Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Joys of Flying Over Flyover Country in America

"Kim Jong

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

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for April 26, 2008

Shining Light on "Shine a Light"

torn, frayed, mostly fabulous

I finally got around to seeing "Shine a Light"

and couldn't help but think it might have benefited

from a more straightforward approach cinematographically

instead of the incessant cutting that makes this more

of an editor's film than a director's film, though

anything Martin Scorsese is involved with is a

Scorsese film, period. Then again, any movie the

Rolling Stones are involved with is a Stones film,

period, so there is almost a tug of war between

strong-willed auteurs here, with Scorsese

seen pleading for a setlist at one point, which

he definitely could've used to block and plan

shots for his cinematographers who seem to be

scrambling frantically to catch pictures of lightning

after the lightning has already struck, though every

now and then they do catch and bottle a bolt

or two.

But it would've been nice if one of the cameras had

caught, say, Darryl Jones playing the bass intro

to "Live With Me" instead of focusing on one of

the guitarists or had shown Charlie Watts doing

that vintage drum roll that opens "All Down

the Line."

The setlist is a masterpiece, around as good as the

one at the Olympia show in Paris captured in the

"Four Flicks" film, though one can quibble at the edges.

Perhaps the better-live-than-on-the-album "You

Got Me Rocking" might've worked better than the

better-on-the-album-than-live "Shattered," which

I've never heard performed successfully live.

And "Sweet Virginia" or "Dead Flowers" could have

best filled the "country" slot reserved here for

failed joke "Faraway Eyes." And "Respectable" would've

been the perfect song to play with the Clintons

in the audience. And what about a nod to "Bigger Bang"

with "Oh No, Not You Again," the best of the new

ones live.

The choices are otherwise dead on; "She Was Hot," a

highlight, has terrific, unexpected momentum; "Loving Cup"

now sounds like it was written with Jack White in mind

all along; "As Tears Go By" has a real pulse, thanks to

Watts; "Connection" is one of the band's best

overlooked songs of the 1960s, though Keith botches it

here (he did a far better version in Oakland, Calif.,

shortly after this gig).

And each guest star tops the previous one, with

Buddy Guy leveling the place with "Champagne & Reefer"

and with offhand artistry that is assured, authentic

(he livens up the place much as Dr. John did in

"The Last Waltz"). Christina Aquilera, trading vocals

with Jagger on "Live With Me," is a powerhouse, a hurricane,

always blowing audiences away. (Wish they'd brought her

on for the Merry Clayton part of "Gimme Shelter,"

not played here.)

This is a concert film with spliced-in archival footage

that is often hilarious and rare while heavily favoring

self-promo bits in which Jagger one-ups various

interviewers -- as opposed to the Maysles brothers's

"Gimme Shelter," which shows Jagger at both his wittiest

and unwittiest (remember the "philosophically trying"

remarks?). Though the film doesn't pretend to be any

sort of definitive docu on the Stones, one still wonders

where Brian Jones is in all the vintage footage;

Jones has gone from being wildly overemphasized as a Stones

member to, today, being almost completely erased from the

band's history. That said, it's telling that the group

got only better in the years after Jones's death (see:

"Exile," "Sticky Fingers," "Some Girls").

They performed almost half of the "Some Girls" CD,

likely to remain their best-selling studio album of

all time, now that the dust has settled, though at

the time who'd have guessed that its unlikely combination

of disco and punk, warring genres in their day, would

have eclipsed both "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile." But it's

the closest the Stones have come to a diamond seller

like "Nevermind" or "Boston," which they've never had,

even if their cultural influence has been far greater

than all but a few in the rock era. Today, it's easy to

see that "Some Girls," released 30 years ago this June,

had a sort of shock jock element that made it popular

among millions of non-Stones fans, though that

element was partly excised in this film, with the

deletion of an explicit verse from the title track,

a song rarely (if ever) performed by the Stones.

I was lucky enough to have heard the very first public

performance of "Some Girls" material by the Stones, on

the first night of their "Some Girls" tour, June 10, 1978,

a couple days after the album's release, at the Lakeland

(Florida) Civic Center -- and I saw the group from only

several feet away.

As I recall, the new album was erupting unexpectedly,

so the band was in an extremely good mood at this

kick-off gig in '78. In fact, they seemed

downright giddy and manic and drunk on (among other

things) their own effortless rock 'n' roll mastery.

I remember seeing Jagger take the stage to the

opening chords of "All Down the Line," as flashing

lights briefly illuminated his leap into the air

(he looked just like a whip or a lightning bolt) and

remember seeing him physically and playfully

push Ron Wood to the side of the stage at another point.

And I remember how eerie and spooky it looked and

sounded to see Jagger right in front of me singing that

falsetto part of "Miss You" -- and he was singing it

live for the first-time ever.

A year later, with those songs still ringing in my

head, I moved to Manhattan, where I lived for years at

the Beacon, 25 floors above the theater where the

concert in "Shine a Light" took place. In those days

I used to travel to the Beacon Theater by...taking

the elevator!

Which is part of what makes that final shot of "Shine a Light"

(in which Scorsese directs the cameraman to film from

above the Broadway marquee to the rooftops of the Upper

West Side, literally between the moon and New York City) so

magical to me. And it suggests an even better flick: a

movie of a concert on the Beacon roof, a la "Let It Be," in

which the Manhattan skyline co-stars.

the Stones's bestseller, released 30 years ago this June

But I digress. Paul



for April 24, 2008

I was reading a transcript of the latest

audio recording from Osama bin Laden the

other day and wondering: is he dating? Does he

have a lover? Would bin Laden be a less violent

person if he had a sexual partner? Could we save

the world from his destructiveness by simply...setting

him up on a date?

Hence the origin of my screenplay, "Play It

Again, Osama," presented below:

Play It Again, Osama

By Paul Iorio*


OSAMA BIN LADEN (to himself): What's the matter with me?
Why can't I be cool like the Prophet Mohammed?
What's the secret?

An imaginary Prophet Mohammed, wearing a fedora and looking
and sounding like Humphrey Bogart, appears from the shadows.

PROPHET MOHAMMED: There's no secret, kid.
Infidels are simple. I never met one that didn't understand
a slap in the mouth or a slug from a .44.

OSAMA BIN LADEN: Yeah, 'cause you're Mohammed.
I'm not like you. When you lost Aisha, weren't you crushed?

PROPHET MOHAMMED: Nothing a little bourbon and soda
wouldn't fix. Take my advice and forget all the romantic stuff.
The world is full of infidels to fight. All you have to do is whistle.

OSAMA: He's right. You give the unbelievers an inch
and they step all over you. Why can't I develop that attitude?
[mimicking Mohammed] Nothing a little bourbon and soda
couldn't fix.
[He swigs a shot of Old Crow, gags.]



LINDA CHRISTIE: Osama's calling again. We've got to find him a girl.
Somebody he can be with, get excited about.

DICK CHRISTIE: We'll have to find him a nice girl.

LINDA: There must be somebody out there. Someone to take his
mind off losing Mohamed Atta. I think he really loved Atta.

DICK [picking up phone]: I know just the girl for him.



Osama is preparing for his date, which is in an hour or so.
Again, from the shadows comes an imaginary Prophet Mohammed.

MOHAMMED: You're starting off on the wrong foot.

OSAMA: Yeah, negative.

MOHAMMED: Sure. They're getting the best of you
before the game starts. What's that stuff you put on your face?

OSAMA: Canoe. It's an aftershave lotion.

MOHAMMED: You know, kid, somewhere in life
you got turned around. It's her job to smell nice for you.
The only bad thing is if she turns out to be a virgin --
or an agent for the JTTF!

OSAMA: With my luck, she'll turn out to be both.

TITLE CARD: Later That Night....


The doorbell rings and Osama opens the door. It's Linda.

LINDA: How did the date go?

OSAMA: It never would have worked between us.
She's a Shiite, I'm a Sunni, it's a great religious abyss.

LINDA: [laughing]

OSAMA: You're laughing and my sex life
is turning into the Petrified Forest.
Millions of women in the Northwest
Territories and I can't wind up with one!

Osama takes a seat on the couch and Linda sits next to him.

OSAMA: I'm turning into the strike-out king
of Waziristan!

LINDA: You need to be more confident, secure.

OSAMA: You know who's not insecure?
The Prophet Mohammed.

LINDA: That's not real life.
You set too high a standard.

OSAMA: If I'm gonna identify with someone,
who am I gonna pick? My imam?
Mohammed's a perfect image.

LINDA: You don't need to pretend. You're you.

Osama nudges closer to Linda on the couch.

The imaginary Mohammed appears and speaks.

MOHAMMED: Go ahead, make your move.

OSAMA: No, I can't.

MOHAMMED: Take her and kiss her..

LINDA (getting up to go to the kitchen): I'll get us both a drink.

MOHAMMED: Well, kid, you blew it.

OSAMA: I can't do it. We're platonic friends.
I can't spoil that by coming on.
She'll slap my face.

MOHAMMED: I've had my face slapped plenty.

OSAMA: But your turban
don't go flying across the room.

Linda returns with two drinks.

LINDA: Here we are, you can start on this.

MOHAMMED: Go ahead, kiss her.

OSAMA: I can't.

The phone rings and startles Osama, as he answers it.

OSAMA (into phone): Hi, Dick. Yes, she's here.
I was going out -- I had a Polish date.

He hands the phone to Linda.

MOHAMMED: Relax. You're as nervous as Abu Jahl was before
I beat his brains out at the Battle of Badr. All you've got to do is
make your move.

OSAMA: This is crazy. We'll wind up
on al Jazeera!

LINDA (into phone): OK, goodbye.

LINDA: Dick sounded down. I think
he's having trouble in Karachi. I wonder
why he never asks me along on his trips.

OSAMA: Maybe he's got something
going on the side. A fling.

LINDA: If I fell for another man,
it'd have to be more than just a fling.
I'd have to feel something more serious.
Are you shaking?

OSAMA: Just chilly.

