Fire double bill, had a

different focal point almost every night, as

the two bands regularly swapped headlining spots

and played together at the beginning and ending

(while sometimes covering the songs of the

other group).

Apparently the trend in rock concerts is toward

presenting an evening of entertainment without a clear


This is, of course, an era in which we've had to readjust

our minds to thinking of America's biggest city, New

York City, without its symbol and visual center, the

twin towers.

William Butler Yeats was more prescient than he knew

when he wrote, in 1919, in "The Second Coming":

"The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."

Ninety years later, the center not only doesn't hold, it seems

to have been completely eliminated. And the falcon

still cannot hear the falconer (and I'm not talking about

Falcon Heene, though maybe I am).

The Symbol of this Era-Without-a-Pilot:
"The falcon cannot hear the falconer..."



* * * *

Blogger (and former S.F. Chron editor) Phil Bronstein accused

The New York Times of plagiarism

the other day, and that doesn't surprise me at all.

When I was a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle

years ago, many of the editors there didn't seem to know

when something was plagiarism and (just as important)

when something was not plagiarism. In the case of the

New York Times, it's obvious the Times reporter hadn't

plagiarized (he merely interviewed a source, and that

source used the same words in a subsequent interview).

No wonder the Chronicle almost went out of business

earlier this year (and probably will be reduced to an

online publication in the very near future). And

frankly, that's not necessarily a bad thing for the world.

Because though there are some talented journalists there,

and though I'm very pro-union, there are also some

dishonest, even fraudulent editors at the top ranks (see:

David Wiegand, for example) who remain in their jobs despite

legit complaints about them over the years.

To all you bright college grads looking to get a start

in journalism: don't take a job at the Chronicle. Try

another publication. And not just because the paper

won't be lasting very long (it's losing something like

a million bucks a week), but because some of the editors

there are not honest or ethical.

Further, if you expose the unethical behavior of an editor

there, Hearst/Chronicle has a lot of money with which they

can try to turn that accusation against you. (And don't listen to

anyone who says "Paul's just disgruntled, blah blah."

Anyone who says the "disgruntled" line is doing so

because they either know, or work with, or think they will

work with the editor I'm referring to, or they think said editor knows too

much about them. Or they're uninformed about the situation.)

Do you think I'd be talking this way -- accusing people of

"fraud" and malfeasance in print -- if I didn't have the primary

documents to prove it in a court of law tomorrow if I had to?

But I digress. Paul



for October 30, 2009

OK, folks, I've just written and recorded some brand

new songs for you to listen to, all penned, performed

and produced by Paul Iorio (yours truly!).

I wrote all four tracks between August and September 2009

and recorded them a couple days ago at my home

studio in lovely Berkeley, Calif.

Just click here to listen to and enjoy the tunes for free!

But I digress. Paul



for October 26 - 27, 2009

The So-Called Afghanistan War

(Shouldn't We Re-Name It the Al Qaeda War?)

First, some clarity.

War is the practice by which the teenagers of one nation

shoot, kill and maim the teenagers of another nation

on a battlefield at the behest of a government. (At least

most of the soldiers are teenagers in most wars.)

The goal, at least at the ground level, is to

intentionally inflict health problems (or death) on

opposing soldiers who don't retreat or surrender.

When you're on a battlefield, and aiming your rifle at a

person from the opposing side, you're killing or wounding

that person without assembling a jury, summoning a judge

or providing the target with legal counsel. The soldier

is summarily, almost unilaterally, making a decision

to kill or wound (or not kill or wound) another combatant.

Further, the soldier's bullet might well miss its target

or ricochet and kill a completely innocent person.

And a soldier's training in killing usually amounts to

around three months of basic training, not even the

equivalent of a single semester at a university. Combat

is, to some extent, such a semi-unskilled task that we

put it in the hands of uneducated privates who aren't old

enough to legally buy a beer.

I bring all this up because Jane Mayer's piece in The New

Yorker on America's covert drone war in the FATAs questions

whether the CIA has the training to do the killing that

the armed forces usually do. And she also questions whether

the targets of the missiles deserve to be targets, whether

they have gotten adequate due process before being bombed.

To which I say, when has that ever been the case in war?

When has the enemy, in the midst of combat, ever had the

benefit of due process?

Further, a missile attack can be more surgically precise

than a machine gun barrage. True, missiles, like bullets,

occasionally miss their targets and hit innocents, and

that's tragic, but, unfortunately, unavoidable in some

circumstances. C'est la guerre.

As for the CIA not having the training to kill, I say: in a

high-tech war, the real skill required is expertise

in missile guiding and targeting systems. Sure, I, too,

see the dangerous possibilities of a war waged

by an agency that cannot always be held publicly

accountable for its actions, but sometimes covert

operations are the only way to accomplish a necessary maneuver.

The existence of the CIA itself is an implicit admission

that there are some foreign policy actions that cannot be

executed explicitly. (And I don't hear anybody in the

mainstream calling for the abolition of the CIA.)

More and more, I think people are coming around to the position

that the enemy that we once fought in Afghanistan has now moved

shop to the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan, where they

remain as deadly and adversarial as ever. Our logic must follow

the enemy. We cannot fight a war in the Tens based on the

reality of the Oughties. Rather than re-fight the previous war in

Afghanistan, we should shift combat to where the war has shifted: to

the FATAs. And the most efficient, effective, and least bloody

way to do that is with the missile strategy currently underway.

With bin Laden and his comrades probably in the Bajaur Agency,

and the worst of the Taliban around South Waziristan, the U.S. would

be wasting resources and time focusing on Afghanistan as the

central front. In fact, the "Afghanistan War" is now a bit of a misnomer

and probably should be re-named the Al Qaeda War.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- When John Paul Stevens retires next year,

Obama should nominate Hillary Clinton for the Court.

And tap John Kerry to head State. Both would be

better suited to those jobs.

* * *

P.S. -- Lesson from the Heene balloon episode: whenever

someome sets up a camera to take footage of himself, be very,

very wary of the footage, because it's often intended to

manipulate or deceive. Look at how everybody was fooled

by Richard Heene "losing his temper" on camera -- a camera

shot he set up -- when his balloon flew away. What a two shot,

as they say.




for October 24, 2009

International Response to My Research on bin Laden's Whereabouts

I've received email from Pakistan and elsewhere on my article

(see, below, "Where bin Laden is Hiding," Daily Digression,

Oct. 20),
and let me share some of it.

Today I received an email from Zafar Hijazi, the main editor at

the Pakistani daily newspaper the Daily Mahasib. The Mahasib

is an Urdu-language paper that became a bit of a cause celebre in

certain circles several years ago when it was shut down by

the government for around six weeks, four of its editors

charged with blasphemy, jailed and threatened with the death


Their crime? Publishing a story that questioned whether

a beardless man can become a good Muslim.

The newspaper was eventually exonerated and continues to

operate today, publishing out of Gilgit/Baltistan (though

Hijazi lists a Rawalpindi address).

Anyway, Hijazi sent me an email that provides a fascinating

perspective on bin Laden as seen from inside a particular

faction of Pakistan.

I don't agree with some of what he says, but...let's hear him out.

First, Hijazi's desire to capture and kill bin Laden is as intense

as most Americans's.

"We wish we could trace Bin Laden and hang him," Hijazi wrote

in his email to me.

Second, he believes the U.S. is not really sincere about finding

bin Laden. In fact, incredibly, he seems to think America is

somehow in cahoots with bin Laden.

"If u americans know about his exact hide outs pl do tell us," Hijazi wrote

in his email to me (which I'm presenting here exactly as he wrote it).

"It appears america is itself sposoring/protecting Bin Laden

and his cronies. Recently when our forces entered Waziristan,

why from other side nato forces wre withdran allowing terrorist flee

and re emerge. This big question before us and u should carry

out research on this too."

So there you have it, straight from a respected editor in Rawalpindi

who actually thinks America is somehow protecting bin Laden.

Never mind the covert drone war we're conducting in the FATAs

against al Qaeda. Never mind the lives we're putting on the line

on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Somehow this Pakistani editor,

who leads a paper with a courageous reputation, thinks the American

government doesn't want bin Laden dead.

And, to support his theory, he cites an incident that I'm admittedly

unaware of: a recent military skirmish in Waziristan in which NATO

forces supposedly retreated, allowing al Qaeda forces to flee.

I wrote back to Hijazi, thanking him for his email, and saying:

"Though I am a mere journalist and do not speak for the

U.S. government, I must say that the U.S. government -- at

least under President Obama -- is absolutely determined

to capture or kill bin Laden. It has been a national goal

since 9/11."

Anyone who would like to respond to any of this can write to me

at, and I'll try to include your comments in

an upcoming Digression.

But I digress. Paul



for October 23, 2009

Of all the many songs I've written this

year, there have been a few that people seem

to like more than others, obviously. But

the big surprise, for me, is how much some

listeners are genuinely enjoying my song

"Kim Jong-il," which I self-released last

July and is still going strong since it was

first aired (by KALX) on July 13.

A couple days ago, a blogger who I've never met

posted this flattering comment about my song:

"Y'all gotta get over here and listen to
the parody propaganda song "Kim Jong Il"
by songwriter Paul Iorio.

You'll be singing it to yourself all day and
getting strange looks from other people on
the bus when you do."

Thanks to the VM blog for your kind words! Glad you enjoy

the tune. For those who haven't heard "Kim Jong-il" yet,

click here and have some fun:

* * * *

The Most Intelligent, Most Surgically Precise War
in American History?

Have you been reading David Rohde's report in the New

York Times about his seven months as a captive of the

Taliban in Pakistan? Absolutely riveting. I bet it'll

first win a Pulitzer and then an Oscar, once it's made

into a feature film, which I hope happens (Kathryn Bigelow

could create a classic).

Rohde's account of being caught in an American drone missile

attack nearly ranks with Kurt Vonnegut's story of being a

POW in Dresden when Allied planes bombed the city (a less

justifiable bombing than the one in North Waziristan,

by the way). His story of his escape is an outright thriller.

And his tale of singing the Beatles's "She Loves

You" with his Taliban captors is both hilarious and sad,

surreal while ringing absolutely true.

Rhode's story also, inadvertently, reveals rare valuable

info about the Taliban. Telling that they had Nestle

bottled water and other western products, which implies

they're able to afford premium brands and clearly

not hurting for money in parts of opium poppy country.

And his report on the drone attack reveals how smart the

American tactics against al Qaeda and the Taliban are. It's

interesting that only Taliban leaders and soldiers (and no

innocent civilians) were killed in that bombing of Miram

Shah, which contributes to the impression that President

Obama is handling this war as intelligently

and surgically as any war in American history.

I then read Jane Mayer's piece in The New Yorker about

America's covert drone war in the FATAs. Though I don't

think she intended to have this effect, her piece left me

feeling almost exhilarated that Obama was pursuing such

a course. It's what I've been advocating in this column

and elsewhere for some time -- an emphasis on covert

warfare against al Qaeda in the tribal border region -- and

I think it's brilliant, effective strategy.

And the strategy is soo Obama, too: smart,

effective, necessary.

What I didn't read in Mayer's piece was a source putting

forward another alternative plan against the Taliban that

would work nearly as well. (Perhaps because there isn't one.)

Commanders and leaders like the Mehsud brothers and

Osama bin Laden cannot be easily replaced

or replaced at all. When such leaders are gone, so

goes the efficacy of the murderous movements they lead,

in most cases (as history teaches us time and again).

Killing the leadership of al Qaeda and of the extreme

elements of the Taliban is essential to eliminating

people like Najibullah Zazi, who was evidently planning

another 9/11-style attack last month at the behest of his

al Qaeda trainers in the North-West Frontier Province,

where our drones are rightly aimed.

But I digress. Paul



for October 21, 2009

Thanks to everyone who has sent email to me about

my feature film screenplay "The Buzz." Last week,

I finally posted the definitive online version of the

script and have been heartened by the response. I must

say that I gave it a re-read the other day, after not

having read it for around six years, and found myself

getting caught up in the story all over again.

You might enjoy it, too. Read it here at:

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- "The Buzz" is a fictionalized story of a real-life

murder case that I solved in 1990 as an investigative

reporter, thirteen years before law enforcement solved it.

But it's also about a set of characters who I think would

be interesting even if they weren't caught up in such

a plot. (I wrote it in 1994 and 1995, and revised the

ending in 2003.)



for October 20, 2009

online exclusive

Where bin Laden is Hiding.
What My Own Research Shows.

In all likelihood, Osama bin Laden is hiding in
the Bajour border area of Pakistan (above),
around 50 miles from Peshawar. [map from the
government of Pakistan; not available online,
except here.]

According to my own independent research and reporting,

Osama bin Laden is probably currently around fifty

miles north of the Khyber Pass near the Afghanistan

border in Pakistan. The best evidence places him near

the Bajaur River in the Bajaur Agency section, one of

the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the

North-West Frontier Province.

It makes more sense than all other theories. The best

information says bin Laden was -- was -- living

in South Waziristan until recently. But a couple

years ago he was seen with bodyguards in

a single truck (not a convoy) traveling north to the Bajaur

region, according to the Asia Times Online.

Which also makes sense. That's where many of his comrades and

buddies from the Soviet-Afghanistan war are -- and they (more

than any group on the planet) regard him as a near deity who

they'll protect to the death. That's also the area from which

bin Laden and his soldiers staged many of their most brazen

and effective military maneuvers into Afghanistan against the

Soviets in the 1980s.

Bin Laden knows that turf very, very well, knows how to

fight (and to hide) in those mountains and passes and

valleys -- and he can use that knowledge and

experience to aid Taliban soldiers on both sides of the

border. (Being in Bajaur would also explain why

bin Laden's videos and audiotapes are always

promptly delivered -- by breathless courier! -- to

the Islamabad bureau of al Jazeera, a mere 90 miles

to the east. Bajaur would also give bin Laden

proximity, via Islamabad, to the medication and medical

equipment required to treat his kidney ailment.)

Further, Bajaur -- opium poppy country -- is one of seven

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan,

which grants the region a good deal of autonomy from

the Zardari government in Islamabad. And that means

Zardari can't get at bin Laden the way he could if he were

hiding in, say, Karachi.

That's because the leaders in the Bajaur Agency -- it's not a

province, not a district -- technically report to the Governor

(or the Chief Minister) of the North-West Frontier

Province (NWFP), one of the four provinces in Pakistan,

not to the president of the country. (Hence the term

"agency," as the governor is the president's agent

in the region.)

According to the loose rules of the game in the

FATA -- how much "autonomy" is granted to the

tribal areas is always a matter of dispute -- President

Obama should (arguably) be negotiating with the

governor of the NWFP, not with Zardari, to have

bin Laden arrested or killed.

Other theories about bin Laden's hiding place (put forward

by the CIA, academics and journalists) aren't quite

as convincing.

Intelligence experts and newspapers have recently

speculated that bin Laden is in Chitral. Not likely.

Chitral -- in Pakistan's far north, nestled in mountains

almost as tall as Mt. Everest -- is too far from bin

Laden's support network and has a population not nearly

as loyal to him as the mujahideen in Bajaur.

And for all its remoteness, Chitral still answers directly

to the Zardari government and its legal system, unlike

Bajaur. The roads and passes to Chitral may be closed

(by snow) for seven months of the year, and it may be

a long fifteen hour drive from Peshawar under good

conditions, but it's still closer to the long arm of the

federal government than is Bajaur.

There's another interesting theory, this one from two UCLA

geography profs -- Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew -- who

published their findings in an MIT journal; they try

to find quantifiable criteria by which to pin down bin Laden's

location (e.g., Osama's 6' 4", so he he'd need a building with high

ceilings; how many tall buildings in such and such tribal area

are there?; etc.).

Unfortunately, that analysis ignores, among other

things, the fact that he could well be hiding in an

underground bunker, a la Saddam Hussein. And the

UCLA/MIT study also leaves out the human element: bin

Laden, first and foremost, would want to be among

people who are fiercely loyal and will protect him; he certainly

wants close proximity to his support network; and,

psychologically, he's likely attracted to the area where

he achieved his greatest triumphs in the

Soviet-Afghan war. That place is Bajaur.

The UCLA team pins bin Laden's location to

Parachinar in the Kurram agency area, southwest

of Peshawar, another FATA. But in my view,

that's likely where bin Laden was, not is.

Why? First, there's too much internecine fighting in that

area for bin Laden to be as safe as he would be in Bajaur.

Second, as I mentioned above, bin Laden was seen leaving

that area a few years ago -- in a single vehicle, not in a

convoy -- and that might well have been when he relocated from

there to Bajaur. (Using a single truck, instead of

a more conspicuous multiple-vehicle caravan, suggests he's

risk averse and doesn't travel often; the witness

who supposedly saw him traveling probably saw him


One of the problems with capturing bin Laden is the nature

of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas themselves. They're

sort of mini-states, rogues that are not really answerable to

a central government anywhere. How long will it be before

one of them decides to secede from Pakistan altogether?

With plenty of poppy money in areas like Bajaur, secession might

be an easy move.

Zardari should move the trendline the other way and begin

the process of integrating the FATA regions into the NWFP, so

that there is greater federal control and accountability

in those areas -- and greater federal control of outlaws

like bin Laden who hide there.

It's not likely, as one theory speculates, that
bin Laden is hiding in Chitral, Pakistan (above).
His main support network is to the south. And medication
and medical equipment to treat his kidney disease
are not as accessible there.

* * *

The Olde Days of "West Pakistan," when
it was a 19-year-old nation (and 9-year old
bin Laden lived elsewhere). [Esso map from 1966]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- This column involves original research and

fresh thinking about where bin Laden is hiding. If

you are going to echo some of my ideas in print or

on television, please credit "freelance writer/reporter

Paul Iorio." Thank you



for October 15 - 18, 2009

Someone recently asked why I shelved by 2005 album

"About Myself."

Easy. It was recorded way too quickly. I learned

real fast that I can't record 52 songs in ten hours

and get the level of quality that I want.

Nowadays, I spend around a week on a single track!

Anyway, most of the songs I wrote for that album

I've since re-recorded for my "75 Songs" triple-CD (2008).

And since "75 Songs," I've released, in 2009, three

albums of brand new material: "The Riot Noise (Off

Avalon Green)," "Banned Music" and "Sittin' Around."

So 2005 is really ancient history for me, musically.

Still, if you're interested in the origins of the discontinued

"About Myself" album (and its quickie follow-up "Make a

Noise," aka, "Lime Green Celery"), here's the 411.

In 2005, an old pal from my high school days Bill Epps, who I

hadn't seen for 30 years, came to visit me -- and I played him

the cassette tape version of the "About Myself"

album, which included 52 of my own songs and which

I'd released in late '03 and early '04.

Well, he was knocked out and offered to finance a recording

session so that I could release my album on CD, and those

two sessions happened in Sept. 2005. In anticipation of

those sessions, I sent him tapes and lyric sheets of the

songs I'd written, and here're those letters (the first letter

was written to Bill in July '05, the second in August '05):

So there's the info (for anyone curious!). The lesson? Don't

try to record 52 songs in two short recording sessions! And

hope against hope that the guy who says he'll finance

your recording sessions isn't actually a swindler! (If Epps

is claiming (behind my back) that he wrote one note or

one word of any of my songs, he's a swindler.)

But I digress. Paul

[P.S. -- Inside baseball for a moment: the questions some smart

people are failing to ask (and the tell-tale clues, too):

"Bill, why don't you play us your own solo music? Why

isn't Bill focusing on his own stuff instead of on the

songs of others?" Hmm. I wonder why that would be. Maybe

that's because: as a writer, Bill is a terrific tech

support guy! If that's not true, then where's his own

good material? (Look, I wouldn't have to be so blunt if

he weren't being so dishonest behind my back.)]

P.S. -- I also long ago shelved my quickie follow-up to

"About Myself," 2007's "Make a Noise" (aka, "Lime Green

Celery"). Originally I released it on cassette tape

(and even in its cassette tape version, it was getting some

radio airplay!). Some of my 3-song single of '07 --

"Rich and Dumb"/"The Overwhelming Weight"/"You, Walking

Away" -- was getting radio airplay before it was even

on CD! Again, most of the songs I wrote for that album

I've since re-recorded for my "75 Songs" triple-CD (2008).

How did "The Overwhelming Weight (of the Water Blue Sky)" come

into existence? The title (and the rest of the song) came

to me on the way back from grocery shopping, and I wrote

the lyric on the back of a Safeway receipt dated October

21, 2006 (see below), the day the song was born! As I carried

home my groceries, this line went through

my head: "When the overwhelming weight of the water

blue sky comes crashing down." For months, all

I had was the chorus, and then a chord progression

emerged for the verses, and lyrics emerged from the melody.

Here is the grocery store receipt on which I wrote my

first inspiration for "The Overwhelming Weight" (below):



for October 13, 2009

As a journalist who has written and reported about

free speech and censorship issues for

newspapers and magazines since 1985, I find it

encouraging to see PEN and others join

to oppose Yale University Press's disgraceful

and cowardly censorship of Jytte Klausen's book

“The Cartoons That Shook the World" (see The Daily

Digression, August 14, 2009, below).

Now that Yale is letting religious

fundamentalists have partial editorial

control of the books the university publishes,

I've come up with a new, more appropriate

logo for Yale, which I'm presenting here (above).

* * * *

The Madrassas High School Yearbook Parody

The other day I was flipping through The National Lampoon's

landmark parody "The 1964 High School Yearbook Parody" (1974),

one of the funniest pieces of print humor published in the last 50 years.

As I re-read it, I began thinking how hilarious it would be to

create such a high school yearbook for a madrassas, showing how

various ancient deities and modern militants looked in their

teenage school years.

So here's a taste of what I came up with (using text and photos

from the '64 parody):

^ ^ ^

But I digress. Paul



for October 12, 2009

Bob Dylan: Night Two in Berkeley

Dylan's new album, "Christmas in the Heart," will be released
tomorrow. (All royalties, if there are any, will be donated to
tax deductible charity organizations!)

Bob Dylan's second consecutive show in Berkeley, Calif., last

night focused more on his latest album, "Together Through

Time," which he played half of. Unexpected stand-out was

the evocative "This Dream of You," setting the mood for

a show that was a bit more subdued and nuanced

than the previous night's gig (this was only the second

time he had ever performed that song).

Concert opened with a double blast of "Blonde on Blonde" --

an enjoyable "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat," an exciting "Stuck

Inside of Mobile" -- and then went into "Time Out of Mind"'s

"Trying to Get to Heaven," which didn't work as well as the

previous night's fabulous "Cold Irons Bound."

Also notable was an electric "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," which

had people on the stairs in the hills above the theater (where I

heard the show) dancing; that song is nearly a half-century old

yet it still sounds as modern as any new folk tune, its lyrics

about the threat of nuclear war as timely as ever.

The tour continues with three nights in Los Angeles starting

tomorrow before making its way to the east coast, with

final shows in New York next month, and it's well worth


I know people tend to take his shows for granted these

days -- he hasn't taken a full year off from touring since

1985, after all -- but they shouldn't, because he

wasn't always (and, one day, won't be) so ubiquitous.

My age group lived through a time -- let's call it The

Great Dylan Drought (oh, what youthful deprivation!) -- when,

for seven-and-a-half years (the equivalent of two

presidential terms, virtually), Dylan performed

almost no concerts. And there will surely come a

time -- certainly by the 2020s, if not before -- when he'll

simply be too old to perform. So enjoy him while you can!

But I digress. Paul



for October 11, 2009

Last Night's Bob Dylan Concert

Above, my very first Bob Dylan concert (April 1976)! Here, Dylan jams
with Roger McGuinn on the Rolling Thunder Revue.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Pop music does not get any better than the

stuff played last night at the Greek Theater in

Berkeley, Calif., by Bob Dylan and his band.

It was, without a doubt, the best concert I've heard

by anyone since Radiohead's gigs in 2006 and the Rolling

Stones' shows of '05.

I was, frankly, very pleasantly surprised. Over the decades, I've

seen my share of unremarkable Dylan shows, but this was

not one of them. At times, the music was nothing short of 100% fun.

The joys here were considerable, among them:

Dylan's first performance in over six years of "Mama, You Been

On My Mind," an outtake from "Another Side of Bob Dylan"

(though better choices from "Another Side" would have been

the unjustly forgotten "Black Crow Blues" and "Spanish Harlem

Incident," the only two I ever go back to on the 4th album).

Another highlight was "The Man in Me," which was upbeat

here, though so mournful (or at least melancholy) on "New Morning."

But this show made me re-think that 40-year-old track

and why it was mournful in the first place,

given the uplift in the part that goes,

"Oh, what a wonderful feeling..." Last night I

realized it's not a downbeat tune, after all.

Fascinating that a lot of his snarly, bitter

songs of the past are now infused with a sort of

good-timey, satisfied vibe that was notably absent

from the original recordings.

In recent years, let's face it, Dylan has

clearly discovered happiness, or at least

he gives that impression in his music.

I mean, the peak of the night was arguably

the pure fun of "Spirit on the Water," an unexpected

delight and outright triumph that had almost

everyone smiling and tapping their feet

-- and breaking into spontaneous applause

during the verse "You think, I'm over the

hill/Think, I'm past my prime." (Crowd

enthusiasm was everywhere, even in the

hills above the theater where I heard the show.)


And "Spirit" is, of course, not a Sixties classic but

from his astonishingly fertile post-1997 period,

a late career comeback that has completely

re-written the book on his oeuvre.

Almost 50 years after he arrived in the Village from

Dinkytown, we can now see the nearly final shape of Dylan's

Picasso-esque career, and there are four distinct peaks:

his first eight albums, where most of the classics are; his

1970s resurgence, from "Planet Waves" to "Street Legal,"

his second best period; his gospel and post-gospel period,

from "Slow Train Coming' to "World Gone Wrong," his least

satisfying years; and his post-'97 resurgence, from

"Time Out of Mind" to "Christmas in the Heart," a holiday

album being released this Tuesday.

Inexplicably, it's his 1970s work that is

missing-in-action on this tour. Dylan has performed

nothing from the "Planet Waves"/"Blood on

the Tracks"/"Desire"/"Street Legal" albums since

July (except for a single performance of "Forever

Young" last August). Yet that's some of his very

best work; you'd think "Forever Young" and

"Tangled Up in Blue," at the very least, would be

permanent parts of his setlist.

Meanwhile, he has re-worked some of his Sixties

classics in the style of his post-'97 material;

"Ballad of a Thin Man," for example, fits well with his

new style of creating verses by splitting simple lines in half

for maximum impact (as shown on such recent

tunes as "Highlands" and "Nettie Moore");

"Thin Man" almost sounded like a "Time Out of Mind" track,

not a bad thing.

Dylan's 2009 concerts have been structured something like a Rolling

Stones show; sets by both acts end with a fixed batch of five or six

classics ("Satisfaction"/"Jumpin' Jack Flash," etc. in the Stones's

case; "Like a Rolling Stone"/"All Along the Watchtower," etc. in


But both acts always reshuffle the deck in the first half,

adding and subtracting obscurities and surprise selections to sometimes

thrilling effect ("All Down the Line" instead of "Bitch," in the Stones's case;

"The Man in Me" instead of 'Visions of Johanna," in Dylan's).

And the structure works, with the best parts being

the less predictable ones in the first half.

All told, I came away from the show in a terrific mood,

as if I had just seen a great ball game that my

team had won. And I woke up wide awake this morning.

But I digress. Paul



for October 10, 2009

Last Night's Jason Mraz Concert

Last night's concert by Jason Mraz was his second

at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif., in a year,

and since I covered the previous one (see the Nov. 3, 2008,

Digression, below) I won't go on at length here about

last night's gig.

This show was sort of Mraz's victory lap for the

success of his latest album, "We Sing. We Dance. We

Steal Things," now a year-and-a-half old. When he was

at the Greek last November, his breakthrough hit, "I'm

Yours," was at number ten on the Billboard charts, and

the shrieks of fans were wild when he played it.

He performed that one here, too, and the fans still shrieked

a bit (even in the hills above the theater, where I heard the

gig); the tune already has the familiarity of a song that's

been around for decades.

Elsewhere, Mraz's predilection for the great pop singles

of around 40 years ago was also in evidence once more;

last year he did an exuberant cover of The Foundations' "Build

Me Up, Buttercup"; last night he performed a terrific

version of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" (a very

seductive pop song, except for those lousy religious lyrics!).

Opening for Mraz was folk-rocker Brett Dennen,

whose influences range from Paul Simon's "Graceland" period

to Dave Matthews and Counting Crows; his best song here was

"Heaven," from his "Hope for the Hopeless" album, which he

also performed on last night's David Letterman show (an

appearance he plugged from the stage last night).

Starting out the evening was the promising singer-songwriter

Robert Francis whose songs at times recalled Arcade Fire circa


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Regarding today's assault by Hakimullah Mehsud's

Taliban on Pakistan's army headquarters: I told

ya so (see: the Digression, "The Joker is Wild...and Alive,"

October 6, below). As today's attack shows, the real

threat in that region is the possibility of a coup

by Mehsud. Today's takeover was almost a rough draft

of a coup. If that were to happen, and it could,

the U.S. would be in a nuclear conflict in Pakistan within

weeks. Zardari had better examine the backgrounds of the

officers in his military and root out those with strong

Taliban loyalties (the fact that they are helping him

in Kashmir should not blind him to the reality that they

are also trying to wrest power from him). President

Obama: save your surge for the day when we will have

to use American troops to extract Mehsud from power in




for October 9, 2009

To those who say President Obama is undeserving of the Nobel

Peace Prize, I ask....compared to who? (Morgan Tsvangirai?




for October 6, 2009

The Joker is Wild -- and Still Alive!

Roll over, bin Laden, there's a new
deadly new
snake in Waziristan.

Yeah, he's as dangerous as he looks. Two years ago, he captured 300 Pakistani

soldiers (and officers) and held them hostage until his demands were met -- and

military experts are still trying to figure out how he pulled it off. He's

fond of driving to the edge of cliffs at high speeds, stopping inches before

a steep drop and then laughing like some celluloid villain

from an action movie, according to a BBC reporter who saw such

a thing happen first-hand.

Meet Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of Pakistan's Taliban.

Still in his twenties, he would be in charge of his nation's

nukes, if he ever managed to stage a coup and topple Zardari.

Last week, newspaper reports claimed he had been

killed in a military skirmish. But over the weekend, he

proved reports of his death were highly exaggerated, as he

held a sometimes jokey press conference in South Waziristan,

showing he was not only still alive but in good humor, too (one report

said he showed reporters a laptop video of a jihadist comedian

telling jokes).

South Waziristan is Mehsud's home turf. Born there (near the

hick town of Jandola). And he's a pure product of the local madrassas,

where he wasn't taught biology or algebra or Gandhi or Galileo but

was schooled in the Koran, the Koran and -- also -- the Koran.

He learned stuff like: "God's curse be upon the infidels," "God is the

enemy of the unbelievers," "Theirs shall be a woeful punishment"

and "God does not guide the unbelievers." In short, a well-rounded


One report says there are more than 12,000 Taliban jihadists, armed

like an army, in the mountains and caves of South Waziristan,

and they all report to Mehsud. Perhaps this is where the U.S.

should focus, at least covertly, while we wage explicit battle

against Mehsud's Taliban comrades on the Afghan side of the border.

The Taliban, of course, has been the traditional protector

and supporter of al Qaeda and are almost certainly

protecting and supporting bin Laden now in Pakistan.

(Remember Bob Woodward's famous 2001 report in the

Washington Post exposing the Taliban as a "wholly-owned

subsidiary of bin Laden" "owned and operated"

by al Qaeda, and noting that bin Laden helped to

prop up Mullah Omar's Taliban regime by giving it

more than a hundred million dollars.)

Right now, the U.S. seems more concerned with

Ahmadinejad developing nukes, and we shouldn't be.

Iran and North Korea are, unfortunately, the world's next

nuclear armed nations. Period. Sanctions won't

stop them. And both nations know no country would

dare use military force against them.

No, the U.S. and U.N. will have to swallow hard and

accept (either now or later) the fact that the nuclear

club has two new members. We must understand a truth:

it matters less which nations have nuclear weapons than which leaders are

running those nations. Nations are not fixed entities. They are

only as benevolent or as malevolent as their leadership.

Gemany under Merkel is a progressive ally; Germany

under Hitler was a different beast altogether. Pakistan

with nukes is not dangerous -- now. Under Zardari, the

stockpile is safe. But if Mehsud were to ascend to power

there, we would probably be seeing mushroom clouds

shortly thereafter.

The crucial question about proliferation is not whether Iran

will soon have nukes; it's whether the nukes

of Pakistan will soon be controlled by someone like Mehsud.

* * * * *

What the Zazi Plot Inadvertently Reveals About al Qaeda

The Najibullah Zazi case -- he's the militant who was

apparently planning to detonate a peroxide bomb in New York

City -- inadvertently gives us brand new information about

al Qaeda. Here are nine things Zazi's plot tells us or implies:

1. The Zazi plot tells us we were right: bin Laden is probably

in northwest Pakistan; it stands to reason that bin Laden and

his support network (the people who invited Zazi to Peshawar)

wouldn't be so far removed from one another.

2. There's a really good chance that Zazi knows damn well where

Osama bin Laden is hiding. He was at al Qaeda training camps

last Fall as a trusted recruit, talking with people who had been

in contact with bin Laden. That's why we need to be, uh, very

persuasive with this guy (though, as Jeffrey Toobin wrote in

TNY, don't go pulling out the waterboard; you'll just

jeopardize your own prosecution).

3. Al Qaeda is probably learning from the Zazi failure

right now. What must al Qaeda be thinking right now about Zazi's

arrest? Well, at first, obviously, they were surely thinking:

dammit, they caught Zazi! When that phase passed, they started

thinking: hmm, Zazi wouldn't have been arrested or even suspected

if he had been buying all those beauty supplies for the

purpose of...opening a beauty salon. Next time we do this,

if we try the same line, we'll use somebody who owns or

wants to open a beauty shop, because then he would have a

legit reason to buy gallons and gallons of explosives.

4. The Zazi plot tells us al Qaeda apparently has not been

able to bring explosives on ships into American ports (or

they would have tried it). And note that they did not

even attempt to have Zazi smuggle bomb ingredients on his

plane flight home, which suggests new airline

security measures are working, inhibiting them from trying

that route.

5. The Zazi plot suggests al Qaeda is still operating on a DIY

level. I mean, 9/11 was a really low budget affair; bin Laden

didn't have to build missiles or warheads or send boats or

troops; he simply had people cutters, available

at the local hardware store for $4.99. Al Qaeda likes

to play with commonly available materials and to find

ways to game security systems.

Such was also the case with the Zazi plot. Zazi was not

trying to assemble a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb when

he was caught. If his al Qaeda trainers in Peshawar

had access to radioactive material, can you imagine they

wouldn't have found a way to supply him with it?

6. Al Qaeda is now reduced to recruiting young,

unskilled amateurs. Clearly, they couldn't enlist a

professional chemist or engineer for the

peroxide bomb project. Zazi was sloppily going on the

Internet trying to learn how to mix peroxide with acetone.

(Keep in mind that eight years ago, the 9/11 hijackers

took time to develop a technical skill, piloting, that

enabled them to carry out their plot.)

7. Yes, unfortunately, our worst fears are true about mosques

harboring militants in America. If there is another al

Qaeda cell in the U.S. right now, it is, sad to say, probably

being protected by members of a mosque somewhere. Which

means the JTFF should probably -- sensitively -- step

up its infiltration and scrutiny of mosques in America.

8. New York City remains the main target for al

Qaeda, because they can easily rack up a large body count

with an attack on such a huge vertical city.

9. The eight years since 9/11 haven't diminished al

Qaeda's obsession with killing Americans on U.S. soil.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Almost every week, it seems, somebody asks me about

or comments on a song I've written, and I'm very glad when

my stuff connects with someone. In the last few days,

someone has been curious about "BAYONET SKY," which

I wrote in 1998 in Los Angeles, first released in 2003

on cassette tape, released on CD in 2006 (for my

now-discontinued "About Myself" album), and then

released (for good!) on my "75 Songs" album last year.

How did I come up with it? My influences were two:

the Who (that's where I got the anger!) and Lawrence

Ferlinghetti (one of his poems had the word "bayonet"

on one line and the word "concrete sky" on the next

line, I think, and so my mind suddenly created

"bayonet sky"). It has not changed a bit since I wrote

it on my couch on Detroit Street in Los Angeles in

'98, and I still enjoy playing it.

Another song of mine people have been curious about

is my more recent tune "THE DAY WHEN THE EARTHQUAKE COMES"

(and some seem to like my line "stocking up on tuna and low


How did that one come about? Since I always email my songs

to myself right after I write them, there is no mystery about

its evolution. I came up with "Earthquake" on July 24, 2009,

after having a couple beers and playing guitar alone in my

apartment. I was in a loose mood, hit a Ray Davies-ish groove,

and the song came tumbling out, almost whole. My original

line was "stocking up on tuna and more vegetation." Then,

on July 25, I changed it to "stocking up on tuna and no

vegetation," and it stayed that way until August 12, 2009, when

I finally changed the line to "stocking up on tuna and low vegetation."

And it works nicely, I think. Glad some people enjoy it.



for October 5, 2009

Photographer Marcopoulos, Ex-Warholite, is Gold at BAM

Also at BAM: Warhol's "Vote McGovern."

If you're in Berkeley, Calif., run, do not walk, to

see the exhibition of photography by Ari Marcopoulos at

the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). This former assistant to

Andy Warhol shoots photos that are as fascinating and

original and striking as those by any other photographer

of his generation. I was so taken by his pictures

that I went through the collection once and then walked

through a second time just for the enjoyment. There are

dreamers in bedrooms, surreal ice, complexity in simplicity,

Alaska and Iran as you've never seen them and, everywhere,

people, characters you care about, as close as you can come

to photographing a pysche, in some cases. Check it out

at BAM (through Feb. 7, 2010).

* * *

Speaking of Andy Warhol, BAM has a couple obscure and

unusual works by him on display: "Race Riot," an adaptation

of a photo of a 1963 riot in Birmingham, Ala.; and

"Vote McGovern" (1972) (above).

* * *

While I'm on the subject of photography, here's one of

my own that I shot a few weeks ago in San Francisco

(that's Alcatraz in the distance):

San Francisco, split by a traffic sign. [photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Just caught tonight's Next Big Thing on KALX. As

always, interesting stuff via Marshall Stax. Enjoyed

iamoneiamoneiamone. Loved the title "Swinger's Wig."

NBT is must-hear radio (particularly for A&R people -- and

for anyone else who likes to hear new and emerging

acts before everyone else hears 'em!).



for October 3 - 4, 2009

Is the Hardly Strictly Fest More Popular Than Jesus?

There were so many people at the fest that
this was the closest I came to seeing John Prine!
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Back when the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music fest in San

Francisco (which, by the way, is not a strictly bluegrass fest)

was an insider secret, it was even more fun than it is now. In

the old days -- up until last year, in fact -- you could

saunter right up to the stage in Golden Gate Park on a

lazy Friday afternoon and see and photograph folk and pop

icons like Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello,

John Mellencamp and Jeff Tweedy. As if they were playing

in your own backyard.

But then word got out. Suddenly, this Garbo of music

fests -- mostly unadvertised, the brainchild of banjo playing

entrepreneur Warren Hellman, and (best of all) free of charge

to all -- became (what's the word?) crowded. Somewhere

along the way it turned into the Can't-Hardly-See-the-Stage fest.

I mean, last year I walked right to the front of the stage and

saw every bead of sweat on Robert Plant's face. This year, from

a distance, on my toes, I saw John Prine in what I think was a

black jacket.

That said, Prine, kicking off this year's fest with Lyle Lovett,

was in fine voice yesterday, singing some of his greatest

songs ("Paradise," "Angel from Montgomery," "Picture Show,"

etc.), as some boomers in their fifties and sixties in the

crowd sang along to every single word as if they were

singing along to hymns.

Concert reminded me what a terrific writer Prine is,

his ability to cut-through-the-crap almost punkish

lyrically, though musically I sorta wish he'd consider

collaborating with a more unconventional musical

partner like, say, Jeff Tweedy, who might move him

into more formally unpredictable musical


Preceding him was Tom Morello, who performed an

interesting, partly-hip hop version of Woody Guthrie's

"This Land," calling it the alternative national anthem

(which is also what I said in my Digression of August

3, 2009 (below), and what others have noted, too). And

truly, Guthrie's tune resonates like few others. (It

seems every concert I attend these days -- from last

summer's Counting Crows's gig in Berkeley (which

closed with "This Land") to Wilco's show a couple

months ago (featuring "California Stars") -- includes

something by Woody.

By the way, what's the formal procedure for changing

the national anthem in the U.S.? Do citizens petition

the Congress or does the president introduce a bill to

change it? Whatever the route, perhaps we should seize

the national zeitgeist right now and take the opportunity

to give ourselves a first-class anthem instead

of that god-awful unsingable "Star Spangled Banner."

(But I digress.)

Anyhoo, regrettably, I couldn't stay to hear Lyle Lovett,

though I do hope to check out some of the rest of the fest,

which runs through Sunday (upcoming highlights include Marshall

Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, Dar Williams and World Party, all

on Saturday!).

Here's how big the crowd was in the hour before Lovett's set!
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Some people listened to the music from this pond near
the stage in Golden Gate Park [photo by Paul Iorio].
[By the way, I snapped this pic yesterday evening, after Prine's
set, and am presenting it here without any adjustment or
enhancement (not even contrast adjustment). The light in the
park was unusual late yesterday.]

* * * *

Re: Rio's Win

Perhaps Denmark thought America, with its strange new

priorities in extradition, might have been too dicey

a place for international athletes to congregate.

* * * *

When the Workplace Turns From a Meritocracy to a Fellatio-tocracy

Yes, it's sad and bad that David Letterman was the

victim of an extortion plot, which all

reasonable people condemn. And this distraction comes

at a time when Letterman is, frankly, funnier than

he has ever been. I watch him almost every night

and laugh and laugh.

But -- hate to bring this up -- the fact that he had

affairs with staffers who reported to him

is not an insubstantial thing. And not for the predictable

reasons either.

Have you ever worked in an office where a colleague is

sleeping with the boss? I have. Many years ago I worked

for a company (which will go unnamed) where the top person

was screwing a female staffer, and everybody knew it,

and everybody knew how unfair it was.

It wasn't unfair to her -- she was having a high ol' time

as the beneficiary of the boss's favors, in and out of

the bedroom. It was unfair to staffers like me, whose

work was bumped in favor of her substandard stuff,

who never had business trip expenses paid the way

hers were, etc. (People would look at her writing and

say, "She sucks!" And she did suck -- the boss!)

I mean how do you fairly handle issues like employee performance

evaluations if it's well known that the boss is having sex with

that employee? Imagine the manager who is charged with writing

up an evaluation on such a staffer; there would obviously be

implicit pressure to give the person an A rating when

she merits a C.

What if Birkitt came in chronically late and missed

meetings? Imagine the implicit pressure on the manager to not

report that for a performance evaluation.

Imagine the talented "Late Show" writer who has paid his

dues, worked his butt off, and wants a shot at writing

a "Top Ten" list, only to find that his funny "Top Ten"

lists get scuttled in favor of mediocre stuff by an intern

who Letterman is screwing?

That's who the victims are in this case: the staffers

whose careers were put at a disadvantage because of

advantages given to Letterman's paramours.

It creates an atmosphere of favoritism and unfairness, a

tendency to grant someone like Birkitt advantages that

others aren't getting, because there's

always the unspoken threat in an affair that the woman

will start talking. So if Letterman had angered Birkitt

by, say, rejecting one of her on-camera sketch proposals,

there would be a risk that she might be mad enough to

leak word of the affair. Hence, she almost certainly

got more airtime than worthier contenders who

weren't given such a shot onscreen.

Further, suppose Letterman had made a sexual pass to

one of the female writers, and she said, no, thank you,

Dave. In the wake of such an interaction, all decisions

regarding that employee become tainted, suspect; it

would be impossible to see pure and professional

motives when the woman's sketches and "Top Ten" lists

start getting rejected and performance evaluations

about her become transparently unfair or excessively harsh.

Such affairs transform the workplace from a meritocracy to

a fellatio-tocracy!

Most of the talk about the Letterman affair has, wrongly,

been about whether such actions violate some code of

workplace etiquette. And his supporters note, irrelevantly,

that Birkitt and the others have not filed a lawsuit or

even a complaint against Letterman. (I can imagine

that Birkitt would not see herself as a victim; she

got a lot of airtime (that she wouldn't have otherwise

had) out of the relationship.)

But that's not the point. The people who should be filing

lawsuits are the other staffers whose careers were

stunted because Letterman was giving preferential

treatment to his lovers.

That said, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure that I would

fare better than Letterman if I were in Letterman's

position. Let's face it: some women are incredibly

desirable, downright irresistible -- and nobody's

immune to desire.

* * * *

People really seem to be picking up on my song "Paradox"

lately -- thanks to all who have emailed me praising it.

(I like it, too!) It began life as an instrumental I wrote

in January 2009 (the instr is on my "Banned Music" album,

in fact). Then in the spring of '09, I wrote a melody

and lyric about various everyday paradoxes, and that's

how the song came about. I should note that in 2003, I

wrote another song with the same sort of theme called

"Backfire" and released the song on a cassette tape album

in '03. I was going to put it on my now-defunct "About Myself"

album in '05, but decided against it. Instead, I plan

to release "Backfire" on the much-delayed fourth disc

of "75 Songs," which I've been recording for awhile.

(Probably 2010 for that one; I'm too busy writing

brand new songs.)

But I digress. Paul



for September 30, 2009

Listen to Paul Iorio talking with Roman Polanski at

More on Polanski

Prosecuting the Swingin' Sixties? Not Quite, But...

Well, it's now quite obvious that Obama is not going to

grant clemency to Roman Polanski. No way, no how. And

it's also obvious that he would be a political pariah

if he did.

But that just shows what a sorry state we've come to in

the U.S.A. It's hard to believe that a president would

be less of a pariah for releasing a guilty terrorist

at Guantanamo than for releasing a world class

film director for a crime committed a third of a century ago.

