Daily Digressions, 2009, 2008 (2nd most recent)

Monday, February 8, 2010




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

www.myspace.com/paulioriosongs 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 www.un.org; satiric U.N.
logo by Paul Iorio (Mohammed drawing from
Jyllands-Posten); Holy Bible from
ancient-future.net; "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 --

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/nyregion/20siege.html --

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 www.paulliorio.blogspot.com.)

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 http://www.paulliorio.blogspot.com/.)

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

xxxxxxxxxxxin 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

(at pliorio@aol.com).

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

(goptrust.com), 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.]