LINDA: It's not very cold.

MOHAMMED: Move closer to her.

OSAMA: How close?

MOHAMMED: The distance of Flight 175 to the south tower..

OSAMA: That's very close.

MOHAMMED: Now, get ready for the big move
and do exactly as I tell you.

Suddenly an imaginary Mohamed Atta appears and
confronts the Prophet Mohammed.

ATTA [to Mohammed]: I warned you to leave my ex-lover alone.

Atta draws a pistol and shoots Mohammed.

Osama looks a bit panicky now that Mohammed is gone.

LINDA: I guess I'd better fix the steaks.

OSAMA: Your eyes are like two thick juicy steaks.

Osama kisses Linda, who recoils, pushing him away.

OSAMA: I was joking. I was just testing you.
It was a platonic kiss.

LINDA: I think I'd better go home.

OSAMA: You're making a mistake.

Linda waves goodbye and leaves the apartment.

OSAMA: I attacked her. I'm a vicious jungle beast..
I'm not the Prophet Mohammed. I never will be.
I'm a disgrace to my sex. I should get a job at an Arabian palace
as a eunuch.

The doorbell rings.

OSAMA: That's the vice squad. [He opens the door, and Linda is there.]

LINDA: Did you say you loved me?

Osama and Linda embrace and kiss and the scene fades.


MOHAMMED: That's all there is to it.

OSAMA: For you, because you're Mohammed.

MOHAMMED: Everybody is at certain times.

OSAMA: I guess the secret's not being you, it's being me.

MOHAMMED: Here's looking at you, kid.

*with massive apologies to Woody Allen.


But I digress. Paul



for April 21, 2008

Oh! Ye bitter Pennsylvanians, come 'round to the polls,

but drink not from the chalice of disappointment and

woe, or seek succor by clinging to thy religion and

thy guns, when ye cast ye ballots in the Primary of

the Greatest Publick Importance, at least this week,

until next month, when the next state decideth.

Thou must not delayeth thy journey to thy polls with vain

prayer or the reloading of thy guns. Thou must not

cling to that which provides false solace in grim

times. Thou must not pray out of bitterness in thy

voting booth upon the altar of discredited touch screens,

or place thy bullets amidst the paper ballots that have

largely replaced thy touch screens. Oh, ye bitter

Pennsylvanians, put aside thy clinging and loading and

praying to dodge the sniper fire on the way to the

Primary of Publick Importance!

But I digresseth. Paul



for April 17, 2008

The 'Gotcha' Debate

I just saw the ABC debate, in which four millionaires

who have top-notch health insurance talked for two

hours in prime time about everything except

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

The short math is this: Hillary won the debate,

with Stephanopoulos coming in a close second,

Gibson third, and Obama fourth.

Thing is, Clinton has really grown to the point where

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

credible president. Too late. Too bad.

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

Wright thing hurts him. The Ayers thing hurts him.

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

soon he looks pretty unelectable against McCain.

Gibson/Stephanopoulos seemed to be harder on Obama than on

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

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

you confusing the Bosnia incident with?

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

at Obama, that he could very well become the most

unlikely general election winner in presidential history.

Reason I thought that is because they showed a clip

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

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

might become disabled by, say, a stroke, before

November and have to be replaced by his running mate,

probably Romney, who Obama could handily beat.

Just as Obama became a US Senator because of a

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

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

a contender? -- so Obama could become president because

of the random nature of politics.

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

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

of government, this may be the first time a president

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

Royal has opened up whole new doors of perception for this

former Goldwater gal, who may yet be the nominee,

but probably won't.


If I were at NBC Entertainment, I'd immediately

start creating a new prime-time sitcom starring

Kristen Wiig (called "The Kristen Wiig Show" or

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

or something like that), in which the SNL

player would play a thirtysomething

nervous wreck in the style of some of the characters

she plays on SNL. It's becoming increasingly

obvious that in the constellation of stars

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

brought down the house with her "just joking" bit

last week and with the "surprise party" sketch

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

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

about Penelope is the way she appears unexpectedly,

almost floatingly, in different parts of the master shot

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

Adventures of the Old Kristen." Just joking.


Wow, the Daily Digression seems to be setting

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

the coverage agenda in some publications.

For example, The Digression has been talking for

weeks about Obama being the new Dukakis and/or

Stevenson (I called him "Adlai Dukakis" the

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

column in the New York Times, she makes the same

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

she's a Daily Digression reader).

Also, I wrote an interesting line the day before

yesterday in one of my Digressions:

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

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

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

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

we can see the future," the paper quotes some

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

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

that one; I may be wrong but I

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

virtually putting the words in the source's mouth,

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

how we see the future?")

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

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

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

they'll echo in coming days.

But I digress. Paul

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

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

Plagiarism in a Completely Legitimate Way by Slightly

Modifying an Idea or a Sentence, Putting the Words in

Someone Else's Mouth or Rushing Stolen Ideas From

Obscure Sources into Print Before the Originator

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

it's learned by some on the job.



for April 16, 2008

Now More Than Ever, We Need an LBJ

Strong persuader.

It's about health care, stupid.

Because this has gone on too long. The impasse

feels permanent, and probably is.

In order to provide health insurance for the

48 million Americans without it, we need a president

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

someone who's gonna make threats and make good on

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

effective way.

We need an LBJ.

Remember Lyndon? He could be rude and coarse and a

bully, but He rammed major

civil rights legislation through the

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

ultimatums about canceling that bridge project in your

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

chest with his finger.

And his tactics are, frankly, the only way the

8 million uninsured kids in this country will

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

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

population of South Korea! The whole population of

England is only around 10 million more than that.)

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

running for president this year.

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

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

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

been one of ineffectiveness.

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

telling that his golden oratory about health care has not

inspired the current Congress to pass a single payer plan

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

fare any better as president.

John McCain sounds like someone who has been rich too

long to understand what a shrieking nightmare it is

not to have health insurance; perhaps if he

were forced to use only Clearasil to combat his next

bout of melanoma, or to use Listerine to treat his

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

about the deprivations of McCain's youth; that was

too many decades ago to be relevant today.)

The 44th president of the United States is not

likely to provide health care to the 47 million

uninsured, because there's just too much money in

the Health Care Industrial Complex. I mean, making

huge profits off of sick people is what the insurers

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

there isn't more of a popular uprising

and revulsion about it.

It seems as if protest -- coupled with a sympathetic

president -- is the only way sick people are going

to get care in this country.

If activists would put aside relatively marginal issues

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

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

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

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

on effective, extreme civil disobedience and protest

that target the health care moguls who are making money

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

companies and health insurance providers live, and then

organize big raucous protests in front of their mansions


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

then the people themselves will have to become the


But I digress. Paul

[above photo from Life magazine]



for April 15, 2008

I betcha Barack tries a cowboy hat next.

Yup, any day now I bet Obama's handlers

are gonna put him in a Stetson and have him

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

croon some Toby Keith for YouTube consumption.

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

because this race is quickly shaping into a contest

between Dwight Dole and Adlai Dukakis.

Unpopular truth be told, Barack was right when he

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

bitterness or desperation. Yes, religion is the opiate

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

the delusion of last resort for the hopeless. But

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

religion will become mainstream for another, oh, 400

years or so. Until the mysteries explained

away by science are accepted by people who haven't

studied science, which is to say most voters, religion

will continue to exert its irrational hold on the


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

far we've grown in 2008 from the literalist

Christianity rampant 400 years ago, in 1608, and then

extrapolating that trajectory into the next 400 years.

And the trajectory of the centuries is clearly in the

opposite direction of religion, or at least in the

opposite direction of fundamentalism. (One predicts

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

looking at the past, not at the future.)

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

running for anything. Barack is.

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

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

have the level of circumspection required of a world

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

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

the Northwest Territories of Pakistan are backward in their

fundamentalist beliefs -- which may be true but is not

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

new president of Pakistan.

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

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

opponents (which is always what happens when you get to

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

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

and start being that snob or that dullard or that

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

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

2008 election may be that the first major black candidate

for president, Obama, spouting rich guy Harvardisms too

true for the campaign trail, was defeated because he was

too white.

But I digress. Paul



for April 14, 2008

humor by paul iorio

Little-Known Popes in Papal History

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

the first time since becoming pontiff in 2005, and he

is, of course, not the most famous pope in

Vatican history, though he's also not the most


In fact, there have been many lesser-known popes

through the centuries, and now may be the time to

remember some of them. Here are ten:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress. Paul



for April 8, 2008

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

San Francisco is probably the last place

that one would want this year's Olympic torch to

pass through, unless you're looking for turbulence.

As everyone knows, San Francisco virtually

invented protest and demonstrations and civil

disobedience, I think. Or at least it perfected

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

protesters on the Golden Gate bridge yesterday


The Chinese government is learning what the idiot

hijackers of United Flight 93 in 2001 also

quickly discovered: people in the Bay Area don't

acquiesce when it comes to tyranny and don't

take well to totalitarian types and will "place

their bodies on the gears of the machine"

to stop it from running altogether, if necessary,

to quote Mario Savio.

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

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

its way through the streets of San Francisco tomorrow,

because there is no way that Free Tibet activists are

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

a question of whether there will be disruption on

Wednesday (or as the San Francisco Examiner once put

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

will be.

* * *

Was listening to the "Moonlight" sonata the

other day and caught myself thinking,

this is almost as brilliant as "Street Spirit"

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

resonate into the far reaches of this century --

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

beyond. By the way, Radiohead headlines

a 3-day music fest in Golden Gate Park

in San Francisco in August, two years after

the band memorably premiered a dozen tracks

from its latest album, "In Rainbows," in

Berkeley and elsewhere.

* * *

NBC has an institutional memory that reminds

it that "Seinfeld" took a few years to find

its audience, and that may have played into the

its decision to renew "Friday Night Lights"

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

a fall run on DirecTV).

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

amazing "The Brothers McMullen" the other night,

after not having seen it for many years, and

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

FNL every time Connie Britton, who plays Molly

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

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

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

with "Friday Night Lights."