The other day in this space I wrote that

Polanski should get the same level of leniency

given to released Guantanamo detainees. Another

writer, in a thoughtful but wrongheaded commentary,

subsequently offered another Polanski-Gitmo analysis,

saying the U.S. can't tell the Swiss to ignore the

law just as America is insisting on enforcing the

rule of law at Gitmo.

That analysis is off. Truth is,

the U.S. is applying excessive leniency at

Guantanamo by not applying the "preponderance of

evidence" standard of proof for the inmates there,

who are being released and are, in way too many

cases, returning to the battlefield to fight

for al Qaeda.

The law should always conform to common sense,

not vice versa. There is something wrong on a

very basic level with releasing a Gitmo inmate

like Abdullah Mehsud, who, mere months later,

returned to his job killing innocent civilians for

al Qaeda (he went on to bomb a hotel, for crissakes!).

And the legal experts who get too deep in the details and

urge the release of a Mehsud because of some

technicality -- because an affidavit wasn't signed

on time and in triplicate -- are ignoring

a central fact: the man is guilty of homicide.

And worse than that, he's a continuing threat to society.

Polanski, on the other hand, is no threat to society and

makes brilliant artworks that move culture forward. Further,

his victim insists she was more a victim of the judge

than of Polanski's actions.

What practical purpose would be served by

reconvening the tabloid circus in L.A.?

What Polanski did in the 1970s to Samantha Geimer was

indefensible, no question about that. But, truth be told,

such misbehavior was not considered nearly as serious

in 1977 as it is today. (It's almost a metaphor: in 1977,

you could smoke in your office at work; in 2009, you

can't even smoke outside your office building.)

It's almost -- almost -- like we're prosecuting an era, the

Swingin' Sixties. If one lives long enough, it seems, almost

everything one did decades ago will gradually become

illegal, even felonious. If Thomas Jefferson had lived

to 110, he might have been prosecuted (or at least persecuted)

for having had slaves in the early 19th century, even though

everybody, even progressives, were backward in that same way

in those days. If baby boomers live long enough, almost

everything they did recreationally in the Sixties and

Seventies will be bumped up to the felony level.

For a moment, let's take ourselves out of both the 1970s and

the 2000s and imagine the Polanski case as seen from the

year 2209. Let's assume that Polanski is considered, as he

is now, one of the seminal visual artists of his century, on par

with such Renaissance masters as Caravaggio and


Let's look at the case of Caravaggio. He killed and assaulted

people. He was incorrigibly violent. Nobody then or now

would seriously suggest that Caravaggio shouldn't have been

imprisoned for a long time -- whether he was an artistic genius

or not.

On the other hand, Leonard da Vinci had an affair with an

underaged model at Verrocchio's studio early in his career,

and the Florentine authorities were going to put him in

prison for sodomy, which would have ended his career early

and deprived the human race of major works of art and science.

But instead, in a decision that history has

applauded for centuries, the powers-that-be in Firenze

declined to press charges against him, and Leonardo

went free.

Polanski's crime was far closer to Leonardo's than to

Caravaggio's. And the people of the 2200s will probably look

back at the olde days of 2009 and at how we treated one of

our greatest artists and say, "Yes, they did the right thing in

letting him live his final years in freedom, the way the

Florentines freed Leonardo." Or they might say, "They were

way too harsh with someone who had done so much to move

culture forward."

And his contributions to society and to his profession

do matter in considering this case. (If an oncologist

on the verge of curing melanoma had an affair

with a 17-year old student, he would (and should) be

treated differently by the court than an unemployed

drunk who committed the same crime. For obvious reasons.)

If Polanski's crimes were as serious as Caravaggio's, his

artistic stature wouldn't matter a bit. He would have to

go to jail, no matter what the mitigating factors. But

his transgressions are more like Leonardo's, and

because his talent is far bigger than his crime (and for

other reasons), there should be leniency.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Today is the 2,941st day that Osama bin Laden has eluded
arrest for the mass murders of 9/11.



for September 29, 2009

My Rebuttal to Tomorrow's Editorial on Polanski in The New York Times

Here's is an editorial on the Roman Polanski case that appears

in tomorrow's edition of The New York Times; my comments on

the editorial are in red caps:

Roman Polanski was arrested on Saturday at the Zurich airport
on an American-issued warrant. But to hear the protests from the
French, the Poles and other Europeans, you might have thought the
filmmaker was seized by some totalitarian regime for speaking truth
to power.

“Judicial lynching,” said Jack Lang, the former French culture minister.
“Absolutely horrifying,” echoed the current French culture minister,
Frédéric Mitterrand. “Provocation!” shouted Andrzej Wajda and other
Polish filmmakers. From across Europe, nearly 100 representatives of
the entertainment industry, including Pedro Almodóvar and Wim
Wenders, signed a petition declaring themselves “dismayed” by the arrest,
especially since it happened at the time of the Zurich Film Festival.

But hold on a moment. After being indicted in 1977, didn’t Mr. Polanski,
now 76, confess to having sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her
with Quaaludes and Champagne? Didn’t he flee the United States when
the plea bargaining seemed to fall apart, raising the prospect of prison time?
Isn’t there a warrant for his arrest? [WARRANTS ARE NEVER

There was something strange about the Swiss deciding to arrest the
director now, after having let him freely move in and out of the country for
three decades. And a 2008 documentary by Marina Zenovich, “Roman
Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” raised some troubling questions about
the bizarre way a celebrity-hungry judge in California, Laurence Rittenband,
handled the case.

Yet where is the injustice [WHERE IS THE VICTIM?] in bringing to justice
someone who pleads guilty to statutory rape and then goes on the lam,
no matter how talented he may be? [YOU ACT LIKE THE JUSTICE

In Europe, the prevailing mood — at least among those with access to
the news media — seemed to be that Mr. Polanski has already “atoned
for the sins of his young years,” as Jacek Bromski, the chief of the Polish
Filmmakers Association, put it.

We disagree strongly, and we were glad to see other prominent Europeans
beginning to point out that this case has nothing to do with Mr. Polanski’s
about an adult preying on a child [A CHILD WHO HAS SINCE GROWN
HERE.). Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty to that crime and must

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Today is the 2,940th day that Osama bin Laden has eluded
arrest for the mass murders of 9/11.



for September 27, 2009


Why Obama Should Grant Clemency To Polanski

Why Shouldn't Polanski Receive the Same Leniency Given to
Scores of Released Gitmo Detainees?

The Swiss authorities may have overstepped in arresting

film director Roman Polanski last night on a 31-year old

warrant but that doesn't mean President Obama has to go

along with it. Obama could step in right now and grant

clemency to Polanski, ending the further

victimization of a cinematic genius who has suffered

more than enough in his lifetime, first at the hands of

the Nazis and then via the Manson gang.

Already I hear the talk, justified or not, in the Hollywood

community: shouldn't Polanski be granted

the same level of leniency that Obama is giving to the scores

of released detainees at Guantanamo (who -- and I hate to

mention this -- are returning to the al Qaeda fold

in too many cases)? [Oh, I know, I can hear it now: "there's

a huge difference yada yada yada." Yeah, there is a

huge difference: Polanski poses no threat to society,

most of the Gitmo detainees do.]

The reasons for clemency (if not an outright pardon)? The case

against Polanski is deeply flawed, and new evidence has

recently come to light about malfeasance committed by

the disqualified judge in the case. Plus, Polanski is

advanced in years and -- far from being a threat to

anyone -- is a pillar of the film community, as the

presidents of both France (his home) and Poland

(his birthplace) have noted since his arrest.

Extradition itself would be a disproportionate punishment

in this instance.

Obama can and should correct this injustice and allow

Polanski, who has contributed so much to the cultural

richness of the world, to live his final years and decades

in freedom.

* * * *

How long will it be before we start seeing these bumper stickers?

Impeach S t e v e C o o l e y
Los Angeles District Attorney
Could angry Polanski backers spark a Recall Cooley movement in L.A.?

* * *

P.S. -- By the way, since I mentioned Guantanamo: what do

I suggest we do with the detainees at Gitmo? We should close

Gitmo, transfer each detainee to either a civilian or military

court in the U.S. and try them using the "preponderance of

evidence" standard of proof we use for mililtary cases,

rather than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. Because

the alleged crimes are too serious to allow even one

guilty inmate to go free. The U.S. is currently in the absurd

position of releasing guys like Abdullah Mehsud and Mohammed

Ismail, only to find that they're now on the battlefield

near Kandahar killing our troops.

* * *

By now, everyone knows new SNLer Jenny Slate accidentally

used the word "fuck" on the air last night when talking

to Kristen Wiig (which has been my dream for a long

time -- just joking!). But seriously, folks, isn't it

time we changed the rules about late-night free speech?

This is 2009. Maybe it's time to revise the FCC rules

a bit. I mean, what would be wrong with allowing people

to say the word "fuck" on broadcast television after, say,

midnight and before 5am? Maybe Slate's slip will

spur changes in the Standards & Practices dept.

But I digress. Paul



for September 26, 2009

The Grand Central Bomber

Naji, who seems to have come real close to detonating
a bomb at Grand Central Station, lives at 22959 E. Smoky
Hill Road in Aurora, Colorado (in case someone wants to
help him move his stuff from his apartment).

Do you realize how close we came to a newspaper headline

reading: "Grand Central Station Bombed; Over 1,500 Feared

Dead, Thousands Injured; Al Qaeda Link Probed"?

Do you realize how close this came to happening on President

Obama's watch?

One of the most progressive regimes in American history

is now in power, and yet the jihadist threat to the U.S.

homeland remains undiminished, even inflamed.

It seems there is no amount of conciliation that could

possibly placate religious absolutists who think

all non-believers are infidels who must be either

converted or killed.

The latest jihadist plot rivals 9/11 -- and it almost happened.

The facts seem to point unmistakably to the following scenario:

A guy named Najibullah Zazi (nicknamed "Naji") and several of

his religulous buddies were prepariing to park a U-Haul

truck, with a peroxide bomb in it, next to Grand Central Station

in New York. And then they were going to set it off, killing

or wounding everybody at Grand Central, including (but not

limited to) mothers carrying their babies, underpaid office

workers, cripples on crutches, janitors, and probably a few

devout Muslims and pro-Palestinians, too.

Naji even traveled to the Muslim-redneck city of Peshawar

last fall for a few months, learning from al Qaeda members

how to build and detonate such a bomb. When he came back

to America last January, he moved from Parsons Blvd. in

Flushing to East Ontario Drive in Aurora, Colorado, before

finally moving to his current residence on East Smoky

Hill Road, from which he is now being evicted.

But while in Flushing, Naji made friends who helped him in his

mass murder plot. Friends like cabbie Naiz Khan (I think his

address is 3720 81st St. in Jackson Heights, Queens) who

was seen trying to rent a U-Haul truck around the time Naji

was a-drivin' into town from Aurora to spend the night

with Khan in Queens.

Another Flushing bud of Naji's was an imam at a Queens

mosque (address: 141 - 47 33rd Ave., in Flushing) named

Ahmad Wais Afzail, who tipped off Naji that the FBI was

suspicious of him. (I tried to call the president of the

mosque, Abdul Rahman Jalili, to ask him

why he hired such an imam, whether he would condemn the

actions of Afzail and of Naji if the accusations were proved

true. I also wanted to ask if he is investigating whether

others in his mosque are involved in such plots. But, alas,

the mosque's phone answering machine had reached its limit

of messages.)

More on this later.

* * *

As If Spinal Tap Never Happened

First things first: I personally like Sammy Hagar. I spoke

with him at length in the 1980s when he had just replaced

David Lee Roth in Van Halen. Very natural, amiable


But his new band Chickenfoot should really consider

changing its name to Chickenshit. Because, judging from

the part of the concert I heard last night in Berkeley, Calif.,

it's a terrible band, its music packed with the most generic

metal and hard rock cliches.

At times, it sounded like I was listening to an

industrial noise site where workers were screaming

over the din, the overamplification being as bad

as anything I've experienced. (Don't get me wrong:

I'm a fan of overamplification, but only if what is

being over-amped is good to begin with. This wasn't.)

Even outside the open-air theater in the

hills, where I heard it, you had to shout to be heard.

I mean, the deer were putting their hooves over their

ears as they galloped away to Grizzly Peak. Even the

mountain lions were traumatized. Even terrorists

were driven away by the extreme volume. Birds started

flying south for the winter early. Smart Cal students

in their dorms probably thought Spinal Tap had

touched down on campus.

But, truth be told, the fans ate it up, every bit of it.

And at least for this one night at this one venue, my

view was not shared by many others.

* * * *

New Theory About the Finale of "The Sopranos"

Re-watched the final episodes of "The Sopranos" last week

and came upon something I hadn't seen before in the

now legendary last scene of the last episode.

If you look closely, the makers of the final episode are

playing with numbers near the end. They show a picture

of a football player with a jersey that reads number 38,

and the camera lingers on it (at the fifty-four minute

mark). Then, a couple minutes later, when we see Meadow's

car, we see her license plate, cropped tightly to show

the number 39 (at the fifty-eight minute point).

As we know, David Chase doesn't use his camera shots

loosely. He obviously wanted to convey some sort of meaning

by showing the numbers 38 and 39 in sequence like that.

Could he be alluding to the 38th and 39th episodes of "The

Sopranos," in which Jackie Aprile is murdered? Could he

be implying that retribution for Jackie's killing was in

the works at that diner? (There are other echoes of

the 38th and 39th episodes in the finale, as

when Carmela discourages her son from joining the military

(in #38 they were considering putting him

in military school.) There's also the Gloria subplot

in 38/39 (in which a hitman says, the last face you'll see

is mine, not Tony's). And the last face we see is Tony's.

What does all this mean? Dunno. The finale remains a


But I digress. Paul



for September 23, 2009

OK, I've just finished compiling another batch

of interviews that I've conducted with pop culture

icons over the decades. I've posted the

Q&A excerpts here for all to hear:

In this group are my one-on-one interviews with:

1. Lawrence Ferlinghetti (in 2000, in North Beach)

2. Ray Davies (in 1986, in Manhattan)

3. David Johanson (in 1986, in NYC)

4, Frank Zappa (in 1988, talking to me about

5. Robert Goulet (in 1999, and he actually
breaks into song while talking!)

Wanna hear more of my interviews? Just go to:

On that site are my Q&As with Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks,
Woody Allen, Heath Ledger, Barry Manilow, Trey Anastasio,
Roman Polanski, Abbie Hoffman and Geena Davis.


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Of course, all interviews were on-the-record and

recorded with the permission of the interviewee.



for September 22, 2009

Many thanks to Marshall and KALX for playing

two of my brand new songs, "Hey There, Watcher"

and "Sittin' Around," last night (9/21/09). I must

admit it never ceases to be a thrill to hear my

tunes featured on The Next Big Thing!

And if you ever want to be amazed and dazzled by

great new music, just turn on KALX and the NBT. I mean,

some of the stuff I've heard on KALX over the last several

months is truly inspired: the other week, Marshall

played a guy with a song called "Rock 'n' Roll Emergency"

(great title!) and last night aired the catchy "I've Got ADHD"

by a band called Baptiste. Elsewhere on the station, I've

been knocked out by Man's "2 Ozs of Plastic With A Hole In

The Middle," a magical violin piece called "Patterns of Plants"

and Polly Scattergood's "Please Don't Touch," among many others.

Hear for yourself at 90.7 (or on the Net!).

But I digress. Paul



for September 19 - 20, 2009

Audio Excerpts of Paul Iorio's Interviews with Pop Culture Icons!

For the first time, you can hear my interviews with
Woody Allen, Heath Ledger and other pop culture icons
[photo of Woody Allen by Paul Iorio;
I happened on them by chance when I lived in that
neighborhood in '84.]

Well, I finally have gotten around to organizing scores

of audiotaped interviews with pop culture icons that I've

conducted over the decades and am starting, as of

right now, to post the conversations online for all to hear.

Here's my first group of interview snippets, featuring

(very uncensored!) audio excerpts from my Q&As with the

following people:

1. Mel Gibson (from 2000, in West Hollywood)
2. Tom Hanks (a brief funny interchange I had with Hanks, 1999)
3. Woody Allen (my one-on-one interview with Allen,
December 3, 1999, in Beverly Hills)
4. Heath Ledger (my one-on-one Q&A with Ledger, in which he loses
his temper a bit, 2000)
5. Barry Manilow (a very, very candid
Manilow, in my one-on-one
with him, Dec. 2000, in San Jose)

The second MP3 includes excerpts from these interviews:

6. Trey Anastasio (no less than the very first
audiotaped interview with Anastasio conducted by anyone anywhere, in
January 1989, when I intro'd Trey to Widespread Panic).

7. Roman Polanski (my rare one-on-one interview with
Polanski, two days before 1999, in which he talks in-depth
about "Chinatown")

8. Abbie Hoffman (I talked one-on-one and
in person several months before his suicide, and you can
actually hear him unraveling as he loses it on tape)

9. Geena Davis (a funny moment I had with
Davis in 2000).

Just click here to listen for free:

More excerpts will be coming soon!

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Of course, all interviews were on-the-record and

recorded with the permission of the interviewee.



for September 17, 2009

Impressions of Mary Travers

I met Mary Travers in 1986 for an interview for

Cash Box magazine and remember, above all else, her

genuine kindness -- or at least she was nice to me.

We talked one Fall afternoon in New York, in the

season of her 25th anniversary with Peter,

Paul and Mary, and I remember being fascinated by her

personal history, how she was a Greenwich Village

kid who grew up (at least in her high school

years) above (or was it next door?) to the Gaslight.

For her, the Wha? and Gaslight and Bitter End were

the familiar neighbors next door (in

the years after she relocated to the Village from

the heartland, that is). What a folk education

she had by just walking out the door!

After the interview, I remember my editor at Cash Box, Steve,

a terrific person and editor who died way too young,

seemed wowed that I had scored an interview with her, saying

something like, "Wow, you actually got to talk with Mary

Travers!," and he wanted to hear every detail about her.

(Let's face it: in her day, she was not just a natural

effortless singer who almost never overdid it, but was

also a sort of incredibly sexy folk goddess.)

I must confess that when I listen to "Blowin' in the

Wind," I always listen to the Bob Dylan original

on "Freewheelin'"; but most of the world only knows

the song from PP&M, who offered a sugar-coated

version of Dylan to tens of millions of people

who might not have otherwise discovered him.

I enjoyed talking with Travers and am sorry she's gone (and

I'll post my interview with her, if I'm ever able to find

the tape!).

But I digress. Paul



for September 15, 2009

Anybody know Urdu out there? Received this email

from a newspaper in Islamabad about my bin Laden

annotation article (below). It may just be some

automated email or they may be weighing in on my piece.

Would like to know what it says. Email me at if you know. Thanks! (Online Urdu

to English translation services aren't

much help.)

آپ نے اپنے قیمتی وقت سےنوازا؛ ہمیںآپ کی میل مل چکی ہے انشااللہ ہم بہت
جلد آپ سے رابطہ کریں گے

نصیر احمد ظفر
اردو پاور ڈاٹ کوم

* * *

My Annotated Transcript of bin Laden's Latest Taped Message
(my comments in red caps)

and who permitted those who have been unjustly treated to carry out similar vengeance against their oppressors…”

“O’ people of America, my speech to you is a reminder of the reasons behind [September] 11 [SOUNDS LIKE YOUR CONSCIENCE IS BOTHERING YOU, OSAMA. THIS IS -- WHAT?! -- YOUR 90TH JUSTIFICATION FOR THE 9/11 ATTACKS? AND EACH OF YOUR JUSTIFICATIONS IS DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS ONES. AT FIRST, YOUR RATIONALE WAS PURELY RELIGIOUS. THEN YOU MADE A VIDEO BLAMING EVERYTHING FROM ANTIETAM TO HIROSHIMA. HAVEN'T SETTLED ON A REAL REASON YET, HAVE YOU?] and what took place in its aftermath in the form of wars, and claims, and the path to escape from its causes. Specifically, I draw attention to the families of those who were killed during these events, and those who have recently called for open investigations to determine the causes that led to them—this is your first step in the right direction [NOBODY IS DEMANDING SUCH AN INVESTIGATION EXCEPT NUT CASES] amongst many steps that deliberately missed the path throughout eight years of little prosper that have passed you by.

And it is correct that the american people should have sympathy for them, because the longer it takes you to recognize the real causes, the higher a price you will pay, needlessly. Thus, since the administration in the White House—one of the sides in this struggle—has appealed to you for years that war is necessary to ensure your security, then, to understand the truth, a wise man would want to heed and listen to both sides of the struggle, so lend me your ears.”

“First, I say: we have shown and declared many times over more than two and a half decades that our dispute with you [is based on] your support of your allies; the Israeli occupiers of our land in Palestine. [PALESTINE HAS HARDLY BEEN YOUR LIFELONG CAUSE. IN THE EIGHTIES, THE SOVIETS WERE YOUR OBSESSION. IN THE NINETIES, INFIDELS OF ALL NATIONS WERE YOUR OBSESSION. YOU'VE ALWAYS BEEN STRETCHING TO FIND A CAUSE TO JUSTIFY YOUR RELIGIOUS-MOTIVATED HOMICIDE.] It was this stance—along with other injustices—that moved us to carry out the events of September 11.

If you realized the extent of our suffering caused by the injustices of the Jews backed by your administration [SINCE WHEN HAVE YOU BECOME A MAN OF EMPATHY AND FEELING, YOU WHO ATTACKED THOUSANDS OF NON-POLITICAL CIVILIANS ON 9/11, CAUSING HUNDREDS TO JUMP WHILE ON FIRE TO THEIR DEATHS?] , then you would understand that both of our nations are victims of the policies laid down by the White House, which in reality is nothing but a puppet in the hands of powerful interest groups, specifically big corporations and the Israel lobby.”

“And, the best voice who has tried to explain to you the reasons behind [September] 11 is one of your own citizens, the veteran former CIA agent whose conscience awoke in his eighth decade [of age] and he decided to tell the truth despite the pressure against him, and explained for you the message behind September 11. Thus, he carried out some actions for this purpose
specifically, from within that is his book titled, ‘Apology of a Mercenary.’

Similarly, with regards to the suffering of our people in Palestine, Obama recently confessed in his speech in Cairo to the suffering [AGAIN, SINCE WHEN HAVE YOU BECOME MISTER SENSITIVE WHEN IT COMES TO THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS?] of our people there [in Palestine], under occupation and sanctions. And the matter becomes even clearer if you read what your former president Jimmy Carter has written about the Israeli discrimination against our people in Palestine, or had you listened to his statement some weeks ago, while visiting besieged and ravaged Gaza, when he said, ‘the people of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings’…” “And here we should pause for a moment, for anyone with an atom’s weight of mercy is compelled to sympathize with the suffering of the elderly, women, and children under the fatal siege, while above them the Zionists pour down burning American-made white-phosphorus bombs. [AGAIN, IT'S LAUGHABLE THAT YOU'RE TRYING TO BE A MAN OF EMPATHY WHEN YOU'VE CAUSED SUCH PAIN AND MISERY YOURSELF.] Life there is miserable beyond any conception, such as the number of children who are dying in the hands of their fathers and doctors because of a lack of food, medicine, and basic electricity. [AND YET YOU SEEM TO HAVE NO SYMPATHY FOR, SAY, THE INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO WERE FORCED TO JUMP TO THEIR DEATHS ON 9/11.]

It is truthfully a stain of shame on the forehands of all world politicians who facilitate this, and the people who ally with them with prior knowledge of their intentions—along with the influence from the Israeli lobby in America. The details regarding this have been clarified by two of your citizens, they are John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt in the book ‘The Israel Lobby in the United States.’ Upon reading these various suggested works, you will discover the truth and you will be terribly shocked by the scale of the deception that has been used against you. You will also discover that, even today, those who issue statements from inside the White House and claim that your wars against us are necessary for your security are the same ones who worked under the regime of Cheney and Bush, and marketed their former policies of fear to safeguard the interests of large corporations at the expense of your blood and economy. Truthfully, those are the ones responsible for forcing war upon you, not the mujahideen—as we are [merely] defending the right to liberate our land.” [MERELY DEFENDING THE RIGHT TO LIBERATE THEIR LAND? IS THAT WHAT YOU CALL AIDING AND ENABLING THE AL QAEDA PLOTTERS OF 9/11?]

And should you consider your situation at some depth, then you will discover that the White House is actually occupied by interest groups, and that it [the White House] should have been liberated, instead of fighting to liberate Iraq as Bush claimed. The role of a White House leader in today's atmosphere, regardless of his name, is like a train conductor who has no choice but to move forward on the rails laid down by interest groups—or else its path will be obstructed—and who lives in fear that his fate will be that of the former president [John F.] Kennedy and his brother.” [SHOULDN'T YOU BE THE ONE WORRIED ABOUT YOUR OWN MORTALITY? ARE YOU AWARE THAT THE AMERICAN MILITARY WILL SURELY SHOOT YOU DEAD AS SOON AS THEY FIND YOU?]

“The conclusion of my speech: it is time to liberate yourselves from the fear and mental terrorism that the neo-conservatives and the Israeli Lobby have used to manipulate you. Put the issue of your alliance with the Israelis up for debate and ask yourselves what your stance is: is your own security, blood, children, money, jobs, homes, economy, and reputation more important to you, or do you prefer the safety of the Israelis, their children, and economy? If you choose your own security and bring the war to a halt—and this is what the opinion polls have shown is most popular—then you must work and replace the hands of those from amongst you who have endangered our safety, and we are ready to respond to this decision in accordance with sound and just principles that have been previously mentioned. And here, there is an important point that requires attention regarding the war and stopping it: when Bush took power and appointed a secretary of defense who had assisted in killing two million suffering villagers in Vietnam, intelligent people predicted on that day that Bush was preparing for new massacres during his term in office, and this is what occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, Obama took charge and kept Cheney and Bush's men [HILLARY WAS ONE OF BUSH'S MEN?! BIDEN WAS ONE OF BUSH'S MEN?! HOLDER WAS ONE OF BUSH'S MEN?! GATES WAS NOMINALLY A BUSH APPOINTEE, BUT HAS SINCE PROVED TO BE EVEN-HANDED AND FAIR-MINDED; HE WAS PART OF THE REACTION AGAINST RUMSFELD.] —those from the senior leadership in the Pentagon—like Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus. Intelligent people understand that Obama is a weak man


who cannot stop the war like he promised [OBAMA IS IN FACT WINDING DOWN THE IRAQ WAR AS HE PROMISED IN THE CAMPAIGN AND IS NOW INCREASING FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN, WHICH HE ALSO PROMISED TO DO IN THE CAMPAIGN], but instead, he will postpone it to the greatest possible degree. If he was really in control, then he would have handed over leadership to the generals who have opposed this foolish war—like the former forces commander General Sanchez and the head of Central Command who was forced by Bush to resign shortly before leaving the White House because of his opposition to the war. Instead, he [Bush] appointed someone else who would press on after him.”

“Furthermore, Obama—under the pretext of his willingness to cooperate with the Republicans—has tricked you with a big fraud, as he kept the most important and most dangerous secretary—Cheney’s man—to continue the war. [AS I SAID, GATES HAS PROVED TO BE SURPRISINGLY FAIR-MINDED AND WISE] It will become clear to you over the coming days that you have changed nothing in the White House except faces—the bitter truth is that the neo-conservatives [A MEMBER OF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT IS TALKING ABOUT "CONSERVATIVES"? THAT'S A LAFF.] are still heavily shadowing you.” “Returning back to the original point, if you stop the war, then so be it. But otherwise, it is inevitable that we will continue our war of extermination against you on all possible fronts, just as we annihilated the Soviet Union for a decade until it was dismantled, by the grace of Allah.[THE SOVIET UNION COLLAPSED BECAUSE IT RAN OUT OF MONEY. KEEP IN MIND THAT WE TOOK DOWN YOUR FORMER PUPPET MULLAH OMAR IN A MATTER OF WEEKS IN THE FALL OF 2001.] So, go ahead and prolong this war as long as you want, but you are engaged in a miserable losing war for the interests of others [WE'RE WAGING WAR FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS? NO, IT'S FOR U.S. INTERESTS THAT WE FIGHT IN AFGHANISTAN. WE DON'T WANT TALIBAN-RELATED TERRORISTS TO ATTACK US AGAIN.] that seems to have no end in sight. The Russian Generals—who were shaken by the battles in Afghanistan—warned you what the outcome of the war would be before it began [AGAIN, WE HAD A RELATIVELY EASY TIME REMOVING OMAR FROM POWER IN '01], but you refuse to listen to those who advise you. This war is being financed through ghoulish interests [THE AMERICAN TAXPAYERS ARE GHOULISH INTERESTS?], the morale of your soldiers is collapsing, and they are committing suicide on a daily basis to escape it. It is a failed war, Allah willing.” “This is has all been prescribed for you by the doctors Cheney and Bush as medicine for the events of September 11, yet, the bitterness and loss this has caused is worse than that of the events themselves. The accumulated debt alone has almost led to the collapse of the entire American economy. It has been said, some illnesses are tolerated more than their medicine. And we, by the grace of Allah, continue to carry our weapons slung over our shoulders, fighting the evil powers in the east and west for thirty years, and in all that time, we have not recorded a single incident of suicide [ARE YOU TRYING FOR COMEDY HERE, BIN LADEN? YOUR HIJACKERS ON 9/11 COMMITTED SUICIDE -- AND FOR DELUSIONAL REASONS (THE PROMISE OF VIRGINS AFTER DEATH). SUICIDE SEEMS TO BE THE JIHADISTS' MAIN TACTIC!] despite the global pursuit targeting us, praise be to Allah. This should tell you something about the righteousness of our doctrine and the justice of our cause. Allah-willing, we are moving forward on our path to liberate our land; patience is our weapon and we seek victory from Allah, and we will not abandon Al-Aqsa Mosque, as our grasp on Palestine is greater than our grasp onto our souls… Thus, you can lengthen the war as you desire, [but] by Allah, we will not compromise in the least over it.[THE U.S. IS NOT ASKING YOU AND AL QAEDA TO COMPROMISE; WE ARE ORDERING YOU TO SURRENDER AND WILL KILL YOU IF YOU DON'T.]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- As some of you know, I wrote and recorded a song

last year about bin Laden titled "I Shot Osama bin Laden,"

and I thought now would be a good time to share it again.

Here's the tune:
bin Laden."



for September 14, 2009

Remembering Jim Carroll

I liked Jim Carroll's music more than I should have,

probably. I mean, some admired "The Basketball Diaries,"

some appreciated his poems, some liked Carroll's daring,

but I confess: I loved "Catholic Boy."

I played that LP until the grooves cut through to

the other side, and then, not having the money to

buy a replacement copy, I continued playing it,

scratches and cracks and all, probably wrecking

new turntable needles everywhere I went with it.

When he played his "Catholic Boy" gig at the Bottom

Line -- December 22, 1980, a Christmas season show

that, at least for a couple hours, took everyone's

minds off the recurrent nightmare memory of John Lennon's

murder uptown a couple weeks earlier -- I was at

the concert and enjoyed it immensely.

So now comes word that Carroll died the other day,

at age 60, not quite the mythic early death expected

of him back in the 1980s, but still on the young

side of old. I've met a lot of rock stars and

musicians over the decades but never met Carroll; the

closest I got was backstage at some New York Music

Awards ceremony in the 1980s, where I saw Carroll, looking

alarmingly pale, rushing to some place with Lou Reed.

Musically, Carroll never topped "Catholic Boy," which, today,

still sounds thrilling, even if it's also flawed in obvious

ways that could've been easily corrected in the studio.

But I still listen to it every now and then, so Carroll

lives on, for me.

the season of "Catholic Boy"-mania!

* * * *

Just posted four brand new songs that I wrote over the

last couple months and recorded last week at my home

studio in Berkeley, Calif. You can listen to the tracks here

(for free) at:

Enjoy! Paul



for September 11, 2009

A day to remember a national and personal trauma
and to be reminded why we are in Afghanistan and
why a substantial covert presence in Waziristan (preferably,
though not necessarily, with Zardari's knowledge) is
equally necessary.

[photo by Paul Iorio]



for September 8, 2009

Is "District 9" the Best Picture of 2009 So Far?

Finally got around to seeing "District 9." Very

impressive. An instant midnight movie cult classic

and one of the freshest sci-fi films in many years.

Instead of following the path of most flicks about

extra-terrestrials that predictably show the

breathless moment when aliens first make

their appearance on Earth, "District 9" takes a

much more novel approach, starting its narrative

in mid-stream, at a point when humans have

already become acclimated to the presence of

extraterrestrials and are working out the

everyday practical problems of providing them

with civil rights, legal aid and housing. Issues

here also involve inter-species prostitution and alien

diseases transmitted to humans (causing black fluid

to stream from a guy's nose, for starters!).

And the main character, Wikus (Sharlto Copley), is

a unique cinematic creation, a skittish protagonist

who responds to crises with a mix of manic bemusement

and amused panic. Also love the fact that humans

can't budge the massive alien spacecraft from the

sky (it hovers over Johannesburg like a mini-city,

even after the extraterrestrials have disembarked).

South African director Neill Blomkamp has made one

of '09's best films and is reportedly already

working on a sequel ("District 10," perhaps?).

* * * *

Sunday Night's John Legend/India.Arie Concert

"I was still struggling to pay my rent," John Legend

said at his show last Sunday night in Berkeley, Calif.,

talking about his early career. "But I had a vision

that one day I'd be in a place just like this [the

Greek Theater]...And I'm gonna celebrate

tonight, Berkeley! I feel good tonight! I'm gonna

live it up tonight!"

And then he launched into the last and best part of

his show, which included the unexpectedly seductive

"Save Room"; the Beatles' "I Want You (She's

So Heavy)," a surprising choice; encore "Ordinary

People"; and "Good Morning," for which he was joined

by India.Arie.

Inda.Arie opened the show with an hour of her own material;

it was her last night as part of Legend's tour, and she

saved the high note for her finale, a knock-out version of

"Ready for Love," from her '01 debut album (everybody

in the area where I heard the show, in the hills above

the Greek, listened to that one as if entranced).

All told, it was a night of 21st century r&b (neither

singer released any material in the 20th century), post-rap

that looked back to pre-rap styles (e.g., the more mild

formal elements of Al Green and Earth Wind & Fire, mixed

with a piano style not unlike very early Elton John -- in

Legend's case).

On this night, a mere few months before the start of

a new decade, with ten percent of the 21st century

already gone, the music wasn't pre-9/11 so much as

pre-World Trade Center.

* * * *

Looks like some Muslim extremists are finally coming

around to the view that irreverence about sacred

things and other forms of free expression should be

tolerated. Evidence of that comes in a thoroughly

tasteless (and unfunny) editorial cartoon by one Abdoul

Mouthalib Bouzerda on the Arab-European League website

that has the insensitivity to poke fun at

the Holocaust. (Here's a link to the offensive 'toon:

Sure, the cartoon is disgusting. But censoring it would be

even more disgusting. My feeling is this: let them publish

the cartoon -- it only shows how completely uneducated and

callous they are. Nobody serious would take such a person


Unfortunately, the government and judicial system in the

Netherlands has unwisely decided to prosecute the cartoonist

for insulting and disrespecting an ethnic or religious

group. The Netherlands is foolishly playing into the hands

of Muslim militants who are trying to show that the West

is hypocritical when it comes to free speech.

The way I see it, if the Arab-European League website

can joke about the genocidal murder of six million people,

then surely that frees me to joke about, say,

the dozen or so wives of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad,

a far less sensitive topic.

So, in this new spirit of irreverence, here's my own

parody of the Arab-European League cartoon (the words

are mine, the drawing by Bouzerda):

But I digress. Paul

[Sept. 8 column updated.]



for September 3, 2009

The Untold Story of How Levi Johnston Wound
Up in the Pages of Vanity Fair

VANITY FAIR EDITOR: Hi, Levi. You know, we're really interested
in talking with you about your life, you know, your observations
about Governor Palin. I'd love to get a few things down about that.
Uh, when did you meet the Governor for the first time?

LEVI JOHNSTON: Uh, let me stop you right there. 'Cause I'm sort of
shoppin' it around myself.

VANITY FAIR EDITOR: Ohhh, you're shoppin' it around.

LEVI: Yeah, I'd sorta like to tell it myself, in my own words -- in
your esteemed pages, maybe. That'd be, like, a real feather in my tractor.

VANITY FAIR: Feather in your tractor. Cool. Cool. Thing is about
VF is we sorta like to use writers who have, like, a track record

LEVI: Track record.

VANITY FAIR: We tend to use people who've done this sort of thing before.

LEVI: I know what ya mean. I mean, VF is, like, up there. But I did do
some stories for the Wasilla High School Eagle, before I dropped out --


LEVI: The school paper, before I dropped out. In fact, I think I
might've had two articles in the Wasilla paper. And then when I was
working in the North Slope fields I was always coming up with
ideas -- they didn't get published but I'd write 'em on napkins and stuff.

VANITY FAIR: I've got an idea. How about we collaborate? Maybe
you can sort of tell me the story and we can hash out the wording.

LEVI: Hash out. Might be right.

VANITY FAIR: Did you know Maureen Dowd is interested in
interviewing you?

LEVI: Was she, like, that woman on "CSI"?

VANITY FAIR: She's a writer. And we can get Annie Leibovitz for the shoot.

LEVI: No, no, I usually hunt alone or with my own partners.

VANITY FAIR: No, we mean photo shoot. To take pictures of you.
You know, we can even get you an invite plus one to the Oscar party
next year.

LEVI: Cool. I bet "G.I. Joe" takes Best Picture. I just saw
"Rise of Cobra." Awesome.
VANITY FAIR: Haven't seen it yet.
LEVI: Can I, like, call you tomorrow?

VANITY FAIR: Sure. Lemme give ya my cell.

LEVI: Might work out.

Levi then calls his agent.

AGENT: Look, Levi, the book idea isn't selling. You really have
to buck it down to the magazine level. And then from there it might
turn into a book. And -- who knows? -- maybe a motion picture after that.

LEVI: That's what I'm shooting for.

AGENT: But for now, even HarperCollins isn't going for it.

LEVI: Even HarperCollins. Sheesh! That means no one'll take it.

AGENT: Don't know if you're interested, but I was talking with an
editor at the New York Daily News and they're very hot on it.
They'll even give you a staff spot, a monthly column, a sort of Jenna
Bush thing. But the money is low.

LEVI: I'll think about it.

AGENT: But I think your best offer is Vanity Fair, though they really
wanna use their own writers.

LEVI: OK, I'll go with VF. I wanna talk with 'em directly tomorrow.

The next day, Levi calls Vanity Fair.

LEVI: I talked with my agent and we're gonna guy with you guys.

VANITY FAIR: Welcome aboard. Look forward to working with you.

VANITY FAIR ASSISTANT (heard in the background): You've got a call
on the other line. It's that poet who survived the Holocaust. He wants
to know the status of his article.

VANITY FAIR: Oh, that guy. [rolls his eyes] Uh, tell him I'll call him
next month.

LEVI: So you'll work out the paycheck details with my agent and all?

VANITY FAIR: Yeah, we'll handle that. I think we're goin' more
toward the six figure thing than the seven figure thing, but we'll work it out.

LEVI: 'Cause we were shootin' for seven figures and all, but that's cool.

VANITY FAIR: Cool. Let's get to work.
But I digress. Paul



for September 2, 2009

Time for a Surge in Afghanistan

Don't be fooled by George Will's faux peacenik column in

The Washington Post calling for a U.S. withdrawal from

Afghanistan. Will and other conservatives just want President Obama

to fail and so are giving him advice that will cause him to

to do so. In 2012, they want to be able to say that

America is less safe because of Obama's policies. They want

to be able to point to a brand new terrorist attack that

emanated from Afghanistan and say, "Time to bring in

a President Gingrich to clean out the Taliban once and for

all." They know full well that a surge would probably work

in Afghanistan, which is why they are advising against it.

And don't listen to the critics of the Afghanistan war

on the far left, either. After all, most of them weren't for

the original Afghanistan War in '01, which almost everyone

now agrees was necessary. They were the same ones who

were angrily protesting in the streets against war in

Afghanistan weeks before the war actually began, before

the blood had even dried in the rubble of the World Trade

Center (and they didn't even have the sensitivity to hold

a single placard condemning Osama bin Laden or hold a

candle for the victims of his murders). Their judgment has

always been profoundly unwise on foreign policy.

How soon we forget how radically wrong some

pundits -- on the left and on the right -- were about

the Afghanistan War in 2001. It seems like every

time I turned on "The NewsHour" on PBS back

in late September 2001 (and I'm a big fan of "The

NewsHour"), there was somebody from the Nepotism

Research Center or the Institute for Overthinking

Central South Asian and South Asian Policy repeatedly

saying the following: We'll never be able to topple

Mullah Omar's government, bin Laden is

setting a trap and luring us in, there will be

violent backlash throughout Islam if we wage war

there, Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires,

it will be our next Vietnam, etc.

Well, those career pros were wrong on every count

in '01. Turns out Mullah Omar was a pushover, his

right-wing regime easily toppled. There were no

major riots in Islam over our involvement in Afghanistan,

because most Muslims understood we were the aggrieved party

after 9/11. The Taliban has no homegrown Ho Chi Minh who

serves as a rallying point. And if those overthink-tankers had

prevailed, Mullah Omar would still be running things from Kabul

and making new attacks on the U.S. possible (while oppressing

Afghan women and continuing to force Hindus to wear yellow

stars on the streets of Kabul).

If Bush had kept his eye on the ball, and not been diverted

by his personal animus toward Saddam Hussein, we wouldn't have

to go back there now to clean up his unfinished business.

The flaws of Bush's Afghanistan war were these: we didn't

get in soon enough and didn't stay long enough.

Now Obama has to wash out the infection that Bush

allowed to fester while he was waging an unnecessary

war in Iraq.

With a surge to 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley

McChrystal has an excellent chance of wiping out

rogue power centers of the Taliban and disrupting any

new plots against America by jihadists there.

The Taliban and Mullah Omar, as you might recall, were

the main allies of bin Laden, who was protected and supported

by Omar's government as bin Laden organized his

intricate attacks on the U.S. in '01.

Bin Laden, need I remind you, is still at large, as

are his lieutenants and Mullah Omar himself. In other

words, the top plotters of the 9/11 attacks are still

free and able to plan brand new mass murders, which they're

highly motivated to do. (Imagine if Charles Manson

and his gang were still living free in the mountains

around L.A. Do you think for a moment they

wouldn't be planning new atrocities?)

And bin Laden and his cohorts are still fully

functional enough to film videos every

several months and distribute them to

Al-Jazeera and other broadcast outlets, which then air them.

In other words, they ain't eatin' berries in the wild,

struggling for survival; they're even makin' movies.

The main allies of bin Laden in the region are

the Taliban, and that's why we're waging war

against them in Afghanistan. On ABC's "This Week," George

Will said that we would be as justified in attacking

Somalia as we are to be in Afghanistan -- a comment

that is so easy to rebut that you wonder whether

Will is dangling that comment in order to provoke

a response for which he has a ready-made retort. Or

maybe he was just being thoughtless. Do we actually

need to explain to Will that Somalia wasn't the host

country of the terrorists who attacked the U.S.

on 9/11?

But I digress. Paul



for September 1, 2009

Appreciating the Oeuvre of Muammar el-Qaddafi

It was 40 years ago today...

Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi is making his

very first visit to the United States in a few weeks, so what

a better time to bone up on the oeuvre of Col. Qaddafi!

Many of Qaddafi's writings are available in his

three-volume "Green Book," sort of his answer to

Mao's "Little Red Book," and on his official website

(, which

includes fresh material along with excerpts from the

"Green Book."

Turns out the really interesting and edgy Qaddafi

writings are actually on previous editions of his

site that are now no longer online -- though they

are available via The Wayback Machine search engine,

which manages to find and resurrect long lost

web pages.

Here are excerpts from some of Qadaffi's vanished

writings, posted on his website in 2006 and 2007,

but gone now. In these passages, he writes about

Jesus Christ (March 30, 2007) and rants angrily

against soccer and the World Cup (March 6, 2006):


beware the deadly diseases caused by The World Cup. Medical

research has proven, and will prove further in

the future, that those who have [soccer] mania, and

those addicted to the game are most at risk of

psychological and nervous disorders. Those disorders in

turn are the leading causes of heart attacks, strokes,

diabetes, hyper-tension and premature aging. Human

physical activity has diminished due to the overuse of

technology. People have become more lethargic, lazy and

obese. At the same time, sport which should be an

individual activity that cannot be delegated to

others just like prayers, or a collective one

exercised by the all the masses has been

transformed into an exploitative activity

monopolized by the rich dominant elite like the

World Cup. The masses are reduced to playing the role

of the idiotic spectator.

Second, beware the hatred, enmity and racism generated by

[soccer]...The games in 1970 led to war between El Salvador

and Honduras that left more than 30,000 people either dead

or wounded. It also left a wound that will never heal....[The

World Cup] leads to problems, difficulties, disorders,

hatred and enmity. It causes the spread of degenerate

behavior and collective recklessness and irresponsibility.

Socio-psychological studies have proven that the manic,

fanatical addicts of the World Cup are below normal

in intellectual capacity and psychological


ON JESUS CHRIST: "...Why does the calendar

start with the birth of Jesus and not the

death of Muhammad? The reason is that Muslims are weak and

defeated....It is indeed a miracle that Jesus was

born without a father....[An] error that has long

misled the uninitiated is that Jesus allowed himself

to be crucified to atone for the sins of his followers.

Jesus was neither crucified nor killed...The person

crucified 2,000 years ago was a man who resembled Jesus,

not Jesus himself. Jesus was not crucified....[The

Bible] states that Mary, Mary Magdalene,

Joseph the Carpenter and maybe some Apostles were

present at the Crucifixion. They all knew that

the crucified was not Jesus but pretended otherwise

to allow the real Jesus to escape."

But I digress. Paul



for August 31, 2009

The Truth About the War Movies of 2009

"Inglourious Basterds" continues to open at number one in

country after country during its international roll-out. "The

Hurt Locker" still has critics raving more than a month

after its domestic release. And the much-panned "G.I. Joe:

Rise of Cobra" is one of the top dozen grossers of '09

so far, and has already spawned a sequel-in-the-works.