* * *

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

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

(not played in concert until the months preceding this

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

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

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

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

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

the list:

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

But I digress. Paul



for April 6, 2008

Is The Impeachment of President McCain Now Inevitable?

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

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

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

considered more likely than not that articles of

impeachment will be introduced by the House Judiciary

Committee early next month, insiders say.

A bi-partisan majority in the House now agree that

the president's secret bombing raid on the suburbs

south of Tehran last week was the last straw and

proof that McCain is out of control, as he conducts

an ever-escalating and expanding war in both Iraq

and now in Iran without so much as consulting Congress

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

McCain says he can't afford to reveal American

strategy publicly, as that would be revealing it to

the enemy, too).

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

solid electoral win over Senator Hillary Clinton in '08.

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

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

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

And his increasingly surly, defiant press conferences

tend to stoke the flames of the Impeach McCain crowd.

Like last week when he declared, "When it comes

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

people. The people are militarily illiterate."

Dems immediately noted that President McCain was

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

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

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

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

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

sneaky reporter's hidden mic, has likely ended his

political career for good.)

One White House correspondent says McCain may

try to head off impeachment proceedings by declaring

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

the recurrence of his skin cancer (which he also

is being secretive about). But not even that

will save his political skin if the Mahdi Army

keeps slaughtering Americans at a clip not seen since Tet,

because the public has clearly lost its patience with

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

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

these days) has only strengthened the hand of Prime Minister


Insiders say Vice President Romney has spoken privately

to friends about the possibility of having to assume the

presidency soon and appointing his own vice president

(he is reported to have already broached the subject with

Sen. Joe Lieberman, floating the idea of a possible

Romney/Lieberman unity team).

In any event, all this this makes Romney the clear

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

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

DNC, meanwhile, is reportedly feverishly trying to

convince Al Gore to run again, assuring him that

he would have a clear shot at the nomination and

that there would not be the fractious infighting

that doomed prospects for the Dems in '08.

The fact that pundits are already looking beyond the

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

Justice Roberts may soon be swearing in the 45th president

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

change dramatically, a 46th president may be taking

office shortly after that.

But I digress. Paul



for April 1, 2008

One of the reasons John McCain supports American

involvement in Iraq may be that he's seriously

uninformed about that war. In fact, he seems to

have a shockingly casual, almost amateurish grasp

of the basic facts about the conflict and

its ancillary issues.

I mean, there was the press conference last week

at which McCain said:

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

Though his traveling companion, Joe Lieberman,

immediately corrected him, McCain still revealed a

lack of fundamental knowledge about the currents and

cross-currents in the region.

The big fear among foreign policy experts has always

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

alliance between Tehran and Baghdad. Is McCain also

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

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

to gain a foothold in Iraq because he saw the group

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

could have built on and exacerbated the natural

animosity between the two.) One wonders whether

McCain would have supported the war if he had

been more knowledgeable about the issues involved.

To his credit, though, McCain hasn't yet

called the Sunnis "gooks." (Lieberman might

have warned him off that one.)

* * *

Hillary Clinton keeps using that line about answering

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

she and her husband were in the White House, the

president wasn't even available for phone calls

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

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

Bentsen waiting in the lobby?) Then again, President

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

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

for successful policy-making. Give

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

* * *

Odd that Time magazine chose to publish a ranting

letter from Jeremiah Wright complaining about

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

after Wright sent the letter to the New

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

the way).

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

a very credible source these days about much of

anything, now that his history of making crackpot

comments has come to light.

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

that "the government lied about inventing the HIV

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

It's hard to fathom the unhinged mindset of somebody

who would say something like that.

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

lunatic belief that the communists were putting fluoride in

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

Beware if Wright starts writing letters that

mention his "precious bodily fluids."

But I digress. Paul



for March 29, 2008

Lately I've been looking at the three main

contenders for president and wondering

whether candidates were always this flawed or

whether I was just too young to notice the

imperfections in previous decades.

One candidate, John McCain, has an explosive temper

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

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

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

big part of America's cultural education and


Another hopeful, Hillary Clinton, talks about

landing under sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia

in the 1990s. Earlier I was thinking the

same thing that one television pundit later voiced

on Friday night: was she confusing the Bosnia

incident with another event in which she

actually did come under fire? If not, then how

does she explain the fact that she fabricated

the incident?

Finally, we have Barack Obama, who stands by a

crazy pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who says lots of

really idiotic things.

Hey, Mike Gravel is starting to look nearly normal!

Elsewhere in politics, it was also recently revealed

that the former governor of New York whored until he

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

cocaine, the former governor of New Jersey had threesomes,

the mayor of Detroit was caught having steamy extramarital

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

Iseman woman, and so on and so on.

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

is having a wild Dionysian bash but forgot to invite

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

AccuWeather forecast and sipping Yuban, I'm beginning

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

whoever controls the guest list.

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

specifically Obama's response to the Rev. Wright

controversy (I wrote about Hillary's Snipergate

below, hence I'm not playing favorites).

Anyone who would say "the government lied about

inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide

against people of color," as Wright did, is

seriously and dangerously out of touch with


And anyone who has the temerity to say that the

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

planned by bin Laden during the progressive Clinton

regime, when our military was actually siding with

Muslims and against Christians in a conflict in

the former Yugoslavia) is either stupid or

uninformed or both.

But what also bothers me is there were people

in the audience at his church applauding all

that crap.

Why didn't Barack Obama walk out in protest when

Wright started mouthing off like that? He should

know there are far higher values than loyalty in this

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

would say, no friend of mine would be talking like

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

his sermon and loudly tell people afterwards

that I strongly disagreed with what he said.

It's like sitting around with an old friend who

suddenly starts disparaging blacks and Jews; you

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

make it clear that's not acceptable talk.

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

of his worst. It sounded so Adlai, so Taubman

building, so no-controlling-legal-authority.

What I didn't hear was genuine, visceral

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

profile in courage of someone willing to take a

solitary, principled, "High Noon" stand and

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

and the people who laughed when he said it.

The speech on race sounded like Obama's exit

interview -- just as Romney's hyped speech on

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

Barack will probably be the nominee, but it was

an exit speech in the sense that we all now

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

he is not going to be elected president in

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

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

the morning of November 5th.

And don't tell me about all the national polls

that have him leading McCain by however many points;

instead show me one credible independent poll that

has Obama leading McCain in Florida. Or in Ohio.

Or even Wisconsin. Without those states,

he can't possibly win the electoral tally.

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

done for religious reasons, which is to say for

irrational motives (see: the letter

of intent found in the luggage of Mohamed Atta,

full of a lot of religious mumbo jumbo about

the way and the light and the path and nonbelievers

and god and other such junk).

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

Laden ladled on political reasons for having

committed the 9/11 massacres, but only

when he discovered the attacks weren't playing

so well in the Muslim mainstream.

I wonder if there's a clip somewhere of Wright

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

applauding when he said that.

But I digress. Paul



for March 25-26, 2008

Intriguing but flawed story in today's

New York Times about East Germans escaping to freedom

during the Cold War by traveling to Bulgaria and

slipping across its border into Greece. The story

fails to note that Bulgaria is widely

and definitively known as having been among the

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

of the Eastern Bloc nations (in fact, insiders used

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

I'm surprised his editor allowed him to write it

without noting the country's overall Cold

War reputation. (Further, his story has the

unmistakable sound of a piece that a writer

writes when he subtly wants to even up a

score with another writer.)

It also quotes someone characterizing Bulgaria as

sunny and southern, which gives the wrong impression.

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

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

is mostly grey and drab and sober and insular and

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

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

on the same latitude as New England (Sofia almost

never gets above 75 degrees, even in August).

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

Bulgaria (alone, by local train, as a

teenager in 1976) from its Serbian border to Sofia

through Plovdiv and to Edirne, which is the virtual

three-way intersection of Bulgaria, Turkey and

Greece (aka, Thrace).

And then I did it again in the reverse direction!

My impressions: it felt like a military state, as

opposed to a police state, which is what Yugoslavia

resembled. Its border with Serbia was a bit less

protected than the one at Edirne, a somewhat

scary checkpoint in that soliders rifled roughly

through passengers's luggage while wielding their

rifles and flashlights/spotlights in

intimidating ways.

In any event, it was sure easier to get into

Bulgaria from the Edirne checkpoint than it was

to get out. The border guards were far less uptight

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

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

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

where I was studying at the time.)

As for the reverse journey from Bulgaria to Serbia,

through Dimitrovgrad, I mostly slept through it because

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

food poisoning at an Istanbul restaurant.

Frankly, I was more worried about returning through

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

the train, stripped of my passport and briefly detained

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

In Bulgaria, I had no such personal encounter with the

authorities, though I had been taking notes and snapping

pictures at various points along the route, which might

have been considered provocative if they had caught me

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

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

Bulgarian border soldiers, who truly looked

and acted like serious motherfuckers.

But I digress. Paul



for March 25, 2008

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

The snipers are out again tonight, shooting from the nearby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

distracted by snipers lately, coming at me from different

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

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

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

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

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

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

I flashbacked to that night in Memphis when I was at

King's side, presciently advising Jesse Jackson to drop

out of the South Carolina primary, but I digress and

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

foreign policy experience, having taken the SeaDream Cruise

of the Caribbean during spring break in college, coming

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

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

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

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

to my 53 years of Congressional experience, if you include

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

building late at night, a dangerous neighborhood with

potential snipers on rooftops -- experience that should

count for something, as should my experience as the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

because I think I hear Kalishnikovs in the nearby hills,

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

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

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



for March 19, 2008

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

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

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

demonstators took to the streets of cities across

America -- and Berkeley, Calif., the traditional

epicenter of protest, was no exception.

Here are a few photos I shot around a couple

hours ago in Berkeley.

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

* *

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


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

delicate sensitivites are still offended by the little

cartoons that satirists in Europe published a couple

years ago. What a fragle flower this bin Laden

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

and bin is unmoved. But bin sees an episode of

Huckleberry Hound and he's in tears. Awww.

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

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

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

spread virally over the Internet since I posted the

series last October. Perhaps you've already seen the

cartoons. But if not, lemme take this opportunity to

reprint the best of the series right here and now.

Viddy well and enjoy!

Series by Paul Iorio.

But I digress. Paul



for March 18-19, 2008

Race and the '08 Campaign

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

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

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

term (because of health issues), leaving the field

open to Dems ravenous for a long-denied


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

meantime fix the holes in their nominating process

that perennially give rise to factional candidates who

simply can't cut it in the general election.

The Super Delegates invention was supposed to do just

that, but instead comes across as an imperious imposition

by national party insiders. Maybe Dems ought to

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

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

follow the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday and with

a mail-in New Hampshire primary on Thursday that pits

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

one another, with delegates going to the winner of

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

states could do the same.) That way, whoever

progresses to front-runner status becomes front-runner

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

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

nominating an electable general election candidate.

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

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

because Jackson was never as popular as Barack is now.

Rather Barack's candidacy is starting to resemble

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

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

regulars, if there hadn't been tragedy on the

campaign trail.

Meanwhile, the general election is taking on a

different shape altogether, looking increasingly like

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

And Rev. Wright just finished cutting McCain's Halloween

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

have to find some obscure footage of Obama and Sharpton

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

clip on a loop in the purple states on the weekend

before the general election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

likely win more states than Mondale or McGovern or

even George Wallace -- his electoral total will probably

be even bigger than Michael Dukakis's, though only


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

sermon came to light, I saw some elementary school

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

as a car passed with an Obama for President bumper

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

almost corny, but genuine thought: their first memories

of a presidential election will be this one, in which

an African-American candidate is the leading Democratic

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

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

the top job in the land.

But the glow of that thought lasted only until the

Rev. Wright incident, which reminded me there

is still sickness and infection on both sides of

the racial divide.

As testament to that, one of the biggest issues that

is not even being discussed in the campaign (because

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

injustices that we've recently seen against both blacks

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

defamation case).

The Jena case points to a need for tort reform that

somehow takes into account the overarching context of

a crime (a reform that should go beyond the existing

"mitigating factor" standard).

The Duke case points to a horrifying hole in our legal

system that should be remedied by de-politicizing the

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

intentional aggravated slander (though this one would be

tough to pull off without infringing on 1st amendment

rights), understanding how serious the crime of false

accusation can be, etc.

Duke and Jena should both be exposed to the

disinfectant of sunlight in this campaign, otherwise

the infection on both sides of the racial divide will

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

hate talk of the Rev. Wrights and the Bill



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

have changed their last names since college or

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

changed it completely, without even hyphenating it.

So is the tradition of name-changing now mostly

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

she decide to turn into President Rodham somewhere

down the line?


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

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

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

it all day, E. coli or not!

But I digress. Paul



for March 10, 2008

Alan Dershowitz said it best, in Byron Pitts'

excellent report (does Pitts ever do anything but

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

in most countries, what Eliot Spitzer did would

not even be illegal. Spitzer was about to have sex

(again) with an adult woman behind closed doors,

which is really his own personal business and not

ours (unlike Larry Craig, who was planning to

have sex in a public restroom with someone who

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

there's an element of hypocrisy in both cases,

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

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

prostitution laws of Holland (and the health care

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

with its Puritanism and sexual provincialism, which

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

should remain in Albany.

Still, it's becoming an unmistakable pattern:

politicians and others who codemn sexual deviance the

loudest are often those who are involved in such

activities themselves.

But I digress. Paul



for March 9, 2008

I'm told Scarlett Johansson has recorded an

album of Tom Waits covers, "Anywhere I Lay

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

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

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

accomplished in movies. She also appears

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

directed nicely by Jesse Dylan (son of

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

become a successful film director, by the way;

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

in a very memorable setting, on a boat on which

ZZ Top was performing for a few dozen people or so

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

New York harbor, and I remember walking to a

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

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

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

her friend, referring to the Statue. And when

she turned her head I saw it was Martha Quinn,

the pioneering MTV VJ who I think every

twentysomething guy had a crush on in 1986. With

her was a guy who looked like a charismatic rock

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

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

* * *

There may be some talented editors at HarperCollins

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

with some exceedingly dim editors there.

Now comes word from The New York Times that

HarperCollins is publishing a new book by James

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

a non-fiction book, abused the trust of his

editors and readers, etc.

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

dealings with HarperCollins and saw first-hand how

profoundly stupid some of their decisions were.

I was writing a biography of Richard Pryor and interviewed

a source, corroborated by other info, who said Pryor

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

HarperCollins, through my agent, said

great, write it up as a sample chapter about Pryor

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

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

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

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

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

cover-up the info I'd uncovered?)

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

probably happened is that a top boss at the company

read the xyz thing and was shocked, and so my

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

had requested exactly that material.

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

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

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

Sopranos" than in most of the novels released by HarperCollins

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

reading "A Million Little Pieces" even before the book

was exposed as a fraud.

* * *

The San Francisco Chronicle has yet another new

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

the luck he can get to save the struggling paper.

With the newspaper business collapsing almost

everywhere, my suggestion to Bushee is this: discontinue

the paper edition of the paper and publish it just

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

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

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

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

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

(And this is coming from someone who wrote for the

paper for years.)

But I digress. Paul



for March 7, 2008

An Alternate Penalty for Florida and Michigan

If there is no penalty for Florida and Michigan

moving up their primaries in violation of Democratic

party rules, then in 2012 there will be no disincentive

for other states to do the same. Suppose

Alabama wanted to be a playa and moved its primary

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

Alabama and moved its own contest to Halloween, causing

Iowa to protect its first-in-the-nation

status by having its caucus on Columbus Day.

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

the nominating process, and the national party will not

be able to ensure that its grand design and overall

strategy are respected.

So the question becomes: what should the penalty

be for Michigan and Florida?

Stripping them of their delegates may be a little

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

the general election may hinge on a handful of voters

in either Florida or Michigan. The DNC's retaliation

shouldn't be scattershot in a way that affects

innocent voters along with the party insiders who

should be punished.

My suggestion is to make the penalty an inside baseball

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

National Convention from Florida or Michigan will be

allowed to give the keynote or nominating speeches (or

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

punishment is limited to the politicians guilty of

violating the rules.

Regarding the idea of a do-over vote:

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

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

in Florida, where he was.

But that's not really fair because Hillary campaigned in

Florida and Barack did not.

The big question is: why did Hillary campaign in

Florida when she knew and agreed that that primary

would not count? Barack honored the boycott; Hillary

didn't. Her campaigning in Florida back in January

implies a disingenuousness about her support of that

boycott; in other words, there is the appearance that

she was cynically figuring all along that the Florida

vote would have to eventually count (if only because

she planned to make a stink about disenfranchisement

later on, as she's doing now).

Because she appears to have unfairly manipulated the

boycott to her advantage (by campaigning in Florida),

any do-over should include both Michigan and Florida.

And the penalty should affect the insiders,

not the voters.

But I digress. Paul



for March 5, 2008

Hold the Seltzer, Please

One thing that bothers me about the Margaret

Seltzer scandal is that it should've been

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

synopsis of the fraudulent book (as quoted by the

Washington Post):

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

American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles

as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs

for the Bloods."

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

Seriously, folks, some mysteries can be solved by

simple common sense. For example, if Joe Schmo claims

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

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

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

be lying about having written "Howl."

Another thing that disturbs me about the Seltzer

affair is that while the book publishing biz was busy

falling for her outrageous lies, while the industry

and reviewers and agents were absolutely

abuzz about this untrue story that they wanted to be

true, they were rejecting a lot of terrific,

honest manuscripts -- including my own proposal

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

solid anthology of my own non-fiction stories

(now available online at

Same thing bothered me about the Jayson

Blair scandal. Sure, I greatly appreciate the

fact I was given the opportunity to write stories

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

I can do so again in the future).

But when the Blair scandal erupted, one of my

thoughts was: while Blair was fabricating stories

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

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

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

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

The paper was apparently too busy publishing Blair to give

me a fair hearing.

At the same time Blair was fabricating, I wrote a

very well-received (and scrupulously accurate)

media piece that still stands as the only story

about the tv networks's immediate coverage of

the 9/11 attacks. The Times rejected that story

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

ultimately ran it, and I thank that paper profusely;

the story can also be found at

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

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

up the ranks, with all flanks protected by management,

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

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

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

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

working in upper management at lesser newspapers than

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

But I digress. Paul



for March 4, 2008

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

Hard to predict. The best comment came from

Obama: "Remember New Hampshire."

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

SNL but the funniest stuff came later in the program

when the always-inspired Kristen Wiig played Peter

Pan -- truly hilarious.

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

is curious about whether I went far into Bulgaria

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

local train across the entire length of Bulgaria -- and

then back again! -- snapping pictures and taking notes

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

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

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

countless songs over the decades but I have never

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

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

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

every line of all 60 songs were written solely by me

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

on a Beach Boys tune).

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

misunderstood -- I actually enjoy some gospel music

and think the folks at the CMAs have honored some

of the greatest recording artists ever. My song

is meant to be irreverent satire, and should be

heard in that spirit.

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for February 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

for whatever events erupt when he or she is awake.

We're not electing a receptionist who's responsible

for fielding and filtering every call that

comes through the switchboard -- the president

hires smart and capable people to do that and to

handle emergencies that might crop up in the

overnight hours. Her ad presents a somewhat

disturbing vision of a Hillary presidency, in

which she pulls all-nighters by the phone, popping

speed, drinking Yuban and waiting anxiously for that

hypothetical world leader to call.

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

almost certainly asleep -- or awfully wired and

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

arrange your day as president or as candidate.

But I digress. Paul

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

running-mate, Ralph Nader has now exponentially

increased his chances of winning most voters in

some parts of Haight Street.



for February 26, 2008

Regarding the photo of Obama in Kenya: frankly, he

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

Look, I took off my shoes when I visited the

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

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

both state and personals visits abroad (didn't

I see footage of Bush in a dashiki during an

African visit?).