War is very hot on the big screen right now.

But how good are these films? Here's my own look at the

three biggest war movies of the summer '09 season:

"The Hurt Locker'

I really do admire many of the critics who admire

Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," but I have to

disagree with them -- and I think critical consensus

is more mistaken on this one than it has been on

any other film since the unjustly overlooked

Rodrigo García picture "Nine Lives" (2005).

"The Hurt Locker" has everything a great movie should have --

except one thing: well developed characters, the

essential ingredient. Characters here are typical,

generic, unmemorable; we know very little about them

and so care very little when they're, inevitably,

blown to bits in some Iraqi wasteland.

For a movie dealing with lots of high tension

bomb-defusing situations, the flick has very

little tension or suspense. Very often, when

a character is disabling a bomb, all we see are tight

shots of fingers on wires -- we don't see the

face of the person doing the dangerous work, which

is telling; this movie is situation-driven, not


Oh, sure, Bigelow tacks on a ten-minute

segment around an hour into the picture

in which the characters horse around and

talk about themselves, but it feels tacked

on and, further, they reveal mostly

unremarkable things about themselves (one

guy is separated from his wife, another

has a wife who wants more kids, etc., yawn).

And in the midst of danger, the squad members

don't distinguish themselves; there's one guy

who's just bossy and bureaucratic, another

who's a sort of good ol' boy, etc. And the

enemy often appears as nothing more than a smudge

or spot in the far distance.

Contrast this with the unforgettable people in

some of the great war movies of the past. Remember

the vivid capsule descriptions of the characters in

"Apocalypse Now"? Each one was thoroughly drawn

before they ended up dead or wounded. Ditto with

"Platoon." And in "Born on the 4th of July," you knew

Ron Kovic intimately before he took his first bullet.

"Hurt Locker" is also too repetitive, with one scene

after another in which we see someone fiddling with

red wires and orange wires and yellow wires, plus

a lot of "Danger at two o'clock," "roger that," and

bossiness substituting for leadership.

And let's face it: it's not very easy to care about

soldiers fighting a war as pointless as the Iraq War.

I mean, if you're watching a film about the Second

World War, you know that taking, say, Iwo Jima will

change the world for the better. But it's hard to

cheer the taking of, say, Nablus, when you don't

really care about the overarching objective of the

conflict. If you win Nablus, or a block in

downtown Baghdad, you win virtually nothing (and

you come no closer to capturing Osama bin Laden,

either). [I know, I know: "Locker" is about

a bomb defusing squad. But the squad does engage

in open combat in the film.]

Has there ever been a great war movie about an inconsequential

or minor war? I don't think so. Look at all the major war films:

"Platoon" (about Vietnam), "All Quiet on the Western Front" (World

War One), "Paths of Glory" (World War One), "Saving Private

Ryan" (World War Two), "The Longest Day" (World War Two),

"Letters From Iwo Jima" (World War Two).

All the top-tier war films are about the Big Wars, not "off" wars

like, say, the Falklands conflict or Grenada or even the Korean War.

And Iraq falls into that sort of minor, useless-conflict category.

If you don't care about the real Iraq war, it's even harder

to care about a fictionalized account of it.

And it's no mystery why the film is a commercial failure

and why the industry isn't getting behind it: we see

the real Iraq war in all its gruesome glory on CNN and

"Nightline" and CBS every night, and embedded reporters

telling tales are not very rare.

* * * *

More Notes on "Inglourious Basterds"

I wrote at length on "Inglourious Basterds" in my

previous column (below), so I'm not going to

reiterate what I said before. But after seeing

"Basterds" a second time, I noticed new things about


First, let's hope closet Hitler-ites aren't seeing some

sort of justification of genocide in the Nazi SS officer's spurious

logic in this opening sequence dialogue:

SS OFFICER: If a rat were to scamper through your front
door right now, would you greet it with hostility?

FARMER: I suppose I would.

SS OFFICER: Has a rat ever done anything to you to
create this animosity of you toward him?

FARMER: Rats spread disease.

SS OFFICER: Rats were the cause of the bubonic plague,
but that was some time ago. I propose to you
any disease a rat could spread, a squirrel could equally
carry. Wouldn't you agree?

FARMER: Right.

SS OFFICER: But I assume you don't have the same
animosity you have with squirrels you do
with rats, do you?


SS OFFICER:...They even rather look alike, don't they?

FARMER: That's as interesting thought.

OK, now the rebuttal (that is not in the film), from a

guy with a philosophy degree (me): squirrels don't

infest households, rats do. If squirrels burrowed into

interior walls in your home and started multiplying inside

your house, you would have the same animosity and

repulsion toward squirrels that you have with rats, and

you would set squirrel traps instead

of rat traps.

Also, the plotters in the film want to use a

highly-flammable substance to burn down a movie

theater, and decide to use nitrate film because

(as Samuel L. Jackson says in a VO): "Nitrate film

burns three times faster than paper." Well, guess

what? Gasoline is even more flammable than either!

Why didn't they simply put a match to a gas can?

* * *

"G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra"

I'm still trying to figure out what a moviegoer

might see in this tedious, predictable, cliche-packed

crappy film. I mean, I watched it all the way through

and still couldn't begin to give you a coherent plot

synopsis. This picture isn't for movie fans but for

video game fans. And the 9/11ish destruction of the

Eiffel Tower suggests, on a pop culture level,

there still is considerable 9/11-anxiety in the

mainstream, eight years later.

But I digress. Paul



for August 27, 2009

Paul Iorio on "Inglourious Basterds"

The twenty minute sequence that opens "Inglourious Basterds"

features some of the very best film making Quentin Tarantino

has ever done -- and it's probably the best movie sequence

of the year so far by anyone. From the moment the SS soldier

enters the French farmhouse, the tension is nearly

unbearable, though no gun is drawn, no threat is made. And

when the camera pans downward, beneath the floorboards, for a

breathtaking POV shot, the sense of impending tragedy and

violence has a depth of both feeling and craft Tarantino

hadn't shown before.

And the scene also has all the elements of a great thriller,

as we watch Melanie Laurent's character run away (and escape)

from the Nazi gunman (though it's too bad Laurent didn't have

a gun of her own; imagine the SS bullets through the floor

being answered by return fire from below).

If Tarantino had sustained the tension of the first 20 minutes,

"Inglorious Basterds" would be his crowning masterwork. But,

alas, he doesn't, and the opener is, by far, the best part of

the flick, which sags and becomes astonishingly ineffective in

the long middle part, before turning into a sort of "Carrie"

of The Third Reich.

Part of the problem is lack of focus and inconsistent tone;

what starts poignantly is later played for cheap laffs;

the middle of the film, which resembles outtakes, could've

easily been set in a Los Angeles frat house without

missing much.

If you were to put "Basterds" on a double bill with

Polanski's "The Pianist," "Basterds" would float away

like a silly helium balloon. If you were to put "Basterds"

on a double bill with Pasolini's "Salo," Tarantino's SS would

look like nice cops in a bad mood. ("Nice?!," you say. To

which I retort, "Have you seen 'Salo'?" I'd describe the

sadistic things the Nazis did to prisoners in "Salo" but I don't

want to spoil the shock for those who haven't seen it yet.

Suffice it to say that Lando is a sweet boy, by contrast.)

"Salo," by the way, is where Nazi scalping was first seen on

the big screen and is the film that probably comes closest

to capturing the almost unwatchable nightmare of being

tortured by Hitler's thugs. ("Salo" is not a depiction of

trauma, but an infliction of trauma.) If Pasolini

or Polanski, who experienced the hell of the Third Reich

first-hand, had created "Basterd"'s opening scene,

we would have seen the full measure of cruelty on earth (the

farmer would have looked out the window and found his daughters

missing, for starters).

In "Basterds," Brad Pitt is back to fulfilling his promise as

this generation's Steve McQueen, after misstepping a bit

last year with the conceptually confused "Benjamin Button" (the

reverse aging idea only works at the beginning and

ending, because in the rest of the picture Button is the

same age as he would have been if he had aged normally). Here,

Pitt acts sort of like Kris Kristofferson's sumbitch

in "Lone Star," or like a more brutal version of Tommy Lee

Jones's character in "The Fugitive").

Lately, Tarantino seems attracted to projects in which the

moral lines are big and broad and unambiguous (he has

talked frequently of developing a picture about John Brown,

for example). I mean, who (besides a ridiculous pacifist)

would see a moral problem with the killing of a Nazi in

the thick of World War II?

But the greatest films ever made are almost always those

in which there is enormous moral ambiguity and

complexity, where the enemy is sometimes in the mirror

(e.g., "Platoon," where U.S. soldiers are fighting themselves

as much as they're fighting the enemy; "Letters From Iwo

Jima," a kind of sympathy for the devil).

And, of course, that goes for non-war movies, too: the

greatest film of all time -- the first two "Godfather"

films -- causes us to empathize with and cheer and love some

really evil folks. And "Chinatown" shows us, as Noah Cross

so memorably put it: "Most people never have to face the fact

that, at the right time and the right place, they're

capable of...anything!"

If the Basterds had been developed beyond the cartoon

sketch level, we would have had a movie in which they

were truly the white hot focus from start to finish;

we would have seen the Basterds fighting amongst themselves

in a significant way, we would have seen some Basterds

memorably arguing for leniency -- and some for

execution -- when it came time to kill the Nazis

they had captured. Instead, the individual Basterds

(other than Pitt's character) don't make the sort of

indelible impression that, say, the gang members in

"Reservoir Dogs" make.

Still, the audience in the theater where I saw the film

had a rollicking good time watching it, so I bet "Basterds"

has legs. My advice to moviegoers on a budget is this;

by all means, go see the first 20 minutes of the film;

but then quickly leave the theater, go to the

box office and get your money back.

But I digress. Paul



for August 26, 2009

It's sad that he's gone but there is one saving
grace in that he lived long enough to see his
dream come true: the election of Barack Obama,
who carries with him the best ideals and
instincts of the Kennedy brothers. He made it
to the mountaintop, a sort of terrestrial
heaven (the only kind there is).



for August 21, 2009

I just found out about producer Jim Dickinson's death and am

sad to hear he's gone. I was fortunate enough to have interviewed

him one-on-one back in 1987, when he had just finished

producing what some consider to be the best album released

that year: The Replacement's "Pleased to Meet Me."

Of course, by the time I'd met him, he had already

had a significant impact on pop music, shaping the so-called

Memphis sound, collaborating with the likes of

Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones, producing

the legendary Big Star (idols of the Mats's Paul

Westerberg), and recording his own substantial solo


Dickinson struck me as a natural born artist, sort of

like Sam Phillips, who I also interviewed and who also

said things that have stuck with me for decades.

In this era of auto-tuners and drum machines that

never miss a beat, Dickinson was a reminder that

music is stuff made by human beings -- with flaws

being (to some extent) part of the point.

Somewhere in a box in my closet is a cassette of

my interview with Dickinson, but I can't find it

right now. Instead, let me remember Dickinson by

posting an article I wrote -- and for which Dickinson was

one of my quoted (and unquoted) sources -- about the making of

"Pleased to Meet Me." It appeared in the May 2, 1987,

issue of Cash Box magazine and was published just before

the album's release.

Too bad I can't print some of the off the record material

but I will say that he liked to dish about musicians,

talk about them, and he had an instinct for sizing people up

exactly, with 20:20 vision. He knew who the genuine artists

were and who the merely artsy or merely competent were

(for the record, he considered Paul Westerberg an artist of real

substance, and he sure didn't say that about everyone

he worked with).

Anyway, here's the article I wrote about the making

of the "Pleased to Meet Me" album:

[page one of article; click to enlarge]

[page two of article; click to enlarge]


[page three of article; click to enlarge]

But I digress. Paul



for August 20 - 21, 2009

Boycott Scotch Whiskey,

a huge generator of income for the
Scottish government, which,
unforgivably, released
the Lockerbie bomber today.

You know, Americans are so angry over the release of

the Lockerbie bomber that I wouldn't be surprised if

the manifests on shipments of Scotch Whiskey

to U.S. ports start mysteriously disappearing

or suddenly get changed to private front residences.

I wouldn't be surprised if shipments of Scotch Whiskey

in U.S. warehouses ended up unexplainably smashed (as

security cameras inexplicably slept). I wouldn't be

surprised if there were big Boston tea parties,

featuring -- you guessed it -- Scotch Whiskey,

at major domestic ports. And I wouldn't be surprised

if police across America assigned a very low priority

to solving all those crimes against Scotch Whiskey.

* * * *

* * * *

Rush Can't Get It Up

For Health Reform

If Rush had grown up under the Obama health plan, he
might not have become impotent (or at least in need of
Viagra), thanks to free doctor's visits that would have
kept him healthy.

Sarah Palin sez: "Put health care in the hands of the
same private sector that has given us AIG and Bernie

In the health care debate, it's easy to get

too mired in the details of co-pays and deductibles and

premiums and lose sight of the big picture, which is this:

Britain and Canada, two non-Socialist countries very much

like our own, provide health care free of charge for its

people, and they're not going broke doing it!

It really is no more complicated than this: if you break your

knee in America, it costs around $75,000 to fix it. If you

break your knee in the U.K. or Canada, it costs zero dollars

to fix it.

I mean, c'mon: what's not to like?

Yet rich right-wingers, many associated with Big Pharma and

insurance companies, show up at town hall meetings screaming,

"Please charge me $75,000, not zero dollars, to fix a broken


And conservatives also shout about how they think the

public option will run private insurance companies out of

business. (The hecklers, by the way, resemble nothing so

much as the "Brooks Brothers rioters" who helped rob Al Gore of

the presidency in '00.)

To which I say: have public schools run private schools out of

business? Has the postal service run Fed Ex and UPS out of


And it is analogous. The affluent, if they feel they can

get a better level of health care from a private insurance company,

can choose the private option, just as the rich can now choose

to by-pass the free education available to them through the

public school system. Under the Obama plan, private insurers

will surely be kept profitable by affluent folks who think

their insurance is superior to what the government is offering.

Also, the hecklers always say the government isn't good at

running things and will screw it up, if given a chance. To

which I say: do you really think the private sector is

preferable? Do you you want the same private sector that

has given us AIG and Bernie Madoff to handle health care?

At least the government (unlike the private sector) is

accountable to the people -- and anyone who screws up

can be voted out of office.

Truth is, if there is no public option, health care will remain

unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. The

idea of establishing non-profit health cooperatives

wouldn't work -- unless they were at least partially funded

by the government (and then that would be a reinvention of the

public option).

Under the co-op plan, the non-profits would get their

start-up money from the government; and once they

started failing financially, as they probably would, they

would be backed by government bail-outs (in which

case, again, you've re-introduced the public option through the

back door).

If the non-profit co-ops did start failing, do you

think for a moment the government would (or should)

deny them a bail-out? After all, it bails

out banks and car companies, so why wouldn't it

save non-profit health care co-ops?

Maybe that is the solution, in a roundabout way. Pass a

plan that says: the government will provide seed money

for non-profits that will then try to make it on their

own, but will be bailed out by the taxpayers if they

fail. From that base, the Democrats can later build a less

disingenuous, more robust and explicit public option.

Death panels are alive and well and working
for Blue Cross and other private insurers who make
it too expensive for the sick to get the medical care they
need to save their own lives.

* * * *

* * * *

Don't Wanna Be a French Idiot!

Jean-Marie Bigard: Life ain't easy for a boy named Marie.

France may have been the birthplace of the brilliant "Being and

Nothingness," but the current French president is not nearly as

rational or wise as Jean-Paul Sartre. Otherwise Sarkozy

wouldn't be pal-ing around with a comedian, Jean-Marie Bigard,

who openly claims that 9/11 was an inside job.

And their relationship goes beyond just pal-ing around.

In fact, when Sarkozy visited the Pope a few years ago,

who did he bring with him? A Kierkegaard scholar? A

Catholic philosopher? No, he brought the crass and boorish

Bigard, essentially saying to the Pope, "Honey, let me

introduce you to my redneck friend."

Of course, Bigard, a devout Catholic, still

believes all the religious tall tales of the Bible,

including the howlers about Jonah living in a whale,

dead peeps coming back to life, etc.

A person raised on such tall tales probably finds it easy later

in life to believe in other supernatural things -- like the

idea that 9/11 was an inside job -- which partially explains

Bigard's "thinking."

It's a bit unsettling to know that the best bud of president

Sarkozy is a nut who thinks the 9/11 attacks

were planned by the U.S. government. (Sarkozy's housing minister

up until very recently, Christine Boutin, also said she

thinks Bush might have been behind the World Trade Center

and Pentagon murders.)

Who exactly is this Bigard? A corny comedian who packs 'em in

at Paris theaters but probably couldn't half-fill the

Fillmore in America. Bigard looks and acts something

like a stroke victim with a bad hangover, or like someone

who has been driven clinically insane by decades in prison.

On YouTube, you can hear him joke coarsely about the

Congressional 9/11 report (a real laff riot, that!) and

about how it's suspicious that U.S. fighter pilots weren't

in the air after the first plane crashed into the

World Trade center (which ignores such common sense

questions as: how could we have known the first crash

wasn't an accident before the second plane crashed? To what

specific target would fighter planes have flown?). All

that, he says to his many French fans, is proof

that the U.S. government was in on the 9/11 plot.

Let me put this nicely: It's hard to imagine how

imbecilic you have to be about evidence

evaluation in order to think what Bigard thinks. I mean,

you might be a genius in mathematics or a musical

savant, but if you believe 9/11 was an inside job, then

you quite literally have an idiot's aptitude when it

comes to evaluating evidence.

Even the most extreme jihadist newspapers don't deny 9/11

was a bin Laden plot. And bin Laden himself openly claims

credit for the attacks.

What's disturbing is that I can't find any record of Sarkozy

condemning or renouncing Bigard or Bigard's remarks. (The

comedian himself backed off his kooky theory for

a time, but has recently publicly reiterated his belief

in the conspiracy theory.)

Has Sarkozy made it clear that he accepts

the factual record of the 9/11 attacks, that he fully

understands that bin Laden's al Qaeda gang hatched the

mass murder plot? Has he separated himself from Bigard on

this issue?

If he thinks there's some sense to what Bigard says, that

would put Sarkozy in league with Ahmedinejad in terms of

ignorance and defective thinking.

No wonder France hasn't deployed any combat troops for

the Afghanistan war; why fight people who you don't

believe carried out the crimes of 9/11?

But I digress. Paul



for August 16, 2009

Phish Resurgent!

Also, How I Was Able to Be the First Journalist Anywhere to Interview Trey Anastasio on Tape (Oh, yes I was!)

Photo of Phish that the band sent to me in 1988.

As a pop culture phenomenon, Phish is one of the

most inextinguishable. Every time the band disbands,

fan demand is so great that it has had to come back just

one more time

Remember Phish's final break-up of 2004? Its Great

Hiatus of 2000? All history. As everyone knows,

the band has reunited again, at least for now, with

a new studio album, "Joy," due on Sept. 8, and

concerts at Festival 8 in Indio, Calif.,

scheduled on and around Halloween.

I must say that the Phish I remember, however,

is not the Phish almost everyone else knows,

because I was the first journalist to have

conducted a taped interview with bandleader

Trey Anastasio.

Of course, that claim is sometimes met with

jealous skepticism by one or two rivalrous

colleagues every time I bring it up, but

that's the nature of competition.

Fact is, I have the proof: my audiotape of the

Q&A. And on the tape, Anastasio clearly refers

to concerts that are coming up in the first

week of February 1989, so there is absolutely

no doubt about the date of the interview.

Still, if anyone can find a taped interview with

Anastasio that pre-dates January 1989, when I

conducted my Q&A, then please let me know at

I've researched it: there is no taped interview with

Anastasio that happened before mine, so mine is the first,

and I'm very happy to take credit for what is called

in the journalism business "a scoop." (While it's true

that Trey does mention having talked with a reporter from

the Boston University newspaper prior to my Q&A,

that BU conversation was not audiotaped or published.)

Plus, my tape captures the moment when I first

introduced Anastasio to the band Widespread Panic,

who (with Phish) would soon go on to form the core

of the "jam band" movement of the 1990s.

And the tape of my interview couldn't possibly be

clearer about my having introduced Anastasio to

Widespread Panic; here is the verbatim exchange:


ANASTASIO: No, I'm not


So, yes, I can actually take credit for having

first told Trey about WP!

Actually, my connection to Phish goes back even

further than that, to early 1988 and late 1987. (For

the record, I've had no contact with any Phish

member since 1990; I don't claim to know the band,

I just claim to have been there first as a reporter.)

A few months after I left my staff writer position at

Cash Box magazine in New York in '87 -- where, by

the way, I was the first trade journalist to have

written about They Might Be Giants, the first

person anywhere to have written about the

Smithereens's "Especially for You," etc. -- I had an idea

to do a story on the pop music community in Burlington,

Vermont, for the East Coast Rocker, a New Jersey-based

music newspaper. And I asked dozens of unsigned Vermont

bands to send me tapes.

Among those who sent in tapes was Phish, which mailed

a 1987 demo featuring four originals ("Golgi Apparatus,"

"Fee," "David Bowie," and "Fluffhead," all of which

later appeared on "Junta") and two covers.

My first interviews with Phish's Mike Gordon date back

to an astonishingly early January 1988. Back then, we

talked on a fairly regular basis, and here is a letter he

sent to me in 1988:

I interviewed Mike Gordon a full year before I spoke with Trey,
though I didn't record those conversations; however, Gordon
did send me this handwritten letter, dated March 8, 1988 (above).

I eventually wrote about the group for the newspaper's July 19,

1989, issue, calling Phish "an unlikely combination of the

Grateful Dead and Steely Dan" in a story that stands as the

first to mention the band in a publication outside the

Burlington area (besides concert listings in newspapers).

Meanwhile, my Anastasio interview of '89 stayed in a drawer

in my desk for years; nobody wanted the interview at the time

because the band was almost completely unknown (and would

remain that way for some time to come).

My '89 interview with Trey was finally published

many years later, on December 24, 2003, in New Times,

after it had become something of a pop culture artifact

of significance to Phishheads. (Click this link to read

the New Times piece:

Here's an edited version of my '89 Q&A with Trey

(one day I'll get around to posting the entire



TREY ANASTASIO: Now we've pretty much got an album. We've got almost two albums' worth of material recorded. We've only got one day left of recording. What it includes is more originals. All fairly new songs, newer than stuff on the old [six-song] tape [from 1987]. Two of them are very new; we just finished them. Two of them are things we've been playing for a while but haven't gotten around to recording. We're a lot happier with it than with the demo. When we choose stuff for the album, I think the only thing on the demo that'll make it onto the album is "Fee."


ANASTASIO: Yeah, pretty much. Mike [Gordon] writes songs as well. One of Mike's songs that's going to be on the album is called "Contact." Actually it might not be on the album. See, we're having a hard time deciding what to put on the album. And I think that's the first thing we're going to do is talk with record companies and tell them we have all these songs.


Yeah, we've only just started talking to people [at record companies]. And we haven't really sent it out yet. We wanted to finish this last song. We [are performing on] three nights -- tonight, tomorrow, the next night -- in Vermont. And then we're going to Boston. And we're doing a mixdown on "Let's Go Out to Dinner and See a Movie," another Mike song. We talked to a guy at Rounder Records, we have a connection there, and they seemed pretty interested. [The band would eventually be signed by Elektra Records, not Rounder, in late 1991, after a short time with Absolute A-Go-Go in 1990.]


People are definitely starting to make the [Grateful Dead] comparisons less. But as far as those comparisons, there's nothing really wrong with it, considering that they're one of the most successful bands anywhere now. But the thing that's different about it is the kind of music we're writing now, the newer stuff is sounding less and less like that. No one in the band listens to the Grateful Dead very much.


I had a phase where I listened to them. I was more into Led Zeppelin in high school. I was a Led Zeppelin fanatic and so was the drummer [Jon Fishman]; he went to see them all the time and followed them around. When I got to college -- the last year of high school and into college -- I got into a little bit of a Grateful Dead phase but [grew] out of that and went into a sort of jazz phase. I mean I've seen Pat Metheny as many times as I've seen the Grateful Dead.


Yeah, we've kind of been cutting [the jams] down to like one per set, two per set. But we do do that. That's definitely where the Grateful Dead connection comes in. As well as the fact that a lot of the people that come down to see us are hippie types.


Umm ... young hippies. More like college -type hippies. You know what I mean? But actually when we play in Boston -- this is one of the great things that's happening to us in Boston right now -- it's not really that way. We're getting a different type of crowd. When we first started, we had much more of a Dead sound, even through that demo with "David Bowie," that song. So our following up here [in Boston and in Burlington] was definitely a "Deadhead" type following. And it still kind of is.


Word of mouth.


Oh, yes. Definitely.


No, I'm not


It's a great thing. I was talking to some girl from the BU [Boston University] paper [in a non-taped conversation], and she said the closest she had seen in crowds was actually the Radiators. I've never seen the Radiators. The word of mouth thing is working out real well. I think there's also a lot of people who like us because we do -- have you heard "Fluffhead" on the demo? -- a lot of stuff that's pretty different. [But] that's where the Dead connection really ends. A large bulk of what we do ... we don't play the same three chords over and over again. We do a lot of variety. Like last night, we did a couple jazz songs, "Take the A Train," "Satin Doll." Things like that. And then we'll do in the same set maybe a Led Zeppelin song.


But almost all originals. Usually not more than three or four covers.


We did "Good Times, Bad Times."


We're definitely going to keep playing live. But the album thing is important for a lot of reasons. We're pretty much done recording it. Like I said, we've got so much material recorded we could put out a double album. So I guess the next step is to try to get signed to a label, even if it's an indie. I think we'll do all right. Because if the distribution isn't that great, we've got such a big following -- we've got a mailing list now, we've got a hotline, and I think we'll be able to sell it ourselves.

My description of Phish for a newspaper in 1989,
the first mention of the band in print outside
of Burlington -- besides concert listings (above). Also,
a couple other scoops I was responsible for in the 1980s.
(Of course, I'm leaving several scoops out; was I the first to write
about guitar wiz Gary Lucas? Was I the first to write about
Matthew Sweet's debut? I probably was, but haven't yet
researched that enough to know.)

But I digress. Paul



for August 15, 2009


What Really Happened at Woodstock,
From a Member of Sly and the Family Stone

Sly came thisclose to getting food poisoning from
spoiled bologna
before his set.

Back in 2003, as a writer/reporter for the Reuters news

service, I reported a story about a reunion of The Family

Stone, the band that, with Sly Stone, formed Sly and the

Family Stone. I interviewed members of the Family

Stone, including trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, Sly's

one-time significant other. (She's the one who

plays, among other things, that magnificent horn riff

on "Hot Fun in the Summertime.")

Robinson spoke to me a bit about performing with Sly and the

Family Stone at Woodstock, a set that was supposed to

have taken place on Saturday night (August 16, 1969) but

was delayed until 3am on the rainy Sunday morning that


Though some sources say that much of the audience was

asleep during some of the explosive 3am set, Robinson paints a

different picture in this interview, in which

she provides a revealing look at what it was like -- really like --

for those who were actually there at the fest as performers

forty years ago this weekend.

Here is Cynthia Robinson, from my exclusive interview, in remarks

not published until now.

Cynthia Robinson, back in the day!


[to Woodstock] way before we got on [stage]. And we were sitting

in the back of the trailer. When we [arrived], it was


It was so hot that the news on the radio

said, "Do not eat any packaged meats, because

the refrigeration cannot handle this heat." And we went

into the store to grab -- you know, get baloney and

crackers and canned stuff. And Sly grabbed some baloney.

We got in the car, and [Sly] spread some mayonnaise

on some bread, and put the baloney between. And he got

ready to bite into it, and I was sitting in the back seat

and I go, "SLY, NOOO!" And he pulled [the sandwich]

back out [of his mouth], and he looked at it and the meat

was just bubbly. So just from walking out of the store

[in Woodstock] and getting into the car and making the sandwich,

[the lunchmeat] just started bubbling. It was poison, you


We got over there and waited a long time. 'Cause we didn't

play till night, we didn't play till Janis Joplin -- I think

we came on after her. By then it was cold and raining, it was

pouring rain and there was no place to get under

because there was just land, open space, no trees, and

the people sat there. And I thought that was awesome. And

they got into it. It was awesome. They didn't even try to

get up and run away from the rain because there

was no place to go."

* * *

But I digress. Paul



for August 14, 2009

Yale Bans Dante, Obeys Jihadist Stylebook

Imagine if Galileo had said: "I'll suppress
my scientific findings because they are
highly offensive to the Church and might
cause violence (and I wouldn't want blood on
my hands)." That's essentially what Yale
is saying in its appeasement of the religious right
of Islam.

Bowing to the interests of jihadist censors, the director

of Yale University Press has given Muslim militants

what they want: partial editorial control of an

upcoming book that Yale is publishing.

The book -- “The Cartoons That Shook the World," by Brandeis

prof Jytte Klausen -- is about the so-called Muhammad

cartoons published by a Danish newspaper in '05. One

would expect, of course, that a book about the cartoons would

include the cartoons that are the subject of the book.

But, no. The head of Yale University Press, John Donatich,

consulted government officials and Islamic scholars who

advised him against publishing both the cartoons and

other images of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, including a

depiction of a passage from Dante's "Inferno" by 19th

century French artist Gustave Dore. (As The New York Times

noted, that scene from "The "Inferno," in which Muhammad is

tortured in hell, has also been portrayed in art

by Sandro Botticelli and William Blake.)

Now the hard questions. Did Donatich ask experts on

free speech and censorship what they thought about

including the pictures in the book? Did Donatich consult

the top editors of the numerous international newspapers

that reprinted the cartoons?

Did it occur to Donatich that radical Islamists

might well object to the very fact of the

publication of a book about the Muhammad

cartoons (whether the drawings are included

or not)? (After all, militants rioted and

killed people over the publication of Salman

Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," which had no

pictures in it.) If there are riots about

the picture-less edition of the book, will

Donatich withdraw it?

Taking this further down the slippery slope:

If there is violence in Islam over Dante's

descriptions of Muhammad being tortured

in hell, should "The Inferno" be banned from


If radical Islamists say that paintings in the Uffizi Gallery are

highly offensive works by infidels, should the paintings

be removed from the Uffizi? If the militants

start setting off bombs to demand the removal

of paintings by Botticelli and Michelangelo

from the Gallery, should the Uffizi bow to

their demands?

One has to ask at what point a guy like Donatich

would actually fight for freedom of expression and

academic freedom. Donatich is quoted in The New

York Times saying that one of the reasons

he won't publish the cartoons is because he

doesn't want "blood on my hands."

Let's savor that statement for a moment. He doesn't

want blood on his hands in the course of protecting

a level of freedom of expression that Americans have

died for centuries to protect.

Using his own logic, Donatich would have withdrawn

"The Satanic Verses" to avoid getting blood on his bands.

Maybe Galileo and Copernicus should have

suppressed their scientific findings

because they were highly offensive to

the Church and might have caused violence (and

they wouldn't want blood on their hands,

after all).

Maybe Viking should have said,

"We're withdrawing 'The Satanic

Verses' because we don't want blood

on our hands."

Ah, remember how the French in

the 1940s so memorably said,

"We're going to allow the Nazis to take

France without firing a shot, because

we don't want blood on our hands."

Well, I'll clue you in: having blood on

your hands can be an honorable thing if you're, say,

killing Hitler or Osama bin Laden. Having blood on

your hands can be an honorable thing if you're

fighting the Ku Klux Klan. And having blood on

your hands has, unfortunately, been

necessary throughout history to protect

freedom of speech and religion.

At some point you have to realize that you're complicit

in tyranny when you accede to the demands of tyrants. And

the religious totalitarians of Islam are nothing short

of stateless tyrants who are trying to impose, through

violence and threats, their values on everyone else. And

they're finding that their tactics work (even at Yale);

all they have to do is throw a violent tantrum

and -- voila! -- they can scuttle a book (or part of a

book, or a news story).

As Norman Mailer put it, referring to the Rushdie

affair: "We can now envision a fearful time in

the future when fundamentalist groups in America,

stealing their page from this international episode,

will know how to apply the same methods to American

writers and bookstores." Very true. Anybody -- from

the KKK to Scientologists to those offended by

the Muhammad cartoons -- can use the same temper tantrum

tactics (e.g., riots, bombings, murders, etc.) to control

the content of books and journalism.

As I've said before: whether censorship comes from the

king of your country or from a stateless militant group

outside your nation, it's still censorship. And the

religious totalitarians's use of asymmetrical

warfare makes them as intimidating (and as effective) as

a government with an army and a police force. All the

more reason to stand up to them.

Yale University Press has made a cowardly

decision; free speech advocates should

make sure Yale understands there is a very

unpleasant downside to siding with religious

totalitarians in the publishing world. While

Donatich is still editor, authors should go

to competing university and independent presses to

publish their works.

The university that evaluated George W. Bush

in the 1960s and famously declared him

smart enough to earn a B.A. from Yale -- even

though Bush's verbs and nouns didn't agree, Yale's

profs did -- has made yet another very stupid


But I digress. Paul



for August 11, 2009

Fresh Reflections on Woodstock, 40 Years On

The Woodstock fest, four (not three) days of music,
happened less than five years before the dawn of
the Ramones (you'd think there was a 30-year gap).

I was all of 12-years old when the Woodstock festival

happened, 40-years ago this week, which means Woodstock

was, for me and my friends, a 1970 first-run movie, not a 1969

concert. And my pals and I loved the flick, discussed

it endlessly in between talking about the "Let it

Be" movie and whether the Beatles/Cream/Yardbirds

would ever reunite.

Being 12-years old, I had long outgrown the Monkees

(and so had you, if you're my age) and was now into new

bands like GFR, Steppenwolf (oh, how people ten years older

than me hated those groups!) and (especially) Led Zeppelin, in

addition to my regular diet of the Beatles and the Stones,

none of whom played the Bethel fest.

In fact, for such a signal moment in pop history, it's

surprising that the very biggest and best bands of the

era (The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, the Supremes,

the Kinks, Simon & Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton's

Blind Faith, etc.) did not play Woodstock. (Dylan even

lived up the street from the concert and could have easily

joined The Band for its Sunday night gig, which featured

around a half dozen tunes from "The Basement Tapes.") And

pioneering 1950s rockers like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis,

Carl Perkins and Little Richard also weren't there.

What's more, because of scheduling delays, Woodstock's

primetime spot -- Saturday night at around 9pm -- went to

Mountain, a very underrated band, to be sure, but not the star of

the show or a group popularly associated with the festival. (Though

they did come prepared, performing the very first major

meta-Woodstock song, the tuneful "For Yasgur's Farm.")

Most of the major bands -- the Who, Janis Joplin, Sly and the

Family Stone, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young -- played in the

very wee hours, between 3 and 5 am, give or take, when most

of the audience was fast asleep. (I interviewed members of

Sly and the Family Stone a few years ago who told me they played

their show -- a brilliant, inspired set -- to hundreds of thousands

of sleeping people.) So the fest's best music went mostly

unheard -- until the release of the Woodstock film.

And even then it went unheard, because the movie didn't

include the top songs played by the acts featured

onscreen. I mean, Creedence Clearwater Revival performed

"Proud Mary" and many other hits, Sly and the Family

Stone did "Stand!" and "Everyday People," The

Dead played "St. Stephen," Jefferson Airplane performed

"White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love," Santana played

"Evil Ways," and The Band did "This Wheel's On Fire" and

other Dylan collaborations, yet, inexplicably, none of

that stuff ended up in the movie.

Instead, the flick was padded with a few too many aimless

hard rock jams that were decidedly post-Beatle-esque

(sort of like the 27-minute versions of "Spoonful" and

"Morning Dew" that used to fill out lazy albums

back then).

Today, as an adult, I can see that the Woodstock docu is

flawed and flabby and ultimately unsatisfying; it used

distracting split screens when a more straightforward

approach would've sufficed, was structurally misshapen,

and featured more than a few unremarkable musical moments.

In terms of shape, the film would have done better to have

followed the chronological arc of the festival itself, starting

with the Friday night folkies that kicked things off, peaking

with the very early morning Sunday superstars and ending

with Jimi Hendrix's Monday morning rock, not a bad frame.

In other words, they should have told the story of Woodstock

as it naturally unfolded.

Remember: it was a four-day (not a three-day) gathering,

with more music spilling over into Monday than was

played on the opening Friday. The musical climax arguably

came in the middle of the weekend with a span of

consecutive performances that started with Mountain on

Saturday night and continued with the Grateful Dead,

CCR, Janis Joplin, Sly, the Who and the Airplane, who

all played on early Sunday morning.

The legendary mud came after a rainstorm on the downside

of the weekend, after Joe Cocker's set on Sunday afternoon,

and the rain was no momentary sunshower; the precip lasted

for hours and virtually doused the flame of the whole

gathering. Still, Woodstock managed to reignite after

Country Joe and the Fish took the stage with its

lively anti-war sing-along (brought to life vividly in

the film by that bouncing ball). And Hendrix's set was both

coda and climax; playing for a couple hours to

an audience that had dwindled radically, his final song was

also the last song performed that weekend: "Hey, Joe,"

whose violence pointed to the spirit of the

upcoming Altamont fest, where Joni Mitchell's

beautiful butterflies turned back into bombers.

The primetime spot at Woodstock -- around 9pm on
Saturday night -- went to Mountain, thanks to delays.

Interesting to note that the next major pop music revolution,

led by the Ramones, who tried (with some success) to

overthrow the fat hippie emperors of the Woodstock nation, occurred

less than five years later (though the Ramones seem

around 25 or 30 years removed from the "three days of

peace and music"). The two eras were so different that it

would be impossible to imagine the Ramones playing,

say, "Beat on the Brat" at Woodstock in '69 without

causing a tie-dye riot (though Pete Townshend probably

would've appreciated them).

Back then, pop culture was changing at the pace of

youth itself; it's telling that the distance between

Woodstock and the Ramones -- which seems like eons -- is

the same span between the release of, say, Green Day's

"American Idiot" and today, which seems like a blip

in time.

"We are stardust, we are golden, we don't wanna go down to
the basement..."

But I digress. Paul



for August 7, 2009

As might be expected, the North Korean government's version

of Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang differs somewhat from

the U.S. government's account of the meeting.

Here's how the DPRK's main official English-language website

described the Clinton visit:

"Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest
request of the US government to leniently pardon [Euna
Lee and Laura Ling] and send them back home from a
humanitarian point of view. The meetings had candid
and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the
DPRK and the US in a sincere atmosphere and reached a
consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them."

"....Clinton courteously conveyed a verbal message of US President

Barack Obama expressing profound thanks for [releasing the
journalists] and reflecting views on ways of improving the
relations between the two countries."

Contrast that with how the United States government, via the N.Y. Times,
described the Bill Clinton-Kim Jong-il meeting:

"[Obama] Administration officials said Mr. Clinton went to
North Korea as a private citizen, did not carry a message from
Mr. Obama for Mr. Kim and had the authority to negotiate only
for the women’s release."

* * * *

Of course, everyone is relieved that Lee and Ling

have been spared the horrors of the DPRK's slave labor

camps, in which prisoners are forced to work

to exhaustion on alarmingly small amounts

of food.

While researching conditions in the labor camps,

I read stories of former inmates describing what they

had eaten behind bars. Based (loosely!) on that info,

I've written this menu of ten dishes the DPRK

serves in its labor camps:

Mastering the Art of North Korean Prison Cuisine

Ten Recipes from the DPRK

1. Leather shoelace consomme

2. Raw water soup with a side of ice

3. Teaspoon of Rice, with gravel and assorted rocks

4. Tree Bark (w/fresh worm)

5. Surprise Vegetable Potpourri (a variety of leaves, grass, twigs)

6. Three kernels of corn in sauteed water

7. Organic dirt with a side of mud

8. Grass soup (served with the aroma of pine)

9. Pine cone fiesta! (all the cones you can eat!)

10. Fresh raw mouse (catch it yourself!)

But I digress. Paul



for August 4 - 5, 2009


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

[photo of Clinton by Paul Iorio]

Clinton's successful negotiation of the release of Laura Ling

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

effective American foreign policy player on the world stage.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

So great to see Laura Ling and Euna Lee walking to

freedom in Burbank this morning. I've been

fascinated by this case for months, and have even

written about it as a journalist (click here:,

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

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

I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron

Curtain during the Cold War and was even briefly detained by

the Yugoslav authorities in Zagreb before traveling on into the

most Soviet of Iron Curtain countries, Bulgaria.

So I definitely understand what it's like

to cross a tough Communist border and to be detained

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

my account of the journey (based on my own

contemporaneous journals) at:

But I digress. Paul



for August 4, 2009

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

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

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

widespread, Sarah Palin is about to divorce husband Todd

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

time denying stories that both she and Todd had extramarital

affairs that led to the breakup.

At this early stage -- the reports started emerging just

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

But it should be noted that some of the blogs reporting

the info have been highly credible and ahead of the curve

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

media outlet to have reported that McCain had chosen

Palin as his running-mate).

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

since resigning as Governor, she has become a dedicated

crusader against the First Amendment, seemingly picking

on every podunk blogger in cyberspace in trying to suppress


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

truth about free speech: when one tries to suppress

information, that information becomes even more public

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

In fact, this column would not be covering the situation

had Palin not used a sledgehammer against an Alaska preschool

employee who runs a blog -- -- that

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

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

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

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

website (letter is posted above).

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

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

front of five-year old kindergarten students for

writing a blog that has miniscule circulation.

Can you imagine what this sort of behavior would have

translated into if she had become vice president of the

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

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

probably tried to suppress almost every story written

about her by media outlets of all sizes -- and

would have been able to use the apparatus of the federal

government to do it.

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

a long way toward explaining why Palin made the alarmingly

unusual decision to step down as Governor.

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

But I digress. Paul

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

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

according to numerous blog and media reports,

is Brad Hanson, snowmobile dealer and former business

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

Airwave Rear Shock for a deep discount!) Again,

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

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



for August 3, 2009

Counting Crows Plays a Hometown Show in Berkeley

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

most irresistible song in the Counting Crows catalog,

Adam Duritz went to the mic to talk about politics and

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

just finished a generous set with numerous collaborators

at the Greek Theater (7/26).

Referring to Berkeley, Duritz said: "This city

was founded on the idea that we believe in things.

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

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

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

you vote for."

Then Duritz closed the show with Woody Guthrie's

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

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

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

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

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

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

American of all songs."

Musically, however, the highlight of the night came

with the surprise appearance of trumpeter Chris Bogios

of the San Francisco Symphony, who performed with the

Crows on "Carriage," a truly sublime and bootlegable

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

* * * *

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

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

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

I was skeptical at first. After all, Chicago without

Peter Cetera is not really Chicago; and Earth,

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

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

tours that include, say, The Grassroots (featuring the

original bassist and all new members!) plus the Dave

Clark Five (with the founding drummer and a bunch of

session guys).

Still, the configuration of Chicago that played here did

include vocalist/keyboardist Robert Lamm and the group's

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

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

& Fire featured Philip Bailey, whose falsetto is the

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

sounded very much like EW&F.

And as the show progressed, one tended to forget

about the absence of Cetera and White, if only because

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

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

after another, with half-forgotten zingers always

aiming for the heart, and sometimes hitting it,

inciting widespread dancing and smooching.

Of course, the bands's two separate catalogs feature

very different material, though one of the high points

came when EW&F performed its own quite amazing

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

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

on display here in vintage form, and never hotter than

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

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

show from the hill above the theater, where everyone

was dancing at the end).

Meanwhile, Chicago played top ten hits like it was

giving out candy, always aiming to please, from the

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

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

6 to 4."

All told, a surprisingly satisfying double bill.

But I digress. Paul



for July 31, 2009


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

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

: How's the beer here?

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

CROWLEY: I'll have it.

GATES (to the waiter): Capiche?

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

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

CROWLEY: Go ahead...

GATES: Mi dispiace...

: Forget about it.

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

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

The waiter brings another beer to the table.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Obama shuts the door.

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

GATES: Barack, I almost died myself.

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

A long pause.

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

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

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

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

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

Gates nods head.

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

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


Mitch, Mitch McConnell. We need some more help.

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

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


VOICE OF MCCONNELL: Listen good, Bill.

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

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

: Oh, God --

VOICE OF MITCH MCCONNELL: Are they on the level?

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

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

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

to find out we talked.

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

Bill hangs up the phone and sits up in bed.

HILLARY: Who was that?

BILL: Ahh -- wrong number.

But I digress. Paul



for July 29, 2009

One very smart local TV news anchor in San Francisco

came up with the best question that anybody has yet

asked about yesterday's international swimming

competition: Why didn't Michael Phelps wear the

superior swimsuit?

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

200-meter freestyle race in Rome, Phelps was

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

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

had the option of wearing the Arena but Phelps and others

chose the inferior Speedo (and it now emerges that Phelps

was offered the polyurethane suit but didn't wear it

because he had signed a contract with Speedo).

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

morning saying, "Gee, let me wear something

bulky that creates a lot of hydrodynamic resistance

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

enough to wear something better." No, Phelps

wanted to wear what he felt would reduce

drag and resistance as much as possible.

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

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

propeller and doesn't administer steroids like a patch,

so it's completely legit.

Some say the polyurethane Arena should be prohibited

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

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

superior ones have greater buoyancy and less drag. Buoyancy

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

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

the world will beat a path to your doorstep!

And equating the Arena to an aluminum bat in baseball

is a false comparison. Aluminum bats, which hit balls

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

major leagues, largely because of safety issues

related to pitchers being hit with baseballs speeding

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

involved with a polyurethane suit being worn by a swimmer

swimming in his own lane in a pool.

There is, however, a dangerous tendency among some to

criticize almost any new innovation (in any field)

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

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

unfair advantage merely because they weren't smart enough

to have taken advantage of a legitimate advance in technology

or approach. Losing competitors in every profession

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

way of doing things -- no fair!"

The polyurethane suit does pretty much what the Speedo

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

his allies in the sports media and those associated with

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

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

hadn't been locked into a contract with Speedo.