That said, Hillary is inadvertently doing Obama

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

nasty ads he'll be facing from the Republican

machine come October.

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for February 25, 2008

I really have nothing much to say about the Oscars

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

and Daniel Day Lewis and "There Will Be Blood"

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

as awesome as any woman can ever get, Hilary Swank

looks fabulous, and it's always great to see

Harrison Ford and George Clooney. But for the

most part it was snoozeville. I was even wondering

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

Rogen/Hill bit, easily the most embarrassing and unfunny

comic segment in recent Oscar history.

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

80th Academy Awards telecast is now officially the

lowest-rated Oscar ceremony ever -- and they worked

overtime to earn that distinction, I can assure you.

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

bring back David Letterman. I know his first try

didn't exactly light up the airwaves,

but Letterman is starting to look better and better

now that we've seen host after host fail.

But I digress. Paul



for January 25, 2008

Regarding Ralph Nader, let me say this:

A man who stands atop a mountain at noon

stands in sunlight; the same man who stands

atop that same mountain at midnight stands

in darkness. He who refuses to change changes

anyway, because the world changes around him. In

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

refusing to shift with the times, Nader is an utter

reactionary, one of the world's truly despicable


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

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

For the times they are a changing."

* * *

I'm flattered and gratified and a bit surprised that

my extremely irreverent cartoon series -- "Bin Laden,

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

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

independently last October, not expecting it to

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

of places online.

And let me say if bin Laden or his people are

in any way offended by my series then I

just want to say that I sincerely and deeply

hope that you are offended on a fundamental level.

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

can be viewed at:


But I digress. Paul


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


for February 24, 2008

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

It was a bit heartwarming to see Tim Russert

raid the nursing home to give some airtime to an

apparent Alzheimer's patient, though it was obvious

the guy's cognitive functions were clearly

compromised, so it was sort of exploitative to

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

(he said his name was Ralph Nader and apparently

couldn't tell the difference between Barack Obama

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

People at the nursing home, though not reliable,

tell me he was once an automobile exec, responsible

for the Corvair or something, and also that Russert

took the time to pick up another resident of the

home, Doris Goodwin, in a package deal for his

show; she provided the much-needed Theodore Roosevelt

angle on the '08 election, an insight now spreading

like wildfire on the blogs and among cutting edge

academic thinkers.

I mean, hey, Russert coulda put some innovative

theorist or a brilliant Stanford prof or even

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

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

are at But I guess I

don't have the requisite experience as a

plagiarist, so that would disqualify me.)

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

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

aesthetic angle, and putting aside its considerable safety

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

era of suburban pop culture in America -- it almost

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

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

classic vehicle (above).

* * *

Is Black the New Catholic?

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

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

elect a black president.

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

Condi Rice/Alan Keyes and the Dem ticket was

John Edwards/Bill Richardson, Republicans in red

states would vote in droves against the white

ticket and for the African-American one. Which proves

there is no inherent aversion to electing a black

president among even conservative voters, if they

feel that candidate can best represent their interests.

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

white racist in a red state who gets himself into

legal trouble and decides to hire an ace black attorney

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

white guy still has an underlying bigotry toward

blacks, but he hires the African-American because

he knows his interests will best be served by him.

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

heart surgery and must choose between a black

surgeon whose medical judgment has been proved

correct time and again and a veteran white surgeon

who has had several malpractice suits filed against

him, who do you think the racist would choose?

That sort of dynamic may come into play in November,

if Obama is the nominee. Swing rednecks in purple

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

very much, but this Obama guy is smart and has

good judgment and will do my bidding most effectively,

so I'm voting for him."

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

Could it be is the new Catholic?

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

years, there was misplaced concern that Mitt Romney's

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

prejudice that voters might not be able to overcome.

But voters ended up dismissing Romney for reasons

unrelated to his religious beliefs.

Turns out Mormonism wasn't the new Catholicism;

prejudice against African-Americans is apparently what

still needs to be overcome in '08 and what might

keep Obama from having his mail re-directed to

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next year.

But that prejudice seems to be fading fast as voters

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

redneck in Selma will hire a brilliant black attorney

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

voters might hire Barack to carry out their agenda,

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

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

this country is getting to be quaint, an almost old

fashioned way of viewing American ethnic diversity.

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

much of the Pacific rim, the primary ethnic division

is between Asians and non-Asians, not between blacks

and whites. And as the population of other parts of

the country diversifies, the "black" classification

becomes increasingly meaningless and insignificant.

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

How about someone of Jamaican-British ancestry who

has lighter skin than an Italian Calabrian? Ethnic

distinctions become increasingly irrelevant as more

diverse ingredients are added to the melting pot.)

More than race, age may be the driving factor in

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

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

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

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

candidates like Bill Clinton, who liked to don shades

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

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

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

on the road.

But Barack is the very first serious presidential

candidate who speaks with a hint of the cadence and

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

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

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

that almost qualifies as a separate pop culture dialect

from the rock 'n' roll dialect.

Obama's general flow of oratory is clearly influenced

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

part of the reason why young people are responding to

the undertone and undertow of his message.

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

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

pop song of its era.

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

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

take this journey across the country we love with the message

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

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

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

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

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

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

but pre-Beatles in general sensibility.

But I digress. Paul



for February 22, 2008

The Birth of a Nation

Back when it was communist and run by Tito, and

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

through Serbia and the rest of the Balkans, the area

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

Hard to believe today that all those diverse countries

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

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

of a single unified nation called Yugoslavia.

That said, Kosovo's independence is a very welcome

development, and Russia and China should get on board

and recognize its sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the only effective protection the

Kosovars have against the historically hostile Serbs

that surround them. Have Russia and China forgotten that

the entire Kosovar Albanian population was on its way

to being mass murdered by the Serbs in the late

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

end to the genocide (euphemistically called

"ethnic cleansing")?

I mean, Kosovo is not a heavily populated area,

by any means (the entire population of the country

has around 2 million people, which is roughly the

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

city" in that area, has around half the population

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

killed at least 6,000 Kosovars in 1999 alone is

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

because the military folks in Belgrade burned a lot

of bodies to cover up their atrocities. Not only

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

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

(remember the endless stream of Kosovar Albanians

making that long march to safety to Albania?).

Meanwhile, the sadistic Serbian government at

the time actually used mass rape as a military

weapon in towns like Pec and Djakoivica.

What more proof does Vladimir Putin require to

see that Kosovo needs the protection of sovereignty?

Or does he not see the reality because of an overriding

preoccupation with the loss of the Soviet empire?

Remember, less than two decades ago, Russia was

the seat of the vast Soviet Union, which included 15

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

satellites and various allies elsewhere. Today, the empire

is in fragments, and even the fragments of the fragments

have fragmented.

To be sure, Yugoslavia was never formally an Iron

Curtain country. While nominally allied with the Soviets,

Tito always maintained some independence from the

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

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

for Putin to see Yugoslavia splinter into not two or three

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

this week, seven!

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

Putin is merely reflecting his constituents's passionate

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

a playa again, feared by enemies again.

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

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

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

time I talked with them about their homeland, they said

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

strong again, like it was during the Soviet era.

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

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

smile and flex his biceps like Popeye when he said he

wanted his country to be powerful again.

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

in east West Hollywood, they must surely feel that

way in Russia itself (coverage of Kosovo's secession

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

As I mentioned, I traveled deep into south Serbia

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

just east of Kosovo before crossing into the most

Iron Curtainish of all Iron Curtain countries, Bulgaria.

And what I remember (besides the spectacular Balkan

Mountains scenery, among other things) is that it seemed

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

The area between Kosovo and Bulgaria was, frankly,

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

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

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

(even though the Kosovar Albanians are better off than

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

the enduring paranoid legacy of Hoxha). Common

sense says Kosovo and Serbia both have better chances

of improving their lots as separate entities. And

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

their national birthplace has to be a secondary

consideration, given the murderous practical

realities of the past decade.

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

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

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

look much like a real riot or a populist uprising where

the streets are overflowing with people who are overflowing

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

extraordinary popular groundswell in Serbia against Kosovo's

secession, so I bet the new nation stands.

But I digress. Paul



for February 21, 2008

The John 'n' Vicki Scandal

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

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

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

appears, there is almost certainly a vast amount of

reportage that the paper is withholding.

In other words, The Times probably knows that McCain and

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

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

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

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

and reported for almost all the major newspapers in the

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

pattern, that only a small percentage of what you know

to be true actually sees publication, particularly in a

story that's as potentially explosive as this one.

Look at the reporting about Mark Foley's serial flirtations

with underage pages. In that case, papers like the

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, the New York Times bowed to no such pressure

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

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

No, my intuition tells me the Times is being very

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

to this than has already been made public. Kudos

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

for running the story.

But I digress. Paul

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

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

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

paranoia. Notice how he criticized Barack Obama for

saying that Obama would bomb Pakistan to kill bin Laden

whether the Pakistani government gave its consent or

not. McCain retorted that a world leader shouldn't

telegraph such intentions.

McCain is wrong. Sometimes you should telegraph your

intentions and sometimes you shouldn't. For example,

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

we would, of course, not signal to anyone that

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

the risk of alerting bin Laden, who would then try

to escape.

But in speaking generally about whether we would

attack inside Pakistan if bin Laden were there, it

is important that we let the Pakistanis know

that our standing policy is that we're going to

take out Osama where ever we find him, without

asking any government's permission.

Telegraphing that intention in advance is strategically

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

surprising your allies in Pakistan with a bombing raid.

Telling them of your standing policy prepares them,

psychologically and otherwise, for the moment

when we do strike. (There are also examples where

signaling your intentions can serve as a deterrent

to bad actors. Remember the wisdom in the famous

lines in the Kubrick picture "Dr. Strangelove":

"Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of

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

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

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

Psychologically, it appears as if McCain has

the mindset of a leader with a predilection

for secret foreign policy ventures. What

such leaders don't understand is that they're

conducting foreign policy at the behest of

the public, which has every right to know,

by and large, what's being done in its




for February 15, 2008

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

isolated incident. Every four or

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

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

there is collective amnesia throughout the land.