Fact is, all suits have inherent advantages and disadvantages.

The only way competitive swimmers could truly be on

an equal footing with one another is if everybody

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

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

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

swimmers that could create drag.

Germany's Paul Biederman, using the best technology legitimately

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

and square and should be duly congratulated by all.

But I digress. Paul



for July 24, 2009

He's Saad, I'm Glaad

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

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

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

wrote and recorded last year called "I Shot Osama

bin Laden."


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

But I digress. Paul

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

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

everything, produce everything that appears on my

albums. Literally everything -- from the initial

songwriting idea to the finished track to everything

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

did I use an outside producer for an album, and

that album didn't work out and has since been

withdrawn from circulation. But even in that one

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

essentially just a tech support person (and we

haven't spoken to each other in years).



for July 23, 2009

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

length of time knows its city government has always been

incorrigibly corrupt. For honest everyday people, living

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

City Hall (or with a businessperson associated with

City Hall).

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

the newly elected mayor of Hoboken, the mayor of

Secaucus and others in the venal infrastructure out there

this morning.

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

while living in Hoboken and recorded last year in

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

audio link:

But I digress. Paul



for July 18 - 22, 2009

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

I've interviewed many stars and celebrities over the

decades, from Woody Allen to Richard Pryor

to Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Frank Zappa, and one

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

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

12 human beings who can truthfully put "moonwalker"

on a resume.

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

exactly what it was like, on an experiential level,

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

second career as a visual artist) talked about

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

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

the crew of Apollo 12, which included the late

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

I conducted this interview on October 13, 1998, but

got around to publishing it in 2004, when I

sold it to the Austin American-Statesman, which

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

anniversary of the first lunar landing by astronauts,

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

* * * *

* * * *

The best line about remembering the events of 1969 came

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

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

But I digress. Paul



for July 17, 2009

Remembering Walter Cronikite

The only time I ever saw Walter Cronkite in person

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

Manhattan. He was alone in the elevator lobby on an

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

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

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

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

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

That backwards glance will stick with me forever; you

could sense he was genuinely curious about whatever

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

Cronkite died today, and it's almost impossible to

overstate his influence, especially on the boomers

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

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

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

his coverage of the Democratic National Convention,

particularly the famous incident in which Dan Rather

was decked by security goons on the Convention

floor for merely asking why a Eugene McCarthy delegate

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

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

people being violent to the press and others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(which also shows the staggering amount of time and

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

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

profession, and maybe his longevity had something to do with

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

unless he took an unflinching look at what it was.

But I digress. Paul



for July 16, 2009

Bruno Hoaxes Ron Paul!

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

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

Sacha Baron Cohen, in his cinematic guises as both Bruno

and Borat, has avoided being assaulted and seriously

injured by irate prankees; 2) how he could

find celebrities who, at this late stage, were still

unfamiliar with either Bruno or the phenomenon of

Baron Cohen himself.

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

Paul hadn't heard about how Borat famously hoaxed

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

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

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

losing his temper in a very politically

incorrect way after being pranked by Bruno.

The sequence in which Bruno tries to seduce the

Republican Congressman (imagine if this had been

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

the Austrian fashion icon entering Rep. Paul's hotel

room and asking if he would like some Champagne.

BRUNO: Do you want some Champagne?

RON PAUL: [nervously] No Champagne, no.

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

RON PAUL: [grunts "no"]

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

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

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

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

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

how he responds in a pressured situation. If Obama

had been pranked by Bruno, could you imagine the same

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

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

sort of thing," and left the room.)

Paula Abdul also gets the treatment. At first, Bruno

lures in Abdul by asking a couple softball questions

that feed into her instinct for self-promotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another memorable bit is this one between Bruno and a

self-defense instructor:

BRUNO: How do you spot the homosexual?

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

BRUNO: But obvious things to look for?

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

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

INSTRUCTOR: Most likely.

And what follows is a marvelous and surreal bit of

choreography in which the instructor trains Bruno in

how to defend himself against someone coming at him

with a variety of exotic dildoes (you have to

see it to believe it).

Other funny scenes include one in which Bruno tries to

negotiate peace in the Middle East with an Israeli and a


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

PALESTINIAN: This is in Egypt, not in Palestine.

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

He also jets off to a Lebanese refugee camp where he

meets with a hard-line militant.

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

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

[Again, fair game. Bruno is interviewing a guy

whose terrorist beliefs are based on his reading

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

Koran. The militant is arguably more superficial

than Bruno himself.)

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

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

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

thought Bruno the character was incompletely

conceived in that his Nazi side should've been developed

more than his gay side (think of the possibilities if

Bruno had infiltrated and hoaxed some Aryan Nation

groups who thought he was one of them, a worshipper

of the gay Hitler).

But the Ron Paul and Paula Abdul segments are pretty

much worth the price of admission, or at

least the price of a DVD rental.

But I digress. Paul



for July 14, 2009

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

many thanks to Marshall "Hussein" Stax for playing

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

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

now posted at! Juche, baby, Juche!

But I digress. Paul



for July 12, 2009

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

There was natural magic onstage and off last night in

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

indie acts performed while nature itself almost upstaged

the show with sunshowers, weird sunlight and a massive


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

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

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

And then the band, as confident and masterful as

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

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

Also mentioning the rain from the stage was opening

act Andrew Bird, who lately has been the headliner at

other gigs and had most of his set here accompanied

by a steady drizzle.

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

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

make everyone forget about the precip, building tension

from note one.

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

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

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

prodigious whistling (Bird makes novel use of whistling and

the violin, which he occasionally plucks like a mandolin,

like no one else in pop music).

After Bird finished his set, the rain stopped and sunlight

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

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

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

heard the whole show in the hills adjacent to the Greek

Theater, an open-air venue.)

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

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

breakthrough album, which comprised around a third of

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

band's most critically praised album, before playing

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

the best being "My Mirror Speaks," well worth

checking out.

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

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

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

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

momentum that was almost hypnotic.

Opening the concert for both Death Cab and Andrew Bird was

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

the last few years to become one of the more promising

bands in indie rock. The group is touring behind its

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

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

sort of stuff that kicks in after a second

or third listening, and the highlight here was the

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

the band is generating lots of enthusiasm, not least

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

song to the Syracuse band.

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

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

"President of What?"

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

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

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

vaguely as if the seasons had changed, but to

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


But I digress. Paul

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

a pre-recorded disc played a welcome surprise through

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

post-punk nugget from The Replacements, and it sounded

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

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

(bringing together Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars and Tommy

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

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

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

would turn on a whole new generation to a massively

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

better known than it is today.



for July 11 - 12, 2009

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

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

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

clear the central problem with nonproliferation policy

is and has always been hypocrisy, the paternalistic

notion that one set of nations can be trusted with

nukes but another cannot. Obama has gone a long way

toward removing hypocrisy from the equation by saying,

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

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

equivalent action, to not develop nukes at all.

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

have changed; legend has it that Boris Yeltsin used to

show up at summits, saying, "Take me

to your liter!")

Jokes aside, the unfunny truth is that the DPRK

will soon become a nuclear power, if it

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

Any U.N.resolution authorizing the use of force

against the DPRK will always be vetoed in

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

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

Agnew, can always be persuaded to vote for a

non-binding resolution that has all

the impact of an impassioned letter to the editor.

Meanwhile, six-party talks always amount to mere

two-party talks and impasse.

Frankly, the DPRK could get away with anything (short

of attacking Seoul or Tokyo) without suffering much

more than a strongly-worded condemnation.

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

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

as a backhanded insult, a way to infantilize him

and his regime.

No, he's developing weapons of mass destruction for

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

doesn't send out press releases every time he

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

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

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

saying they merely want attention.

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

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

the United States is incarcerating Charles Manson for those

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

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

almost always universally (and absurdly and tragically) harsh.

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

effective if there was an appeal for their release by film

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

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

always has, and he might listen more attentively to Hilary

Swank than to Hillary Clinton.

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

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

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

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

is shockingly lousy, plodding and autocratic, far from

the aphoristic wisdom of Mao (even when translated into English

by Kim's own editors in Pyongyang).

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

that his college education happened at a university named for his

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

would've risked flunking him?).

That lack of education may account for his persistent

delusional dream of re-unifying the Korean peninsula.

Kim and many others are evidently unaware that the division of

Korea is not a modern invention. The peninsula was

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

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

unified as a Japanese colony for around 30 years in

the 20th century, a colonial relationship that ended very

badly, as we all remember, with the atomic bombing

of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in '45.

The good news about North Korea is that

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

had a stroke last year, is in declining health and

recently sent his sons to Beijing to beg for advanced

medical equipment to treat his ailment, which

can only mean his illness is unusually serious

(word is he has pancreatic cancer).

He could have been one of those dictators who

lives and rules in good health until age 90.

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

much longer.

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

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

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

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

probably prone to making rash, callow hot-headed

decisions that could be dangerous for everybody.

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

seems to be pushing the DPRK away from disarmament.

The key question is this: What was the international

community doing in the spring of '08 that convinced

Pyongyang to topple its own reactor tower at Yongbyon?

Whatever the world was doing then to persuade Kim to

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

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

- - -

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

- - -

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

* * * *

Scandalous Picture of the Day!

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

* * * *

I have a friend who is not very artistically

smart who visited me a few years ago and, after

hearing my latest album, pompously asked what

the "theme" of the album was.

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

superimposing a conscious theme on a work

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

should emanate organically from the work itself

and not be forced upon the music. Theme, unless

it is organic, is generally a contrivance, and

I prefer to allow the unconscious

to shape a work as much as possible.

But my friend still had these high school

English teacherish ideas about writing and

music that he hadn't outgrown and

needed some convincing.

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

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

all time?"

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

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

high school" (to coin a phrase).

The greatest pop albums of all time were collections of

songs that fit together intuitively, for reasons that

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

most genuine and authentic way of shaping a work.

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

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

deliberate unified structure?

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

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

comes from John Lennon, who once stated that the idea

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

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

that if you take away the reprise of the title

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

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

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

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

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

go with the concept at all.

But the album fits together -- frankly, despite the

forced concept, not because of it.

So to those who ask what the themes of my albums

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

I simply write songs that feel right and put them together

on an album in a juxtaposition and sequence that works.

But I digress. Paul



for July 3, 2009

The Best American Film of 2009 (So Far)

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

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

just the best American movie of the first half of

'09, but also the best gangster picture in around

20 years, a symphony of violent light that must

be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

The movie stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, the

bank robber who terrorized the Midwest in 1934 and gained

fame for his legendary prison escapes and chases

from police, all dramatized here as vividly as

cinematically possible. Depp is as charismatic as he's

ever been, recalling no less than Al Pacino

in the first two "Godfather" films.

Depp's Dillinger sums himself up to a gorgeous hat

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

baseball, movies, and good clothes and fast cars

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

Also notable is Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson,

Dillinger's number two, as brutal and breathtaking as

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

years, featuring vintage, dangerous-sounding Depression-era

songs that mix magically with the robbery scenes.

And the film also draws a devastating portrait of

J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), the autocratic

founder of the FBI, who obsessively pursued Dillinger

and is shown here as callow, bureaucratic and always

trying to take credit for the achievements of others,

as in this scene in which he's quizzed

by a U.S. Senator:

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

HOOVER: We have arrested and arraigned 213 wanted felons.

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

HOOVER: As Director, I administer.

SENATOR: How many have you arrested personally?

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

SENATOR: You've never arrested anybody?

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

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

Hoover's agents, after many missteps, eventually got

Dillinger, outside a movie theater in Chicago, exactly

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

finds fresh, surprising and memorable ways to show the


And the denouement might actually bring a tear to your

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

not just suspenseful and visually stunning but humorous

and moving, too.

But I digress. Paul



for July 2, 2009

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

Last year bumper stickers cropped up in my neighborhood

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

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

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


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

in almost every significant way. Whatever else you might

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

there was almost no difference between the private Bush

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

Nixon's of commission.

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

less-government approach that led to neglectful policies,

disasters like the Katrina response and the partial collapse

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

aggressively using the apparatus of the Federal government

to ruin political opponents.

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

National Archives that, once again, confirm almost

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

shocking being his racism. Abortion, said our 37th

president, the product of a mixed marriage between a

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

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

the sort of mind that would say such a thing.

The new Nixon tapes are reminders of why progressivism,

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

in that era.

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

think Congress should seriously consider passing a bill

that urges courts to reevaluate the criminal cases of

citizens convicted of crimes committed in the course

of group political action between January 1969 and

August 1974, allowing judges to give greater weight to

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

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

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

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

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

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

him to do so.

I think there has to be some sort of additional formal

acknowledgment by the government that the Nixon regime

operated outside accepted legal frameworks -- and the best

way to do that might be to allow a reassessment of

legal cases involving dissent in those years.

The tapes also spurred me to revisit last year's

"Frost/Nixon" film and the actual Frost broadcasts

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

and engaging but fundamentally flawed in its elevation

of Frost to a level that is way beyond his relatively

minor cultural and journalistic significance.

And some of the most riveting parts of the real Frost

interviews with Nixon weren't dramatized in the feature

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

the paying of hush money to the Watergate burglars,

citing 16 audiotaped examples of Nixon directly approving

such payments).

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

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

because he lacked the professional finesse of, say, the

best "60 Minutes" interviewers. For example, instead

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

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

you say to someone who calls that an outright obstruction

of justice?" Frost repeatedly assumes the posture

of an advocate or prosecutor, not of a disinterested


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stick it to all those people who tormented me."

No wonder he got along with the despots of the

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

accurately as human rights violators and autocrats.

Nixon fit right in with the dictators who wanted

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

if necessary.

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

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

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

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

genuine articles.

The conventional wisdom has always put Nixon in the moderate

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

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

conservative wing of the party at the time

was co-opted by George Wallace and his segregationists.

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

in the GOP (besides marginalized Goldwaterites) at the

time were so-called moderates.

Today, conservatism is rooted in supply-side Reganomics,

now discredited and really just a white-collar reformulation

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

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

as a tool to give black people equal access to institutions

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

conservatives dressed up that belief in different clothing,

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

give blacks fair access to the money that could

liberate them.

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

almost impossible to imagine America electing a president

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

electoral triumph should spark a reevaluation of race-based

statutes and policies. For example, the assumptions

around Title VII protections appear to have been built

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

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

Jews and Italians and...).

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

the New Haven firefighters case), the disparity of the

test results at issue is perhaps more convincingly

explained by the self-fulfilling prophecy brought

about by rulings such as the one Sonia Sotomayor was a

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

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

you are creating a disincentive for them to study for that

test. And that dynamic may explain the disparity better

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

circumstantial evidence of its victimization by


Sotomayor's decision was more correct at the time she

made it and would have been more just at any time

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

proved beyond a doubt that racism and bias are not as

prevalent or as debilitating as we once thought they were.

In the wake of the Obama election, which proved

that an African-American progressive can win amongst

white voters in red states (against a strong conservative

opponent), we must rethink some of the assumptions around

Title VII, much as we would reassess the disability

status of a person who was once unable to walk

but can now run and win top track and marathon


But I digress. Paul



for June 28, 2009

Wilco (The Concert)

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

Jeff Tweedy and Wilco were soaring from peak to peak

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And then he started strumming the opening chords of

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

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

singing Woody Guthrie's words and his own melody:

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

California stars..."

Under the California stars on this midsummer night, almost

everyone clapped and sang along (even in the hills above

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

that has an undeniably powerful effect on audiences,

perhaps the greatest song about the Golden State since

"California Dreamin'" itself.

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

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

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

classic that recalls CCR and the Beatles without sounding

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

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

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

But I digress. Paul



for June 27, 2009

Last Night's David Byrne Show

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

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

left the show humming a few of the new ones like

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

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

surprisingly strong CD that I had underrated until

several hours ago.

That said, the dozen or so Talking Heads tracks he

and his band performed were exciting, particularly

"Life During Wartime," whose main riff now sounds

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

which comes to life magically onstage (even for

people listening in the hills above the theater, as

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

he hasn't played much on this tour.

It was wonderful to hear Byrne sound as fresh

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

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

headlining a concert that included brand new arrivals

The B52s).

Last night, Byrne was affable, loquacious and in very

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

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

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

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

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

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

energetically launching into openers "Strange Overtones"

and "I Zimbra."

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

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

goes to some real Greek theaters, in Athens and

elsewhere in Greece.

But I digress. Paul



for June 25, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson

Shocked, saddened by the unexpected death of Michael

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

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

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

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

speaking maybe ten or fifteen words. I remember

thinking he seemed overly stage-managed by his handlers

and was wishing he'd loosen up a bit.

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

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

resembling her in another way.

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

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

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

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

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

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



for June 16, 2009

Tehran Spring

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

* * *

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

Unfortunately, it's hard for the United States to

claim the clear moral high ground about the rigged

election and subsequent brutality toward protesters

in Tehran. After all, we denied victory to the

victor in our presidential race of 2000. We

shot unarmed student protesters at Kent State in

1970. We brutally beat dissenters in the

streets of Chicago in 1968 (while making sure

television networks couldn't cover the violence

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

telling his son not to smoke, we (the biggest

nuclear bomb maker of them all) forbid them

to have their own nuclear weapons.

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

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

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

surfaces here, too.

* * *

You know, I was not at all offended by David

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

with this brand new comedy rule that

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

did it all the time (remember the episode about

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

Jonathan Swift even joked about eating young

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

satiric piece that irony-deficient people did not

understand. (For the record, Swift never

apologized for "A Modest Proposal" -- and he

shouldn't have.)

No, Letterman bowed to a cynical politician

who willfully misread his joke in order to

score points on the campaign trail.

That said, I am offended by the fact that

Letterman (or one of Letterman's writers) ripped

off one of my original ideas that I published in

my June 1, 2009, Daily Digression. I posted

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

Upcoming Book on the Obama Administration" -- on

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

night) Letterman did his own "excerpt from Bob

Woodward's book on the Obama administration."

Does it feel right that a millionaire

comedian can rip off the ideas of a small

entrepreneur who writes an online column like this

one? Does that pass the fairness test for you?

But I digress. Paul



for June 5 - 8, 2009

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

Just before they were busted near

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

Laura Ling and Euna Lee found themselves within sight

of a North Korean winter wonderland of snow-covered

peaks, seven and eight thousand feet high, ranging

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

Tumen River, the border between North Korea and

China, was looking less like a river and more like

a continuation of the ice that was already on the

ground, according to photos taken around that time.

For the crime of crossing the border without a visa

(and there is some dispute about which side of the

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

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

in all likelihood).

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

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

of strenuous labor on dangerously small amounts of food.

(Read about it in detail at

And this is one of the least sensitive areas

in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

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

almost nobody lives (the only real city in the

vicinity is Yanji, on the China side, which is

around the size of Oakland, California).

The case of Ling and Lee underlines this lesson:

the best way for any outsider -- tourist or

journalist -- to see that northern

area is from deep inside Manchuria (with binoculars),

because that border is something of a Venus


As for visiting the rest of North Korea from the

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

North Korea is as reclusive and secretive as

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

you are allowed entry, you would almost

certainly be restricted to visiting Pyongyang,

and only certain parts of Pyongyang at that,

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

Visitors would do well to heed the warnings and

advisories about travel to North Korea posted

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

your hotel room and phone conversations may

be bugged; you can't take pictures of anything

without permission; you can't pay for anything

by credit card or personal check; you can't

bring anything resembling pornography into the

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

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

develop a medical problem, you should avoid

surgery (because "functioning x-ray

facilities are not generally available"); and if

you run afoul of the many eccentric, arbitrary

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

has no diplomatic relations with the North (you would

have to cry to the people at the Swedish Embassy in

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

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

you might want to start with the most private

place in all of the DPRK: the Nuclear Research

Center at Yongbyon.

It would be an exaggeration, though

not much of one, to say that more Americans

have walked on the moon than have visited

the nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which

seems as sealed and insulated as the heavy lead

casks used for spent fuel rods.

Nestled in the Myohyang Mountains on the

winding Kuryong River, at the point where the

river becomes shaped like a horseshoe or a "U"

(as in Uranium), Yongbyon is the heart

of the nation's nuclear weapons development


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

Not only is access to the center heavily restricted,

but the only major highway to Yongbyon -- the

Myohyang-Pyongyang Expressway -- is from

Pyongyang and said to be for official use only.

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

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

to take the Expressway north for around 60 miles,

traveling for around 90 minutes through plains and

mountains on a highway that is, presumably, almost

completely car-less and truck-less.

Around halfway there, he'd pass near the city

of Suchon, site of a major uranium mine, and

then veer northeast through the Myohyang

Mountains, coal mining country.

After Kim arrives at the nuclear facility

area -- he probably exits the freeway near

a town called Kaechon -- he likely continues

by local roads near the Kuryong to


The nuclear facility, which is reportedly not

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

includes structures for fuel fabrication,

uranium processing, assembly of fuel elements,

etc. -- in other words, everything required

to makes nukes. Photos from a tower-toppling

event at the site in 2008 make the center

look like a factory in a green river valley.

Satellite photos make it seem something

like a warehouse district or a

Burbank movie studio backlot for a nuclear

disaster flick.

But Yongbyon is the real deal. Fueled by nearby

uranium mines, with facilities for reprocessing

plutonium, Yongbyon is currently back in

operation, according to Kim Jong-il's own

recent public pronouncements. And it's widely

believed that Kim might soon have fully

functioning Taepodong 2 missiles, which could

deliver a nuke as far as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Several miles to the west are far more modest digs:

the residences of nuke plant workers (the Homer

Simpsons of the DPRK), according to online maps.

All told, there's probably a better chance that

Yongbyon will be visiting America (so to speak)

than that Americans will be visiting Yongbyon any

time soon.

Far more accessible is Pyongyang, though that's

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

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

catch a flight into the capital from Beijing (and there

have been irregular charter flights from Vladivostok,

Russia, in the past).

Pyongyang is a big, vertical city -- slightly larger

than Chicago -- built mostly after

1953, after the Korean War destroyed much

of the previous city.

But if you're looking for bars and restaurants,

they're as scarce as street crime here, which

is to say, almost non-existent.

Built on the flatlands and low hills around the

Taedong River, Pyongyang is full of tourist sights designed

to praise and glorify the current and past

governments of the DPRK.

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

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

which was captured by the North Koreans in 1968 after it

allegedly strayed into its territorial waters -- on display

in the river that runs through the capital.

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

the Juche Idea -- a granite, riverside tower

topped with a bulb shaped like a flame, which dominates

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

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

promoting self-reliance as a universal goal in both personal

life and governmental policy.)

The city's subway, the Pyongyang Metro,

seems more like an oddly ornate bomb

shelter, around 360 feet underground,

reportedly a record depth for a major

city subway system. Even official photos reveal

an overdressed facility, what with all those

chandeliers and colonnades -- not to mention

the propagandistic mosaics and art at many

of the stations.

To the northwest, there's an attractive hilly

neighborhood called the Peony Hill (Moranbong)

District, with elevations to around 300 feet (not

quite as tall as, say, San Francisco's

city heights). Near the Peony District is North

Korea's Harvard University (such that it has

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

studied economics in the early 1960s. Government-released

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

a combination meat-packing plant and reform school.

A U.S. government map (stamped "Distribution

Limited -- Destroy When No Longer Needed") shows

that the most notable landmark in the Pyongyang area

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

absent on many other maps of the region.

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

Farther north is the international airport, where

virtually all passengers are either coming from or

going to Beijing.

Much farther north is the Yalu River, which forms

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

partially clogged with islands claimed by both

Manchuria and North Korea. It's an almost entirely

mountainous region whose star attraction is Mount

Baekdu, the highest peak on the peninsula at

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

that straddles a once-disputed border.

Other areas along the Yalu are less idyllic,

according to photos published by Reuters and

other news organizations; the landscape around

Hyesan, for example, is a forest of

factory smokestacks; some of coastal Sinuiju,

in the far northwest, looks very dilapidated.

Finally, truly adventurous travelers looking

to enter the DPRK through a relatively weak

border can try taking a train from Russia into

the first North Korean town over the line, Tumangan.

(There are recent reports of lucky westerners

making the trip successfully and safely). The

two countries share both an eleven-mile border

in the northeasternmost part of the DPRK (which

is around 90 miles west of Vladivostok) and railroad

tracks, and those who make it to the peninsula can

continue their rail journey to the nearby port city

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

say) and even farther on to Pyongyang.

Unfortunately, making the reverse trip and getting

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

Ling and Euna Lee now understand all too well.

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *


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

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

If you're planning to visit North Korea anytime

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

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

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

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

as a tourist, you might be called upon by your

government guide to show some sign of respect to

the Dear Leader a few times during your stay.

So it might pay to bone up on some of the

many published writings of Kim Jong-il, who

has weighed in on a wide range of

topics over the decades, many of them far

from his collegiate major, economics.

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

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

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

all piano playing and praises a new song about his

dad! Here's an excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress. Paul



for June 4, 2009

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

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

shouldn't act stereotypically."



for June 3, 2009

Wow! According to MySpace, my new song

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

played hundreds of times by visitors to my MySpace

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

around a week ago!

I'm grateful and glad listeners are

connecting with the tune (and I'm thankful great

radio stations like KCRW and KALX have aired it).

Check it out (and download it for free) at

But I digress. Paul

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

composed, performed and produced solely by me!



for June 1, 2009

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

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

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

this guy more and more!

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

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

plenty better than Clinton (Bill, that is) plays

sax. He should cut a record.

* * *

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

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

will be released around 2025:

"You know, I never really had the chemistry I

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

think a few of them always thought they

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

Biden, the Amtrak-riding senior Senator who never got

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

out of too many decision-making meetings and my advice

went unheeded too often."

* * *

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

on the Obama administration:

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

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

"Cancel it," said the president tersely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yessir, Mr. President."

* * * *

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

Single Blast" on KCRW, KALX and other great radio

stations (thanks a lot to those stations for playing

it, by the way!).

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

on MySpace. Just go to to listen to it.

I must admit that of all the hundreds of songs

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

has connected with more listeners than any of

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

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

now -- it's on me.)

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

days so you can have a fresh selection of the many

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

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

is composed, performed and produced solely by me.)

But I digress. Paul



for May 20, 2009

Maureen Dowd Should Take Six Months Off

And not just because she plagiarized Josh

Marshall's Talking Points Memo in her

column last Sunday -- though that's a serious

journalistic felony -- but because she's

becoming predictable, repetitive, stale,

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

do something else for several months and

then come back to her twice-weekly column.

First, the plagiarism scandal, which resonates

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

the disgraced Jayson Blair in print in the early

stages of the scandal that almost brought down her

newspaper, and 2) there have been several

instances (and I've mentioned them in the Digression

over the months (search columns posted below

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

she appears to have swiped unique coinages or phrases

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

coined the term "Palinista" to refer to supporters

of Sarah Palin last year and the very next day she

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

used by anyone else up to that point).

In the current Maureen Dowd plagiarism case,

she plagiarized, virtually verbatim, an entire

paragraph from Marshall without crediting him.

Here's what she wrote:

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

And here's what she plagiarized from Marshall:

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

Now, according to media blogs, she's justifying

herself with what appears to be a transparent lie: that

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

then she repurposed that idea for her column.

So we're supposed to believe that her friend

discussed the idea with her using Marshall's

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

dictation from her friend?! You expect us to

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

wonder you believed Jayson back when.

Now there appears to be a second excuse: that

she cut-and-pasted the passage and

then mistook it for her own. (Hey, she

wasn't writing a book, for crissakes, just

a dinky column!)

So in addition to her plagiarism violation, she

now now has a credibility problem, too. As her

dad the cop probably told her: sometimes the

cover-up is worse than the crime.

And as I mentioned, she's also becoming too

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

typical Maureen Dowd column:

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

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

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

too much word reversal, idea reversal stuff, and

labored convoluted wordplay. She should take

six months off and come back to the paper around


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

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

Guthmann got a pass at the San Francisco Chronicle).

Why? Because if you're friends with the right

people in journalism, your editors will overlook

almost any transgression. If you're not,

you'll be fired for merely misplacing a comma.

* * * *

Californians to California: "Drop Dead"

Funny thing is, the election in California

yesterday, in which almost all of several

ballot propositions to raise taxes were

defeated at the polls, seemed to generate

more media coverage in the national press than

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

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

anyone who did. There was almost zero buzz

about the ballot measures -- and most

of the local news coverage was about the

low voter turn-out.

I know: if the propositions had passed, they

would have helped to solve the huge budget

shortfall that the state government now has

to offset with deep spending cuts.

But in this recession, when everybody except

the state of California seems to be getting a

federal bail-out, I and most Californians

echoed that famous New York newspaper

headline of the 1970s and, on Tuesday, said

to the state, "Drop dead!"

But I digress. Paul



for May 3, 2009

Last Night's Van Morrison Show

There are tales and legends of Van Morrison concerts

at which Van rides a sunbeam up through the cumulus

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

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

show, was sort of like that.

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

Do," which simply overflowed with melody into the

open-air Greek Theater and up to the hills above

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

sure that deities from Zeus to Krishna were

sitting, catching a freebie, catching the

sounds of heaven on Earth, on this

intermittently rainy night.

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

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

freshly composed it, with the lyrics, of

course, just sounds, a way to facilitate

emotion, given that Van generally sings

(or scats) along the contours of the feeling

of the moment, whatever that sounds like.

Whatever. If you haven't yet discovered the

live version of "Like Young Lovers Do," do

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

Hollywood Bowl" DVD, released a couple

months ago.) By the way, can you imagine

what David Hidalgo and Los Lobos could

do with that one?

The design of the concert was to perform

his entire "Astral Weeks" album, after

a warm-up set of Van classics, so

"Like Young Lovers Do," the peak of

a concert full of peaks, came around

mid-way through the "Astral" segment.

Earlier, Morrison had performed "Moondance,"

reimagined in a jazzier arrangement, an

irresistible "Wild Night" and a version

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

people dancing wildly -- plus plenty

of radical scatting that made it seem

like Van was trying to re-invent singing


This tour is well worth checking out.

And you can see him on Leno this Wednesday.

But I digress. Paul



for April 29, 2009

Suddenly, unexpectedly, the balance of

political power in the United States has

come down to one single individual: the

guy who used to play Stuart Smalley on

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

* * *

Now that the state of Florida is

considering offering car license

plates with a picture of Jesus Christ

on them, here are a couple captions

to go with the pic.

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

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

* * *

I've decided that Bill Maher is a funnier Lenny

Bruce -- or (more accurately) a funny Lenny


* * *

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

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

But I digress. Paul

[picture of crucifixion by unknown artist]



for April 27, 2009

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

Funny thing about personal experience; it doesn't

always have a direct, linear effect on what

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

have personal tragedy or trauma in his life and

still continue to write mediocre songs. But

another writer who is merely moved by someone

else's tragedy or trauma can come up with a

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

did, loosely playing off circumstances

surrounding John Lennon's painful divorce

from Cynthia). Interesting that Lennon

himself, as brilliant as he was, never came up

with anything nearly as moving that directly

related to his marital break-up.

Likewise, lots of soldiers endure the trauma of combat,

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

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

who have seen friends die on the battlefield write

only banalities and doggerel and are unable to

transform their experience into meaningful art.

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

Badge of Courage" -- was penned by someone who

never saw a day of combat, Stephen Crane.

And, likewise, one can have an education and still

not be educated at all. Witness Mahmoud

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

"astonishingly uneducated," to quote

Columbia University president Lee Bollinger.

The latest evidence of that was his appearance on

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

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

One wonders about such a mind. If Ahmadinejad doubts

the Holocaust, what else does he doubt? The existence

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

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

Does he only accept mythological truth?

And Ahmadinejad seems to be drawing a feeble

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

the West as we are when it comes to something

you hold sacred.

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

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

to publicly say and write that the holocaust didn't

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

be no deadly riots in the streets as a result

(the way there were riots after the Jyllands-Posten

published the irreverent Mohammed cartoons).

What Ahmadinejad and other fundamentalists don't

understand is there are many different tools with

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

boycotts, civil disobedience, opinion pieces,

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

extremists choose homicide from their tool kit -- as

their first and only response.

My feeling about newspapers and public figures that

deny the Holocaust is that they bring on their own

punishment: lack of credibility. Who would ever

take such a source seriously again?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is:

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

and too many Ph.Ds with disdain for

fact-based truth.

But I digress. Paul



for April 26, 2009

The Dalai Lama Visits Berkeley, Calif.!

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

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

But I digress. Paul



for April 23, 2009

What Ever Happened to Al Gore?

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

I was wondering the other day: where did Al Gore

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

who hasn't become an Obama appointee or subsidiary.

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

Well, I got my answer this afternoon. Gore was

speaking at the University of California at Berkeley,

and I dropped by to listen.

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

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

that he seems almost younger than yesterday,

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

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

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

he hadn't been unfairly blocked from taking

the job he won in '00.

And on this day after Earth Day, his speech was

vintage Gore ("The entire north polar ice cap is

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

actual reason for his appearance was a

groundbreaking ceremony for UC's Blum Center.

For those wondering: Gore didn't mention whether

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

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

in 2012).

* * * *

Obama's First Hundred Days

Barack Obama may well become our greatest

president since JFK and has probably already

inspired as many people as Kennedy did by

'62. Time will tell. But one hundred days

into his presidency, he still seems a bit

like the hip, super-smart substitute teacher

at the experimental school who does wonders

with the students and maybe can even help

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

it be great if we could put him on staff


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

I don't think there's another recent president

who has had fewer mis-steps and made fewer

mistakes in the post-inaugural months. And

he's checking off his campaign promises, one

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

the election season.

I bet some of his supporters must be thinking

that this might be the time to repeal the 22nd

Amendment (because he's only going to be 55

when he finishes his second term, if he wins

in '12).

But I digress. Paul



for April 22, 2009

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


The new U.N. logo?


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


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

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

Council -- a mis-named group dominated by Muslim

fundamentalist sympathizers that (by the way) has

yet to formally condemn the many human rights abuses

under Sharia law -- has drafted a

resolution condemning what it calls "religious


Free speech, says the non-binding resolution

passed a couple weeks ago by the General

Assembly, should be restricted to protect

"morals and general welfare," which

pretty much opens the door for censorship

by any government for any arbitrary reason.

Because the backers of the resolution, led by

Pakistan and cheered on by Hugo Chavez, obviously

did not do much critical thinking in drafting it,

let me ask the questions they should have.

Are you aware that religious defamation is what

scientists like Copernicus and Galileo were accused

of? Are you aware that many major advances in

science and philosophy throughout history were

once called blasphemous by religious literalists?

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

why aren't you also against defamation of

political groups, governments and individuals?

Is it a human rights violation to make a joke

about the Saudi King? Is it a human rights

violation to ridicule the Republican party?

If not, why not? If I consider

my political beliefs more sacred than

my religious beliefs, then why shouldn't

my political beliefs be equally protected

against defamation? By defamation, don't

you really mean...merely criticizing


Lately there has been a lot of platitudinous

talk about showing respect for various

religious fanatics. But certainly there

are some people and groups not worthy of

respect. For example, bin Laden

and his followers are not worthy of respect

(just as the Ku Klux Klan and Charles Manson

are not worthy of respect). Others who have

not earned respect are: the Muslim

fanatic who murdered Theo van Gogh, abortion

clinic bombers, Islamic militants

who kill people because they're offended

by a mere cartoon. (Muslim militants have

apparently become the new Rodney Dangerfields!)

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

resolution misunderstand the real problem,

which is religious totalitarianism and

the tyranny of absolutism. Muslim

fundamentalists simply don't want to give

Western progressives the same freedoms that

progressives give to fundamentalists.

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

say: if you want to prohibit pictures

of Mohammed in your mosque, you can do so.

You can lay down the law within your

mosque and forbid any drawings of

deities. That is your freedom.

But Muslim fundamentalists do not reciprocate.

They don't want to grant secularists the

freedom to display pictures of

deities if that's their choice.

The people who wrote that U.N. resolution

don't understand that Mohammed, to me,

is a figure from history, not from

religion -- and I will portray him (and

Napoleon and Hirohito and Plato

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

you very much.

It's disturbing that even Britain has

blasphemy laws on the books, but,

thankfully, that hasn't stopped the recent

release of Bill Maher's very funny and

wise documentary "Religulous" in the U.K.

In "Religulous" -- the top grossing documentary

of '08, yet unfairly shut out from the Best

Feature Docu category at the Oscars -- Maher

shows wit worthy of Groucho as he takes

apart the supernatural plagiarized tales of

the Bible.

One of the best parts of the film is when

Maher shows how the supposed biographical

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

the resurrection, his ability to heal the

sick, etc.) are suspiciously similar to and

seem to have been lifted from stories about

the lives of deities from centuries before

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

Attis, Buddha, etc.).

In other words, the holy tall tales told

for centuries in ancient Egypt and India

were such a great box office draw in Cairo

and Bombay that the writers of the Bible

couldn't help but steal some of the best

bits for their brand new character, Jesus

Christ, star of a sketch in which a father

(God) is OK with having his only son

murdered by a mob. (How heartwarming!

And one of Melissa Huckabee's favorite

stories, by the way.)

And the way the Koran steals from the Torah,

you'd think the holy wars would be about

copyright infringement!

Elsewhere in the Bible, Maher notes, there are

supernatural yarns worthy of Marvel comics.

As he notes, it's astonishing that otherwise

smart adults actually believe cartoons about

a talking snake, a man living inside

a whale, and a virgin birth.

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

went to church less often in America in the 18th

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

far more people back then took the Bible more

literally than they do today; as science

continues to explain phenomena that the Bible

had attributed to supernatural forces, the

overall trend is, generally, away from


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

had interviewed the loony former mayor of

Inglis, Florida, who memorably banned

the devil from her town! Also wish he had

been able to use Tom Lehrer's "The Vatican

Rag" for his segment at the Vatican.

To digress for a moment: I've always thought

that if the story of Jesus Christ were true,

and it's probably not, and if Jesus were

to come back to life and to Earth, Jesus

would probably not be well-liked. I mean,

after the initial novelty of Christ's

resurrection wore off, people would get

very tired of Jesus throwing around his weight

and saying arrogant and egotistical things

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

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

can't worship anyone but me." Imagine him

demanding a good table at a crowded restaurant

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

three months of this, I can imagine people would

want to crucify him all over again!

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

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

the bird cage.

But I digress. Paul

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



for April 10 - 12, 2009

New on DVD: "Slumdog Millionaire"

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

dish out torture for suspected game show

cheating? I can't imagine the authorities

could torture someone more if they thought

he knew where bin Laden was hiding. (I hope

Regis isn't like that!)

That said, the quiz show subplot is

surprisingly secondary, or almost

secondary, and doesn't even fully kick

in until the 90-minute mark, despite the

film makers's contrived attempts to show

how the questions on the TV program relate

to past experiences in Jamal's life. Still,

one wonders how a guy raised in bookless

squalor came to have such an expanse of

knowledge (and such fluency in English,

too!). In somewhat similarly-themed

movies about braniacs, like "Quiz Show" or

"Good Will Hunting," one gets a real sense

of a character's brilliance permeating other

parts of his life -- but here, Jamal

doesn't seem exceptionally bright

off screen.

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

the host of the show, no less!) and

suspected of fraud (an accusation that

even makes headlines!) and then is allowed

to return to the program for the final

round, all freshened up after a session

of torture, his reputation restored.

But such loose ends can be overlooked

because the film making -- by the guy who

directed "Trainspotting" and the writer

who scripted "The Full Monty" -- is genuinely

seductive. Despite its flaws, "Slumdog" is

gripping, harrowing, scalding, touching,

suspenseful, twisty.

Everyone (rightly) talks about how impressive

Dev Patel is as Jamal, but the real unsung

actor here is Madhur Mittal, the guy

who plays the older version of Salim,

who benefits from some memorable lines

and makes the most of some very

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

which Mittal makes so poignant; it takes a

resourceful actor to draw out the vast meaning

in that one small word).

But Mittal is also the victim of an oddly

conceived scene in which he covers himself

with money in a bathtub (it would have been

better if he had filled the tub with dough

and then put a match to it, saying something

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

Movie could've easily been more multidimensional,

showing how some of the elements of "Who Wants to

Be a Millionaire" are much like the capitalist

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

everything with a single risk.

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

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

which itself could have been far greater if

the film makers had merely added 15 minutes

of footage dramatizing The Ram's glory days

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

without LaMotta's early period).

The dance sequence finale is winning, a sweetener

that's necessary in order to counterbalance the

brutality elsewhere, which threatens to overwhelm

one's overall memory of the film.

DVD has no extras of note, no deleted scenes,

but the film is so meaty that you don't

notice that.

* * *

Bravo to Madonna Ciccone for donating money to

the earthquake victims near L'Aquila, Italy.

Far less admirable is Prime Minister Silvio

Berlusconi, who surveyed the tent city of those

made homeless by the quake and said it looked

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

must think the Nazi concentration camps were

just a huge slumber party.

* * *

the perfect song for Good Friday and Easter!

* * * *

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

* * * *

Newt Gingrich has once again proved how heartless

he is by calling the hoopla around the First Pooch,

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

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

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

about now. The best White House pooch in a

long time (and better than the one that bit that

Reuters reporter!).

* * * *

One way to manage the pirate problem off Somalia

might be to have the Coast Guard or Navy send out

decoy ships (posing as private vessels) on a regular

basis to those waters. Then we can capture and

jail the pirates who take the bait, creating a

huge downside for the bandits, reducing their

confidence and incentive.

* * * *

People continue to ask about songs I wrote

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

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

to those who have connected with my songs

and have played them on the radio!)

A couple people asked about how "Time Begins

To End" came about, and another asked about

"Chasin' You."

"Time Begins To End" is perhaps the most

personally cathartic song I've written,

in that I felt better after writing it.

Based loosely on the very sad experience

of having seen my father just before

he died of cancer.

I wrote "Time Begins to End" in my apartment

in Berkeley, Calif., between late December 2007

and early January 2008. I began

writing the song in late November 2007 when

the line "asleep at the wake" came to me

out of the blue. In late December '07

and early January '08, the whole song came

rolling out of me, melody and lyric in

one piece.

Finished it on January 13, 2008, and (as

usual) sent it to myself in an email,

presented below:

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

birth to the track:

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

wrote that one in 1981 during my New York

years, put it on a 1994 cassette of my

own songs, which I didn't release until

1998, when I put together around a dozen

of my songs on a cassette tape

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

[None of my songs was released on CD

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

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

West 74th Street in Manhattan. And I wrote

the rest in '85 after I had moved

to a new place on West 110th St. that

had a broken window (actually, the whole

window frame was pushed from its hinges

after I tried to buttress it during a

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

York City in the late Fall of '85).

Anyway, through this busted window I could see,

in a nearby apartment building, a really hot

looking woman who was dancing in her room

virtually naked. And that's when I came up

with (among other things!) a new song,

or a fragment of a song, that went,

"Fortunate for me, good luck dances naked

in broken windows."

But I was unable to develop the fragment, though

I found it fit well as a sort of cryptic coda

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

was written.

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

* *

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

But I digress. Paul



for April 9, 2009

Kurt Cobain died 15 years ago this week,

which means he would've been 42 by now,

older than John Lennon ever was, but only

halfway to a full lifespan, which

should've ended naturally sometime in

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

created at least a couple dozen new

albums, both solo and with Nirvana and

perhaps with others, too.

But he ended it way back in the 20th

century, in the pre-Internet era, so

long ago that no undergrad currently in

college could have a contemporaneous

memory of the release of a brand new

Nirvana studio album.

Anyway, to mark the 15th anniversary, here

are some original photos I shot in 2002 of

Cobain's house and of other Cobain-related

locations in Seattle. Several photos from

this series were published

by the Washington Post in 2002,

accompanying a story I'd written and

reported about Seattle for the paper.

But most of these shots have never been

published, so I thought I'd share

them here.

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

But I digress. Paul



for April 8, 2009

A friend asked me the other day what I

meant when I wrote a particular line in

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

The line she wanted to know about is:

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

has gone from blue to yellow/you can

almost see the CO in the air."

I wrote that line after going to an

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

Bay Area in '08 and feeling dizzy

because of the air quality in the

place. I suspected there was CO in the air

and noticed that the pilot light on the

heater was a sort of sickly yellow. Later,

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

and found that one major indicator of CO emission

is when a gas pilot light goes from a healthy

blue to a flickering yellow. So I put that

detail into the song, which is sort of about

a woman living a boho Lower East Side

existence, and it fit nicely.

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

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

the tape recorder, with the lyric and melody

coming simultaneously. (And then, as I also

always do, I emailed the song to myself

so that I would know exactly when I came

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

know I finished "Love's The Heaven" on

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

device, this email thing, eh?) Studio

version is from an August 19 session, by

the way. For anyone interested, here's

the top of the email I sent to myself:

But I digress. Paul



for April 6, 2009

The word is out: Crime, the pioneering San Francisco

punk band of the 1970s, will definitely appear on

Marshall Stax's show on KALX radio next week!

For those unfamiliar with his program, it

features music by the unsigned and the

unsung, happens every Monday at 6pm, and

is one of the more inspired shows on the

airwaves. (And I'm not just saying that

because he has played my own songs on

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

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

his show is called the Next Big Thing and

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

the Crime appearance should be

well worth checking out.

* * * *

I just wrote a story with John D. Thomas

for the online edition of Playboy magazine;

it's a humorous look at all those

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

services firms ran before the recession,

and here it is:



for April 5, 2009

On the Sunday morning talk shows this morning,

all the expert analyses of the North Korean

missile test omitted one of the most chilling and

truly dangerous elements of the launch:

the fact that Kim Jong Il recently had a

major stroke. As any medical professional

would tell you, strokes can easily turn

someone into a clinical paranoid or create

other kinds of mental illnesses.

Which is doubly troubling in Kim's case,

given that the North Korean leader had

obvious paranoid tendencies before

the stroke.

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

since the birth of the Bomb: that some

deranged leader will become mentally unstable

enough to start lobbing nukes? I guess we

should be truly alarmed if Kim starts talking

about his "precious bodily fluids."

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

President Obama will be saying stuff like: "If you

told me a year ago that my main foreign policy

concern right now would be American involvement

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

have said you're wayy off."

* * * *

Good for George Stephanopoulos for questioning

Obama advisor Susan Rice about the

administration's silence on the horrific flogging

of a 17-year old Pakistani girl by the Taliban

for refusing to marry some local geezer (or some

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

all the talk in Pakistan and elsewhere lately.

Susan Rice was so outraged by the brutal beating

that she even went so far as to call it

"inconsistent." How Dukakasian.

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

let Zardari handle it; it will only harden

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

weighs in with predictable condemnation.

Maybe. But the application of Sharia law

in this sort of way is a human rights

violation, plain and simple, and we should

call it exactly what it is: barbaric.

Cultural relativism doesn't apply in this

case, any more than it did when Dr. Mengele

did his medical experiments in Germany in

the 1940s.

But I digress. Paul



for April 4, 2009

Editing Maureen Dowd

While reading Maureen Dowd's latest column in The

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

that perhaps she needed the help of an editor

this time.

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

along with my own editorial comments and suggestions

(in bold caps):

Barack Obama grew up learning how to slip in and out

of different worlds — black and white, foreign and

American, rich and poor.

The son of an anthropologist [WHO BARACK NEVER KNEW

], he developed a lot of “tricks,”

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



figuring out what

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

He was able to banish any fear in older white folk

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

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

moves.” He learned negotiating skills as a community

organizer and was able to ascend to the presidency

of the Harvard Law Review by letting a disparate

band of self-regarding eggheads feel that they were

being heard and heeded [THIS PART READS LIKE A GLOWING






As Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard law

professor who mentored the young Obama, put it,

“He can enter your space and organize your thoughts

without necessarily revealing his own concerns

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

when often he’s only agreeing to leave you thinking










He privately rolls his eyes at the way many

in politics and government spend so much time

preening and maneuvering for credit rather

than simply doing their jobs. Yet with that

detached and novelistic eye that allows him to

be a great writer [SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE

he is also

able to do a kind of political jujitsu,

where he assesses the bluster and

insecurities of other politicians,

defuses them, and then uses them to his advantage.

Gabriel Byrne’s brooding psychoanalyst on

“In Treatment” might envy Barack Obama’s



psychoanalysis in Europe. He may not have

come away with all he wanted substantively


His hand was too weak going in, and there was

too much hostility toward America, thanks

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

he showed a psychological finesse that has

been missing from American leadership for

a long time.

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

his London press conference, indicating that

you had to intuit how much you could prod

each leader.

W. always bragged about his instincts, saying he


] to trust based on his gut. But even

with the help of psychologists putting together

profiles of dictators and other major players for

our intelligence services, Bush and his inner

circle were extraordinarily obtuse about reading

the motivations and the intentions of friends

and foes.

How could it never occur to them that Saddam Hussein

might simply be bluffing about the size of his

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

antagonists at bay? [HEY, I HAVE ALWAYS
























W. bristled at French and German leaders

because he thought they were condescending

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

soul until the Russian leader showed his

totalitarian stripes.

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

of Palestinians that Condi was blindsided by

the Hamas victory in 2006, learning the news

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

in the gym of her Watergate apartment. {HOW



The Bush chuckleheads misread the world

and insisted that everyone else go along

with their deluded perception, and they

bullied the world and got huffy if the

world didn’t quickly fall in line.

President Obama, by contrast, employed smart

psychology in the global club, even on small

things, like asking other leaders if they

wanted to start talking first at news conferences.






With Anglo-American capitalism on trial and

Gordon Brown floundering in the polls,

Mr. Obama took pains to drape an arm around

“Gordon” and return to using the phrase

“special relationship.” He gave a shout-out

to the Brown kids, saying he’d talked dinosaurs

with them. [SOUNDS LIKE HIGH W.]

He won points with a prickly Sarkozy when he

intervened in an argument about tax havens

between the French and Chinese leaders, pulling

them into a corner to help them “get this all

in some kind of perspective” and find a

middle ground. Mr. Obama also played to the

ego of the Napoleonic French leader, saying

at their press conference, “He’s courageous

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





Soon Sarko was back gushing over his charmant




Having an Iowa-style town hall in Strasbourg

with enthusiastic French and German students

was a clever ploy to underscore his popularity

on the world stage, and put European leaders

on notice that many of their constituents

are also his.

Like a good shrink, the president listens;

it’s a way of flattering his subjects and

sussing them out without having to fathom

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

to him,” Dmitri Medvedev said after their

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




The Russian president called the American

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




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

willing to mug for a silly Facebook-ready

picture, grinning and giving a thumbs-up

with Medvedev and a goofy-looking

Silvio Berlusconi [I'LL AGREE WITH YOU THERE;



Now that America can’t put everyone under

its thumb, a thumbs-up and a killer smile

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






But I digress. Paul

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



For March 25, 2009

[An online magazine has just bought (and says

it will publish) a version of the Digression that

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

this space and will provide a link to the

published piece later.]



for March 24, 2009

"A Whole Host" of Obamisms

Sure, many presidents and public figures sometimes

find themselves unable to stop repeating certain

words or phrases during a speech, and President

Obama, at his news conference tonight, was no


Like Richard Nixon repeatedly saying he could

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

telling us the presidency is "hard work," President

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

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

seven times; for those who missed the

repetitions, here they are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibbs, was using the phrase earlier in the day.

Prior to the Obama era, "whole host" was

perhaps best known pop culturally as a phrase in

a well-known James Taylor song, "Carolina in

My Mind," which Taylor playfully altered this way:

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

I expect the president will probably be

using the phrase in a whole host of new

ways in the future.

But I digress. Paul



for March 23 - 24, 2009

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

It's official: President Obama already has

seniority among former presidents, having

served longer in the White House than our

ninth president, William Henry Harrison, who

dropped dead around a month after his inauguration.

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

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

president with the shortest tenure.

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

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

got me wondering about the particulars of

presidential living (not that I'm thinking

of running for anything). But I wondered:

would I be covered by a lease during my

tenancy at the White House? Would I be

effectively classed as a renter, with the

rent paid by the federal government? Would I

have to pay a security deposit?

Sounds like Obama is, effectively, a temporary

tenant who has to vacate in 3 years and several

months, unless he wins the 2012 election.

Suppose I came into the White House and said,

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

I'll keep it as my nominal residence, while

actually residing in, say, Arlington, in a

21st century A-frame place with modern sculpture

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

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

that, right?

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

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

in a one-size-fits-all house that

still has all the smells and stains and ghosts

of your predecessor?

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

Crawford friends, some with b.o. and dripping

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

unique imprint and odor, and I would want to get

all that deep-cleaned immediately. (Remember the

"Seinfeld" episode with the smelly car? Sorta like

that.) But what if the cleaners have done their

best and yet I'm still smelling 43 and his

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

idea of sleeping in the same place

where you-know-who slept for eight years?

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

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

and take solitary walks at every opportunity.

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

super-realistic face mask that makes me look

like I'm a completely different person -- and

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

who's running things around here: me or my

security people?

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

after all -- decides to veto his security

peeps and insists on going to the grocery

store on his own, without anyone else? Can his

security people overrule him? Suppose the president

says, "So arrest me." Can Secret Service

agents then detain or bust the president

and physically stop him from going to the

grocery store? Would they have to handcuff the

prez and place him in a detention area?

I mean, how would that look? Everyone would ask

whether there's any difference between a president

and a prison inmate. Everyone would wonder why

the president has the power to drop

nukes and annihilate life on earth but doesn't

have the authority to buy a pack of smokes

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

have the last word?

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

long in the White House as William Henry

Harrison. Not enough power in the position.

* * * *


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

Inside Job" probably does not exist (although

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

which cropped up after 9/11, is

a runner-up in the idiocy sweepstakes).

Also, note the adjacent leftover "Dennis

Kucinich for President" bumper sticker, which

just shows that Kucinich -- who is as

smart about domestic policy as he is unwise about

defense issues -- has a way of attracting foreign

policy crazies.

If any fresh proof were needed of Kucinich's

foreign policy ineptitude, check out his

recent statements opposing President Obama's very

necessary deployment of 17,000 troops to Afghanistan,

reported prominently on the the Russia Television

(RT) news service, which can sometimes seem like

a propaganda arm of the Kremlin. (The Kremlin,

of course, has a personal interest in opposing

our involvement in Afghanistan, because

Medvedev/Putin probably wouldn't want to

see us succeed where their nation failed

militarily in the 1980s. Moscow conveniently

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

terrorists based in Afghanistan and backed

by the Taliban government there -- and the

people who attacked us are currently regrouping

in that area. So, obviously, we want to

stop that resurgence.)

Like former Sen. George McGovern, a World War II

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

and Afghanistan is a necessary one. Pacificism

merely means the other guy's violence


As I wrote in this space a couple years ago:

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

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

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

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

war stopped bin Laden's proxy government in Afghanistan.

Sometimes you have to counter-intuitively light a backfire

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

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

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

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

in judgment, not understanding such a central paradox. But

then we all get old.)

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

Kerry, another vet, who not only supported that conflict

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

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

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

What exactly did the anti-Afghanistan war activists

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

a subpoena in the neverlands of Tora Bora? And what

if his protectors had started shooting? Then we're

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

what war is!

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

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

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

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

make a whole lot of practical sense.

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

of the Iraq conflict cloud our collective judgment so

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

may be very just. A patient traumatized by

inept surgery may be overly reluctant to

have a necessary operation in the future.

But I digress. Paul



for March 22, 2009

New on DVD: "Milk"

Take it from me, a hard-core, incorrigible

heterosexual: "Milk" is magnificent.

The story of late-blooming politician Harvey

Milk, a city councilman (they call them

supervisors in San Francisco) who served for

only a year but broke new ground by being

openly gay and putting gay issues defiantly

front and center, this biopic is

riveting, inspired, carbonated, airborne.

Sean Penn disappears into the role of Milk as

magically as Robert DeNiro became Jake LaMotta in

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

level, easily.

Josh Brolin is also brilliant in his very

knowing, very smart psychological portrait

of a deeply repressed homosexual,

assassin Dan White, a role that probably should

have been expanded (if only to show how financial

pressures contributed to White's mental illness).

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

counter-culture era (and scenes are packed with

such obsolete phenomena as record players,

typewriters, unprotected sex, landlines and the

San Francisco Chronicle).

The Anita Bryant footage is priceless; she almost

comes across as an actress in an ironic

performance trying to portray a truly

ludicrous holy roller, which is exactly what

she was.

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

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

exciting but unjustly forgotten "All Right, All

Night" would've fit perfectly here).

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

passionate cameo.

But don't look for any deleted scenes of note

on the DVD; evidently, all the magic was used

in the picture.

But I digress. Paul



for March 20, 2009

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

"Well I'm going to the mansions where Pfizer

lives/the mansions that they built by ripping

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

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

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

of one of my latest songs, "Stealin'

Medication," which has actually gotten some radio

airplay in recent months.

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

gratified to see this story -- --

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

reporting about a group that is

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

the streets where the executives live.

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

this space and elsewhere for a long time: bring

your protests to the neighborhoods where venal,

overcompensated executives live -- and make some

noise there. Those excessive bonuses are

both the symbol and the reality of exactly

what is unfair about the accumulation of

wealth in America: the wrong people are


More than talent, more than hard work,

gaming the system, along with

nepotism and luck, will make you wealthy and

successful in the U.S.A.

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

incompetent in their own fields, yet they're

fabulously wealthy. Explain

to me how that happened so we can stop it from

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

My advice to protesters is to put

your time to really good use and target

the heads of companies that make

profits off sick people (e.g., the

major pharmaceutical and health insurance

firms). After all, the execs

at companies like Pfizer and Merck are

basically saying to the uninsured: "go bleed

to death if you can't afford our medication;

it's survival of the fittest in the jungle

out there."

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

very same approach to the rich execs at

the pharma companies. Maybe some picketers will even

be motivated to block their streets and sidewalks.

Maybe other protesters will refuse to come

down from their trees until the execs

make medication affordable to those who need


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

doing to us. And remember: almost no harsh protest

tactic could possibly be as callous as denying medication

to sick people who can't afford it.

This is clearly a new era, but President Obama

can take us only so far. In order to get

meaningful health care reform (and business

compensation reform, for that matter), there must

be a combination of official action from the

White House and Congress and

effective acts of civil disobedience,

targeting bad corporate actors where they live.

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

Come down from your occupied buildings,

you anti-Iraq war people. Come put your

resourcefulness and energy to better use

by targeting immoral, unethical, overcompensated

CEOs at the palaces they call home.

Practice on the AIG execs first but then set your

sights on an even nobler target: the residences of

the heads of the pharma and health insurance


But I digress. Paul



for March 19, 2009


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

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

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

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

* * *

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

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

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

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *
* * *

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

* * *

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

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

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

But I digress. Paul



for March 18, 2009

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

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

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

but I actually did get to see her on her first

tour in 1999, when she performed her debut

concert in Los Angeles at age 17.

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

had been released only five months earlier, her

following was already intense and massive. She

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

Dodger Stadium on June 12, 1999 -- headlined by

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

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


The eclectic pop fest, dubbed Wango Tango, also

featured Nancy Sinatra (doing a fine "How Does

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

solid UB40 -- and there were lots of stars in

the audience, too (when Kobe Bryant strolled

down an aisle, carrying himself like an emperor,

the crowd stood and watched his every move).

When Britney appeared, the entire composition of

the audience suddenly changed into an aggressive

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

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

working!)-- as their unwelcome daddy and

chaperone, who they wished would just go away.

I half-thought I was going to

be lynched at one point.

Britney performed on a stage crowded with several

dancers and bandmates doing mass-synchronized

dancing that looked exactly like an aerobics class.

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

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

around 20 minutes into the set, her first concert

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

just being born.

* * * *

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

With "Seinfeld" in constant syndication, and with

"The New Adventures of Old Christine" a fresh

presence in prime time, a lot of people tend to

take Julia Louis-Dreyfus for granted. One

tends to forget how spontaneous and unpredictably

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

appearance like the one last night on "The Late,

Late Show with Craig Ferguson." She started off

funny, got funnier and then edgy as she

let loose some talk that was completely bleeped

by Standards & Practices and that

seemed to take even Ferguson aback. Would

love to hear the uncensored footage.

But I digress. Paul



for March 15, 2009

Just listened to the new bin Laden audiotape,

and the first thing that struck me was he sounded

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

be related to his kidney disease, which (in some

cases, doctors say) can feel like the worst

hangover imaginable.

So there is hope!

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

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

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

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

And he denounces radio, too, and singles out

the BBC for condemnation (which means he

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

was recently aired by a radio

station -- double blasphemy!).

Elsewhere, he talks about morality (which is

sort of like Charles Manson lecturing on good

and evil), speaks repeatedly about "temptation,"

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

thankfully, doesn't plagiarize

my song "Drowning Man," which is also about

reaching shore), says something about spears, and

plays the Middle East card rather than justify

his own mass homicidal actions.

And, yeah, he mentions the Koran several times,

though it's unclear what good the book does

him if it guides him only to evil acts.

But I digress. Paul



for March 14 - 15, 2009

Al Jazeera, staffed with steno secretaries for

al Qaeda who pose as reporters, once again carried

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

tell us where the water came from, which makes

the "network" a bit of a collaborator with bin

Laden, wouldn't you say?

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

trace the chain of custody of the latest audiotape

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

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

(Sounds like...?)

Let's just say that if bin Laden causes more

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

some of the blood will be on the hands of

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

us catch him. Most of the "reporters" at the

"network" can barely conceal their pathological

closet sympathies for bin Laden and his religious

psychos. You guys aren't hiding it well.

The job of a journalist is not to turn in people

like bin Laden, you say. But it is your

job and responsibility when there are

extraordinary circumstances involved. You're

citizens first, journalists second, and you could

save many thousands -- maybe millions -- of lives by

doing the right thing and trying to find where he's

hiding -- and revealing that info to the authorities.

Let me provide an example that you guys

at al Jazeera might understand. Suppose

(and let's hope something like this never occurs)

the wife of the head of al Jazeera were kidnapped

by a terrorist group, and one of your reporters was

able to score an interview with the head of that

group. Are we to believe for one moment that

al Jazeera wouldn't bring all its resources

to bear to find out the location of the interview

and to alert the authorities about where it

was taking place?

Of course they would. In that instance,

al Jazeera would (rightly) be acting more like

cops than reporters -- and would certainly make

no apologies for doing so. They would surely cite

"extraordinary circumstances" in justifying their

actions and their scuttling of confidentiality


Well, there you go; you've just agreed that

a confidentiality agreement is not always


It's amazing how people suddenly

see the light with such clarity when an

example is given that involves their own


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Last night's "Saturday Night Live" was one

of the unfunniest in recent memory, standing as

vivid proof, if any were needed, that

Tracy Morgan is not funny. Morgan is under

the misimpression that a bad joke told at

a low volume will miraculously become

funny if you shout it. (Also -- suspicious

sin of omission: why no Jim Cramer sketch,

which would've been a perfect fit for SNL

this week, and everyone knows it. I wonder

which one of Cramer's contacts at SNL or NBC

got such a sketch idea dismissed.)

* * *

How refreshing to hear Congressman Barney

Frank (D-MA) say it honestly and directly

on "Fox News Sunday":

"I'm for a single-payer health care plan

like Medicare."

And he's right: the easiest way to provide

universal health care in the U.S. is to simply

expand Medicare until everyone's covered.

Right now, given the stigma of "single-payer"

among conservatives, incrementalism may be

the best the Obama administration can do.

But the most painless path to universal

health care probably lies in the gradual

expansion of a program that's already

in place.

* * *

Dontcha just hate all those people on TV

interview shows who say (whether it's true

or not), "This was a team effort," "There

is no 'i' in team," "We all checked our egos

at the door," "This wasn't about me but

about the group," etc., etc.?

All well and good if that's true. If something is

really a team effort, then by all means label

it as such.

But can you imagine Picasso unveiling "Guernica" and,

with false modesty, saying, "Ya know, 'Guernica'

was a group project, and I want to thank the team,"

or if Leonardo had displayed "The Last Supper," saying,

"And thanks to the team that made this possible -- it

wasn't just me!"

As I get older, I find that the people who talk the most

about a project being the result of "teamwork" are

generally the ones who had least amount of input into it.



for March 12, 2009

New on DVD: "Rachel Getting Married"

Yeah, it's Demme's best feature film in 15 years,

though that's not saying much, given the fact

that his best movies were all made before '94.

The core problem with "Rachel" is the lack of focus

suggested by the inadequate, slightly off title;

after all, the movie is not about Rachel

or her wedding as much as it's about Kym and her

return from rehab, the much more compelling story,

and as such it should've been titled something

like "Home for the Wedding," with its focus

shifted accordingly and more decisively.

It feels like a combination of "Interiors" and "The

Return of the Secaucus Seven," though it would've

been interesting to have seen Kym evolve into

something other than what she was at the beginning

of the film. (Character growth is the element that

makes so many Woody Allen pictures greater than

most others. Remember how Dianne Wiest's character

blossoms by the end of "Hannah"? Or how our

perceptions of Cheech in "Bullets Over Broadway"

shift dramatically as the movie progresses?)

Here, Kym at the beginning is Kym at the end,


The "grant me the serenity blah blah" rehab scenes

follow the memorable ones in "Traffic," in which

the counselors are either dim and bureaucratic or

platitudinous and cloying (and "Rachel" may be

the first major feature to note that the personal

stories told in group therapy sessions -- which

always leak out, despite guarantees of

confidentiality -- are often as untrue as the

tall tales of James Frey or Herman Rosenblat).

I love the Sayles-ian dishwasher competition, though

I wish Kym could've been worked into it (perhaps she

could've freaked out when she was unable to pull a

stuck dish from the washer, much as she couldn't pull

Ethan from the car seat all those years ago).

All told, the movie is fascinating from start to

finish, despite its flaws (e.g., the focus problem

noted above; the fact that major

plot elements (like the car wreck and the

mother-daughter fight) aren't integrated into

subsequent sequences). And what a surprise to see

Debra Winger all grown up, looking like late

Carole King and attractive in a brand new way.

The DVD includes a generous helping of deleted

scenes, all justifiably cut -- except the funny one

in which Kym meets and greets old friends in the

wedding reception line.

But I digress. Paul



for March 10, 2009

Don't Do Anything for The Taliban That
You Wouldn't Have Also Done for the Ku Klux Klan

Lots of talk in the Obama administration these days

about the possibility of negotiating with the

Taliban in Afghanistan, or having Karzai do so.

My response is this: it depends on how you define

the Taliban. If you mean the people who backed or

worked with Mullah Omar, the answer is a flat-out

no; we shouldn't negotiate with any of those people.

In fact, we should jail or kill most of Omar's

top brass, once we find which caves they're

hiding in.

But if you're referring to the brave folks in

Afghanistan who were only nominally allied with

the Taliban but stood up to (or tried to stand

up to) Mullah Omar and voiced opposition to, say,

the bigoted Taliban policy of forcing Hindus

to wear yellow stars on the streets of Kabul,

and thought it was wrong to throw in with bin

Laden, then I say, yeah, talk with

such courageous individuals. Reward them with

a place at the table. We must reach out to those

in Afghanistan who were the equivalent of the

underground resistance during Nazism (even if

they were part of a self-interested group

like the Northern Alliance).

But to those who backed Omar (and, by extension,

bin Laden) who now sidle up to us hoping for

a concession, we must tell them what Bill McKay

told a corrupt Teamster in "The Candidate":

"I don't think we have shit in common."

Let's not reward, explicitly or implicitly, the wrong

people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even if it

would bring a quicker peace. We don't need that

kind of peace. I would much rather see continued

war -- war that would kill killers planning, say,

dirty bomb attacks on Manhattan right now -- than

a peace that results in Omar's right-wing lieutenants

sharing power in Kabul.

Our guide to policy should be this: don't do

anything for the Taliban that you wouldn't have

also done for the violent terrorists of the

Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s in America.

But I digress. Paul



for March 8, 2009

Kashmir Border Drawn in Plutonium

I took a taxi from Oakland, Calif., today and

chatted with the driver, who said he was originally

from India. Talk soon turned to last Fall's

Mumbai attacks, and he was passionate about the

tragedy, angrily blaming Pakistani militants and

cursing the Kashmir crisis for helping to create

the climate that caused it.

As I listened to his tirade against Pakistani

militants, I realized this was almost certainly

the temperature throughout much of India: hot

toward Pakistan and ready for

cold vengeance, with Kashmir a way too convenient


Both sides are profoundly pissed -- and all nuked up,

too. Both sides have barely budged a substantial inch

since '47, it seems. Both sides's competing claims

in Kashmir are now complicated by separatist demands

and counter-claims by China. And the Mumbai

attacks, recently traced to members of the

Lashkar-e-Taiba of Pakistan, have added accelerant

to the tinderbox.

If Kashmir blows in a nuclear way, the body count

could be unthinkably massive -- and the nuke cloud

could travel over....China, or anywhere in the neighborhood,

creating a potentially unprecedented humanitarian


Yeah, I know, there are lots of global hot spots.

Yeah, we have to establish a two-state solution in

the Middle East. We need to rein in the

increasingly ill Kim Jong Il. We have to

sit down with Ahmadinejad and read him the riot

act. And, most important to U.S. security, we

absolutely have to stop the resurgence of the

Taliban in Afghanistan.

But it's all too easy to imagine breaking news coming

out of Islamabad and Delhi about multiple nuclear

strikes throughout both nations, with each side claiming

the other fired first, with casualties in the millions.

And then we'll wish we had had the foresight to spend

more time on Kashmir than on, say,

Gaza, where nukes aren't really in play.

The line of control in Kashmir is, post-Mumbai,

drawn in plutonium. Hillary Clinton and

Ban Ki Moon should hold a summit with Zardari and

Singh to definitively resolve the Kashmir crisis

so that all parties recognize the borders and LoCs

in the region. (Perhaps there should be (yet another!)

sub-Secretary of State to focus on the region.)

It's unlikely a single summit will settle things; deep

underlying tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the

area are fueling the disputes. But if most Indians

are as enraged at Pakistan as my cabbie was yesterday,

I bet any minor spark could set the whole

region ablaze, possibly radioactively.

But I digress. Paul



for March 6, 2009

Fresh evocation of American suburbia by San Francisco's
own Robert Bechtle titled "'60 T-Bird" ('67 - '68), now
on display at the Berkeley Art Museum.
[photo by Paul Iorio.]

Visited the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum

yesterday and its "Galaxy" exhibition, an

eclectic collection of paintings

BAM hasn't shown for awhile. Highlights include

Magritte's striking "Duo," Warhol's silkscreen

"Race Riot," a couple engravings by William Blake,

a drip painting miniature by Pollock, Rothko's

"Red Over Dark Blue on Dark Gray" and Robert

Bechtle's "'60 T-Bird." (I did a

double-take on the Caracciolo, thinking it

was a Caravaggio, whose style Caracciolo

thoroughly rips off.) Galaxy runs until nearly

Labor Day at BAM.

* * * *

"Are times so stressful that our young president

is going grayer a mere six weeks into the job?,"

asked The Washington Post the other day.

Isn't it more likely that Obama was using

hair dye during the campaign and is only now

showing his real gray? In any event, we elected

him for the gray matter inside (not outside)

his skull.

But I digress. Paul



for March 2 - 3, 2009

A New Crime Wave?
According to KALX radio's Marshall Stax, Crime, the
seminal Bay Area punk band, may be re-uniting
and might
appear on his show, The Next Big Thing,
in the near future. Above, a vintage Crime poster from
a recent exhibit at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum.
(Also, many thanks to Marshall for playing two
new songs of mine, "You're Gettin' Played" and "The
Riot Noise (Off Avalon Green)," on tonight's Next
Big Thing!) [photo of poster by Paul Iorio.]

* * *

Someone asked me what inspired my new

song "The Riot Noise (Off Avalon Green)." I started

writing it after walking into a riot that erupted

in Berkeley, Calif., on September 5, 2008. (I actually

ran into the riot to snap the shot that is the

cover of my upcoming album of the same name.)

In my song, the line "I don't know who threw

the chair but that was no excuse to shoot bullets

in the air" was suggested by this AP photo of

another riot, in Thessaloniki, Greece, on December

7, 2008, where violence escalated after a protester

tossed a chair at cops:

(photo: Nikolas Giakoumidis)

But I digress. Paul

The Daily Digression is not sponsored
by AeroShave! (photo by Paul Iorio.)



for March 2, 2009

And so we're all supposed to believe that

Bernie Madoff, when he was chairman (not merely

a senior vice president or COO) of

overly-respected Nasdaq, was ethical

and honest? I don't buy it. My business

experience tells me that, generally, a person

exhibits the same sorts of tendencies at

one company that he or she does at another, more

or less. It strains credulity to believe

Madoff only became corrupt in recent years,

and was, prior to that, a model of ethics and

probity. It probably takes a lot of practice

over many decades to become as expertly

nefarious as he became in his sixties.

What does the fact that Madoff was chairman of Nasdaq

tell us about Nasdaq? If you scratched the surface

beneath the fortunes of Madoff's colleagues at

Nasdaq, do you honestly think they'd come up clean?

(Is there such a thing as a completely clean fortune

in America? Was there ever, considering America

was founded on the mass theft of labor via

slavery? Isn't it true that any bum can amass

wealth if all his workers work for free? I digress.)

If one can't trust the former chairman of Nasdaq,

whose later clients/victims included savvy, respectable

folks like John Malkovich and Steven Spielberg, then

who can one trust in the investment world?

BTW, check out the Google News Archives to see how

glowingly some news organizations covered Madoff in

the 1990s. Reminds me of how some financial journalists

today still quote and give credibility to sources

at discredited companies like Moody's, which either

fraudulently or negligently gave triple A ratings

to firms that failed mere months later.

Uh, let's see: Moody's was waay wrong

about fundamental aspects of the

economy, and yet you're still quoting people

from the company. And I'm sure you'll continue to

quote them in the future, throwing good money

after bad in order to justify crappy

journalistic decisions.

[I wrote and posted the above column at
around 12:30am on March 2, 2009; some
of the ideas I originated here were
later echoed by a guest on PBS's "NewsHour" around
15 hours after I posted the ideas here.]

But I digress. Paul



for February 24, 2009

The other day I saw a sight from the Pleistocene

era: a McCain bumper sticker on an old, rusty GMC

truck. And I thought, could there possibly be

any sight so yesterday on the planet?

Then this morning I got my answer. There was

old-fashioned Jim Cramer on the "Today" show,

thundering like a Brontosaurus about how the

horse-and-buggy is not disappearing and how talkies

will never supplant silents. And I realized, yes,

there is something more antiquated than a McCain bumper

sticker on an old GMC truck.

Cramer -- an over-amplified defender of discredited

free market policies who wants President Obama to

pass the jellybeans and say "things aren't terrible" -- just

can't get his mind around the fact that unregulated

capitalism has fallen and failed as surely and

decisively as communism fell nearly two

decades ago.

By the way, Cramer shouts too much. I mean, if

this is how he is on camera, can you imagine what

he's like with subordinates? I wonder how many of

his co-workers have accused him of creating a

hostile work environment. That old style of a

rich (and wrong!) boss shouting at poor

subordinates is, thankfully, going down

the toilet as fast as unregulated capitalism

is -- and good riddance.

Why give airtime to this guy and others

like him (such as Zandi of Moody's)? After

all, Cramer and his kind -- the

supply-siders -- have been proved wrong. They

were (and still are) oblivious to the unacceptable

inherent risks of the unregulated marketplace.

Why not give TV airtime to those who

have been proved right?

* * * *

[cartoon/caption by Paul Iorio, 2009;
drawing by unknown artist.]

But I digress. Paul



for February 23, 2009

Slum Enchanted Evening

Time was, prior to 9/11, the Oscars were held in

what seemed like the early spring rather than the

late winter, and it fit better there. When

I lived in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and covered

aspects of the Academy Awards as a reporter, the

Oscars weren't handed out until almost April.

I remember it was like a federal holiday in the

area, and I'd walk through West Hollywood on

the way to pick up my tux or something

and see people all dressed up in their suburban

driveways in the middle of the afternoon, preparing

to drive to the Oscars or a related event.

And it seemed the trees were just starting to

bud and everyone was coming out of hibernation

and there was a sense of re-awakening all around.

But since 9/11, the ceremony has been held

in the dead of winter (which -- admittedly -- is

hard to define in L.A.) as if the Academy

was trying to throw off terrorists by shifting

the typical date of the Oscars.

Last night's ceremony was yet another late-winter

event, and I watched it on TV in Berkeley, Calif.,

and don't have much to say about it, except the


-- It is becoming exceedingly easy to predict

the winners (I predicted all the major ones,

except for Winslet) just by looking at the

winners of the various guild awards.

-- Hugh Jackman worked out better than one might

have expected, though Steve Martin was so funny

in his brief appearance that I began to wish he

was the host. Bill Maher was also a welcome

gust of truth and wit and perhaps he, too, should

be considered to host the 82nd awards ceremony.

-- I wish Alicia Keys had sung something (she's

such a genius as a singer that she virtually sings

when she talks).

-- Very gracious of Sean Penn to have praised Mickey

Rourke from the podium.

-- In another century, in another era, I'm convinced

Kate Winslet would have become a genuine Queen of

some country.

-- Having five actors descend on the actor

nominees felt more like a rehab intervention

than an appreciation.

-- In the old days, if a Woody Allen movie were nominated

in any category, it would also be nominated for the

best director or best original screenplay

prize. It's telling that recent Allen movies are

now noted for something other than his direction

and writing. (He is in something of a late Chaplin

(post-"Monsieur Verdoux") phase.) Cruz's performance

was indeed notable, though it worked only in tandem

with Bardem's.

But I digress. Paul



for February 20, 2009

Here're a few everyday photos I

recently shot around my neighborhood in

Berkeley, Calif.:

a novel, leftover bumper sticker for You-Know-Who!

* * *

the rainy season has arrived out here, and
this is what it looked like last Sunday.

* * *

occasionally, we have bouts of severe fog in Berkeley
that are almost like heavy smoke, such as this one
last year.

But I digress. Paul



for February 14 - 16, 2009

Roman Polanski, and Why All Charges Against Him Should Be Dropped

Roman Polanski is one of the most reflexively brilliant

people I've ever interviewed. Talking with him, one

really feels the pull of genius, in the sense that

he spontaneously puts a fresh angle on

whatever moment you're in and causes you to

re-think what you're thinking. When you've finished

a conversation with Polanski, your mind is somewhat

altered, your view of the world is a bit

different, you come away charged and alive to

the possibilities out there.

I landed my interview with Polanski -- a rarity

and a scoop at the time -- through the late Richard

Sylbert, an enormously gifted production and set

designer of classic films by Polanski, Mike Nichols

and others, and a very close friend of the


Sylbert seemed to think of a film as a place that

one can return to repeatedly, like an old family

living room from childhood, and hence he designed

locations in movies that millions of us do

return to each year, via cinema (e.g., the

Braddock family home in "The Graduate," Mrs.

Robinson's bedroom in "The Graduate,"

Ida Sessions's apartment house (with its

claustrophobic, parallel outdoor walls that

seem to be closing in on Jake Gittes),

Evelyn Mulwray's foyer (the site of so much trauma),

and on and on. The lives of lots of moviegoers were

partly lived in those spaces, and Sylbert made sure

they stuck in collective memory.

I had planned to talk with Sylbert for only ten

minutes or so to get some quotes for a Los Angeles Times

story on "Chinatown" that I was writing but we hit

it off (as reporter and source) and our conversation

went on for well over an hour. He was

evidently impressed with my expert knowledge

of "Chinatown," which I'd seen hundreds of

times, and at the end of the interview

asked, "You want Roman's phone number?"

And I said something like, yeah, sure.

Keep in mind that getting an interview with Sylbert

himself was a bit of a coup in those days, as his

number was deeply unlisted. (In late 1998, I had

an advantage over many other journalists in that I

had already been using such pre-Google search engines

as Alta Vista and HotBot, which led me to the unlisted

number of a relative of Sylbert's, who referred my

message to Richard.)

Anyway, I called Polanski and left a message on his

answering machine, not expecting much to come of it.

Some time later, I caught a message on

my own machine, and it was unmistakably

Roman, calling from Paris. We exchanged calls back

and forth, and then set up a phone interview for a few

days later, when he would be on a family vacation in

the Dolomites.

A couple days before 1999, I interviewed Polanski

in-depth about "Chinatown" and a bit about other

topics, but the central subject of my article

was "Chinatown," his best film by a fair margin,

in my view, though there are many other high peaks

in his oeuvre (I'd rank "Knife in the Water" higher

if it had come before "L'avventura"). (I'd go on

to do other interviews for the "Chinatown" piece

in early '99.)

My interview with him was the basis of articles

I wrote and reported for the July 8, 1999, issue

of the Los Angeles Times. (A top editor at the paper

said that my story had generated more reader response

than any other article that had appeared in that

section of the Times; I'm flattered that film

aficionados have told me they never completely

understood the film until they read my articles;

an uncut, updated version of the story appears

on my website at

A few years after creating this cinematic masterpiece,

Polanski was caught in a scandal somewhat similar to

the one that almost prematurely ended the career of

Leonardo da Vinci centuries earlier. Leonardo, accused of

having an affair with an underage model in Verrocchio's

studio, was almost jailed and trashed by the

Florentine authorities -- and imagine the loss to the world

if he had been.

Fact is, there aren't many bona fide geniuses on the

planet, and the human race can't afford to throw them

out as if they were yesterday's Yuban -- unless there

is an absolutely compelling reason that fully overrules

mitigating factors.

And the Samantha Geimer case was never a compelling

enough reason to toss out a world class director like

Polanski. (It was, after all, not a case of murder,

an exponentially more serious crime that no western

nation condones.)

Apart from the narrow legal concerns that are currently

in play in the case, perhaps we should also begin to

rethink and debate the big picture issues about the

basic fairness of such prosecutions and whether we

tend to overstate the seriousness of such crimes

in the States.

First, what Polanski did would not have been illegal

(or at least would not have been prosecuted) had

he done it in his home country (France), his native

country (Poland) or the place where he sometimes

vacations (Italy). Laws regarding age-of-consent vary

wildly from decade to decade and from nation to nation

(and even, to some degree, from state to state

in the U.S.).

As footage in the recent documentary "Roman Polanski:

Wanted and Desired" clearly shows, Polanski seemed to be

genuinely and completely unaware that having sex with

a teenager was illegal in the U.S. In many ways,

this was a case of how the sexual provincialism of

a nation created a high-profile international injustice.

Here's an analogy everybody might understand. Suppose

you visited one of the northern provinces of Nigeria,

where Sharia law is in effect, and suppose you were

in your hotel room innocently playing a mandolin while

your girlfriend was resting on the couch. You might

very well hear a knock on your door and find that the

local police want to arrest you for violating Nigeria's

Sharia law that prohibits playing the mandolin,

particularly in the presence of a woman (look it up;

it's actually against the law in some

parts of Islam).

If the Nigerian police had led you away in handcuffs,

your reaction would be something like: "What're you

talking about? I had no idea such a thing was illegal

in your country. Who would make such a law?" And

they would say, "Playing a mandolin is explicitly

prohibited by Sharia law in parts of Nigeria, and

you, sir, are under arrest."

And you would respond with, "Nobody ever told me this

was against the law in your country. How was I

supposed to have known that? Who was the person

designated from the Nigerian government to tell

me, as I arrived at the airport in Lagos, that

mandolin-playing was illegal in Katsina province?

Did somebody at the airport hand me a list of things that

are illegal in this country but legal in my own?"

Analogously, that's very similar to what happened

in Polanski's case. As I noted before, he was

arrested for something that isn't really a

crime in his home country, and when he was busted he

seemed to be completely unaware that he had done

something illegal. How can it be fair to fully

prosecute someone for behavior that we never told

him was illegal?

If the crime was so serious, then how come the

so-called victim has repeatedly said she was far

more traumatized by Judge Laurence Ritteband's

handling of the "unlawful intercourse" case than

by what she did with Polanski? I think most would

agree today that everybody -- both the "victim"

and the accused and everyone in between -- would

have been far better off if the whole incident

had never been brought into the legal system and

had been handled as a private matter between families.

Don't get me wrong: I would never consider committing

an act similar to the one that got Polanski in

trouble -- and I think aspects of his behavior in

that case (using Quaaludes, for example) are not

very defensible. But just because I wouldn't do

such a thing doesn't mean that I think it should

be prosecuted as a serious crime warranting

excessive legal penalties.

It would seem to be common sense that behavior

that is virtually legal in Vancouver shouldn't

get you a 20-year sentence if you do the same

thing several miles down the highway in Seattle.

I'm not saying there should be international

standardization of laws -- there shouldn't be,

because each nation has its own traditions and

practical realities. But a sensitivity to

cultural differences should be factored into cases

like Polanski's (or into the hypothetical case of

an American prosecuted for playing a mandolin

in Nigeria).

In the current climate of witch hunting and hysteria,

it's not likely Polanski's conviction will be

tossed out now or anytime soon, despite the new evidence

brought to light about malfeasance committed by the

disqualified judge in the case.

Maybe Polanski will just have to heed the hard truths

of "Chinatown" itself, and say to himself:

"Forget it, Roman, it's Santa Monica."

* * * * *

Regarding the Michael Phelps story: it's

not like he was accused of selling pot.

He just took a toot off a bong, standard

behavior for guys that age. Leave 'im alone!

* * * * *

Re: Roland Burris. I told ya so. (See my

column, below, titled "Don't Seat Burris,"

January 7, 2009.)

But I digress. Paul



for February 12, 2009

Surely, You Must Be Joaquin'.(Or Maybe Not.)

I watched the Joaquin Phoenix interview with

David Letterman in real time last night and

was riveted by what initially looked like

a major actor committing career suicide on late

night TV. I thought, this is either


or an Andy Kaufman-style hoax. As I thought

about it through the day today, I was starting

to wonder whether it was a Phoenix-Letterman

collaboration along the lines of "The Late Show"'s

Johnny-the-Usher bits.

If not, it ranks right up there with Lennon's

infamous behavior at the Troubadour or Brando's

eccentric late interviews or Norman Mailer's

drunken TV appearances.

Either way, an extremely entertaining departure

from the usual movie promotional fare.

* * *

An interesting fact that I just unearthed: did

you know that only seven popularly-elected U.S.

presidents have served two, full, consecutive

terms? Only seven of our 44 presidents! (According

to my own research.)

It breaks down this way. Thirteen presidents served

two complete terms, but four of them -- George W. Bush,

Monroe, Madison and Jefferson -- were not winners of the

popular vote in at least one of their elections.

Wilson "served" two terms but was actually in charge

for only six years before a stroke incapacitated him

and made him a merely nominal commander-in-chief. And

Cleveland's terms weren't consecutive.

Meanwhile, eleven of our presidents served less than

one complete term in the White House.

* * * *

So, sadly, the Guarneri Quartet begins to end its

existence with a few dozen final shows in North

America, 45 years after its birth.

When I first saw them, in June 1972, when the

quartet was eight years old, they were the new kids

on the classical block, and they would give

controversial interviews comparing classical

composers like Beethoven to Bob Dylan and the


In those days, their performances of the late

and middle Beethoven quartets were causing quite

a buzz, and I was completely blown away (as a 14 year

old!) when I heard them play the No. 11

in F Minor (the so-called "Serioso"), the last

of Beethoven's middle quartets and the one to which

I keep returning 37 years later.

You can still catch the Guarneri in various cities

through June (and there'll be a handful of

performances in October, too), but after that,

there'll be only the recordings.

* * *

Thought I'd share this I picture I shot of the
Hollywood Bowl from an interesting vantage point:
Mulholland Drive. Circa 2000.

But I digress. Paul



for February 11, 2009

Perfect DVD for President's Day Weekend: "John Adams"

As an evocation of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson

and Benjamin Franklin, who really should have been the

central subject of the series, "John Adams," the 2008

HBO mini-series now on DVD, has almost no peer on the

big or small screen. The black hole is unfortunately

the characterization of the title character,

John Adams, second president of the U.S. and

an even-handed figure during our revolution.

John Adams is played here by the usually impressive

Paul Giamatti, who portrays Adams as something

between a sad sack and Jimmy Olsen, looking (without

his wig) a lot like Uncle Fester of "The Addams

Family" -- and 2% from being an inadvertent comic


Unfortunately, Adams's life was not as eventful

or fascinating as Lincoln's or Jefferson's or

Franklin's or even Obama's, for that matter,

so we have one episode devoted mostly to the time

Adams caught a bad case of the sniffles in Europe

and we get to see him cough a good deal.

The portrait of Abigail Adams, the second First

Lady, alas, is also flawed. Played by the almost always

winsome Laura Linney, who leans too heavily on being

smugly amused here, Abigail Adams comes

off as someone who is constantly, privately seeing

her husband as an object of ridicule, constantly

chuckling about him to herself.

Elsewhere, much is made of the cultivation of son

John Quincy, but there, unfortunately, is no

foreshadowing of what a mediocrity he'd become

in adulthood.

Yes, the series is based on a book by one of our

best historians, but, frankly, I've lost faith

in the veracity of a lot of history. As I've

gotten older, I've seen people I know covered

in the press, and sometimes their published

life stories are so wildly inaccurate that they

almost qualify as fiction. And this is the 21st

century, when primary documents and firsthand

remembrances are preserved like never before.

Back in Adams's time, a lot of what passed as

fact was almost surely sheer myth.

An example. Look, I love Hillary Clinton, but let's

be real: in an earlier century, her story about

sniper fire in Bosnia would have been stamped by

all historians as the stone cold truth. Yet it

was debunked only because -- incredibly -- there was

actual video footage of the event (and of the sweetest

little sniper you've ever seen!).

So you have to wonder how many stories of

Revolutionary War derring-do are actually,

factually true, and how many are the 18th

century equivalent of, uh, sniper fire

in Bosnia.

Anyway, this is a mostly terrific mini-series -- you

come away feeling as if you've really met

Washington and Franklin -- and it's perfect

for President's Day, though the quality drops off

precipitously after the second episode.

But I digress. Paul



for February 11, 2009

Should We Cap Anchor Salaries at a Half-Mil?

The banking crisis and economic collapse has

opened up -- or should open up -- a wider-ranging

debate about paying executives exorbitant salaries

when their companies are failing.

How about the news biz itself? What about the

massively excessive salaries of executives at top

newspapers that have been failing for years? Some

daily newspapers are losing a million dollars a

week, yet their top executives are paid multimillion

dollar salaries. For what are they paid? To run

the paper into the ground?

Perhaps the salaries of all tv and print journalists,

and associated executives, should be capped at half

a million until their organizations return to

profitability. Or maybe there should be a rule: no

journalist should make more than the president of

the United States. Because a reporter or anchor

who "earns," say, 16 mil a year, is too out of

touch with the everyday concerns of 99%+ of the

citizens they serve. Which probably accounts for

the oddly lacadaisical attitude of a lot of tv

journalists toward the health care crisis in

this country; when they ask questions about it

at news conferences, there is an abject lack of

urgency in their tones.

TV viewers might get a better understanding of the

news they receive if the networks used captions

beneath the faces of the talking heads and anchors

and correspondents who they air (such as: "The

anchor reporting this health care story makes

$7 mil a year; his health care costs are

completely covered, and then some; his

mother-in-law is a top executive at

Pfizer"; or "Correspondent reporting this story

about overly-generous CEO pay makes $11 mil a

year, which is more than the combined salaries of

hundreds of midlevel employees at his company;

and he has a book deal from a company with a huge

stake in the pharmaceutical biz." Etc.

Those who make $9 mil (or whatever) a year in

broadcast news made it because they (or their

agents) were clever at leverage. Because if

they were really worth that money, their companies

and their TV programs wouldn't be failing right

now. If, say, Katie Couric were really worth the

multimillions, her show wouldn't be in third

place; her ratings are roughly below or equal

to the ratings earned by her predecessor anchors,

which suggests one could probably put one of

many correspondents in that spot and have the same

ratings. Which means that last place is rewarded

with something like $15 million.

And to the CEO or anchor who says, "Fine, go ahead

and cap my salary; I'll go somewhere else," we

should start calling that person's bluff. If,

say, Couric balks at having her salary cut to

half a million, let her go. Where would she go?