Suddenly, conveniently, we forget all all about

the previous massacre that happened a mere few months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost nobody in the media mentions the previous massacres

that happened two and five months ago when they mention

the current one. Could somebody tell me why that

is? Is it amnesia? Stupidity? Lack of journalistic

training? Pressure from the NRA? All four probably.

To show you how strikingly similar these shootings

have become, here's my Daily Digression column from

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

Every few years we go through the same pattern in the

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

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

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

is yet another unspeakable shooting, everyone agrees there should

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

This time, following the tragic killings at Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

focus on campus lockdown procedures when we should be focusing on

gun control. We will focus on monitoring creative writing

classes when we should be focusing on gun control.


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

the Omaha shooting):

Yet Another Tragedy Caused By Gun Permissiveness

Almost no news organization is reporting the Colorado

shootings this way: "In the wake of the Omaha


Yet every news organizaton should be mentioning Omaha

in its stories about Colorado. Context is Journalism 101.

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

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

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

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

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

mentioning Omaha in stories about Colorado; they're

probably saying something like, "The shooter in the last

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

which, of course, is a vast difference."

They fail to see that the common denominator is bullets.

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

dead today.

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

being brought up in stories about Colorado: it's

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

lawyered up, with so many true believers who know

how to threaten you without threatening you, that

some news orgs take the path of least resistance

and leave out references to Omaha in stories about

Colorado, just as they left out references to Virginia Tech

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

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

just as they left out references to Tawana Brawley in stories

about Crystal Mangum).

At some news organizations, they report the truth without fear

or favor -- unless the truth is too unpopular.

* * *

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

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

topics during a presidential election year, which is

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

control in the wake of the Omaha slayings.

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

not extend sympathies to victims of gun violence who

weren't in favor of stricter gun regulations before being

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

light that gun permissiveness is precisely the cause of all

these mass killings.

After every one of these slaughters, gun fanatics always

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

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

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

major mass shooting incident -- Columbine, Virginia

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

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

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

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

random shooting 1) victims are taken by surprise,

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

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

ends the rampage by killing himself.

Even in robberies that unfold over a longer period of

time, there is still massive and unpredictable risk

when an armed bystander intervenes (it often ends up

more like the robbery sequence (in the pastry shop)

in the movie "Boogie Nights" than like a Charles

Bronson flick).


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

my favorite morning program, but the people on that

show are profoundly stupid when reporting about gun massacres.

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

about the Illinois shooting that doesn't even

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

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

but your phony public explanation is that you're

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

fuck are you doing giving podium to a liar like

Al Sharpton on Today? You know for a fact

he's an extravagant liar yet you still give him

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


Anyway, "why" is not the salient question

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

in this case because everybody already knows "why."

Why it happened is because a mentally ill person

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

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

prevent the next one?"

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

syndrome at certain news organizations; they're

not mentioning the preceding massacres because they

haven't mentioned them for months, so they justify

their bad judgment by continuing to exercise their

bad judgment.

At least we can applaud Congress; they're busy

making sure that future gunmen don't inject steroids.

My condolences to all the victims of the Illinois

shooting who supported stricter gun control before

this latest massacre.

But I digress. Paul



for February 14, 2008

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

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

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

Just go to and click on the name

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

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

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

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

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

CD version of the song.

Unfortunately, I've never been satisfied with the production

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

she knows who she is.)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Lyrics at



for February 13, 2008

Can somebody please explain why the hell Congress is

currently having hearings on steroids use by

sports entertainers rather than working feverishly

to provide universal health care for all Americans?

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

governmment hasn't found Osama bin Laden after

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

worth a Congressional hearing, dontcha think?

But no: instead Congress is spending valuable

time and money documenting who injected various

sports entertainers in the ass with drugs

that helped them do their jobs better.

You guys on the Hill have your priorities

right this morning (I said ironically).

But I digress. Paul



for February 12, 2008

I've seen all sorts of Berkeley

protests and demonstrations in my day, but the

ongoing scene outside the Berkeley city council

building, which I photographed a couple hours

ago, has got to rank among the most eccentric of

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

and their advocates, are squaring off against anti-war

protesters, as scores of police in riot gear

stand by to keep the peace.

The confrontation is the result of a recent

Berkeley city council letter that stated that

the Marines and their recruitment office

were unwelcome and unwanted within city

limits -- a letter that the USMC and its

allies vigorously objected to. Tonight

the city council is expected to formally

retreat on its condemnation of the Marines, much

to the chagrin of some anti-warriors.

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

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


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


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


police were in riot gear, just in case


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

But I digress. Paul



for February 10, 2008

Remembering Roy Scheider

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

Sad to hear that actor Roy Scheider died a few

hours ago in Little Rock. Scheider was

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

when I was busy writing and reporting a feature story

that had a fresh angle on the making of the

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

I was so pleasantly surprised when he phoned me

at home and started talking at length -- and with

great humor and warmth -- about how "Jaws"

came to be. My story ran in the San Francisco

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

I wrote (before my editor made a couple minor but

counter-productive edits):

Reconsidering "Jaws"

By Paul Iorio

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

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

unprecedented commercial success. Today, after decades of repeated

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

a quality thriller in league with such Alfred Hitchcock classics as

"The Birds" and "Psycho."

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

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

malfunctioning of the main mechanical shark (and the two supporting


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

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

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

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

get a cursory treatment."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quips Scheider).

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

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

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

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

strategy meant to enhance audience anticipation and suspense.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Benchley initially wrote a couple drafts of the screenplay, before

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

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

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

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

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

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

The script was another element that was inadvertently helped by the

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

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

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

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

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

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

reason to hate sharks," as Scheider puts it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sequence on the Orca that starts with the three main characters

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

ends with the three singing sea songs together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The conventional historical inaccuracy that has found its way into

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

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

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

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

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

Gottlieb remembers the moment when the Indianapolis monologue was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we're going to shoot.'"

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

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

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

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

sober, I don't remember which."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and risked being sliced by a boat propeller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

windburned," says Gottlieb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His nervousness apparently subsided about three minutes and forty

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

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

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

important movie," he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every studio had to have a big summer picture."

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

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

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

13th top grossing movie of all time.

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

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

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

it be a classic movie?"

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



for February 9, 2008

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

Everyone knows the Beatles became megastars in America

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

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

the ones who became minor pop culture icons in their

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

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

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

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

stop jumping up and down? Who knows where they

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

at this point!)

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

legendary night:

Who can forget Brace Face?

She invented modern Pogoing!

Covering her ears, but not her emotions!

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


Sorry, girls, he's been assassinated.

But I digress. Paul



for February 6, 2008

A few quick notes on Super Tuesday:

-- Yes, Huckabee, the jihadist candidate, surprised

everyone with his strong showing among holy rollers,

people who believe Creation just took one night,

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

certainly be the GOP nominee.

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

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

has seen the light and will not continue to spend his

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


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

if Super Tuesday had been on Thursday, Obama would have

won a majority of the delegates at stake that day.

Obama could still capture the nomination, what with

all the arcane party rules about super-delegates and

proportional allotment -- plus his own growing momentum.

His loss of California was a stunner; I wrongly predicted

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

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

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

many Hispanics.)

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

to speak at a church on a blighted block of Oakland

last Friday. As I walked around the neighborhood near

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

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

taken the easy route and made the usual appearance at

someplace cushy like the Hyatt or the Commonwealth Club,

but instead he cared enough to visit an area that

obviously needs revitalization. I mean, across from

the church where Kennedy spoke was a boarded-up and

apparently burned-out building, and elsewhere was other

vivid evidence of urban rot.

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

the aftermath of Katrina. It looked like a Katrina

of neglect. A Katrina of neglect duplicated in

almost every major city in Amercia.

But I digress. Paul



for February 1, 2008

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

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

what their methodologies are, but I do know that

Barack Obama will win the California primary on

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

in this column and elsewhere, there is absolutely

no evident enthusiasm for Hillary's candidacy in

the Golden State, no yard signs for Hillary,

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

the case. But Barack signs and stickers are

everywhere, and leafletters enthusiastically hand

out copies of his latest speeches in front of local

supermarkets as if they were the next installments

in the Harry Potter series or newly uncovered Beatles


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

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

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

liberal pocket of the state, but, even so,

it seems as if Hillary is showing no strength

even amongst her base of graying feminist pioneers.

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

now looking at the Democratic ticket,

and Tuesday's primaries will determine only the order

of the ticket.

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

Tuesday, but I don't want to publicly endorse

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

upcoming campaign as a reporter for publications

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

want to be seen as an advocate for any one


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

for: with regard to the Democratic contest, I

think the progressive agenda might be better served

by a brand new strong persuader in the White House,

someone who hasn't already failed to build the

coalitions necessary to pass universal health care

legislation, etc.

But I digress. Paul

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

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

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

debate in which Clinton and Obama are on a stage asking

each other questions without a moderator or outside

interviewers (not a bad idea, actually).

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

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

interviewed the person without anyone else being

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

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

didn't fall in that category.

[photo of Obama Store by Paul Iorio.]



for January 28, 2008

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

It has long been my opinion that the first female

president of the U.S. should have been Caroline

Kennedy's mother, Jacqueline, a woman of

intelligence and great style and courage. (By

the way, Jacqueline Kennedy is also the only Kennedy

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

of 1981, when I was briefly working at the editorial

headquarters of Doubleday in Manhattan, I passed

right by her in the hallway, and I remember how

incredibly elegant she was and how she somehow reminded

me of the Eiffel Tower.)

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

we have to choose from the current field of candidates.

Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama

proves, if there was ever any doubt, that Hillary

Clinton is not the feminist icon she's been cracked

up to be and is not even the candidate that most

progressive women are supporting. Womyn may be

supporting Hillary, but women are not. (Womyn are

older females who were shaped by the rough draft of

early 1970s feminism rather than by the version of

feminism that was revised and amended in subsequent


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

readers would like: the main organ responsible for

a successful presidency is a couple feet north of

the vagina. Having a vagina does not necessarily mean

that you can push a feminist agenda more successfully

than someone with a penis. If Liddy Dole were our

first female president, she would not be a feminist

icon and would not even be seen as serving the

interests of women on issues like abortion rights,

gender segregation, etc.

Further, a mediocre female candidate, progressive or

not, is still a mediocre candidate. Witness Geraldine

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

Ferraro is almost completely forgotten today by just

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

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

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

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

out no original ideas, and came across as insufferably

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

general public, it's probably because of the controversy

involving her husband -- which shows how easily she

could be outshone.)

All this means the following: being the first female

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

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

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

people 10 extra points just because they have a clitoris.

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

the mythology that she was somehow the brainy, underemployed,

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

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

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

mastermind behind the Clinton administration, and behind

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

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

candidacy, in which she fronts the ticket for the true

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

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

WH if she's elected in November.

But a Hillary administration may not be as much of a

third Clinton term as you might think. For example,

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

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

I think we should do an airstrike inside Yemen right

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

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

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

or vain self-assertion, she might decide to override

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

charge. Hence, a Hillary presidency might actually

(and dangerously) veer away from Bill's judgment

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

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


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

But I digress. Paul



for January 25, 2008

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

the headlines will look on November 5, 2008:

The Thinking Behind My Electoral Map and Math

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

is why you hear nothing about gun control

during prez election years, seeing how all those

moose lodgers in Wisc love their guns and all. This

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

required for McCain to win the state.

Second, New Hampshire only went Kerry because Mass. was

next door; Hillary has no such advantage.

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

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

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

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

Fourth, Louisiana, Missouri and Iowa are never really

in play for the Dems unless a Perot is siphoning votes

from the GOP, though Katrina may have changed the

calculus slightly in LA.

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

reach, and will be so this time, too.

Sixth, a Florida win for Hillary requires a majority

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

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

because I used to live around there).

Seventh: oops! Should have added Maine to

the McCain column on above map.

Eighth, all other states are self-explanatory.

Ninth, Barack would fare even worse, though not

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

Obama, take the above electoral map and add Minnesota

to McCain's column. But there would inevitably be

dirty TV ads against Obama by the Republicans that

would run in heavy rotation around Halloween in key

swing states like Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin,

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

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

final frame featuring Obama embracing Al Sharpton.

Whoever Obama taps as his veep, the GOP would see

to it, through negative commercials, that his real

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

Sharpton. Barack could mitigate this possibility

slightly by having a Sistah Soldier moment with

Sharpton, but the ads would still eat

into his totals in the upper midwest, at least.

* * *

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

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

interview footage featuring Hillary Clinton and seen

the same thing, and maybe I should shut up

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

are in the business of revealing, not concealing.

Anyway, back to the interview footage. Whenever Hillary

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

happened many times, Hillary sort of blushes and loses her

breath and sort of looks away and becomes somewhat shy in

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

special appreciation of or passion for feminine beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

way to other interviewers, for whom she does her usual

bug-eyed thing.

And I'm talking about her involuntary, reflexive

reactions, as opposed to her conscious, deliberate


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

person who might become our 44th president appears to have

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

thing. And that her election may possibly -- just

possibly -- be a first for two groups.

By the way, seeing how things in this column tend

to get around (and are stolen by the

same publications that reject my findings when I

pitch them), I bet the Hillary camp neutralizes

this by having her hug both a gorgeous actress

and her hunky husband at a campaign

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

which women are looking adoringly at Hillary instead

of vice versa. Or something like that.

* * *

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

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

fact-checks one TV network's fact-checking. Leave

it to the CJ Review to see through the

daily chronicle of distortions and lies by

official sources.

Remember, this is an era when people see the

Virgin Mary in a coffee stain and UFOs in every

wisp of smoke, so fact-based perception and

analysis are in short supply everywhere these

days. Add to that the fact that several

major news organizations don't even discipline

the plagiarists in their number, much less the

people who merely get their facts wrong.

But I digress. Paul

[above graphic by Paul Iorio.]



for January 22, 2008

Remembering Heath Ledger

My Unpublished (or Mostly Unpublished)
Interview with Ledger

What a shock and a tragedy to hear that Heath

Ledger died today.

It wasn't very long ago when I was sitting

around with Ledger in some hotel room in Beverly Hills,

conducting a one-on-one interview with the actor

for a story that I wrote and reported for the

San Francisco Chronicle. He was 21 then and rising

fast, so it hardly seems believable that he's

already gone.

To remember him, I'm posting here most of my

interview with Ledger, which has been unpublished

until now (except for 80 words of it, which I used

in one of my stories for a newspaper).

My interview with Ledger happened on June 3, 2000,

and my story on him -- also posted below -- ran in the

San Francisco Chronicle's June 25 - July 1, 2000 issue.


HEATH LEDGER: Yeah, so did I.


LEDGER: Yeah. I was there. Snuck in.


LEDGER: I was too consumed with the movie [laughs].


I loved it. Huge. Shit! Massive. Epic.


I have no expectations for what the movie's going to do.

[Ledger tries lighting a cigarette with a final match.]
That was the last match, too.


"Ten Things I Hate About You."


Quit smoking.

* * *


...The first reading I did was fucked. I went in there, I had two
scenes to prepare, and I was halfway through the second scene and I
dropped my head and I just said, "I'm sorry, I'm wasting your time,
I'm really embarrassed, God, I'm so sorry, I'm wasting your time and
I'm wasting my time, I'm sorry, if you want me to come back, I'll
come back and do it, but I gotta leave." And I walked out with my
head down and my tail between my legs.


Yeah, they called me back.


[The director] Roland [Emmerich] and [the producer] Dean
[Devlin] --


'Cause I was doing a lousy reading. I was just, like, not
there, and my morale was down by my feet.

* * *


Well, I was in the States for about two and a half years. I
was in L.A. And then I packed up my stuff in L.A., closed down my
home and went to South Carolina to shoot "Patriot." And after
that I had two months off, so I went and fucked off to New York
and hung out there for a bit. And then I went straight from
New York to Prague, and I was there for two months...where I'm
shooting "A Knight's Tale." And I've got eight days off now
to do all this shit and then I go back and have another two months
there [in Prague] and then I've got two weeks off and I go to
Morocco for four months to do "The Four Feathers" That's why I
don't really have a home right now, I'm just living out of bags.
Which is kind of the way I've been for the last five years, I've
kind of been on the road, living out of bags, which is good.


I don't know. I don't look that far ahead in the future. I
choose not to. If you live in the future or the past you
lose touch with the now. So I generally live every minute of
every day in the present. I don't have a diary, I don't have
a journal, I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow. I don't what
I'm doing after this. That's good. And it keeps
my life fresh and exciting. [coughs]


Well, they're all fucking idiots because they let their kids
watch fucking TV, they let their kids play computer games and
rip heads off people. They're hypocrites....It's ridiculous.
If they're going to complain about that, let them. Fuck
them, because, really, the world is so full of fucking shit
and chaos right now it's not funny. You put on the TV. I don't
watch TV. I haven't watched TV in fucking years. I don't have
one. I have one only for movies. I have a DVD and a video
player. I don't hook it up to fucking cable, nothing. It's
trash. And if they think ["The Patriot" is] trash, well,
fuck, there's something wrong. With computer games and all
that shit?! That's ridiculous. They don't have to worry about
this. They have to worry about the shit from the electronic
nanny they sit their kids down in front of so they don't have
to worry about their kids, so they don't have to create shit
for them to do and let them use their imagination and go, "hey,
go outside and run around in the garden." No, stick them in
front of here and you don't have to worry about them. They
can go fuck off. Fuck 'em. We're not teaching kids to do
[violence]. We're telling a story, that's all.

[top photo of Ledger is a still from the movie "The Patriot"; photographer unknown.]



for January 21, 2008

Remember Martin Luther King, Jr. Today!

To commemorate King, I'm re-running the Daily

Digression of September 6, 2007, which talks

about a television appearance by King. Here it is:

I recently watched the uncut version of the

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s appearance in 1967 on

"The Merv Griffin Show," in which he talked at length about his

opposition to the Vietnam War. And it's truly astonishing

footage, if only because almost everything Rev. King

said on that show about the Vietnam War could easily apply

today to American involvement in Iraq (e.g., that the U.S.

is involving itself in someone else's civil war, that the

"enemy" is not monolithic, that an escalation or surge is

not the solution, etc.). In fact, it might be interesting to

get a transcript of his remarks and replace the word Vietnam

with the word Iraq.

And by the way, what also emerges from that interview

is how truly brilliant and unflappable and dignified

and poetic Martin Luther King was. Truly Lincolnesque.

(And modest, too; he insisted that his father

was the number one pastor at their church in Atlanta,

and he himself was merely his number two.) As revered as he is

today, he's still underrated (and, frankly, I couldn't

help but think that, in a perfect world, he should have

been the Democratic nominee for president in 1968).

But I digress. Paul



for January 16, 2008

But I digress. Paul

[all three graphics above by Paul Iorio, though the praying hands are
from and the golf ball from]



for January 21, 2008

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

To commemorate King, I'm re-running the Daily

Digression of September 6, 2007, which talks

about a television appearance by King. Here it is:

I recently watched the uncut version of the

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s appearance in 1967 on

"The Merv Griffin Show," in which he talked at length about his

opposition to the Vietnam War. And it's truly astonishing

footage, if only because almost everything Rev. King

said on that show about the Vietnam War could easily apply

today to American involvement in Iraq (e.g., that the U.S.

is involving itself in someone else's civil war, that the

"enemy" is not monolithic, that an escalation or surge is

not the solution, etc.). In fact, it might be interesting to

get a transcript of his remarks and replace the word Vietnam

with the word Iraq.