The other anchor spots are already taken. CNN

would be her only alternative. She'd likely

end up running Larry King's show, and that

would be no real thorn in the side of her

former employer. (And even if she did end up

on a competing news program, one assumes she'd

bring her failing ways there, too.)

Likewise with the heads of the failed banks.

If we cap their salaries at half a mil, to

what collapsed financial institution

would they go for more gravy? And if they

did go elsewhere, they'd probably bring along

their ineptitude there, too.

I'm starting to think it's possible that the

election of President Obama is the first

major symptom of revolutionary change to come,

not the revolutionary change itself. I think

the whole nation has awakened to the

massive, callous, fundamental unfairness of

undeserving people earning millions of dollars

a year while many of us can barely pay our

basic bills.

But I digress. Paul



for February 9 - 10, 2009

After walking home this afternoon (and dodging

Berkeley's traffic cops, who seem to have become

ubiquitous in recent days), I immediately

turned on my favorite radio show, KALX's "Next

Big Thing," and was thrilled to hear Marshall

play my latest song, "Doctor, Please Restore My Youth,"

around an hour ago. Many thanks to the station

and Mr. Stax!

* * * *

Twenty years ago this Saturday, the Ayatollah Ruhollah

Khomeini, via fatwa, sentenced novelist Salman Rushdie

to death for blasphemy. Though formal advocacy of the

death sentence by Iran has largely ceased, there are

many Islamic hard-liners who still want to do him in for

writing "The Satanic Verses" in 1988.

A couple weeks after the '89 fatwa, I covered a rally in

support of Rushdie in Manhattan that was interrupted

by a bomb threat and wrote about it and associated

issues for the East Coast Rocker newspaper in its

March 29, 1989 issue. Here's that story (and

another piece that has not been published until now):

from The East Coast Rocker newsaper, March 29, 1989

We Must Send These Fundamentalists a Clear and Sharp Message

By Paul Iorio

The rock world has finally started weighing

in with its belated condemnations of the

Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence

on novelist Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately,

certain factions have chosen to use

oppressive tactics to fight the Ayatollah.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in

the organization by several U.S. radio stations

of boycotts and burnings of records by Cat

Stevens, due to the singer's backing of

Khomeini's death threat.

Without a doubt, Stevens's support of

Muslim terrorism is completely damnable,

though record burnings are not the proper

way to vent one's outrage. Indeed,

suppressing Stevens's work on the basis

of his political or religious beliefs is doing

the Ayatollah's job. We should be able

to hear Stevens' music just as we should

be allowed to read Rushdie's books.

When we respond with such a boycott,

by fighting fascism with fascism, we defeat

ourselves. We should combat Khomeini

by making sure that Rushdie's "The Satanic

Verses" is sold and displayed by major

book chains.

And Viking Press should heed

NBC-News's John Chancellor's suggestion

to call the Ayatollah's bluff by bringing Rushdie

over to the U.S. for a publicity tour.

We must send these fundamentalists a

clear and sharp message: no political

or religious leader, not even in our own

country, will intimidate or terrorize us into

limiting freedom of expression.

One can condemn Stevens's approval of

the Rushdie death contract without boycotting

his music, just as one can deplore poet Ezra

Pound's Nazism without condemning his

brilliant Cantos.

Certainly there are grounds for not airing

Stevens's songs, but those grounds are

aesthetic, not political; his wimpy folk lacks

any semblance of edge or energy, enduring

guilty pleasures like "Peace Train" and

"Moonshadow" notwithstanding.

We've had enough censorship from

religious fundamentalists -- from Falwell

to Khomeini -- and should put religious

extremists of all faiths on notice: they have

absolutely no business imposing their

private beliefs on a secular society. Period.

How does one deal with bomb threats and other

violent acts by those who wish to stifle free

speech? Norman Mailer, speaking at a recent

PEN reading of "Satanic Verses" in Manhattan

that I attended (and that was delayed by a

bomb threat), gave advice on how to handle

telephone bomb threats, which, he noted,

only cost a quarter to make. Quoting Jean

Genet, Mailer said to tell such callers:

"Blow out your farts."

* * *

In January 1996, I wrote and reported another story

related to the Rushdie affair. For this piece, I walked

around Manhattan with a copy of "The Satanic Verses"

prominently displayed, visiting both everyday places

and locations where the book might raise eyebrows and

tempers. The idea was to see how provocative

the novel was seven years after the fatwa. Here's

my report (which has never been published):

page one of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

* *

page two of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

* *

page three of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

* *

fourth and final page of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- There has been a lot of talk lately about

there not being enough "respect" for various

religious right-wingers in Iran and elsewhere.

Could you please tell me how religious militants

(e.g., the backers of the Rushdie fatwa, those

who supported the 9/11 attacks, etc.) have earned

that respect? Could you please tell me why

such religious militants merit respect?

Could you please tell me what specific actions

they have taken that are worthy of respect?

Am I supposed to "respect" the fact that they

respond with homicidal violence when they

object to a novel or an editorial cartoon? Why

should I respect that?

In my view, most religious militants are

worthy only of contempt. And disrespectful is

as nice as I'll be toward them.

P.S. -- Why are we still listening to rich

twerps like Mark Zandi of Moody's, which (either

negligently or fraudulently) gave top

ratings to companies months before those

companies collapsed?

Isn't there something deeply wrong and

disingenuous about some TV news people (who are

making multi-million dollar salaries) who interview

Zandi and other millionaires (who were virtually

complicit with those who caused our financial crisis)

and say, "Tsk, tsk, off with the heads of the rich"?

Sort of like King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

telling the French revolutionaries, "We're looking

for the culprits, too."



for February 9, 2009

Top o' the Grammys!
Alison Krauss, Robert Plant performing in
Golden Gate Park, October 3, 2008.

[photo by Paul Iorio]

The Grammys got it right last night by giving

top awards to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

for their "Raising Sand" collaboration -- and

"Please Read the Letter" was the song to honor,

too. Anyone who was at the penultimate

show of Plant and Krauss's 2008 tour, at Golden

Gate Park in San Francisco last October, saw

an audience that got naturally high from

the moment it heard the opening drumbeat

of "Letter" and then became exhilarated as

the song progressed. I went to a fair

number of concerts last year but not one

(besides the Plant/Krauss one) at which an

audience became so openly transported by

a single song. Looking forward to

"Raising Sand, Vol. 2."

But I digress. Paul



for February 8, 2009

Here're a few pictures I've recently shot:

Sullyville (aka, Danville, Calif.), Sully's hometown, shown
here around an hour before he appeared on Jan. 24, 2009. As
you can see here, the town is also proud of the fact that
Eugene O'Neill wrote "Long Day's Journey" when he lived in Danville.

* * *

Remember that night a few weeks ago when the moon made its closest pass
to Earth of '09? Well, here's how it looked in Berkeley, Calif.

* * *

A midnight shot of the barbed wire fence surrounding
eco-protesters in trees last Fall.

But I digress. Paul



for February 4, 2009

Was My Phone Tapped In the Bush Years?

A Reporter's Suspicions

As a journalist who has written for almost every

major newspaper in North America, and for a lot of

magazines, I wanted the 9/11 attacks

to be my beat in the years after 9/11. But it

never really happened. At the time, my

specialty was arts and entertainment journalism,

so making the switch to hard news was not easy,

particularly in that period when the newspaper

industry had begun to collapse, leaving

fewer publications to write for.

But in 2004, I did come up with a bit of a scoop:

Using the so-called Wayback Machine search engine,

I discovered time-stamped archived Usenet and chat

room postings on Muslim fundamentalist websites

that seemed to indicate, judging by the dates of

the messages, that some Muslim militants

knew about the 9/11 attacks before they occurred

and that word of the impending attacks might have

been in the air and involved a wider web of people

than just the hijackers and bin Laden's conspirators.

As a freelance writer, I decided to report the story

independently -- asking various government sources for

comment -- and then submit it to various publications.

Though I didn't contact the Joint Terrorism Task Force

(JTTF) for comment, I was called by the JTTF out of

the blue. And, frankly, I was more than happy to get

their perspective and, in the process, talk with

them about my reportage. (As The Washington Post's

Bob Woodward and others have always pointed out, you're

a citizen first and a journalist second, especially

when it comes to issues that could be a matter of

life or death.) My info, after all, did not come

from confidential sources but from obscure

Internet archives that I was not obligated to keep secret.

My interviews with the two JTTF agents were not for

attribution, meaning they spoke on the condition

that they not be identified by name. Suffice it

to say that I spoke to two of them, both

of whom called without having been first contacted

by me. I spoke with the first agent on July 22, 2004,

for around an hour, and the second agent on December

3, 2004.

To be honest, neither gave me the third degree and both

were sensitive to the nature of both their roles and

mine -- and both were refreshingly and unambiguously

un-bigoted about Muslims.

The only red flag came at the beginning of the conversation

with the second JTFF agent on December 3. This call came

the day that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy

Thompson made his famous remarks about the U.S. food

supply's vulnerability to terrorist tampering, which

was, by the way, one of the plots discussed in

some of the Usenet messages I had uncovered.

Anyway, that second agent said that he had initially

reached my AOL answering service and asked me

about what sort of phone service I had. "Do you

have service through AOL?," he asked.

"No, through ATT," I said.

At the time, I didn't think much of the exchange.

But shortly afterwards, I realized that he had

been a bit too curious about who provided my

phone service. This was a JTTF agent, after all.

I thought, uh oh, I bet my land line is going to be tapped.

In the subsequent months, certain mundane but distinctive

details from my personal phone conversations

seemed to be getting around to people who didn't

know me. At first, I thought, maybe it was

just a nosy neighbor. My apartment, after all, is in

an apartment house whose units are way too close

together, and you can sometimes overhear conversations

in adjacent rooms. That might be it, I thought.

But I wanted to be sure. Suspecting that my land line

might be tapped, and wanting to rule out the nosy

neighbor theory, I conducted a test. I simply called

myself from a remote pay phone, left a message on

my own answering machine and waited to see whether what

I said eventually leaked out.

I took lots of precautions to rule out stray factors.

For example, I made the calls to myself from an

isolated pay phone at a place that could not

be overheard by anyone (on the far east side of

the Clark Kerr campus of the University of

California at Berkeley). I made sure that the

answering machine that would receive my message

in my apartment was muted so there was no chance

a neighbor would overhear it. And I left a message

that contained unique or very personal information

(or misinformation) that could not possibly be

known or said by anyone else.

I'm not going to reveal some of the things I said

into my answering machine -- too personal -- but I

can give an example of the sorts of things I'd say.

I'd always say something that had some sort of

security or confidential component, like: "I know

a journalist who interviewed Rumsfeld, and he tells

me that, off the record, Rumsfeld really can't

stand Tom Ridge. Hates him." Something fictitious

and distinctive that could only have come from me.

And, sure enough, each time I left such a message,

the info seemed to get around to complete strangers

in my daily interactions, usually within around

three or four days. For instance, I'd be in a line

at the grocery store and someone nearby would

pass by and say something like "he can't stand

Ridge." Something like that. Something that

sent a clear signal to me that my phone

line was being monitored.

After this happened a couple times, I quickly moved

to protect the privacy of friends and family members

who would call, switching almost all my telephone

conversations to my new cell phone and

using my land line mainly for dial-up Internet service.

That seemed to clear up the problem.

I must confess that I later saw the mischievous

potential of such a situation; after some

local sociopath (in an unrelated matter)

starting leaving vaguely threatening messages on

my answering machine for no reason, I decided to

use his name as a guinea pig in my experiment,

leaving a message on my answering machine along

the lines of: "[Name deleted] is always praising

bin Laden. Sickening." I did it half-jokingly,

still not knowing at the time whether my

phone was being tapped or not. Interestingly --

and this may be only a coincidence -- the

harassment from the guy ceased within a week.

As for my story, there was substantial interest

in it from CBS's "60 Minutes" and from the Los

Angeles Times for a time, but ultimately

it wasn't published or aired. As a freelancer,

I had to go on to other assigned stories and

couldn't continue to develop or pitch the

9/11 piece. (A version of it is posted on my

home page at

So was my phone tapped or not? I don't know for

sure, though the circumstantial evidence strongly

suggests it was. Now that a new administration

is in place in Washington, with new priorities, maybe

I should request a copy of my FBI file and solve

the mystery definitively.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Mostly masterful story in TNY about a region in

which I spent part of my childhood (and it happens

to quote my little sister, too!): southwest Fl.

The only big-picture element that Packer and his

sources neglect to mention is that the more

extreme hurricane seasons of recent years have

made that area a far less desirable place to

settle and do business. People simply don't want

to risk being wiped out every few years by a

Cat 3 or 4, and that's one (albeit only one) of

the reasons behind declining property values

in parts of that area. Remember Al Gore's famous

maps in "An Inconvenient Truth"? Climate

change, more than any other factor, will re-shape

that state in the coming decades.



for January 30, 2009

So what will Springsteen play at the Super Bowl?

Here are a few scenarios:


opens with "Glory Days"
"The Rising"
"Working on a Dream"
ends with "Born to Run"


opens with "New York City Serenade"
"The Angel"
"If I Was the Priest"
ends with "Drive All Night"


opens with "Two Hearts"
"Kitty's Back"
ends with "Glory Days"

But I digress. Paul



for January 25, 2009

Maureen Dowd's latest column truly nails

Kirsten Gillibrand, who spent around 20

inconsequential minutes in the U.S. House

before being promoted to the Senate by a feeble

governor not elected to his own post. As she notes,

Gillibrand resembles no one so much as...Tracy


Why do we celebrate politicians who have never said

anything original, never written anything memorable,

never led the way on an issue when it was unpopular,

never risked everything to take a brave stand?

When someone like Gillibrand is elevated over

more deserving contenders, one has to suspect

that there are laundered favors or laundered

grudges involved.

Or perhaps the late Sen. Hruska has become more

of a prophet than anyone might have guessed

back when. He was definitely ahead of his time

in championing the rights of the mediocre, for

whom we now seem to have a fetish.

But I digress. Paul



for January 24, 2009

I went to Danville to see Sully Today....
the Danville Green: epicenter of Sully-mania. [photo by
Paul Iorio]

I traveled to Danville, Calif., today to see

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger make his first

public appearance since he saved 155 lives

last week by landing his crashing jet on

the Hudson River. Danville, of course,

is Sully's hometown, and thousands turned

out on the main Green to see and hear

speeches by him, his wife, and assorted

local politicians.

After his wife, Lorrie, introduced him

("I'd like you to meet my husband, Sully"),

he walked to the podium to enthusiastic

cheers and thanked the audience three times.

The crowd then broke into a spontaneous chant:

"Sull-ee! Sull-ee! Sull-ee!"

In person, he's taller, lankier and more

good-humored than he seems on TV, with an

easy laugh and a likable manner.

At the podium, he kept it brief. In fact,

here's the entire text of his speech:

"Lorrie and I are grateful for your incredible
outpouring of support. It's great to be home
in Danville with our neighbors and our friends.
Circumstance determined that it was this
experienced crew that was scheduled to fly that
particular flight on that particular day. But
I know I can speak for the entire crew
when I tell you: We were simply doing the
jobs we were trained to do. Thank you."

This was a proud day for Danville, an upscale,

distant suburb of San Francisco in a scenic,

BART-less part of the East Bay called the

San Ramon Valley. The place is almost

Capra-esque (people wait in an orderly line

to cross a busy street; a restaurant advertises

"the best tuna melt ever!"; even the manager

of a grocery store looks like the president

of a bank). And there's a sort of New England

gentility to some of the locals (who once

included playwright Eugene O'Neill

in their number).

At the ceremony, people in the crowd exchanged

Sully myths and gossip. One woman talked

(as if she had inside knowledge) about how

Sully had been seen cooly sipping a cup of

coffee right after the Hudson landing, as if

the whole accident had been a routine


Of course, we'll have to wait until his

upcoming "60 Minutes" interview to learn

the other details about how a massive

tragedy was, against all odds, averted.

Sully holds up a plaque on a stage in Danville. [photo by
Paul Iorio]

Danville fans of Sully, after his speech. [photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for January 22, 2009

So how is the Obama era being celebrated in

liberal areas like Berkeley, Calif. (the petri

dish of democracy)? This picture pretty much

sums up the mood here.

someone's car
in Berkeley, decked out as an Obama shrine. (I wonder if he can
clear the Caldecott with that on top.) ((photo by Paul Iorio)

* * * *

Here're a few other humorous photos I shot in

the last couple days:

* * * *

But I digress. Paul

[photos above by Paul Iorio]



for January 21, 2009

Notes on the Inauguration Ceremony

The ceremony was Greek, not Roman, in spirit,

memorable, not monumental, organic, not

contrived, and Obama's speech didn't overreach

or try to become something grander than it

actually was.

The closest he came to an eternally quotable line

like "Ask not what your country can do" was: "The

question we ask today is not whether our government

is too big or too small, but whether it works."

And I loved the inclusiveness of "We are a nation of

Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and

nonbelievers" (finally, a president who has the

sensitivity and courage to include "nonbelievers").

And then there was his marvelous slam that could

easily apply to the misguided, evil supporters of

bin Laden: "To those leaders around the globe who

seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills

on the West, know that your people will judge you on

what you can build, not what you destroy."

There were also stray lines that stuck, some of

them almost Dylanesque ("we will extend a hand if you

are willing to unclench your fist").

And I loved the way his ascension to the presidency

happened not with some predictable high noon sharp

speech but with live, original music that overflowed

naturally from the Bush years into the Obama era.

Elizabeth Alexander's poem was a marvelous

celebration of the quotidian, though, alas,

I don't think mass audiences have much of an

ear for even the finest poetry.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Yes, close Guantanamo, by all means and with

due dispatch. But make sure that some of the seriously

violent criminals there are fully prosecuted and not

let out on some legal technicality. Keep in mind that

we have all sorts of degrees of due process in America,

and different standards apply to criminal, civil,

military and corporate cases. "Beyond a reasonable doubt"

is not always the level of proof required to convict

in the United States and probably shouldn't be the

level of proof needed to imprison some of the

mass homicidal folks at Gitmo. Using one of our other

standards in some instances would serve both

justice and security. And, by the way,

it's not hard to see that President Obama's

political career would be completely over

if even one of the Gitmo detainees were to be

released and went on to plot, say, a successful

dirty bomb attack on New York.



for January 19 - 20, 2009

"The Hour When the Ship Comes In..."

impressionistic/blurry photo of President Obama, back when
he was Sen. Obama, in an Oakland (Calif.) crowd in early
2007 by Paul Iorio.



for January 16, 2009

Sully Should Head the NTSB

In the folds of ordinary American life are hidden

some astonishingly extraordinary people who

generally toil in obscurity until some

freakish event brings their greatness into

the spotlight. Proof of that happened yesterday

afternoon, when Chesley Sullenberger made a

series of brilliant, reflexive, split-second

decisions that saved perhaps hundreds of lives.

I mean, the temptation for him to try to fly on

to Teterboro would have lured almost every other

pilot into untold tragedy and devastation. This

was spontaneous decision-making of the

highest order.

President-elect Obama should tap Sullenberger, who

is associated with UC Berkeley, to

head the National Transportation Safety Board. But

the way things are going, Sully may be drafted to

run for California governor in 2010. Lucky

Lindy never did what Sully did.

But I digress. Paul



for January 14, 2009

If I found a brilliant surgeon who had just the

right specialized training and experience for


for January 14, 2009

If I found a brilliant surgeon who had just the

right specialized training and experience for

an operation I was about to undergo, I wouldn't

drop him just because I discovered he hadn't

fully filed taxes in the past. Frankly, I wouldn't

care. I'd want the best surgeon I could find,

no matter what problems he might have in terms

of filing forms.

Likewise, with Timothy Geithner. The American

economy is on the operating table and in critical

condition. It needs a smart, super-competent

professional with specialized experience in

the areas that are currently in distress, and

Geithner fits that bill. Frankly, I don't care

about the minor mistakes he might have made in

the past in his personal life; the patient is

dying and in need of Geithner's expertise now.

But I digress. Paul



for January 13, 2009

Well, Roland ("Trailblazer," if he should say

so himself) Burris is not our first

senile-seeming U.S. Senator. Hope he didn't

have to pay too much for the seat.

Is this the sort of "bold" future we're

talking about?

I must say that the Senate is showing such

a lack of spine lately that I would be very

surprised if it passes any sort of universal

health care legislation by this time next year.

Mark my words. Clip and save this. By January

2010, I bet we still have virtually the same

health care system in place. Welcome to 1993?

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- At this hour, Blogojevich, still receiving

hefty paychecks from the state of Illinois (though

deprived of the bribes he wanted to take), is

probably laughing all the way to Cristophe's.

I would have had a lot of respect for Burris

if he had told Blogojevich, "I won't play

ball with a corrupt official; I'm turning down

your appointment." Why are we rewarding people

like Burris when there are lots of whistleblowers

and quiet heroes out there who are neglected

on the sidelines? That's where the Dems'

partnerships should begin.



for January 12, 2009

Bush, Frosty

Quote of the day:

"At times, you've misunderestimated me," President

Bush said to journalists at his final press

conference this morning. (Personally, I think

Bush may be mis-accusing the press.)

Bush also said one of his big mistakes was not

finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The

way he phrased it this morning, he made

it seem as if there had been some sort of Easter

egg hunt on the banks of the Euphrates and,

gee whiz, we couldn't find the booty

hidden there.

Truth is, the mistake was not that we couldn't

find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The

mistake was in erroneously believing

that there were WMDs there in the first place.

And with regard to Bush's "connecting dots about

9/11" bit: there's nothing wrong with connecting

dots if there are genuine links between terrorists

and a foreign government. But what Bush

did was to connect dots in order to draw an imaginary

or unfounded linkage between 9/11 and Saddam

Hussein, who virtually hated Osama bin Laden.

Bush might as well have drawn a link between

al Qaeda and the government in Mexico City.

* * * * *


What's the difference between a loan and a bridge

loan? Isn't every loan effectively a bridge loan?

* * * * *

Isn't the phrase "returning to the status quo ante"

redundant? No need to use "ante."

* * * * *

Can we please retire the very tired phrase

"fifth Beatle" and anyone who uses it?

But I digress. Paul



for January 11, 2009

Rather than seat Roland Burris, I suggest that Dems

wait until soon-to-be-Governor Pat Quinn appoints someone

like....Jesse White, the man who has refused to sign

Blogojevich's certificate of appointment. Jesse

White seems like the sort of profile in courage

the Senate could use right about now. Blogojevich,

under a cloud of his own hair-stylist's making,

does not deserve the victory that Burris's

seating would give him.

* * * *

Still haven't seen "Frost/Nixon" yet but have seen enough

clips to be sort of puzzled by it.

Look, I lived through the Watergate era as a teenager

who was virtually obsessed with the Nixon scandals

and all the media coverage about them. I was so

involved in anti-Nixon political activism at the

time that I actually was a marshal at and organizer

of a pro-impeachment protest when I was 15-years old

(and I was even covered in my hometown's main

newspaper at the time). But, frankly, I don't

even remember watching David Frost's televised

interviews with Nixon in '77.

In fact, I don't think I've ever watched one

of David Frost's shows from beginning to end, and

I've always been an avid TV viewer.

When I was a kid, in the 1970s, Frost always seemed

a bit remote, aloof, somewhat dense and square. As

a teen, I and my friends much preferred Cavett and

Carson, with an occasional dose of Susskind or

even William F. Buckley. In terms of electric

interviews, Cavett v. Mailer, or Buckley v. Kerouac,

loomed much larger in the zeitgeist of the era.

I can imagine that the new generation is a bit

confused by this film. They must be wondering:

Was Frost the guy who brought down Nixon? They

must be wondering: Was this an important moment,

mom and dad, when everybody in the post-Watergate

era was glued to the TV set to watch Frost

snare Nixon? I think the film makers are

guiding young people to the false impression

that this was a larger event than it actually

was (a reviewer at TNY touches on this

aspect, too).

You know what Watergate-related event truly scared

and charged everybody contemporaneously? The so-called

"Saturday Night Massacre," in which Nixon got rid

of the top guard of the U.S. Justice Dept. and

the Watergate special prosecutor, who

the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General

both courageously refused to fire at Nixon's behest.

On that night, on an autumn weekend in 1973,

with a succession of alarming news bulletins

interrupting that Saturday night's television

programming, you really got the horrifying

sense that the federal government

was truly collapsing and that we weren't

being told the whole story of what was

going on at the White House.

Now there's a moment in Watergate history

ripe for cinematic dramatization.

But I digress. Paul



for January 7, 2009

Don't Seat Burris

Anyone appointed to the U.S. Senate from

Illinois can't assume office until his

certificate of appointment is signed by

the Illinois secretary of state. Why

should Roland Burris be an exception?

The signature of the secretary of state is a

de facto (if not intended) check on the unchecked

power of the governor. Should the governor make an

appointment that is clearly irresponsible or make

a rash appointment when he is in his political

death throes, the secretary of state can, in effect,

check that power by not signing on.

I don't know what's gotten into Dianne Feinstein

lately. Once admirable, she's fast turning into the

next Joe Lieberman, what with her apparent opposition

to Panetta and her backing of Burris. Filibuster

proofing the Senate seems further away than ever.

But I digress. Paul



for January 6, 2009

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and, doggonit,
the people just elected him Senator!

Now that Al Franken has been certified

the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota

(though there will certainly be a legal challenge

from Coleman), all the Senate contests have now

been resolved (even if the appointments have not).

As you may recall, there were 11 Senate races that

were considered highly competitive back on election

day, and I offered my own predictions on who would

win each one (which I published in my November 4,

2008, Digression (see below), and posted at

4:15am on Nov. 4).

How did I fare? I predicted 11 of the 11

Senate contests!

* * *

Frankly, Leon Panetta may be just the right guy

to head the CIA. Some criticize him for not having

specialized experience in intelligence, but let's

be real: it was all those so-called intelligence

professionals who didn't see 9/11 coming. Maybe we

need someone (like Panetta) who can bring a fresh,

smart approach to the spy agency. He couldn't possibly

do worse than the team that ignored the red flags

about bin Laden in '01.

* * *

One of my favorite xmas presents this year was a

marvelous book of photographs of R.E.M. by David

Belisle, "R.E.M. Hello" (Chronicle Books) (thanks

to H!). It's packed with fascinating and often

revealing pictures of the band in the 2000s.

Anyone who loves this band the way I do will want

to see these pics.

Yorke and Stipe: melancholic genius overload.
[by David Belisle]

But I digress. Paul



for January 4 - 5, 2009

And the Best Picture Oscar Goes to..."The Wrestler"? Probably.

Finally saw "The Wrestler" this afternoon and must

confess I came out of the Metreon crying like a

wuss (to use the trade parlance of the film). Not

only is "The Wrestler" almost certainly the best

picture released in '08, but I'm trying to

figure out how many years I'd have to go back

in order to find a movie as poignant or moving

(though, admittedly, I've not yet seen all the major

movies of last year).

It is certainly comfortably in league with such

first-rank classic films about pugilists like

"Raging Bull," "Million Dollar Baby" and "On the

Waterfront," no doubt about it.

At times, it's like a top-grade episode of "The Sopranos"

and, at other times, achieves something close to the

brilliance of films by De Sica and other Italian

neorealists. (Director Darren Aronofsky and

screenwriter Robert D. Siegel should

definitely find some way to collaborate again.)

And what a resurrection this is for Mickey

Rourke, whose career had been left for dead years

ago by both critics and the movie biz. (Doesn't

it seem like not long ago when Rourke was playing

pranks with a popcorn box in "Diner"? ) Now he's

very likely to be nominated for a best actor

Oscar in a few weeks and seems the

favorite to win in a category that looked like

a lock for Sean Penn just last month.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if "The Wrestler"

were to win the best picture Oscar in February.

In my Digression of December 7, 2008, I wrote

that "Wall-E" was probably going to be

nominated for best picture -- and I think

that's still the case, though I also believe it has

far less of a chance to win than it did several

months ago. After seeing "The Wrestler," it's

obvious that "Wall-E" is soo pre-recession

in spirit, packing all the emotional wallop of a

brand new Subaru. And the buzz has also drifted

away from Penn and "Milk," which seems to have

peaked a bit too soon, and moved unmistakably

toward "The Wrestler," which captures the current

recessionary zeitgeist like no other major film

in release.

* * * *

Haven't yet seen "Frost/Nixon" but am surprised

Langella was cast, given that Nixon was the least

Italian of all our presidents (remember the bigoted

stuff about Rodino that Nixon said

on his tapes?).

* * * *

Also haven't seen "Rachel Getting Married," though

Demme is one of my favorite directors. Am impressed

with Anne Hathaway as an actress, but far less so

with her personal life, which (as she should know

by now) can easily undermine a career. How come

there's something about her that tells me she could

become the next Claudine Longet by the time

she's 40?

But I digress. Paul



for December 31, 2008

Happy new year, everybody.

For today's Digression, I'm publishing an unpublished

story I wrote and reported a few years ago on J.D.

Salinger. I'm proud of this story, as it reveals

brand new details about the reclusive author's

day-to-day recent life in New Hampshire. Very unfair

that it was not published by the newspaper for

which it was written (I think my editor chickened out

because Salinger and his people are famous for getting

litigious about anything written about him; but

every fact in this story is nailed down and solid).

Anyway, here's the story that certain mainstream

papers, probably bowing to pressure from Salinger,

wouldn't publish!

Tomorrow, by the way, is the author's 90th birthday

(so the piece has been updated a bit).

Salinger Turns 90 in January

What the Townspeople Think About J.D. Salinger

By Paul Iorio

J.D. Salinger will turn 90 in January, which means he has

now lived for 56 years in the tiny town of

Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, in seclusion. By all

accounts, he’s still as reclusive as when he was when

he first moved to town on January 1, 1953, back

when President Truman was still in the White House.

The author moved there around 17 months after the release

of his first and only full-length novel, “The Catcher in the

Rye,” at a time when he was “tremendously relieved that the

season for success of ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ is over,”

as he told the Saturday Review magazine in 1952. Little did

he know the season had just begun.

The townspeople of the Cornish Flat area seem to have grown

accustomed to him and usually leave him alone to live

his day to day life with his wife, a quilt and

tapestry designer around half his age, in a house

near a covered bridge (how fitting it's a covered

bridge!) that leads to Vermont. (He moved down the

road to his current Cornish house after divorcing

his previous wife in 1967.)

Most people in the area do not talk about him or

to him. But some do.

"People know who he is, yet he acts like nobody

knows who he is," says Lynn Caple, who runs the

nearby Plainfield General Store, where Salinger

and his wife occasionally stop in to buy the

New York Times and other items.

"Very straight-faced guy," says Caple. "I've only seen

him smile once. I've been here four years."

Other neighbors, like Jerry Burt of Plainfield, have

actually been to his house, which he says is at the

end of a long driveway and atop a hill on hundreds

of acres owned by the author. "We would

go over to watch movies in his living room and have

dinner with him," says Burt, who claims he hasn't

seen the author since 1983.

"He's got a big living room with a deck that looks out

over the hills of Vermont, way up high, very private,"

he adds.

Burt recalls one dinner party at Salinger's house

twenty-some years ago at which Salinger, who is said

to enjoy health food, served meatloaf. "No Julia

Child," he says of Salinger's cuisine. And

the conversation was rarely literary. "He talked

about movies and the gardens and his children," he says.

The books Salinger usually talked about were not novels

but non-fiction works related to “health, being your own

health provider -- and gardening."

Of course, none of the guests dared to mention


"You'd never even think to do that if you were around

him," he says. "He'd just give you a look. He's a

very tall man and stern looking. You just know not

to do that. He'd probably show you the door and

say, 'Don't come in.'"

“He never talked about his work except to say he wrote

every morning faithfully,” he says. “And he said if I was

ever going to be a writer, I would have to do that.”

He also says Salinger has a big safe -- like a "bank

safe" -- where he keeps his unpublished manuscripts. "I've

seen the safe, I've looked in it. And he told me that he kept

his unpublished [work] there....It's huge," says Burt. "You

could have a party in there."

At one get-together in the 1980s, Salinger screened Frank

Capra's 1937 film "Lost Horizon," about a group of people

who find a paradise called Shangrila tucked in a remote

corner of the Himalayans. "He liked all those old things,

those old silents, Charlie Chaplin," he says. (His

description of the Salinger party almost resembles the

scene in the 1950 movie “Sunset Boulevard” in which a

has-been screens old movies for friends in a remote house.)

Another neighbor, this one in Cornish, is much more

circumspect about what she says about Salinger and

takes great pains to defend him. “He has been a wonderful

neighbor,” says Joan Littlefield, who lives close to

him. “The minute we moved into the neighborhood, he

called and gave us his unlisted number and said,

‘We’re neighbors now.’”

Littlefield spontaneously defended the author against

some of the allegations in the memoir by Salinger’s

daughter Margaret A. Salinger, “Dream Catcher: A Memoir”

(2000). That book claimed, among other things, that

Salinger was involved in offbeat health and spiritual

practices, such as drinking urine and Scientology.

“This thing about telling him to drink his own urine

or something that I heard that somebody wrote about,”

said Littlefield. “...I think that if any of these

reporters did some research into Ayurvedic medicine

or the medicine of China or the Far East, they would

probably find out that the medicine people over

there recommend this sort of thing.” (Ayurvedic

medicine provides alternative health treatments -- including

urine drinking -- that have origins in ancient


Littlefield defends Salinger on smaller issues, too.

“Absolutely ridiculous things have been written about

him, like that they had two Doberman attack dogs,”

she says. “For Pete’s sake, they had two little

Italian hounds of some kind that looked like Dobermans,

and they were skinny and tiny as toothpicks!”

(Our requests for an interview with Salinger went

unanswered. The author is famous for not granting

interviews and has given only around six interviews,

some of them brief and grudging, to reporters since

the release of “Catcher.")

Most other people in the area see Salinger only when

he's out in public, if at all. “He’s great looking for his

age,” says photographer and area resident Medora Hebert,

who has spotted him twice. “He’s dapper, very trim.”

“It was a long time before I could actually recognize him

because he looked so ordinary,” says Ann Stebbens Cioffi,

the daughter of the late owner of the Dartmouth Bookstore,

Phoebe Storrs Stebbens.

But Salinger himself has said that he thinks others don’t

see him as ordinary. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind

of man," Salinger told the New York Times in 1974. And

some agree with him: "He's a very strange dude," says

Hanover resident Harry Nelson. Burt agrees: “He had a

weird sense of humor,” he says.

What emerges as much as anything is that the

author is a serious book lover and serial browser

who shops at places ranging from Borders Books to

the Dartmouth Bookstore. “He was uninterrupted

during his hour or two of browsing for books,” says

a person answering the phone at Encore! Books in West

Lebanon, New Hampshire, describing his own Salinger


“He does come in reasonably frequently,” says someone

who answered the phone at the Dartmouth Bookstore in

Hanover, New Hampshire, around 20 miles north of Cornish.

“He’s a pretty good customer here but doesn’t really

say anything to us.”

"He frequented the Dartmouth bookstore," says an

employee of Borders Books Music & Cafe in West Lebanon.

"I talked to people who worked over there one time;

they say he wasn't very nice, wasn't the most cordial

person. So I kind of keep my eye out for him

here, go my own way."

Adds Medora Hebert, "One of my daughter's friends

was a cashier at the Dartmouth Bookstore. And they warned

him, 'If J.D. Salinger comes in, don't talk to him,

don't acknowledge him.'"

And there have been many reports of Salinger

browsing the stacks at the Dartmouth College

library. “I’ve talked with people who have met

him in the stacks and whatnot,” says Thomas

Sleigh, an English professor at Dartmouth College.

Salinger is also said to enjoy the annual Five-Colleges

Book Sale at the Hanover High School gym, a springtime

sale of used and antiquarian books that raises money

for scholarships.

In Hanover, as in Cornish, he keeps to himself. "My

wife [says] Salinger always said hello to Phoebe

and no one else," says Nelson, referring to Phoebe

Storrs Stebbens, who was a year older than

Salinger (and incidentally shares the same first

name as a major character in “Catcher”).

And area booksellers say Salinger’s books are

displayed just as prominently as they would be

if he were not a local.

Then again, Salinger doesn’t have many books to

display, since he’s published only three besides

“Catcher,” all compilations of short stories or

novellas that had been previously published, mostly

in The New Yorker magazine. His last book,

“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and

Seymour, An Introduction,” was released in

January 1963. His previous books were the bestsellers

“Franny and Zooey” (1961) and “Nine Stories” (1953).

(By the way, The New Yorker magazine actually

rejected "The Catcher in the Rye" when Salinger

submitted it as a short story/novella that was

substantially similar to the novel, according to

Paul Alexander's book "Salinger: A Biography.")

In 1997, he had planned to publish a fifth book,

essentially a re-release of his last published

work, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which appeared in The

New Yorker in June 1965. The book’s publication

was ultimately scuttled.

But “Catcher” eclipses everything else he’s

done -- by a mile. It’s one of the most

influential 20th century American novels, a

coming-of-age odyssey about high school student

Holden Caulfield, who wanders around New York

after being kicked out of prep school. And

it's arguably the first novel to convincingly capture

the voice of the modern, alienated, American


"Catcher" was successful in its initial run but not

nearly as successful as it would become by the end

of the 1950s, when it started to turn into a

freakish cult phenomenon. To date, it has

sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and

continues to sell hundreds of thousands more each year.

Over the decades, the book has appealed to a wide

range of readers that even includes certified

wackos (John Lennon’s killer had a copy on him

when he was captured). So it’s not surprising that

Salinger has had to fend off obsessive

fans even at his private Shangrila of Cornish

Flat, which has a population of under 2,000.

“People approach him a lot,” says Burt. “And they

stole clothes off his clothesline. They stole his

socks, underwear, t-shirts. And they’d come up on

his deck. It’s a huge picture window that

goes across the front of the house looking out to

Vermont...And he said he’d get up and open the

drapes and people would be standing there looking in.

It really pissed him off.”

And there was also a much publicized scuffle outside the

Purity Supreme grocery store (which he used to jokingly

call “the Puberty Supreme,” according to two biographies)

in 1988, in which Salinger reportedly mixed it up with

a couple photographers who tried to take his picture.

But for the most part, people in the area don’t bother


“People in Cornish are quite protective of him,” says

Cioffi. “I can’t think of anyone who will tell you

a word about Salinger,” says a woman who answered

the phone at the Hannaford Supermarket in Claremont.

Apparently, Cornish is the perfect place to go if you

vant to be alone. “This is also a part of the country

where [writer Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn lived in his

enclave -- and his kids went to public

schools,” says Bob Grey of the Northshire Bookstore

in faraway Manchester Center, Vermont, referring to

the Nobel laureate’s former home in Cavendish,

Vermont, which is around 20 miles from Cornish.

“It’s the kind of place where, if you’re going to move

to be left alone, it’s not a bad place to be.”



for December 23, 2008

Almost 30 Years After "All in the Family" Went
Off the Air....

Excerpts from my exclusive interview with Carroll
O'Connor -- unpublished until now.

"Archie Bunker...never laughed."

I was lucky enough to have interviewed Carroll

O'Connor a few times in the 1990s, most memorably in

1997, when he talked about (among other things)

"All in the Family," which went off the air

thirty years ago this April.

That conversation, which lasted a couple

hours, took place in a church in the

Westwood section of Los Angeles on Labor

Day weekend of 1997 -- Saturday, August

30, 1997, to be exact, a few hours before

Princess Diana got into a car wreck in Paris.

Most of the conversation was about a play he had

just written, "A Certain Labor Day," though he

also talked about "All...," adding previously

unreported backstage details about how the series

came into existence every week. Here are excerpts,

which haven't been published -- until now (except

for a few lines, which I first included in one

of my newspaper articles of 1997):

CARROLL O'CONNOR: Yeah, we used to sit

and talk about making lines funnier or inserting

something. But I always used to make sure that these

jokes were not just jokes, they were characters's thrust

and parry. And I wouldn't play a pure unadulterated

joke. I could do it. But I always thought

we were doing these little plays on "All in the

Family." And there was a little crisis every week.

Archie Bunker, for instance, he never laughed.

He came in bothered every night about

something that went on in the day. He had a

crisis a day. And then he had a crisis at home

with his son-in-law and his daughter. And crisis

is what people understand. From a purely pragmatic

point of view -- forget art for a moment -- crisis

is what the ticket buyers understand. Everybody out

there has a crisis. I take credit for being the

one who was driving every week towards a little

play. I'm [not saying] everybody else was going

the other way. But I was the principal -- I used

to sit around the table and say, "Why should anybody

want to see this?...What is in this little play

we're doing that makes it worth watching?"


O'CONNOR: ....Let's go for the crisis.

Let's put a crisis in. If putting a crisis

in means losing a few jokes, let's put the crisis in.

Every single week, we improvised something on the set.

And we used to have a script going upstairs [at CBS].

We used to use computers, the big Xerox computers -- I

mean, they were monsters in those days, those Xerox

things -- so we could send [dialogue]. The minute we

made changes, they rushed up and put in the new pages.

They'd come down with three, four new scripts every

day. We went through all kinds of paper! And Xerox

machines kept turning them out for us. We'd

improvise and...we'd have to go up and get the script



O'CONNOR: The time when Archie

changed the baby's diaper, and there was

frontal nudity on the little boy ["Archie,

The Babysitter," aired Jan. 12, 1976]. They

decided they wouldn't do it. I must say

Norman Lear went to bat for us. He won the

day on that one. But I think that even then,

they fudged it. They let us do it and then

they...did a very fast shot.


O'CONNOR: There was one very important

episode when Archie and Mike get a little boozed and

discuss the origins of racism and Archie explains why

he thinks what he thinks ["Two's a Crowd," aired Feb.

12, 1978]. Locked in a liquor room, in

the storeroom. And Archie opens up. He doesn't

forswear racism, he just explains why he believed his

father about [assuming Bunker's voice] Jews

and niggers."

* * *

As it turned out, while O'Connor and I were chatting,

the world had suddenly changed in a tragic way,

unbeknownst to both of us. On my way home from

the interview, I heard the breaking news that

Princess Diana had been involved in some sort of

car crash. (But I digress.)

As I mentioned, O'Connor's show went off the air

30 years ago this April, though -- of course -- it's

still very much available on DVD, even if it's

(oddly) somewhat scarce in syndication.

I recently watched the entire fourth season of

"All in the Family" and was struck by how modern

most of it seemed. Some of the dialogue sounded

like it was written in 2008 -- like this passage,

which first aired on October 20, 1973:

HENRY JEFERSON: How come we don't have a black
president? I mean, some of our black people are just
as dumb as Nixon.

ARCHIE BUNKER: You ain't got a black president,
Jefferson, 'cause God ain't ready for that yet.

MICHAEL: Wait a second. What?!

ARCHIE: That's right. God's got to try it out
first by making a black pope, which he ain't done yet.

LIONEL: Maybe that's 'cause God ain't Catholic.
. . .

GLORIA: Is that all you can talk about, whether a
black man or a white man should be president?

ARCHIE: Well, what do you want to talk about, little

GLORIA: How about a woman president?

ARCHIE: Oh, holy cow!

HENRY JEFFERSON (aghast): A woman president?!

GLORIA: Mr. Jefferson, this may come as a big surprise to
you, but women are much more oppressed than blacks.

HENRY JEFFERSON: I don't see no ghetto for women.

GLORIA: What do you call a kitchen?

LOUISE JEFFERSON: I call it a prison.

HENRY JEFFERSON: Stay out of this, Louise, you're
talking foolish.

LOUISE: Do you know what Shirley Chisholm said?
Shirley Chisholm said that she ran into more
discrimination because she was a woman than because
she was black.

HENRY JEFFERSON: That's why she didn't get elected.

LOUISE: Right.

HENRY: Because she was talking foolish.

GLORIA: Mr. Jefferson, you've come a long way,
baby. But from now on it's we women who have
to overcome.

Sounds like vintage 2008 dialogue, eh? Right out

of the Obama-Hillary headlines, right? Ahead of

its time, no doubt.

But it was also very much of and about the 1970s,

too. The fourth season was the last one of the

Nixon era, coming at a point when the show had

accumulated enormous momentum and was knocking it

out of the proverbial ballpark every week with

an astonishing level of consistency. And it also

includes some of the most frequently syndicated

episodes (e.g. Archie takes a bribe from a

corrupt lawyer in exchange for dropping charges

against a mugger from a prominent family; a

seemingly washed-up unemployed colleague

visits the Bunkers and ends up landing a

job as Archie's boss; Archie celebrates

his 50th birthday (though it's hard to believe

Bunker was as young as 50 in '74; he could've

easily passed for 64).

Still, it's hard to call it the best season, because

the first four were really almost equally brilliant,

with the consistency starting to lag only in the

final four seasons, though it's also true that

some of the very best episodes were in the later

seasons (particularly the sporadically

inspired eighth season).

The best way to define the prime of "All in the

Family" is to recall favorite episodes from

memory. Let's see, there was that one that

everybody remembers in which Sammy Davis Jr.

kisses Archie (second season); the one where

right-wingers paint a swastika on the Bunkers's

front door (season 3); the show in which Archie

gets addicted to speed (season 8) -- among many,

many others. Generally, you're naming stuff

from the first four years.

The first season had a fresh, almost shock-jock


The second was dominated by Maude, who really

sort of overwhelmed the show (she soon had

her own spin-off series).

The third and fourth seasons were almost a

"Rubber Soul"/"Revolver" peak, with the 4th

introducing neighbors Frank and Irene Lorenzo

(amazing that Vincent Gardenia was given the

role, given the fact that he had played a

completely different (and unforgettable) character,

a wife-swapping swinger who Edith naively

invited to the house in the previous season;

and George Jefferson and his family (who, like

Maude, also got a solo series).

The 4th was also arguably Rob Reiner's best season

though Reiner, creatively, will probably be

remembered by future generations less for

his role as the blustery Michael Stivic than

as the film maker behind one of the funniest

films ever made, "This Is Spinal Tap."

And the crazy energy of Frank Lorenzo truly

spices up things, though one gets the sense

that he was originally written as a gay

character but was instead converted into

something more mainstream: an Italian

husband who loved to cook and sing

(just as the core ensemble characters

of "Seinfeld" seem as if they had been

initially written as roommates).

As for Archie: if you watch footage of former

Chicago mayor Richard Daley Sr., you'll see such

a remarkable resemblance between Bunker and

Daley that you'll swear the former must have

been modeled on the latter, and in fact he

might've been. Today, Bunker almost seems

like a dead-on caricature of Daley, right

down to the mayor's famous malapropisms.

(The Bunker character was fully created in

1970, only a couple years after Daley became

a villain to many for orchestrating the

"police riot" of 1968 in Chicago.)

Other times, Bunker is played as Willy Loman

for laughs (sort of).

It's interesting that O'Connor plays Bunker in

such a way that a right-winger could watch the

show and say, "What's so funny about that?"

His non-punch line punch lines were that straight.

Also, you can see Bunker's influence on the

Tony Soprano character in "The Sopranos,"

particularly in the mob series's later

episodes. (David Remnick, writing in

TNY last year, showed a fine ear for

dialect when he once wrote that Tony

Soprano "sounded more Summit than

Newark" in the first season.

Very true, though I would add that

his accent and manner actually shifted

from Summit to near Hauser Street in

later episodes.)

Things began to decline on all fronts for

the series during the fall season in which Jimmy

Carter was elected president. By late '76, the

landscape, culturally and politically, had

shifted. Nixon the dictator had been

overthrown. The revolutionaries were victorious.

Liberal paranoia, which had given the series

some of its tension, had dissipated. And

"All in the Family," which had had a lock on the

number one spot for most of the decade,

dropped out of the top five for the first

time -- and permanently.

Today, you'd have to be at least thirty-six

years old to even vaguely remember a first-run

episode of "All in the Family." But I'd find it

hard to believe that someone unfamiliar with the

show wouldn't find any episode from the first

four seasons hilarious in a meaningful way.

But I digress. Paul

[above, photo credit: photographer unknown]



for December 19 - 21, 2008

Regarding the Rick Warren Invocation

I took a job at the San Francisco Chronicle

as a staff writer in 2000, and one of my first

assignments was to write about TV coverage of

the upcoming presidential election and the

candidates. At the time, televised debates were

being scheduled and Reform Party candidate Pat

Buchanan wanted to be included in them. So I

contacted all the major and minor presidential

candidates and asked if they would comment for

my article, and the only one who responded was

Buchanan, who phoned to talk about why he thought

he should be allowed to participate in the

debates. Great, I thought; I can use the

interview for my story.

Ran into my boss at the water cooler around

an hour later and told her the mildly good news

that I had landed an interview with one of the

presidential candidates for my article.

"Which one?," she asked

"Pat Buchanan," I said.

She looked horrified and talked as if I

had committed some terrible faux pas.

She was the top features editor at the paper,

a mostly terrific editor who could sometimes pull

magic out of the air during deadlines (in contrast to

some of the lower-level editors, who

ranged from plodding to downright

dishonest, to be honest, though almost all

of 'em were very nice people. But that's another


Anyway, she was disappointed because she

didn't like Buchanan and didn't want to give him

any ink.

I explained to her that I, too, despised Buchanan's

politics (probably more than she did) and that I was

personally to the left of Nancy Pelosi on some issues,

but thought Buchanan should be heard, particularly

at a paper where predictable liberalism was rampant.

This was journalism, after all, not advocacy, and I

was writing a news story in which Buchanan was a

player, so it was important that I include

him, no matter what my personal feelings about

his politics were.

She, on the other hand, likely came away from

the discussion thinking, ohmygod, I just hired the

wrong guy; he's been on the job for only a few weeks

and already is giving podium to guys like Buchanan.

(My previous journalism experience, by the way, had

been entirely in New York and Los Angeles, not in

S.F., so maybe that had something to do with it. You

see, I was taught at Spy/Washington Post/Los Angeles

Times, etc. to follow the story where the facts

led you, without fear or favor. But they had a

different way of doing things at the Chron, where

editors openly gave preferential and biased

coverage to personal pals, which sort of made

me nauseous. What made me more nauseous is

that top editors there were well-connected

enough to spin the situation into a narrative

that favored them, not the truth.

To digress further for a moment, here's an example

of how the Chronicle would give favors to personal

pals in its reportage. Context is this: a publicist

wanted to control coverage of a story I was writing, and

I politely but firmly refused his request. Publicist,

it turned out, was a personal bud of a top editor

(which wouldn't have changed my response even if I'd

known that fact). My editor(who is still at the paper, by

the way) criticized me (in a written evaluation, no

less!) for not doing a favor for that publicist

pal of a top Chronicle editor. And he was completely

open about it, too! Here's the evaluation, written

by my editor:

This S.F. Chronicle evaluation left me wondering:
gee, I thought you weren't supposed to do favors for
personal pals in journalism. (Yes, my editor actually
said I shouldn't defy publicists!)
[click to enlarge]

Anyway, I've over-digressed here. But I'm telling

this story because I identify strongly, in my

own microcosmic way, with Barack

Obama's decision to let Rick Warren give the

invocation at the inauguration. It's like something

I would do (and, as I just said,

like something I did do -- in an analogous way,

on a far smaller scale -- shortly after being hired

as a writer for the Chronicle). In politics (as

in journalism), a real pro puts aside his own

personal beliefs and allows someone with whom

he disagrees to be heard.

And in politics, there's practical value to that.

Because the worst thing you can do for your own

cause is to muzzle the opposition, to make them

feel as if they're powerless and have

no voice, to make them scared of the new power

structure. Because that's when they'll lash out

the most, that's when they'll gather in church

groups in huge numbers and bury you

in the next election.

But if you bring them into the dialogue, make them

feel like they're not invisible to the new regime,

you stand a better chance of convincing them to

compromise on certain issues later on.

Like gay marriage. Hey, I voted against Prop 8 and

thought it was a real tragedy that it passed, and I

also think that opponents of gay marriage like

Warren are despicable and, frankly,

backward-thinking. (And I'm a hard-core hetero!)

But let's let the man speak. Because if we hear

him, there's a better chance he may hear us in the

future on issues like gay marriage, a better

chance we might be able to convince him of

the wisdom of our point of view.

However, if there is no dialogue, there can be no

persuasion, or little chance of it. Which is why

I also advocate sitting down and talking with Hugo

Chavez, Mamoud Ahmadinejad and the Castro brothers

(but not with an irrational, homicidal fanatic

like bin Laden).

Proponents of gay marriage: get shrewd. Bringing

Rick Warren to the party is probably the most practical

way to convince him and his people to soften their

opposition to gay civil rights.

But I digress. Paul



for December 17, 2008

Poor sweet Caroline. Prior to today, she

had more mystique, breathed a more rarefied air,

exuded a more untouchable grace. Now she has

to lunch with non-entities like the mayor of

Schenectady. Sort of like J.D. Salinger deciding

to come out of seclusion to do in-store promotion

for his new novel. The enigma becomes diminished.

The legend becomes too accessible, familiar.

Suddenly the person is no longer a "get" interview

or a rare thrill to meet.

Interesting that her mom, at around the same age,

also decided to take a relatively conventional job,

book editor at Doubleday, where she -- believe it or

not! -- came into the office on Park Ave.

on a regular basis to work (that's where I actually

saw her once, in the editorial offices there;

Jacqueline Kennedy remains the only Kennedy I've

ever seen up close and in person).

Not that the U.S. Senate is a "conventional" job,

though lots of conventional or at least politically

unremarkable people have held the position, among

them: Jean Carnahan (qualification: wife of a

governor), Hillary Clinton (qualification (at the

time): wife of a president) and Liddy Dole (qualification:

wife of a senator). So, in that context, "daughter

of a legendary president" makes her as qualified

as many who have recently served.

Let's face it, as I've written before (to quote my

Digression of November 16, 2008, posted below):

"Truth be told, the Senate has always been an easy

job. Anybody can be a Senator (though it'$ very hard

to actually be elected to the post). Politicians'

relatives without any experience in government have

ascended to the job and performed well. Because it's

a position in which your main responsibility is

to simply vote the party line (unless you're in the

leadership, where you're co-creating the party line).

Is there any other position in which you can

be away from work for years and have nothing

go awry?"

Yeah, Caroline may not be an arm twister or

wheeler dealer like lots of powers of the Senate

have been, and she's seems a bit too private for

politics, but she does bring a personal clout

and a powerful name to the table, which can go a

long way toward making her an effective member

of the legislative branch. Plus, she's exactly as

progressive as outgoing Senator Clinton has been

and enjoys an excellent working relationship with

president-elect Obama.

Senator Caroline Kennedy? We could do (and have

done) a lot worse, and it would be difficult to

do much better.

But I digress. Paul



for December 14 - 15, 2008

One of the Problems with the Car Business

Ah, remember when car designs were memorable?

I know almost nothing about cars or the car industry,

but couldn't help getting caught up in the discussion

on this morning's Chris Matthews television show,

when everyone talked about their favorite cars.

I must admit I'm in solidarity with Andrew Sullivan of

The Atlantic, who, like me, doesn't drive and doesn't

know or care much about cars.

Oh, I used to drive, and still can, but don't, largely

because I didn't need a car when I lived in and around

Manhattan in the decades after graduating from college

and so got into the habit of not being dependent on

a car. Today, as a Bay Area resident, I'm perfectly

content with BART and its various forms of connecting

transportation, thank you very much.

But I'm certainly not oblivious to the vehicles

around me every day and suspect that one of the

problems with the car business today is its

lack of imagination.

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, there used

to be really snazzy cars. When friends and neighbors

would visit, our suburban driveway always seemed to

be packed with lively MGs and Triumph Spitfires and

Fiats and even an Aston Martin or two. They had

style, character, personality, pizzazz, a sense

of fun. (And some even had that great lost

guilty pleasure: a fifth gear!)

And now everything is a Toyota. Not to knock

Toyotas, because If I were in the market for an

affordable car, I might end up with a Toyota, too.

(Because good luck getting parts

or repair service for an Aston Martin in this

part of the world in the 21st century.)

But cars today seem to look the same: generic,

bland, utilitarian, un-fun, with almost

interchangeable designs.

What happened to exciting design ideas? In the

1960s, even American cars had a sense of conceptual

daring, in their way. I remember when one of our

neighbors of the 1960s drove up with a brand new

Corvette (with retractable headlights) for the first

time, and all the kids (and adults) crowded around

it as if it were a UFO that had just landed on

Courtney Drive.

What happened to the wow-factor?

The only vitality I see out there in mainstream cars

is in the VW Beetle, whose semi-circular shape

is almost pop art in spirit. Even though they've been

around for awhile, they still look innovative

in contrast to the blandscape on the highways.

In the current homogeneous environment, even French

cars, once widely derided, are now a welcome contrast

to the vehicular sameness out there.

At least when you see a Citroen or a Deux Cheveux,

you're seeing something unusual and memorable

and quite unlike anything else, even if its design

doesn't quite fully work. (As writer Henry Biggs put

it on the MSN website: "...the French do occasionally

build cars if only to have something to burn next

time they decide to riot").

Look, I'm certainly not saying American car

makers should emulate the French, but if you were to

combine the U.S. utilitarian spirit with

Japanese efficiency and a European sense of

innovation in design, Detroit might actually come up

with something people want to buy. (Nowadays,

it's easy to spot an American car; just look

for a bulky vehicle that overdoes the steel and


Me, I prefer daring to safe mediocrity anyday.

Until the industry puts some inspiraton and

surprise back into its cars, I'll continue

to take the BART.

But I digress. Paul



for December 12, 2008

Kudos to that Reuters reporter for being the only one

at yesterday's Obama press conference to ask the

president-elect about his health care plan.

The other esteemed journalists -- all fully insured,

I'm sure -- asked about Governor Milosevic, or whatever

his name is. Perhaps uninsured reporters, who more

fully understand what a callous horror the U.S. health

care system has become, should be assigned to ask

questions at the next Q&A session, because the

insured might not completely appreciate what a

five-alarm crisis this is for millions of Americans.

Yeah, I fully understand that the question from

the CBS reporter needed to be asked, but it's hardly

a tell-tale detail that Blagojevich somehow knew

that Obama wouldn't play ball in the governor's

nefarious game. The governor, like the rest of

us, knew Obama's reputation for honesty and, hence,

knew not to ask him to engage in horse-trading.

In any profession, in politics or elsewhere, a

person sets an ethical tone that tends to either

invite or discourage certain solicitations and

associations. And smart staffers can easily see

where a conversation is going and stop it before

it goes there.

In any event, the Blagojevich tapes are

exculpatory toward Obama. The real wonder -- and

it's damn near a secular miracle to anyone who

has been an honest professional in the midst

of corruption -- is how Obama managed to rise through

the ranks of Chicago politics and come out as

a genuine model of high-minded ethics. Amazing.

Less amazing is the shameful behavior of Jesse

Jackson, Jr., who seemed to go along to get

along, which is what most people do, unfortunately,

in such circumstances, because whistleblowing

requires enormous courage and risk. My own

hard-earned experience tells me that

when you blow the whistle on someone powerful --

whether in politics or journalism or anywhere

else -- the following generally happens: you

get fired, then smeared, then blacklisted in

your profession, and then the real bad luck


But I digress. Paul



for December 7, 2008

Does "Wall-E" Deserve a Best Pic Oscar Nom?

Wall-E: a star is boring? (photo from Pixar)

I'd really like to like "Wall-E." A lot of critics

I respect rave about it. But after watching it

two-and-a half times, I still find it a

bona fide bore.

The first time I viewed it, I fell asleep around forty

minutes in. The second time, I saw the whole thing

and got into it a bit more, but was still astonished

by how uninteresting it was for such a highly-praised


Maybe it's me, I thought. Maybe I wasn't in the

right mood for it. So I tried it a third

time -- with 10 minutes of deleted scenes -- and

was still yawning throughout.

Problem is its occasionally flat visual effect, a

constricted style that looks like a computer screen

for much of the film. I don't care what novel

storyline or earnest message a film maker

intends, because intention and concept scarcely

matter, if there is no visual magic on the screen

(and there's very little here).

To be sure, there are some inspired moments, around

an hour in, during the space sequences, which soar

like no others here. But otherwise, it's just a

lot of mechanized stop-start motion that expresses

little except an overall lack of flow.

As for the love story, it's less Chaplin-esque than

"E.T."-esque, and hard to praise because it consists

mostly of Walle-E screaming "Eve" and Eve yelling

"Wall-E" (the name Wall-E is shouted at least a

hundred times or so, or so it seems).

The good news: if you cut the visuals and just

listen to the audio portion, with all its whirs

and beeps and musical loops and repetition,

it sounds sort of like a fascinating piece of avant

garde music, which makes it more deserving

of a Grammy than of an Oscar, though the

film will probably be nominated for best picture

on January 22nd.

But I digress. Paul



for December 4, 2008

I was just in San Francisco a few hours ago and

shot a few photos. Here they are:

Light through stained glass windows falls on columns
in Grace Cathedral in S.F.

* * *

A cat sleeps on a snoozing dog on Powell Street in S.F.
-- something you don't see every day! (Almost lost in the
cropping: a mouse is actually atop the cat.)

* * *

This is what the holiday season looks like in S.F.'s
Union Square.

* * *

And here are a few photos I shot several weeks ago:

A squirrel feasts on Halloween leftovers.

* * *

A voter (with child) on presidential election day,
at a polling place in Berkeley, Calif.

But I digress. Paul



for November 28 - 29, 2008

If you're looking to watch some DVDs over

this Thanksgiving weekend, here are my

reviews of a few movies I've seen (or re-seen)


Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Conformist"

I tend to watch Bertolucci's films primarily for

their visual beauty.

Is there a more seductive light blue anywhere in the

world, offscreen or on, than the one in "The Conformist"?

It's slightly darker than powder blue, like a

light twilight snow in Central Park, or the comic book

blue of "Ghost World," an almost blue white (just

look at the scenes in the Paris store).

For deep blue, I go to Coppola, particularly the first

"Godfather" film, which looks the way it does largely

because Bertolucci (and ace cinematographer Vittorio

Storaro) led the way years earlier with "The

Conformist." Coppola's dark blue is that of the sky

at 30,000 feet, or of Frank Sinatra's eyes up close

(which I was lucky enough to have seen in person, from

around a foot away, on a movie set in 1980). But

I digress.

I'm more impressed with "The Conformist" as a fest of

shadow and color, that by-product of light, than as a

character study of a conformist. The film is remarkable

for, among other things, the way it makes shadows look

like they seemed in childhood, as huge mysterious things

that you could get lost in. His style of manipulating

shadow and light, later used so revealingly

by Coppola in the opening sequences of "The Godfather"

to suggest a contrast between good and evil, furthers a

stylistic throughline that appears to come from no less

than Caravaggio.

The film is also about the low angle of the sunlight

through the fog in the forest during the climactic

murder scene (even if that sequence has a continuity

gaffe; the snow disappears just as the professor

gets out of the car), a setting that is remarkably

similar to the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos."

As a portrait of a conformist, however, it is lacking. If

Bertolucci, revising the Moravia novel, is trying to draw

a character who goes along to get along, who blends in

chameleon-like with whoever he happens to be with, who

takes the path of greatest agreement and least

resistance, then the title character, Marcello Clerici,

is not such a person.

Clerici is actually a sometimes contrarian and

contentious sort of guy, deeply committed to an

evil political ideology. He may be callous,

conscienceless and amoral but is far from chronically

malleable; after all, he argues with a priest during

confession, debates politics with his former

professor at dinner, and refuses to join in a group

dance even when surrounded by dozens

of dancers in Paris. Leonard Zelig he ain't (in

fact, "Zelig" could have easily been titled

"The Conformist").

Remember, the premise of the film is this: because

Clerici killed someone when he was kid (or he thinks

he killed someone), his life is shaped by his desire to

be normal and to fit in amongst non-homicidal regular

people. But the main problem with that premise is

that it doesn't follow that he would then commit

himself to a political organization that orders him

to kill political opponents. If the concept is that

Clerici wants to show how much he is an average

everyman non-killer, then wouldn't killing someone

be exactly the opposite of the conformity he's

supposedly trying to achieve?

Still, it's always welcome to see a great film that

exposes the cruelty and savagery of Nazi and

Nazi-associated fascists of the thirties and forties.

But for all the talk in the film about Mussolini's

people forcing dissidents to drink castor oil -- sort

of an execution by diarrhea, in some cases -- there

is not much shown onscreen of the imaginative

sadism of the blackshirts (the way there is in

Wertmuller's films or in Pasolini's scalding "Salo,"

which not only shows the trauma of torture but actually

traumatizes anyone who dares to view that film).

Dominique Sanda's portrayal of someone who

knows she is about to be murdered may be traumatic

enough for most viewers. Still, the most salient and

memorable imagery in "The Conformist" relates to light,

shadow, blue.

P.S. -- How telling that Bertolucci uses the E.U.R.

subdivision in Rome as the setting for a mental

institution, which is what it looks like today, for

the most part. Rather than the ultramodern city

of the future, the E.U.R. now looks clinical, cold,

sterile, like that odd building in Columbus Circle

(2 Columbus Circle) in Manhattan that nobody has

ever seemed to find a use for. (I was more

impressed with the E.U.R. as a kid than I am now.)

Also, the Vittorio Emanuele monument appears in

the picture, making me wish the Italian government

would dismantle it, piece by piece, and bury

it in landfill off the coast of Ostia Antica.

Look, I love most of Rome but can't think of

another major monument in a western European

city as overstated, pompous and arrogant.

(It would be impossible to imagine it in Florence.)

P.S. -- Some DVDs of "The Conformist" include

interesting interviews with both Bertolucci and

Storaro that are well worth checking out, if only

because of Bertolucci's characteristic wisdom and

insight. Here's what he says about directing actors:

"I always tell my actors, 'Please surprise me.

I need to be fed with surprises. Surprises are

nourishing.'" Very refreshing (particularly in

contrast to a dim editor I once worked with at

a Bay Area newspaper who used to tell me and other

writers to try to do the opposite -- "no surprises"

was his motto).

* * * *

Woody Allen's "Scoop"

I'm certainly thrilled with the unexpected

resurgence of Woody Allen's career in the

2000s and loved "Match Point" and am looking

forward to "Whatever Works." But "Scoop" falls

into the lower tier of Allen films

that are well-crafted but not really very funny.

I can't imagine that any serious critic would

recommend this one for its hilarity. It's sort of

like a U.K.-based re-make of the slight "Manhattan

Murder Mystery" with recycled bits from "Broadway

Danny Rose" and "Small Time Crooks." Sure, there

are some suspenseful moments -- the scene on the

boat is chilling -- but not all the movie's supposedly

tell-tale details hold up to scrutiny (e.g., why

would the murderer have hidden the key in a hiding

place that he knew Scarlett Johansson

had already discovered?). But I loved the Camusian

death at the end.

* * * *

"The Devil Wears Prada"

One of the great things about "Prada" is that

the audience becomes educated, along with Anne

Hathaway's fashion neophyte, about haute couture.

For example, in the beginning, I looked at

Hathaway's blue sweater and, with her dark hair

against it, thought it looked very pretty. But

Meryl Streep's character, with a rarefied

level of refinement in high fashion that Hathaway

and most people in the audience don't have, sees

right to the core of her fashion flaw, calling it

that "lumpy blue sweater." And gradually, Hathaway

(and moviegoers) realize that Streep

is...right. It is bulky. After Streep's description,

I couldn't see that sweater the same way for the rest

of the film.

Streep truly tops herself here, perfecting the

throw-of-the-jacket at either an assistant or a chair,

both of which she treats with equal disregard, and

the dry slicing put-down ("Is there a reason my coffee

isn't here? Did she go to Rwanda for the beans?").

"Prada" is entertaining and satisfying throughout, and

some of the deleted scenes are as terrific as the ones

that made the cut.

* * *

"TV Classic Westerns"

For those curious about the westerns that began

to sprout on television around fifty years ago, a

variety-pack of episodes from four series of that

era is available on DVD. Though there's no

"Gunsmoke," "Rawhide" or "Bonanza," there are

"Death Valley Days," "The Rifleman," "Bat Masterson"

and "Wagon Train."

The latter was the most popular of those included here,

or at least it was until ABC Entertainment, in an

incredibly boneheaded decision, decided to expand

it, a la "The Virginian," to 90 minutes, thereby

inadvertently killing it. (In one of the most

spectacular falls in ratings that I'm aware of, it

went from #1 to unranked in the top

twenty in a matter of months.)

"Death Valley Days" is probably the worst of them,

a series so old-fashioned it could pass for what

television might have looked like in the 19th

century, had there been TV in the 19th century.

"Bat Masterson" was the most eccentric and stylish

of them, what with Masterson's cane and dapper duds.

But the problem with the cane gimmick was that all

the bad guys always had guns, so showdowns inevitably

devolved into traditional gunfights in which the cane

was irrelevant or merely ornamental.

"The Rifleman," a succinct (half hour) weeknight series,

had a welcome punk edge to it and was almost, but not quite,

Eastwoodian in sensibility.

I never watched any of this stuff when I was a kid, which

explains my current curiosity, now satisfied enough to tell

me I didn't miss much back when.

But I digress. Paul



for November 25 - 26, 2008

Season 7 Starts Shooting in a Couple Weeks

Reading "Mondo Freaks."

Two reasons to be cheerful in 2009: there'll

be a 7th season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

and a new Woody Allen movie, "Whatever Works,"

also starring Larry David.

Shooting starts on the next ten episodes of "Curb" in

a week or two, though there are no credible leaks on

whether Larry and Loretta become a permanent item or

if Cheryl remains estranged from her ex.

Those who have yet to check out the 6th season have a

treat awaiting them, because it may be the best so far, or

at least it includes the (arguably) funniest "Curb" episode

ever, "The Freak Book," which makes me laugh just thinking

about it. Yeah, I know, there have been plenty of other

contendas for best episode, to wit: "Lewis Needs a Kidney,"

which actually may be better and more resonant than

"Freak Book"; and such slighter, but only

slightly slighter, episodes like the hilarious "Krazee-Eyez

Killa" and "The Car Pool Lane" (and "The Car Salesman"

and "The Wire" and "The Larry David Sandwich," in which

Larry, while inside his wife, interrupts sex with her

because he can't resist taking a phone call

from his overweight manager Jeff, with whom he

seems to have better chemistry).

I vote for "Freak Book" because of the seemingly

genuine enthusiasm that Larry and Jeff have for

"Mondo Freaks," an exploitative coffee-table book

full of pictures of physically deformed people.

The second disc of Season Six, with only four

episodes, may seem skimpy at first, but it packs

a bigger wallop than most "Curb" double-discs.

Only problem with "Curb," which is otherwise close to

perfect, is its occasional plot deficiencies, storylines

that are often jerry-built, a weakness it shares with

"Seinfeld," which, as hilarious as it was, could never

really carry an adequate plot over the span of even

two episodes (remember the contrived mail truck/golf club

bit?). And that same sense of contrivance is apparent

in, say, the story in which Larry stages the mugging of

his wife's shrink, which leaves the viewer unwilling to

suspend disbelief -- and wondering why the police wouldn't

want to talk with the mugging victim and the main witness.

And then there are promising plots not taken, like

the one in which Leon robs people of their

jerseys, thinking they're Larry's jerseys; that

story could've easily bloomed into one in which Larry

winds up in a legal mess, accused of conspiracy to

commit strong arm robbery, because of Leon's

well-intentioned overstepping.

But "Curb" isn't primarily about plot but about

a set of tangled, complicated relationships that crash

and burn and recombine and uncombine and resurge

-- and sometimes resurge and disintegrate at the

same time, which is to say it's as close to life itself

as a great sit-com can get.

But I digress. Paul



for November 20, 2008

Well, it's official. The only ones who don't love

Barack Obama are the religious right of America and

the religious right of Islam. Al Zawahiri

just sent his latest right-wing rant from the

15th century and -- surprise! -- he doesn't like the

progressive modern policies of Obama.

For those who don't remember al Zawahiri, he's

bin Laden's number two, a physician (albeit a

physician who hasn't yet learned that being overweight

is a big health risk). And I don't think he fully

understands that his and bin Laden's medical prognoses

have, with the election of Obama, just taken a

turn for the far worse.

You see, al Zawahiri, the president-elect has said

repeatedly that if his soldiers catch you guys in

their crosshairs, they have orders to shoot to kill.

And Obama is way smarter than Bush and more likely to

figure out where you're hiding. So get your cave in

order, because your reactionary ways are a-comin' to

a close.

As I've said before, I've got a bottle of marvelous dry

Tuscan red all ready for the great day when bin Laden is

declared dead. Can't wait.

Sure, we should and can negotiate with a lot of

despots we disagree with (e.g., even Ahmadinejad,

Chavez, Castro, etc.). But not with bin Laden or

al Qaeda.

The reason? They targeted apolitical civilians, Muslims

among them, in a non-wartime context. Civilians.

Deliberately. I still can't get my mind around what

those guys did in '01. Even in wartime, when

civilians are killed, they are killed by accident, not

by design.

And by the way, al Zawahiri, you have your facts

wrong about Obama's father. Yes, his dad did begin

life as a Muslim, but as soon as he got a first-class

education, at Harvard and elsewhere, he quickly learned

that all that religious stuff was just bullshit and

soon abandoned theism. Smart guy.

In any event, his son is obviously his own man and

was not raised by his father but by people who

were Christians, which accounts for his Christian


But I digress. Paul



for November 18, 2008

Here's the best (and funniest) lede paragraph I've

seen in a long, long time. It was written

by Burkhard Bilger and appears in the new issue of

The New Yorker:

"Elephants, like many of us, enjoy a good malted beverage

when they can get it. At least twice in the past ten years,

herds in India have stumbled upon barrels of rice beer,

drained them with their trunks, and gone on drunken

rampages. (The first time, they trampled four villagers;

the second time they uprooted a pylon and electrocuted




for November 17, 2008

Mean Girl

It's hard to believe some can't see the fact that

Sarah Palin's national political career is sooo over.

She may be a presidential contender in 2012? Are you

joking? You think she might team up with Dan Quayle?

Honey, she just came off a stint as America's newest

National Laughingstock. People tune in to watch her

only because they want to see her screw up on camera.

They watch her the way they watch TV Bloopers.

For cheap kicks. To feel good about their own

failings. Her legacy -- forever -- is as Tina Fey's

sidekick (and, man, has the bottom dropped out of the

Palin-related humor industry, no?). Sarah,

we're not laughing with you, we're laughing at you.

Further, your meanness toward uninsured sick people

who need to see a doctor makes you an unsympathetic

figure. Go back to teaching creationism or

whatever you were doing before.

But I digress. Paul



for November 16, 2008

A Sea of Udalls

Nobody's noticing it, but the U.S. Senate is

gradually being depleted of its

greatest talents.

Many of the leading lions will be gone in the next

Senate. Our best Senator, Barack Obama, has

found another job. Congress's greatest foreign

policy mind, Joe Biden, has also found employment

elsewhere. Ted Kennedy, sadly, has cancer and

is not expected to live far into the new year. Hillary

Clinton is in negotiations to leave her job, and so

is John Kerry. Even Dianne Feinstein is seriously

considering a gubernatorial run. (And since his

political sex-change operation, Joe Lieberman has

been of little use to either side.)

So who's left to perform before the C-Span cameras?

Two new Udalls and a Stuart Smalley (if we're lucky).

The Senate is now officially 2% Udall.

Truth be told, the Senate has always been an easy

job. Anybody can be a Senator (though it'$ very hard

to actually be elected to the post). Politicians'

relatives without any experience in government have

ascended to the job and performed well. Because it's

a position in which your main responsibility is

to simply vote the party line (unless you're in the

leadership, where you're co-creating the party line).

Is there any other position in which you can

be away from work for years and have nothing

go awry?

Still, there's at least one lion left, John McCain,

and here's my suggestion: appoint McCain Secretary

of Defense. No, hear me out. Do what some businesses

sometimes do. Appoint your main rival to a post

that you know he could not turn down. And then, a

year or so later, replace him with someone else, saying

that you and McCain don't see eye-to-eye with regard

to, say, the Kurdistan separatist crisis, or

whatever the crisis du jour is in a year. By so

doing, you've effectively fired McCain from the

Senate and put him into early (or earlier)

retirement. (Sort of like what Eisner did to

Ovitz on a different playing field.)

Remember, cabinet officials do not get tenure. This

is not a post at the Kennedy School of Government.

And this ain't a luxurious six-year Senate stint

from which you cannot be fired (even if you're caught

in a restroom trying to kiss an undercover dick, so

it turns out). Look at how long cabinet officials

have lasted in previous administrations. Mere months,

in some cases. A best case scenario -- and this is

stretching it -- is eight years, though most don't

last that long at all. And if you think the position

will bring immortality or household name recognition:

anybody remember William P. Rogers? George von L.

Meyer? Cornelius N. Bliss? (I think Cornelius

used his middle initial in order to distinguish

himself from the many others named Cornelius Bliss.)

On the upside, an Obama cabinet official does get

the satisfaction of serving someone who may turn

out to be the greatest president since Lincoln

himself. Or you can stay in Congress and risk

getting lost in a sea of Udalls.

But I digress. Paul



for November 12 - 13, 2007

The Ten Commandments have some new competition.

A religious group in Utah has been promoting its

own alternative to the Commandments, called The

Seven Aphorisms, and wants to erect an Aphorisms

monument on public land, which is now the

subject of a hot new case before the U.S.

Supreme Court.

I, too, have my own alternative to the

Commandments, or rather an edit of the

Commandments that I'd like to share.

After all, the Commandments must have been

tough to edit back when they were first written

on stone tablets, which are nothing like the nifty

word processors we have today. If laptops

had been around in Moses's time, here's what a

good editor might have done:

1. I am the Lord thy God: Thou shalt not have false gods before me.

This is your lede commandment?! Wording this
in the first person makes God seem immodest -- and
as if it's a pick-up line at an orgy ("Hey, baby,
you can't worship anybody but me"). If you're
going to keep this as a commandment, find a way
to re-word it in the third person, even if you
have to quote someone else saying it
(e.g., "Thou shall not have false gods before


2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Look, if you're going to be The Lord, you've
got to learn to take some heat and nasty words every
now and then. Scrap this Commandment.


3. Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath.

Awkward wording, to say the least. Also:
by "holy," I assume you mean "suspend all activity."
You're essentially giving everyone a license to be
lazy on a particular day and feel good about it.
No can do. Schedules are too tight in the modern
age. Scrap this one, too.


4. Honor thy father and mother.

Generally a good idea. But what about
the millions of people whose mothers and fathers
are not worthy of honor, who are
Nazis and rapists? Re-write.


5. Thou shall not kill.

In all instances? Thou shall not kill Hitler?
Thou shall not kill bin Laden? Thou shall kill in
wartime? Thou shall not kill in self-defense? Too
many exceptions to the rule. Go back and make it more


6. Thou shall not commit adultery

What if it's an open marriage and the husband
doesn't mind if you have relations with his significant
other? Too broad.


7. Thou shall not steal

Again, generally a good idea but too vague.
It's legal, for example, to steal something that
was stolen from you. During the French and
American revolutions, revolutionaries stole
almost all the property of the ruling elites.
Keep but modify.


8. Thou shall not bear false witness against a neighbor.

It's hard to disagree with this one, though
Ben Franklin said it better with "Honesty is the
best policy."


9. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife.

What's wrong with a little coveting now and
then? I know, coveting can lead to harder things
(which is what I've been hoping for lately!).
Also, does this apply to thy neighbor's husband?
Ditch this one.


10. Thou Shall not covet thy neighbor's goods.

This commandment gets outshone by the much
kinkier "neighbor's wife" commandment. Lacks pizazz.
Try combining this one with the 9th commandment.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Tuned in to the CMAs earlier tonight, hoping

to catch a performance by Alison Krauss, but, alas,

she wasn't scheduled to play. I did hear Martina

McBride, who sort of swept me away. Every time I hear

McBride, I think, what an amazingly natural singer she is,

natural as a gale.

* * *

P.S. -- With the regard to the case of possible

plagiarism by Neil Halstead of my work (which I wrote

about in the November 10th Digression, below), let me

make this clear. If I sense that he or his people are trying

to reverse this situation and make it look like the

opposite is true, then I will definitely take this

dispute to a more formal venue so that the record

will be clear about this. (Hard drives and copyrights

don't lie.)



for November 11, 2008

Now that the election results have been

mostly finalized, how did the Daily Digression

do with its pre-election predictions?

Let's see, I speculated about several possible

scenarios but wrote that the most likely outcome

would be 353 votes for Obama, 184 for McCain. The

final tally was 365 to 173, so I was close.

I also tried to predict the outcomes of the 11 main

competitive U.S. Senate races, and I was correct

about nine of them (though Chambliss still has to face

a run-off), and wrong about only one of the 11. (The

Franken-Coleman contest is still in dispute.)

And at what time did I call it for Obama on

election night? Well, I didn't post anything on the

Digression last Tuesday night, but I did phone a good

friend, an Obama supporter, to tell her that Obama

had just won the election. According to my cellphone

records, I made that call at 9:31pm (ET) Tuesday, more

than a half hour before the tv networks projected his win.

It was obvious Obama couldn't possibly lose once he'd

won Ohio.

But I digress. Paul



for November 10, 2008

Last night someone made me aware of a new song,

"Witless or Wise" by a guy named Neil Halstead,

that seems to appropriate the melody of one

my own original songs. And sure enough, his song

does appear to be way too close in melody to one of my own

songs, "I Don't Know If I Know You No More," which

I posted on March 22, 2008, on the vibecat website

and kept up on the site for several months. It's

now on my album "75 Songs (Part 3)." Halstead's

similar song was released many months afterwards.

(I sent an MP3 of it to myself on 3/22/08 by email,

so that's its copyright date; registered copyright

was slightly later.) If anyone has heard both

his track and mine, I'd like to hear what you think


But I digress. Paul



for November 9, 2008

The Rise of Self-Interested Progressivism

Look, I don't want to ruin anybody's Kumbaya moment,

but the stats are in: 70% of black voters in California

voted for a proposition banning gay marriage last

Tuesday, according to exit poll research by Edison Media

and Mitofsky International. And that means that the vast

majority of black supporters of Barack Obama in the

blue Golden State support their own civil rights but not

necessarily the civil rights of other groups.

There has been a lot of self-interested progressivism

in the last couple decades. When was the last time

gays marched for Chicano workers' rights

in the Castro? When was the last time blacks marched

for gay rights in Harlem? When was the last time

Hispanics demonstrated about environmental issues

in L.A.? When was the last time eco-activists

demonstrated for the single-payer health plan?

When was the last time black men marched in favor

of abortion rights?

It's almost comic to think those groups would do

any of that.

And it wasn't always that way. Back in the 1960s, Martin

Luther King used to speak out against the Vietnam War

almost as much as he spoke out on racial issues. Student

anti-war activists would march in support of

Cesar Chavez's farmworkers union in those days.

And Chavez's people would join the black civil rights


There was a lot of welcome cross-pollination among

activists then. And people were not as concerned

with their own demographic groups as they were


And that just ain't the case anymore.

A contrast. When Rubin Carter was falsely accused of

murder in the 1970s, I and other whites supported

his struggle for justice. Sure, Carter was no saint,

but he was clearly falsely accused.

When Reade Seligmann was falsely accused of having

committed a monstrous assault in 2006, I similarly

supported his struggle for justice. But because his

accuser was black, most blacks at the time sided with

the persecutor -- Crystal Mangum -- not with the

persecuted in that case. (Yeah, the Mangum case is

a divisive issue -- which is all the more reason to

bring it up, so that all its associated issues can be

properly resolved. By definition, virtually every

struggle against injustice has been divisive.)

What happened to the thirst for justice in that

instance? What happened to the quest for truth?

One of the main illnesses in this country is the

attitude of my-ethnic-group-right-or-wrong. If an

Italian-American mafioso is accused of murder,

some Italian-Americans in certain neighborhoods will

not only stand up for the guy, whether he did it or not,

but they'll cite his prosecution as a case of ethnic

prejudice. He's one of us, they'll say.

Similarly, if a common black thug robs some guy

at gunpoint, some blacks will not only back the

criminal, whether he did it or not, but they'll actually

try to turn it into a political cause. He's one of us,

they'll say.

That tendency must stop. Period.

Instead of blindly siding with your own ethnic or

demographic groups from now on, why not try siding

with the person who is in the right, whose cause is

just? Instead of supporting the person

whose skin color most resembles your own, why not

back the person who is actually telling the truth?

That's the revolution that needs to happen next.

I don't think the gay guy who was just un-married

by Obama supporters -- who told him, "No, you

can't" -- wants to sing "Kumbaya" just yet.

But I digress. Paul



for November 7 - 8, 2008

Loose Thoughts on the New Era

1. If the current tableau out there were

"The Godfather": Bush would be Sonny Corleone;

Obama would be Michael Corleone; Lieberman

would be either Fredo or, more accurately, the

Abe Vigoda character at the end of the first film

("For old time's sake, Tom?"); Joe Biden would

be consigliere Tom Hagen; Rahm Emanuel would

be Clemenza; Oprah would be Johnny Fontane; Bill

Clinton would be Moe Green ("talking loud, saying

stupid things") or Jack Woltz; John McCain would be

Capt. McCluskey; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be Virgil

Sollozzo ("I hope you're not a hothead like Sonny");

Hyman Roth (the good side of Hyman Roth) would be

Warren Buffett; Jeremiah Wright would be Frank

Pentangeli ("an old man and too much wine");

Jesse Jackson would be Johnny Ola; Eliot

Spitzer would be Pat Geary; and the Talia Shire

character would be Hillary Clinton at the end

of the first film when she suspects

Obama had something to do with the death of her

husband's political reputation ("she's hysterical").

2. Joe Lieberman should not be let back in, and not

just because he was a traitor. If his seat had been up

this year, he would have been soundly defeated, so his

views do not reflect the current will of the people.

(Harry Reid is one steely guy, eh? Exactly what the

Dems need right now.)

3. Bob Dylan should be the poet selected to read

at the inauguration. Or Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

(Or maybe Melle Mel.)

4. Whenever possible, we should ditch the term

African-American and instead refer to the nation, not

the continent, from which the person's ancestors came.

Obama is a Kenyan-American. Most "African-Americans" are

actually west African-Americans (very few came from

Kenya centuries ago). The diversity on the African continent

is the same as the diversity on the European one. I'm not

called a European-American, but rather

an Italian-American (or someone with an Italian-American last

name), and those who came from the African continent should be

given the same level of individuality.

5. If a universal health care bill is not passed within

the first six to nine months of the Obama administration,

citizens can fairly assume that the same gridlock of '93

is in effect, that the revolution is stalled in traffic.

People should then start taking extreme civil disobedience

actions, e.g., by going to the primary residences of the

top executives of pharmaceutical and insurance companies

(and others who make profits off the sick) and staging

raucous demonstrations in front of their homes on

a regular basis. For starters.

6. The White House family dog should be a...beagle.

7. The rich bums who have run major financial services

firms into the ground should either be fired or be forced to

work at the federal minimum wage without health benefits,

pensions or bonuses -- if their companies want to see a

dime of bail-out money. That should be one of the

conditions. Let them work as their workers work. These

executives obviously have no special skills worth paying

for; if their MBAs and business experience led to

the collapse of their companies, then we can conclude

that even an unskilled, rank amateur could've

taken the CEO's job and done at least as

well. Start paying those guys what they're really

worth, not what they can unfairly leverage.

8. Maureen Dowd, we love you, but please, stop

flirting with Obama. He just don't dig you, babe.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- I'm a big fan of the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM)

and highly recommend the "Mahjong" exhibit currently

on display there, but I did ridicule their

Mao-era propaganda exhibit in a previous Digression

(see column of October 9), so I wondered idly whether

I'd be hassled by some disgruntled staffer

when I visited there yesterday.

Sure enough -- and it might be sheer coincidence -- I was.

While strolling slowly through the gallery, some

diminutive security person, who didn't identify herself

as a staffer, stood in front of my path, and I walked on

anyway, and she stood in front of that path, too, as

if she were a crazy person. So I walked on anyway

again, but she stood in that path, too, before

she finally identified herself as an usher or whatever

she was and asked that I check in my bag at the front

entrance, which I promptly did. (I bring this up

only because these sorts of things tend to get

distorted in the re-telling, don't they?) Note to

BAM: in the future, you guys should consider handling

such requests from a distance, clearly identifying yourself

as a staffer -- and not by standing in the way of

a patron.



for November 5, 2008

So You Say You Want a Revolution!

It takes a nation of millions... [photo by Paul Iorio.]

But I digress. Paul Iorio

[above, photo by Paul Iorio of Obama speaking in Oakland in early 2007.]

P.S. -- Now that a racial barrier has finally

fallen, it's time to move toward taking down other

barriers -- for example, creating a climate in which

there are political candidates who don't think the

concept of god makes a whole lot of sense. (Oh, yeah,

and you also said an African-American could never

be elected president in this generation!) That's

the direction the human race is going, after all. The

defeat of Liddy Dole is a really good sign. She

called her opponent godless, and some voters said,

even if that were true, what's wrong with godless?

There's a tendency among some progressives to say,

let's liberate every unpopular or minority group

EXCEPT this one, the non-theists, because they're

too unpopular. If the black and gay civil rights

movements have taught us anything, it's that there

are always new brave stands to take, new mountaintops

to climb, new resistances to overcome in each new

generation. Let's start by taking "under god" out

of the Pledge, so that non-theist school kids don't

have their rights trampled.

* * *

P.S. -- One point that obsververs haven't brought

up is that the election of Obama is more a triumph

of the immigrant narrative than of the dominant

African-American narrative in this country. After all,

Obama was the son of a father who was born in another

country -- Kenya -- and came to the U.S. relatively

recently (1960s), which puts the president-elect in the

tradition of other first generation politicians

who attained high office. His late father was,

effectively, an immigrant to the U.S. -- at

least for the six years or so in which he lived

here as a student. (Or you could see him as a

Kenyan who briefly lived in the U.S.) Further,

Obama's dad and paternal ancestors did not live

through the various liberation struggles in the

United States over the centuries and decades and

never suffered as slaves here. So Obama's narrative

is quite different from the main African-American

storyline in the U.S.



for November 4, 2008

Predicting Today's Presidential, Senate Races

My best prediction, based on all the major polls

and my own research, suggests there

will be a closer race in the electoral college

than most analysts now think. One clue is the

Kentucky Senate race, where Mitch McConnell is

now widening his lead over Bruce Lunsford,

suggesting that disenchantment with Republicans

in red states is not as intense as first thought

following the financial collapse last month.

If Florida and Ohio end up in the McCain column, as

they well might, the pressure will be on Obama to

find substitutes -- and the electoral

logic makes that difficult. I mean, if Florida is

not locked up for Barack, how can North Carolina or

Virginia be?

In the last analysis, I'm comfortable making a

prediction only about the likely range of results,

which I think will be between a 353/184 Obama win

and a (less likely) 274/264 McCain upset.

In the U.S.Senate, I project that at least eight of

the 11 main competitive Senate seats will go to the

Democrats. Here's the scorecard:

ALASKA: Stevens loses to Begich.

GEORGIA: Too close to call, but Chambliss has an edge.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Shaheen beats Sununu.

KENTUCKY: McConnell wins another term.

MINNESOTA: Live, from Minnesota, it's Senator Franken!

OREGON: Merkley over Smith.

NORTH CAROLINA: Dole is defeated.

MISSISSIPPI: Too close to call, but Wickers looks likely to win.

VIRGINIA: Warner by a mile.

NEW MEXICO: Udall beats Pearce.

COLORADO: Udall beats Schaffer. (What's with all these
Udalls, anyway?)

[posted at 4:15am, Nov. 4, 2008.]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Tomorrow morning, if Obama wins, I bet

newspapers all over the country will use the banner

headline: "Yes He Can!"



for November 3, 2008

Yesterday's Jason Mraz Concert

"Can I ask you to vote no on Proposition 8?!," Jason

Mraz said from the stage last night to wild cheers

from the crowd, at his show in Berkeley, Calif.

This was, of course, around 48 hours from election

day, so politics was on everybody's minds, even if

Mraz's blend of pop, rap and reggae transported

his fans elsewhere for most of the concert. (By the way,

out here, in California, the debate about

Prop 8 -- which would ban same-sex marriage, and

is backed by one of the ugliest television ad

campaigns in recent memory -- is actually

eclipsing the presidential race in some quarters,

particularly in Berkeley, where Obama might as

well be running unopposed.)

Anyway, after Mraz's condemnation of Prop 8, he

launched into "Live High," a song from his new

album, "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things,"

released around six months ago and already

certified gold.

But the audience's most intense enthusiasm was

reserved for "I'm Yours," his latest hit (currently

a number ten single, and one of the few songs in the

top ten that's not a Def Jam release), a reggae

tune that fans greeted with shrieks that must have

been deafening inside the open-air theater

(I heard the show from the hills above the

Greek, and the crowd was loud even there).

Near the end of the show, Mraz decided to have some

pure fun, shouting out, "Let's make this place a

party!," as the opening piano notes of The Foundations's

"Build Me Up Buttercup" rang out. Marvelous cover

(complete with "overdubs" from the crowd) of one

of the most perfect pop songs ever made.

Opening were an impressive British band from Brighton,

Two Spot Gobi, and Irish singer Lisa Hannigan (Damien

Rice's ex), whose music occasionally suggested

the aura of an enchanted forest.

* * * *

Andy Rooney had a funny one last night about the

predictable tradition of defeated presidential

candidates being gracious to their victorious

opponents. He quoted what the late, great

Henry Wallace said when Wallace was asked

to praise Harry Truman, who had just defeated

him in the '48 election: "Under no circumstances

will I congratulate that son of a bitch!"

(Ah, Henry, integrationist decades before

everyone else, universal health care supporter

decades before everyone else: if only

you could've lived to see the day that

might be coming tomorrow.)

But I digress. Paul



for November 2, 2008

OK, at ground level, the Sunday before Tuesday,

here's what I'm getting:

Even in noncompetitive California, where I'm based,

there are nasty TV ads that have cropped up like

poisonous mushrooms from the GOP Trust PAC

(, juxtaposing images of Jeremiah Wright

with Obama, resurrecting a controversy that had been

satisfactorily explained and resolved months ago.

I don't know if the spots are running in purple states

like NC, VA, MO, etc., where they could gain traction

and become a problem for the Dems.

Plus, the latest major polls in the big swing states

show an Obama lead of merely a point or two, which -- given

the wind chill factor of the Tom Bradley Effect -- translates

into a likely McCain edge in some of those states.

A 274 to 264 McCain win is not hard to imagine on Tuesday

night (even if a 353 to 185 Obama win is easier to

picture). Pundits who say Pennsylvania has to be in the

McCain mix for him to win: where do they get that?

My calculations show he could lose Penn and New Mexico

and New Hampshire, and still make 274.

To those who think 274 to 264 is out of the question,

I have 13 words for you:

Remember the evangelicals who were invisible to exit

pollsters in Ohio in '04.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- The lines for early voting are quite stunning, aren't

they? I haven't seen voting lines that long with my own

eyes since July 2, 2000, when I was in Mexico on election

day (I was there to cover another story for the Washington

Post), and Vicente Fox was in the process of turning out the

entrenched PRI and being elected president.



for November 1, 2008

"After voting for Obama on Tuesday, come join our godless,
socialist jam session, and frug to the latest fad!"

* * * *

To John McCain's supporters: remember to vote on Wednesday!

* * * *

Obama supporters should heed these words from the Bible:
"Don't get overconfident." (Is that from the Bible?)

* * *

A very possible electoral vote scenario on Tuesday:

According to my calculations, it's possible McCain
could win 274, Obama 264.

By the way, check out the brand new Zogby numbers,

which now show Barack's margin within the margin of

error. Those who are in the lead in the final stretch

should always watch tendencies toward overconfidence,

implicit immodesty and ingenerosity to long-time


* * *

For the record, I was the first person anywhere to have

coined the word "Barack-a-docious." Granted, the word

hasn't exactly caught on anywhere, but if it ever does,

it started here.

But I digress. Paul

[Jam session photo above from ABC-TV.]



for October 30, 2008

Not sure whether Tina Fey's much-deserved newfound

surge of success on SNL will transfer to her

series "30 Rock," which is just too insiderish

to gain a big audience. It's sort of like the

meta-episodes of "Seinfeld" that featured a

television show within a tv show -- the least

effective episodes of that otherwise

almost flawless series.

Fey's Palin is an instant comedy classic, but

too bad she's wasting her genius on a character

so topical. Palin's 15 minutes will likely end

on Tuesday, and I bet she doesn't return to the

national stage in any substantive way (look at

how her poll numbers have dropped since voters

have gotten to know her). And her roguish

behavior in this final week -- "my daddy McCain

isn't going to tell me what to do!" is the way

she's been coming off -- will likely ensure she

remains a phenom -- in Alaska. Fey's impersonation

will probably seem as obscure and dated in 15 years

as SNL's Ross Perot does now.

The inspired spontaneity of SNL is often a thing

of wonder, but keep in mind that, even in its

golden years, it had as many misses as hits. Even

in its classic first season, entire episodes were

duds (check out the one hosted by Louise Lasser,

and the first one hosted by Elliot Gould, etc.).

Great artists from J.D. Salinger to Stanley Kubrick

have taught us that we should always aim for the

illusion of spontaneity, not spontaneity

itself, in works of art and entertainment. (I mean,

how many dozens of drafts did Salinger write of

the opening of "Catcher in the Rye" in

order to make it sound like it just rolled

off his tongue? And if you look at Bob Dylan's

recording studio logs, you'll see that his worst

albums were generally those he did in a day or two,

and his best were usually those he

recorded and re-recorded over a period of months.)

Keep in mind that the funniest movie ever made -- Kubrick's

"Dr. Strangelove" -- was the result of take after take

after punishing take. As a result, we have a work that

resonates down the decades, fresh as ever.

Even if Palin does become vp in January, it still

doesn't grant immortality to Fey's version of her. Remember,

Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford resonates today because it

was great comedy and because Ford was a president -- and

almost all presidents are remembered forever in the U.S.

Veeps don't have that sort of historical heft. (Quick -- who was

Ford's veep? Who was Goldwater's running mate? And,

while we're at it, who played Perot on SNL back in the day?)

No doubt, SNL is on a roll these days, but the stock in

Palin-related humor is very likely to dive precipitously

in a matter of weeks if not days. (I bet some of Kristen

Wiig's wildly funny characters out-survive Fey's Palin.)

Then again, I may be wrong about the durability of

Palin and Palin-related humor. If someone held a gun to

my head and said I had to predict a winner this Tuesday,

I'd say I can't. If the gunman insisted, I'd say,

"Probably McCain." Despite the polls. Why? Too

much racism in Florida and Ohio.

* * *

I was sitting around in Marin some time ago with some

friends when the talk turned to Stanford University,

where one of them used to teach. And I had just been

over there (to see the Cantor, a terrific art museum,

by the way) and was wondering why so many buildings

on campus were named after Herbert Hoover, a name

synonymous with disgrace, abject failure and

discredited theories. I mean, this fellow Hoover

brought such misery to millions of people because of

his wrongheaded ideas about unregulated capitalism.

So why is he now rewarded by having buildings at

one of the world's great universities named

after him? Unsuspecting or uninformed Stanford

students might get the wrong idea about this presidential

malpractitioner, second only to Nixon on most lists

of lousy presidents. Seriously, of the

43 presidents we've had, Nixon ranks 43rd and Hoover

ranks 42nd, in my estimation.

Anyway, the Stanford prof -- a very nice and smart guy,

incidentally -- offered an explanation, saying Hoover

had done some work earlier in his career that was

laudable and notable. (Though I must say that even if

that were true, it hardly eclipses his failures.)

I mention this because Hoover's name has been ubiquitous

lately in the presidential race, with both Obama and

McCain trying to make the other look like the 30th

president. Obama has a point in saying that McCain

resembles Hoover; McCain, after all, has been a huge

supporter of the sort of unregulated capitalism that

Hoover championed and that has gotten us in the current

financial mess. But I'm still trying to figure out how

on earth McCain can get away with calling Obama both

a Republican Hooverite and a socialist. That's

not only a stretch. It's almost surreal.

* * *

Out here in California, there's a ballot proposition

called Prop 3, and, frankly, I haven't really checked

it out, though if I did, I'd probably be for it.

Unfortunately, on heavy rotation on Bay Area TV

stations is a syrupy, annoying commerical

in which an "adorable" Jamie Lee Curtis "conducts"

an "adorable" chorus of children singing an "adorably"

off-key rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."

Too adorable for my tastes. If I see that ad

one more time, I might just vomit from

sugar overload. (And I'm not the only one.)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- There are some actors and musicians who

do come off genuinely adorable and irresistible

in settings with children, but Curtis, alas, ain't

one of 'em, at least not here.



for October 29, 2008

Great to see so many stars come out to

honor the late Paul Newman (and the Painted

Turtle)the other night in San Francisco. And

isn't it amazing how Julia Roberts can eclipse

everybody by simply walking into a room? As

dazzling as ever after all these years.

* * *

As brilliant as Patti Smith's "Horses" is, her

2005 live version of that album is superior to

the original in almost every way. I finally

got around to listening closely to it -- on the

double-disc legacy edition of "Horses," released

a few years ago -- and kept thinking the live one

should replace the original. (I was also reminded

how ballsy a track "Birdland" is.)

* * *

And I've been listening to The Rolling Stones'

"Singles: 1965 - 1967," which compiles each Stones

single from those years, with its b-sides, on

individual CDs. Great concept. Interesting

liner notes, too. They say Mick and Keith initially

didn't want "Satisfaction" to be released as a

single but were (thankfully) overruled

by the rest of the band. (Look how wrong you can be!)

I didn't know until last night that that was Nicky Hopkins

playing piano on the Rolling Stones' "She's a Rainbow."

Sure, everyone has heard that tune many thousands

of times by now, but think of how magical, unusual

that piano work is, dancing in and out of the

arrangement like a miniature toy ballerina, or

sounding like a child's music box. (By the way, am

I the only person who was an admirer

of Nicky Hopkins' solo album "The Tin Man Was

a Dreamer"? Don't know if it's even in print

anymore, and my own vinyl copy is long gone, but

"Waiting for the Band" and a few others are

terrific tunes.)

But I digress. Paul



for October 26, 2008

A Worst Case Scenario for Obama on Election Night

Oh, yeah, I see the poll numbers, but I also

remember the New Hampshire primary. Remember

New Hampshire? Obama up by double digits in

the pre-primary polls but losing by double-digits

when the voting actually happened. And

nobody could quite figure out why there was

such a disparity between the polls and reality,

though some thought the Tom Bradley Effect

might have had something to do with it.

Just in case you don't remember January 2008,

here's a news story posted on the CBS News website

just before the New Hampshire primary:

"Obama leads Clinton 35 percent to 28 percent with
Edwards getting 19 percent in the poll....The polls
had a margin of error of five percentage points...'It's
unimaginable to me that Obama won't win, and win by
double digits,' said CBS News senior political
correspondent Jeff Greenfield this morning
on The Early Show."

If the current crop of polls are as wrong as the

New Hampshire primary polls were, then here is how

election night might play out on November 4th:

ABC News begins its coverage on election night

this way:

CHARLES GIBSON: At this hour, the polls have

now closed on the east coast, and ABC News is ready

to project a winner in two swing states that

Senator Obama thought might fall in his

column: Virginia and North Carolina. In the state

of Virginia, we project its 13 electoral votes will go

to John McCain. This one was hotly contested, Sen. Obama

thought he had a shot at it, it was the key to his

theory of a changed electoral map, but tonight, ABC

News projects that Virginia falls to the GOP.

And in the state of North Carolina, same story.

Obama had campaigned vigorously there, had a lead

in the polls, but tonight it is going solidly for

McCain by a comfortable margin.

There is some good news for the Democrats at this hour

in that some of the traditionally blue states are, as

expected, staying blue tonight. New York, with its

31 electoral votes, and New Jersey, Connecticut and

Vermont, all projected to go to Obama, no surprise



CHARLES GIBSON: Polls have now closed in

the central time zone, and in all parts of Florida,

but ABC News is not yet ready to name

a winner in the Sunshine State, which, as everyone

knows, is a crucial part of both the McCain and Obama

strategies. But it is too close to call in Florida

right now, with early returns almost evenly

split between the two candidates, with a slight

edge for McCain, though we don't feel ready to name

a winner there quite yet.

And in Ohio, with around 10% of the returns in,

you can see McCain jumping to an early lead, 53%

to 47, though it is far too soon to call that

state for either candidate. Our exit polling is

showing McCain with surprising strength in the

Akron/Canton area, south of Cleveland,

where Obama had high hopes.

This cannot be good news for the Obama campaign

which has said it must win either Florida or Ohio

in order to win the White House, and at this hour

he is trailing in both states, though again, we

are not ready to project a winner in either.

Alright, big win at this hour for Barack Obama.

In the state of Pennsylvania, with a hefty 23

electoral votes, we project the Keystone State

will go for Obama, though the margin is much

slimmer than initially expected by our

exit pollsters. And in Michigan, also a must-win

for the Democrats, a healthy margin for Obama.

Polls are now closed in Missouri, a state Obama

thought was in play, so it can't be encouraging

for him to hear that it is leaning heavily for

John McCain. And in Iowa, where polls had shown

a big lead for the Democrats, it is too close to

call, with an almost 50:50 split of the vote at

this point.

OK, a bit of breaking news here, and it's big.

Our analysts at ABC think enough votes have been

counted in Florida to call the state, and to call

it for John McCain. So, George, it appears that

at this early part of the night -- and

remember, polls have not yet closed in the Mountain

and Pacific zones, so this is not over yet by a

long shot -- but it appears as if John McCain is

having a much better night than expected.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, Charlie, far better.

This can't be good news for the Obama campaign. The Florida

win now puts the pressure on Obama to prevail in Ohio

because he knows he has to win there if he is to stand

a chance of reaching 270 electoral votes. He simply

can't lose both Florida and Ohio and expect to make it,

particularly now that McCain has already picked

up Virginia and North Carolina.

CHARLES GIBSON: In Ohio, McCain currently

has a two-point edge, which he has maintained all

night, but it is still too close to call,

especially since results in Cuyahoga County, an

Obama stronghold, have not been fully counted.

Shades of 2004, there are already allegations of

voting irregularities in that county that

will surely be investigated by the Secretary of

State in that state. So this is a developing



CHARLES GIBSON: It is now 11pm in

the east, 8 pm in the west, where polls have just

closed, and we are ready to project a

solid win for Sen. Obama in the state of

California, where he had been expected to prevail.

And in the GOP column, Arizona, home state of John

McCain, obviously, going for McCain by a wide


But the western swing states we're looking at -- New

Mexico, Colorado, Nevada -- are clearly trending

McCain in early returns.


three, Charlie, I really don't see how Obama could

possibly get to 270. And frankly, with those three it

still may not be possible for him to pull out a win

tonight. Looks like we're seeing the Tom Bradley Effect

in effect, as we suspected might be the case

all along, and trumping the economy as a

factor among voters. And already there

is anger in the Obama camp, particularly

about voting disputes in parts of Ohio,

with one senior staffer saying, "A second election

is being stolen from us, and we're not going to let

that happen," referring, of course, to the 2000 election.

But I digress. Paul



for October 25, 2008

Imagine if someone had gone into a coma one year

ago and came out of the coma just this morning with

a full memory of everything that had happened before

his deep sleep. Imagine the awakening, with family

members filling him in about everything that had

happened in the past year. The news would

probably freak him out. Doctors might suggest

some valium.

Family members would start to tell him about the course

of the presidential election, and the former coma victim

would say, "Uh, let me guess: the nominees are Hillary,

of course, and Romney."

"Not exactly," a relative would say. "Things took an

unexpected turn."

"Oh, Huckabee got the nod, right?," the coma victim would


"No, it's actually McCain versus, uh, Barack Obama."

And the coma victim would laugh and laugh. Oh, that's a

good one, he'd say. Barack Obama! Ha, ha.

"No, we're serious. It's Obama and McCain."

"But Hillary was a sure thing."

"Until people started voting, it turned out."

"So It's McCain/Romney?"

"No, McCain/Palin."

"Who's Palin?"

"That's what everyone's asking."

"Look, I've just come out of a coma and I don't

appreciate that you're messing with me."

"We're not joking."

"Then McCain has it locked up, right?"

"No. You're not going to believe this, but

Obama has a considerable lead and is widely

expected to win."

"How did this happen?"

"While you were asleep, most of the capitalist

system fell. Like the Berlin Wall fell."

"Oh, now you're making this up. The economy was going

great guns when I went into a coma. So unemployment's

a bit up?"

"More than that. Remember the capital markets sector

of the economy?"


"Well, it's been nationalized."

"What? Did Hugo Chavez take over the government?"

"No, Bush did it all by his lonesome."

The coma victim starts sweating, turns red in the face.

"Doctor," says a relative. "I think you need to double the valium. "

* * *

If Barack Obama becomes president in January, and

that looks extremely possible at this point, all

the assumptions about power and prejudice and

progressivism will suddenly change in America. When

activists protest, as they surely will, in March to

commemorate the sixth anniversary of the start

of the Iraq War, they will be protesting a war run

by a black progressive president, Barack Obama.

"Stop Obomba's Bombs," the placards might read.

When leftists talk about how they want to "fight the

power," they'll be talking about fighting a black

progressive. When they talk about speaking truth

to power, ditto. When they talk about "The Man,"

ditto again. Likewise, when they talk about the person ultimately

in charge of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the Justice

Department. And they'll have to re-think their

thoughts about America being a racist nation.

The whole idea of being disadvantaged in America will

also have to be re-thought if an African-American is

actually running the country. Some will inevitably say:

how oppressed can a black person be in the U.S. if

the most powerful person in the country is black?

Jokes about the White House being too white,

about a bunch of white men being in charge -- all

those perceptions and cliches and images (and t-shirts)

will be out the window if Barack is in charge.

But I digress. Paul



for October 23 - 25, 2008

Do Mess With Moody's

So satisfying to see executives from the main credit

rating agencies -- particularly Moody's, which has

had a lot of questionable dealings over the years -- taken

to task by Congress for giving triple A ratings to junk,

thereby helping to facilitate the current financial


Moody's has been a bad actor for a while; it was

formally accused in the 1990s of essentially saying

to some companies, "You can either pay us to rate

your credit or we'll rate your credit for our own

amusement and spread the word through the industry."

Great to see them get their just desserts.

* * *

Liar Crystal Mangum has a new book out, "If I Did It"

(I think that's what it's called).

Question to the D.A.: Why didn't you prosecute that

bitch for filing a false police report?

* * *

Hey, people in the media and in the Pittsburgh PD:

the reverse B shoulda been a tell-tale clue for


Let me make sure I understand this: a young woman comes to

you, saying someone carved a reverse B on her face. I mean,

was the mugger Leonardo da Vinci? Or maybe some dude who

carried a mirror with him when he defaced his victims. That

sounds believable on its, uh, face. I'm surprised some

tab didn't immediately dub him The Mirror Mugger!

Of course, a society that believes the tall tales of the

Bible -- love that one about rising from the dead! -- all too

easily falls for such stories like the one about the

woman with the reverse B on her face. Or the Jennifer

Wilbanks story. Or the Crystal Mangum story. Or the

Tawana Brawley story. Or the McMartin story.

Thing is, nobody in the media or in law enforcement

seems to get fired after falling for such obvious

lies. (And they're often way too skeptical about

tales that are actually very true! I once spent

a long time explaining to a friend, who was not

being very smart about a story I was relating, that

one can have massive internal bleeding from

blunt-force trauma (say, a speeding baseball

to the chest) without ever shedding a drop

of blood externally. But she was familiar only

with the cinematic version of injuries.)

So let's see who was gullible this go 'round. First of

all, the Pittsburgh PD, including (but not limited to)

one Diane Richard, spokeswoman for the


Also, John McCain, U.S. Senator, who reportedly phoned the

woman, Ashley Todd, to express condolences. And Sarah

Palin, beauty pageant finalist, who also called

the woman with the reverse B on her face. And, crossing

party lines, Allison Price, spokesperson for Obama, released

a statement about "our thoughts and prayers" and all that crap.

And lots of reporters -- Ramit Plushnick-Masti of the AP,

among them -- also couldn't see through that reverse B.

I'm sure some dope out there still believes her

initial claim, saying "the photographic

evidence -- she does have a B on her face, after

all -- contradicts the official report."

And I'm sure Geraldo was in the process of setting up a trust

fund for the poor woman before she was exposed as

a liar. I'm all choked up.

* * * *

Thanks to those who emailed me about my recent

column, "She's Blaspheming as Fast as She Can,"

(see Digression, below). Glad you enjoyed it.

To those who found it offensive, let me just say,

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" (to coin a


Let me tell you what I find offensive:

An Iraq war vet sees combat that convinces him there

could not possibly be a god, at least not a benevolent

one. He raises a son and sends him to a public school

that he helps to finance with his tax dollars. He

tries to raise his kid according to his own private

spiritual values, making sure not to indoctrinate his

son into any religion, making sure he can choose

his own philisophical beliefs when he grows up.

But one day his son comes home and tells his dad

that they force him to participate in a group

religious chant at school every morning -- that's

precisely what the "under god" part of the Pledge

of Allegiance is -- and he doesn't feel right about

that. The dad is angry, tells school officials that

that's not how he wants his kid to be raised, that

in the U.S. the separation between church and state

also applies to tax-payer funded schools, that

public schools should not be taking sides on the religious

debate about whether there is a god or not.

Of course, school officials and others don't care a

bit about his complaint and continue to coerce his son

into joining a morning religious chant.

Now that's offensive.

Politicians and pundits who step on eggshells in order

to make sure they don't say or do anything at all to

offend Muslims, Jews and Christians, somehow leave their

manners at the door when it comes to treating non-theists

with a proper level of respect. Evidently, it's ok to

offend and disrespect non-theists, who are then asked

not to say or do anything that might be objectionable

to people of other religions.

Well, until that double standard is corrected, I will

continue to treat the world's great -- and not so

great -- religions with the the same level of respect

that is accorded non-theists in the

U.S. (if I feel they're so deserving).

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- If "under god" has no significant religious

meaning, then why include it?



for October 22, 2008

If Early Voting Trends Continue, The Electoral Map
Will Look Like This On November 4:

Obama's on track to win 353 electoral votes to
McCain's 185

Quinnipiac and Gallup, take a hike. Exit

pollsters, find the exits.

Early voting data has now arrived, and such info is much

harder and more reliable than mere polls, making

traditional polling seem sort of obsolete right about now.

And the results, in state after state, are astonishingly

blue. North Carolina's early voters, for instance,

have been Democratic by a healthy margin so far, which

would suggest an Obama victory may be in the offing

in this traditionally red state. But before Barack fans

get too excited, keep in mind that early voting

in N.C. in '04 was mostly Democratic, too,

and Bush ended up winning there.

Still, these '08 numbers are waay beyond '04. As of

yesterday, 56% of the early voters in N.C. were Dem

and 27% Rep (in '04, it was 48 Dem to 37 Rep, according

to a prof at George Mason U). In Florida, 56% of the

early voters have been Dem., 29% Rep. (I couldn't

find comparative data for '04). Nevada results are

also said to be trending Democratic.

If this continues, Obama will be on track to win

around 353 electoral votes, according to my own

calculations (see map, above).

Then again, there are still 13 days before the actual

general election, and events could create a whole new

political climate. If, for example, some foreign

policy crisis were to take centerstage, or if

black-o-phobia were to set in among voters, the map

could end up looking something like this

on November 4:

Obama's worst-case scenario: 283 for McCain, 255 for Obama.

But I digress. Paul



for October 21, 2008

She's Blaspheming as Fast as She Can!

Well, at least it seems Sarah Palin isn't an

advocate of blasphemy laws, or we certainly

would've heard objections from her to a lot

of the humor on "Saturday Night Live," birthplace

of the Church Lady, where Palin appeared

last Saturday.

Still, it's hard to believe that her chumming around

on SNL is fine with people like Donald Wildmon

and his American Family Association, which

seems to have a fetish for boycotting all sorts

of companies and sponsors of TV programs it

deems un-Christian.

Maybe the religious right feels it has to keep quiet about

its kooky beliefs during this campaign season, or else

risk the election of a "Muslim" named Obama.

So I guess we can assume that Sarah Palin, the

American Creationist, thinks it should

be legal to blaspheme or mock the so-called Lord?

And she must think free speech covers -- oh, I don't

know -- the right to say that, say, the virgin birth

was a ruse by Mary to deceive Joseph into believing she

hadn't had an affair with another man? Might

make an interesting novel. And thanks to

the absence of blasphemy laws in the

USA, we're free to speculate about such things

without fear of prosecution.

Palin evidently -- i.e., she's not speaking out

against SNL, which has mocked religion since

its early days, and she was actually swaying with those

late night infidels! -- is ok with that sort of free

speech. Maybe she's more free-thinking than

we think!

Let's hope she's more liberal about blasphemy than other

religious fundamentalists, like those in Pakistan and

Afghanistan, who advocate -- and enforce -- a strict

set of very backward blasphemy laws.

Latest example is in Afghanistan. A 24-year-old student,

Parwiz Kambakhsh, simply distributed some info about

women's rights under Islamic law, and he was sentenced

to death. He appealed his sentence the other day, and

it was reduced to a mere 20 years in prison. That's

what passes for progress in the Karzai era. 20 years.

Which means Parwiz will be in his mid-forties

before he sees freedom -- if he survives his

prison term.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan appear to be even stricter.

Here's part of the Pakistani Penal Code: "Whoever

willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy

of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom

or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any

unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment

for life."

Damages? Suppose I have a copy of, ahem, That Book, and

it accidentally falls into the toilet? Life imprisonment

for that? Talk about a broadly-written

law. Sheesh!

But that ain't nothing compared to long-standing Sharia

law statutes, which state the following (and I ain't

making this up): "It is unlawful to use musical

instruments -- such as those which drinkers

are known for, like the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and

flute -- or to listen to them. It is permissible to

play the tambourine at weddings, circumcisions,

and other times, even if it has bells on its sides.

Beating the kuba, a long drum with a narrow

middle, is unlawful."

I mean, where do they come up with this Sharia

stuff? Let me get this straight. Flute and lute:

not OK. Tambourine: OK, but only if it's being played

while cutting off part of a child's penis. And what

the hell is a kuba, anyway? Any restrictions on a

Strat with a wah-wah peddle and a whammy bar?

(By the way, who the hell would play a tambourine

during a circumcision? Sounds kinky to me.)

I know, it's hard to roll back the laughably

antiquated Sharia laws in Afghanistan and

Pakistan when you're dealing with a large part

of the population that was indoctrinated at a

young age in the madrassas. But Karzai and Zardari

need to find a way to begin the process of

modernizing their legal positions with regard

to blasphemy, if only to prevent more

injustices -- like the verdict against

Kambakhsh -- from happening again.

Back to to the blasphemous Sarah for a moment.

Sarah, stand before the congregation and be

shamed, speak in tongues, repent and wash

that devil Lorne right out of your hair

with holy water. Instead of being in the

devil's lair, aka Studio 8-H, shouldn't you

have been at home, nursing Trig and a grudge

against those who took "Death Valley Days"

off the air?

But I digress. Paul



for October 20, 2008

Whatever happens on November 4, the outcome will

probably seem inevitable, obvious in retrospect.

Yes, it was clear all along there was too much

racism in America for Obama to be elected.

Yes, it was clear all along that Obama had the

momentum and the grassroots support to win.

Yes, I'm not surprised it was an Obama landslide.

Yes, I'm not surprised it was a McCain landslide.

Yes, I'm not surprised it was the closest presidential

election in U.S. history.

You can make a case for all the above scenarios, as

we approach the gravitational pull of election day,

now two weeks away.

Everyone is talking about the Tom Bradley Effect,

but there are two other important electoral dynamics

few are noting.

1. THE OHIO '04 EFFECT -- Ah, remember that one?

Kerry was expected to win on general election day,

according to exit polls, but -- surprise! --

evangelicals came out of the proverbial woodwork,

spooked by the idea of a liberal winning -- and

by hot button issues like gay marriage -- and streamed

from the churches to the voting booths, giving Bush

a second term.

Well, that same dynamic may be writ large with

Obama -- writ large because of the black-o-phobic

vote not just in Ohio but in the Florida panhandle,

rural areas of Virginia and North Carolina,

and in the red areas of other purple states.

Come the morning of November 4, if it looks like

Obama's going to win, an army of rednecks in

pick-up trucks with confederate flag license plates

will suddenly wake from their Pabst Blue Ribbon

hangovers to drive to the polls to stop a black

from becoming president. Black-o-phobia

is one thing the polls may not be accurately


2. THE 2007 DYNAMIC -- Remember 2007, the Pleistocene

Era, the early throes of Beatlemania, when it was a

wow-wee thing to see Obama attract 12,000 fans in

Oakland, Calif.? How quaint, now he's attracting

100,000 in Missouri.

But anyway, remember 2007, when pundits assumed Hillary

would be the nominee because there was no way mainstream

Dems would vote for Obama? Yet, throughout '07, there was

nagging evidence to the contrary? Huge crowds for Obama,

not so much for Clinton. Lotza contributions and enthusiasm

for Obama, not so much for Clinton. Yet, until people

actually first cast their votes in Iowa in '08, the party

line was still that Hillary would win.

That same dynamic may be repeating itself now, in that

the conventional wisdom (Obama can't win because of

racism) appears to be contradicted by big crowds and

polls that say otherwise. But keep in mind an

oft-forgotten fact: Obama almost lost the

nomination to Hillary in the final reel. It

could've easily gone the other way.

* * *

Didya hear Andy Rooney last night? He endorsed McCain

and Obama, saying he was mightily impressed

by the youth of both contenders. And he's as

sick and tired of William McKinley as the rest of us!

(I think that's what he said.)

But I digress. Paul



for October 18, 2008

The Daily Digression Endorses Barack Obama for President.

First, the Digression is not a political advocacy

blog. It's a mostly reported online column, and when

I cover and analyze politics, I try to do so fairly,

freshly, even-handedly. Just because I'm endorsing

Obama for president doesn't mean I'm not going to be

as critical of him as I am of John McCain, if he's so


That said, I'm endorsing Obama because he makes

sense time and again on the issues that matter,

is on the right side of history, is unusually

persuasive. America is going where he's going,

and we can get there now or we can delay

progress for another several years.

With a President Obama, we stand our best chance

of getting health insurance for all

Americans, fixing the economy, mitigating the

effects of global warming, killing bin Laden

and stopping terrorism on a long-term basis by

shutting down the madrassas cesspool

that breeds jihadists.

McCain is a relic. He's still spouting the gospel

of unregulated capitalism, even as its pillars fall

by the day. It's astonishing how oblivious he can

be to the history in the making around him.

And his decision-making is sometimes reckless and

irresponsible, as his choice of Sarah Palin has made

abundantly clear even to leading conservatives.

And frankly, I'm uneasy about McCain. To be blunt,

when I see him in the debates, I get the sense of a

guy who was never properly treated for post-traumatic

stress syndrome, which has now, decades later,

blossomed into a monster in his mind, like a case of

syph untreated for way too long.

By contrast, Obama is surprisingly

well-adjusted, post-neurotic, temperamentally

suited for the presidency -- and refreshingly

honest (any other politician with his name would

have changed it to Barry O'Bama).

Plus, with an Obama presidency, we also get Joe Biden,

arguably the greatest foreign policy mind in America.

When I see an Obama/Biden bumper sticker, it feels

completely right in a way that, say, an Obama/Kucinich

sticker wouldn't. The Obama who intersects with Biden

is easily the best the U.S. can offer in '08.

But I digress. Paul



for October 17, 2008

The Limits of Cool (and the Better Reason to
Back Obama)

I'm not as impressed with Obama's supposed cool

as many others are. Dukakis was cool, too, in much

the same way as Obama is, and that, it turns out,

was one of his least appealing characteristics in

the end, particularly when he was cool

when asked what his response would be if Kitty were

raped. We all learned that night that cool is not

the appropriate response in all instances to everything

life throws at you. Sometimes anger is the right

tool -- and, yes, sometimes violence is the only

proper response (if you had bin Laden in your cross

hairs, for example). Also, cool becomes complicit

at a certain point (when you're in a group of people

doing something objectionable, and you have to

stop them from doing it, for instance). And

cool becomes untenable at other points (witness

the broad-daylight mass panic on 9/11 around

the south tower when the south tower fell).

By cool, most pundits really mean unflappable, which

is even more of a Dukakasian term. Unflappable

may have been given a bad name in the '88 election, but

it is exactly the quality you need in a crisis, when, say,

someone has just attacked Washington, or

someone is trying to break down your door and kill

you. There are some people who get cooler when the

heat gets higher, and Obama is one of them, though

he has yet to show us the full range of responses he

is capable of in a crisis.

Rather than cool, the quality about Obama that

impresses me most is a characteristic common to

a lot of geniuses I've interviewed (from

David Rabe to Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Woody Allen

to Roman Polanski), and that is: radical common

sense, the keen ability to show the contours of reality

exactly as they are, without indulging in wishful

thinking or interested distortion.

As I said, cool will get you into trouble if the

right response should actually be anger (as Dukakis

discovered). But radical common sense -- that

ability to see that not all wars are bad, but the

Iraq war is, and that not all spending cuts are good,

but some are -- is what Washington has been missing

for many, many years.

Incidentally: funny thing about anger and cool;

it's much easier to be the former when you're

losing and the latter when you're winning.

George W. Bush's supporters were calm when the

2000 election results were cutting their

way -- but they had a Brooks Brothers riot

in Florida when the recount threatened

to topple their "win."

Many years ago, there was a brilliant "Saturday Night

Live" sketch in which a group of people had fallen

through thin ice on a lake and were screaming angrily

and desperately to people on the sidelines to help

them out of the ice hole. But the folks on the

sidelines, sitting comfortably in warmth, were

indifferent to their plight and openly aghast

at the rude level of rage expressed by those

freezing to death. While they were commenting

on the utter vulgarity of the anger of the

drowning people, the ice beneath those on

the sidelines suddenly broke, and they, too, became

stuck in an ice hole, and they, too, began screaming

angrily for help to anyone within earshot. As the

sketch ended, both groups were raging at the same

volume and in the same way.

Which shows that, for all of us, cool has its limits.

But I digress. Paul



for October 16, 2008

A Second Look at the Final Episode of "The Sopranos"

I saw most of the final episode of "The Sopranos" last

year but didn't see the whole thing until yesterday, when

I rented the DVD.

So I didn't fully know how truly lousy it was. Easily

one of the five worst episodes of "The Sopranos,"

and I'm being nice.

I always thought the ultimate resolution would

be one in which Meadow became a criminal attorney

who ended up prosecuting associates of her father.

A Shakespearean clash of the generations.

But the actual final episode doesn't even hang together

in terms of basic dramatic compentency. What happened

to that plot element about everybody in the family

splitting up because of death threats? Are we to

believe that security arrangements were

all tossed aside for a casual meal in an open diner,

with all the family members gathered together without

even a bodyguard? And nobody at the table looks at

all nervous, despite the DefCon4 danger level.

Characterization of A.J. is inept. He comes off more

like a flashback of how Tony (or someone Tony's age)

behaved back in 1975. A kid like A.J., coming

of age in '07, would be into Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, not

Bob Dylan's acoustic period of 45 years ago. A.J., after

all, is not a throwback to a previous boho era in

any other way -- he's a typical, spoiled, suburban

Oughties guy.)

And in the unlikely event that a boy in '07 was

listening to "It's Alright Ma" and reading Yeats,

that would be far more laudable than someone

listening to pseudo-operatic wiseguy junk like "Cara Mia"

or reading mediocre Biblical verse (now

there's a ripe target for ridicule!).

What is obvious now on close DVD viewing is the

key clue about the ending that almost everyone missed.

Notice that Meadow runs -- frantically, anxiously -- to

the diner as if she wants to warn her family about

an imminent danger that she had just become aware of.

She looks like she knows something awful is

about to happen and wants to alert them before it does.

Why else would she be running -- and running in a state

of near panic? She's not late. They're not talking

at the table as if she were late, not saying things like,

"I wonder what's holding up Meadow" or "Where's Meadow?"

(By the way, nobody would be scrutinizing any

of this episode if it were not the very last one.)

Anyway, this one ain't "Pine Barrens." It ain't even

"The Blue Comet." It's a choke.

But I digress. Paul



for October 15, 2008

A lot of bruised feelings at tonight's debate.

Touchy, touchy. "You ran an ad that said the

former chair of my steering committee once sold

bad hash at Woodstock." "Your aunt once sold Nazi

memorabilia on Ebay to pay her heating bill." Etc.

And then, after sniffling, they started talking to

their imaginary friend "Joe." Dear Joe, I will

click my heels and say there's no place like a

tax shelter. Dear Joe, deliver me from this

studio and Bob Schieffer's tough questions.

And there was McCain, looking like he had a glass

left eye, "flashing [his] madness all over the

place," to quote a Steve Forbert song. And there

was Obama, looking like he hadn't gotten enough

sleep last night, probably wishing the election were

tonight, now that the Quinnipiac numbers are as

ripe as they've ever been.

Obama probably should've shown more anger when bringing

up Palin's implicit incitement of hate at her rallies,

an ugly, dangerous phenomenon. The backward-thinking

religious fanatics that attend her speeches do in

fact shout, "Kill him!," and there are also reports

that she has winked and gestured affectionately at

fans in the crowd who have yelled death threats \

about Barack.

Serious matter. She'd truly better hope that

someone doesn't take a shot at Obama,

because if someone ever did (heaven forbid), angry

citizens would know exactly who to blame for helping

to create a climate in which that could happen.

There're already enough such threats on the Internet

(just Google the words "Obama" and "Aryan" to catch

the very latest assassination plots!), and Palin

should not be allowed to stoke that stuff.

All told, my guess is this debate won't matter a bit

on November 4th, any more than the situation in

South Ossetia matters now. New crises will

erupt between now and then that will probably

supercede everything we're talking about today.

Remember: an election is not a measure of who voters

prefer. An election is a measure of who voters prefer

on a particular day.

But I digress. Paul



for October 9, 2008

The New Irreverence in Chinese Art

Puncturing sacred cows, post-Mao: Wang Guangyi's
"Chanel No. 5" (2001).
[photo by Paul Iorio]

While traveling alone by local train behind the

Iron Curtain as a teenager in the 1970s, I saw a

lot of telling, unforgettable images of everyday

Communist life. One of the smaller memorable moments

happened after I was briefly detained in Zagreb by the

local authorities (for being an American, which was

sufficient cause for suspicion in those days). As

the train zipped along a rural area just north of

present-day Bosnia, I looked out the window and saw

hard-working, happy peasants using sickles -- as in

hammer and sickle -- to harvest crops in a vast field.

And I thought that it looked just like a Communist

Norman Rockwell painting, an almost laughably

idealized vision of collectivist propaganda -- except

it was a real-life tableau. (Of course, there were no

such soft-glow scenes once I crossed into the far more

brutal Bulgaria, where there were plenty of rifles at

checkpoints and unhappy-looking workers who had

supposedly lost their chains, but that's a whole

different story.)

I thought about those Croatian peasants with sickles the

other day, as I walked through the awesome new exhibition

of Chinese Communist propaganda art from the Mao era, on

display at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum (BAM).

I wasn't in the museum for more than three minutes

before I began laughing out loud at some of the

romanticized posters and paintings depicting an always

benevolent Mao greeting grinning workers or leading

some heroic charge or posing with red icons of decades

past. A priceless collection.

Also on display at BAM, and equally fascinating, is

post-Mao, modern Chinese art that shows, beyond a doubt,

that China has been hurtling at warp speed toward not

just economic transformation but cultural and artistic

metamorphosis, too.

There are paintings that poke fun at Mao and at the

Communist traditions of his day, stuff that would have been

considered an absolute sacrilege a couple decades

ago -- and now is on open display.

There are Chinese equivalents here to Rothko, Pollock,

Klee and Warhol, and it's breathtaking to see how far

China has come in terms of aesthetic experimentation

and liberation.

The exhibition also includes one of the most inventive

and stunning installations I've seen in any museum,

Wang Du's "Strategie en Chambre" (1998), an expansive

work centered around the figures of Boris Yeltsin and

Bill Clinton surrounded by mountains of newspapers and

topped by pure magic: an uncountable number of multi-colored

toys hanging from the ceiling, giving the effect of a Pollock

painting in the air or of Klee mobiles that have multiplied

madly or of a swarm of exotic insects hovering.

An astonishing work.

The exhibition, "Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art From the

Sigg Collection," continues at BAM until January 4, 2009.

A bubbly Mao, oh-so-pleased to meet Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels, in one of the dozens of pieces of
Mao-era Communist propaganda art now on display at the
Berkeley Art Museum.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* *

Detail of Wang Du's "Strategie en Chambre," featuring
dozens of multi-colored toys hanging from the ceiling.

[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for October 8, 2008

Last night, one presidential candidate praised bin

Laden and the other said he wanted to kill him.

It was McCain who hailed bin Laden, calling him

and his fellow Afghan warriors of the 1980s

"freedom fighters," and it was Obama

who said he wanted to "kill bin Laden."

The contrasts were stark elsewhere, too. Obama looked

comfortable, poised, Kennedyesque. McCain seemed like

he was waiting for a next round of interrogation from

his Vietnamese captors.

Obviously, McCain was coached to play it sotto voce

so as not to appear angry, but it had the opposite

effect; his idea of soft-spoken resembled a tense

prisoner talking low so the guards wouldn't hear him.

There were also failed attempts at jokes by McCain,

recalling the humor-impaired Nixon and Goldwater.

"You know, like hair transplants -- I might need one

of them myself," McCain joked at one point. Nobody


And when Tom Brokaw asked him who he'd choose to head

Treasury, McCain responded awkwardly, "Not you, Tom."

Brokaw rolled with it in a good-natured way, saying,

"For good reason." But it was an inappropriate,

are-you-running-for-something moment.

Brokaw was right in trying to make sure

the candidates abided by the rules they had agreed

to -- but why did they agree to such lousy rules

in the first place? No follow-up questions by the

moderator and no rebuttals by the contenders made for

a constricted, repressed debate, until Obama finally

overrode the rules near the end and got the flow of

free speech going again.

Obama hit his high note with a passage that had some

of the force of a Shakespeare soliloquy. "Sen.

McCain...suggested that I don't understand. It's true.

There are some things I don't understand. I don't

understand why we ended up invading a country that had

nothing to do with 9/11..."

Obama could've made more of that, expanding it into

a real tour de force with: "And I don't understand why

McCain thinks the private sector can take charge of

our health care system when it can't even manage itself.

And I don't understand why a senator who votes

with George Bush 95% of the time thinks that he

represents a change from Bush. And I don't understand

why...." Etc.

Incidentally, at the end of the debate when the

candidates were milling among the people onstage, I

caught a camera shot on one network that showed

Obama reaching out to shake McCain's hand, and

McCain refusing the handshake and diverting him

instead to Cindy McCain, whose hand he shook.

To be sure, there may have been another moment,

off-camera, in which they did shake hands.)

Again, a bit Nixonish.

It looks more and more like McCain will be holding

a press conference on November 5th to say, "Well,

you won't have John McCain to kick around anymore."

But I digress. Paul



for October 6, 2008

Barack Obama has been taken to task

for his past associations, however remote,

with radicals from decades past. Isn't it time

the media started focusing on John McCain's defense

of right-wing extremists and outright fascists

associated with South Vietnam's Ky and Thieu

regimes of the 1960s?

McCain, of course, served in the U.S. Navy in defense

of Thieu and Ky, so one can understand his personal

reluctance to denounce the South Vietnamese leaders

who he sacrificed so much to support. He evidently

doesn't want to admit those five-and-a-half years in

a North Vietnamese prison were served for a big mistake.

Now that the passions of the Vietnam era have cooled

a bit, perhaps McCain can bring himself to say what's

obvious to most Americans today: Thieu and Ky

were neo-fascists, governing without popular support,

whose human rights violations equaled (or virtually

equaled) those of the North Vietnamese.

Ky, in particular, is indefensible by any measure of

modern mainstream political thought. Here's Ky in

his own words: "People ask me who my heroes are. I

have only one: Hitler. We need four or five Hitlers

in Vietnam," he told the Daily Mirror in July 1965.

Why does McCain, to this day, still voice support,

at least implicitly, for Ky and Thieu? At the very

least, McCain should, however belatedly, unequivocally

condemn Ky's praise of Hitler, if he hasn't already.

(My own research has yet to turn up a clipping in

which McCain has been significantly critical of

either leader.)

And why don't we hear outrage from pundits and

politicians about his support for Ky?

Yeah, I know, it was the policy of the U.S. government

at the time to back Ky and Thieu, but that's no

defense. If Nuremberg taught us anything, it's that

you can't hide behind I-was-only-following-orders or

it-was-the-policy-of-my-government when

defending your individual actions in wartime.

Maybe McCain thinks Ky is a maverick. Maybe

he thinks Hitler is a maverick, too.

Look, my dear late dad quite literally broke his

back as a U.S. paratrooper fighting against Hitler's

soliders in Germany and in Belgium. And he was among

those who busted open the gates of Hitler's slave camps

in western Germany, spring of 1945. What he witnessed

turned his stomach for the next six decades, and he'd

tell me about what he saw that day as a 19-year-old,

but only reluctantly, because it was such a bad memory.

So I know what a true patriot looks like.

A mere several decades later, we're supposed to

stand by silently as a major presidential candidate

says, "It's cool to support a guy who supports Hitler."

So now I'm nauseous -- about McCain's backing of Ky and

and about the silence, the lack of outrage about that.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- And don't give me that crap about Ho being

the greater evil. Ho Chi Minh had broad popular

support, north and south, and no designs

on neighboring nations, so we had no business

appointing a president for the Vietnamese


[parts of my column today first appeared in my column of

June 7, 2008.]




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