And by the way, what also emerges from that interview

is how truly brilliant and unflappable and dignified

and poetic Martin Luther King was. Truly Lincolnesque.

(And modest, too; he insisted that his father

was the number one pastor at their church in Atlanta,

and he himself was merely his number two.) As revered as he is

today, he's still underrated (and, frankly, I couldn't

help but think that, in a perfect world, he should have

been the Democratic nominee for president in 1968).

But I digress. Paul



for January 15, 2008

Received my official ballot for the California Presidential

Primary Election the other day and was, as usual, sort of

amused by the presence of dozens of minor or completely

unknown contenders running as third, fourth, fifth and

even sixth party candidates.

So I decided to check out the official websites of several of them.

Two presidential contenders -- former Congresswoman Cynthia

McKinney, who thinks UFOs flew into the twin towers on 9/11

(isn't that what she thinks?), and Ralph Nader, who makes people

want to go out and buy a Corvair -- appear on the ballot

twice, in both the Green party and the Peace & Freedom party


Here are bits from the more obscure candidates' websites:

-- Mad Max Riekse of the American Independent Party.

Mad Max is also running for president in 2012, in case you were

wondering. He's from a place called Fruitport, Michigan. Notable quotes

from Mad Max include: "Get the MM word out" and "Don't get

involved with other people's politics or wars." His website has had

1,121 hits.

-- Jared Ball of the Green Party.

An assistant prof. Qualifications include: "I am the son of a

European-descended Jewish woman and an African-descended

Black man," he explains, and am married to a "powerful and dynamic

woman from Panama."

-- Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party.

Her site has not been updated since last December. "Money is

the Mother's Milk of Politics," begins her website, which is

equally riveting throughout.

-- Kent Mesplay of the Green Party.

"Urgent," warns Mesplay, "Homeland Security is preparing

to seize Apache lands!"

-- Ralph Nader of the Green Party.

I think everyone's heard quite enough from him for now.

-- Kat Swift of the Green Party.

Her web page looks vaguely like a porn site and also

has a dynamic calculation of "the cost of the war in Iraq"

that changes upward every few seconds.

-- Michael P. Jingozian of the Libertarian Party.

"Attacks against Jingo have backfired," he insists, adding:

"We have many things going for us. First, people are mad."

-- Steve Kubby of the Libertarian Party.

"You can smell it in the air -- voters aren't happy,"

says his website.

-- Alden Link of the Libertarian Party.

"New York City could convert the current U.N. building to

a hotel and gambling casino," says Link on his site.

-- George Phillies of the Libertarian Party.

"Under a Phillies administration, torturers will be despised,"

he says on his website.

-- Wayne Allyn Root of the Libertarian Party.

Root describes himself as "a highly recognized sports oddsmaker

and prognosticator who now lives in Vegas."

-- Christine Smith of the Libertarian Party.

"As President, my priority will be the American people,"

she says on her site.

-- Stewart A. Alexander of the Peace & Freedom Party.

Writes about a "gasoline boycott" and "free education."

-- John Crockford of the Peace & Freedom Party.

"Abolish vagrancy laws," says Crockford, who runs a

website design business.

-- Stanley Hetz of the Peace & Freedom Party.

"I have obtained ballot access," Hetz writes. Writes one

Hetz fan: "Hetz is a very intelligent, well-spoken man."

-- Brian P. Moore of the Peace & Freedom Party.

A Florida socialist. Qualifications include being "threatened

with arrest the other day by police in Brattleboro, Vermont."

But I digress. Paul



for January 10, 2008

Hillary Does. Big Girls Don't.

I was re-thinking Hillary's Muskie Moment

this morning and started wishing she had

said the following when asked whether it was

hard for her to get up every morning and ride

chartered buses and eat any kind of food she

likes. And I wished she had responded with:

"Is campaigning hard for me? I'll tell you

what's hard: changing bed pans for a dying

loved one. That's hard. I'll tell you what's hard:

dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear explosion when

hospitals are overflowing with patients with gamma

burns. I'll tell you what's hard: ordering the bombing

of a major city because its leader has just bombed us.

I'll tell you what's hard: having a terrorist

make death threats to your family members by name.

No, compared to all that, compared to what a president

has to deal with every day, campaigning is easy,

it's a walk in the breeze."

As a voter and a citizen and a media person, I really

wish Hillary had answered the question that way. Because

I want to have a president who is tougher than me,

someone who is cool and composed and in charge

when the bombs and bullets are flying nearby. I don't

want a leader who is in the corner crying or praying or

hiding when a dirty bomb has just been set off in a town

where he or she has relatives. I want someone taking

charge and being smart and making terrific decisions.

Can you imagine what would have happened if JFK had

addressed the nation about the Cuban Missile Crisis

and started tearing up? What message would that

have sent to a belligerent, macho guy like Khrushchev?

This isn't like Johnny Carson or Tiger Woods crying;

they weren't in charge of the nuclear arsenal, for


I talked with the late Frank Zappa on the phone in

1988, and he weighed in about the presidential contest

of that year with words that have stuck with me

ever since:

"You don't want a Perfect Little Man in the White House,"

Zappa told me. "You want a motherfucker in there!"

But I digress. Paul



for January 9, 2008

Hillary, last night in Manchester

First, this wasn't the Michigan or South Carolina

primary, where there's a huge African-American vote

that would be expected to turn out for Obama. This

was New Hampshire, virtually all-white New Hampshire,

and a black candidate just came within a heartbeat

of a-winnin' against a very well-organized, mainstream

contenda. That's one of the main headlines from

last night.

Second: what up with them thar polls?

Third: On Sunday morning, after the debates

and before I was misled by the polls, I wrote

in this space:

"If Obama wins, it will be by a slim

margin, and there's a chance Hillary

could pull it off by a whisker."

(The complete column is below, under the heading

"January 6.")

So from now on, I'm listening to my own instincts

and not to the pollsters!

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- If a news organization is going to

appropriate unique coinages and insights of

mine, would it please take the time to

cite the source (e.g., "as freelance

writer Paul Iorio wrote in his online column")?



for January 7, 2008

Hillary's Muskie Moment Foretold by The Daily Digression!

(by the way, I coined the phrase "Muskie Moment" before other reporters started using it)

There's something about New Hampshire in the winter

that tends to bring out the tears even in candidates

for the toughest political office in the land. I grew

up in early childhood north of New Hampshire, in Maine,

a latitude that produces more singer-songwriters per

capita than any other place on Earth, perhaps because

the vast expanses of snow and the eternal

winters (relieved only by the whiff of rhubarb in the

summer) breed melancholy, introspection.

So I felt bad seeing Hillary tearing up in Portsmouth

today, just as Ed Muskie did all those years ago, but I

could also understand part of the reason why: those

New England winters. Notice that candidates, win or

lose, don't cry while campaigning in fun, warm places

like Santa Barbara or Key West.

Also, I must note that the Daily Digression sensed this

might happen; back on October 14, 2007, I opened my column

with the following words (highlighted in bold):

Hillary's lead in the polls may be widening

but it's not deepening. Hard-core Democrats I've

spoken with, men and women, have approximately

zero enthusiasm for her candidacy. And she irritates

even feminist friends of mine. Bad sign.

That also means she's too susceptible to having

a Muskie Moment in the snow that destroys her

candidacy. She almost had a Muskie Moment in Iowa

last Sunday, when that "double agent" asked her a

question that was off script. There's bound to be

one in the coming months, once things get tougher

and when there really are plants

and hecklers in the crowd.

The entire column is archived below, under the heading "October

14, 2007."

* * *

Could an Obama/Edwards Ticket Beat McCain/Lieberman?

Now that it's obvious that Barack Obama is going to

win -- and win big -- tomorrow in New Hampshire,

another trend is emerging in subsequent primary

states: states where Clinton once had a double-digit

lead in polls in early December are now trending

unmistakably toward Obama.

Though post-Iowa state-by-state poll results are

scarce, the trajectory is the same almost

everywhere, with all signs pointing to Obama

winning the top five SuperTuesday states on

Feb. 5 (e.g., his home state of Illinois, California,

Georgia, New Jersey and even New York, where

Clinton serves as Senator).

And it's highly doubtful the next three biggest

SuperTuesday states -- Missouri, Arizona and

Tennessee -- would somehow be immune from the nationwide

trend toward Obama.

The speculation, at least on the Democratic side,

should now turn to who Obama will choose as his running

mate, a decision that, of course, would partly depend

on who the Republican nominee is going to be, and

that's uncertain at this point, though if I had to

guess, I'd call it for McCain. And, if I had to guess

again -- and, admittedly, it's way too early for this

sort of thing -- I'd say the Arizona senator has been

acting pretty chummy lately with his lonely comrade

in Iraq war boosterism, Joseph Lieberman, who would

provide That Special Blue State Wedge for a red

state candidate like Mac.

Meanwhile, Obama and his people must be

huddling around now, or will be huddling soon,

to draw up the proverbial Short List. And such a

list is surprisingly short when it comes to

potential veeps who have already been vetted by

voters and by the media and have had some

experience hiking the national campaign trail.

First, obviously, Obama would want to turn to

the candidates who came in second, third and beyond

in the primaries. But Hillary has too much pride

for the number two spot, and besides, the Democrats

can't afford to lose a Senate seat. Biden/Dodd/Richardson

are terrific statesmen but box office poison. Evan

Bayh's name always comes up in these things but,

face it, he couldn't even get through the

starting gate of the '08 race a year or so ago. Ditto

Vilsack. Obviously, a charismatic swing

state politician from Florida or Ohio might fit

the bill, but John Glenn is pushing 90, a bit of a drawback,

and Lawton Chiles is currently dead,

which would definitely rule him out.

Wesley Clark will probably be considered and rejected

(his '04 bid was anemic), as will Michael Bloomberg,

who will turn it down because he's thinking of his

own run. Oh, how the list is short of peeps who

wanna be the president's bitch for four years!

Of course, that leaves Barack with, pretty much, one

possibility. This next contender has already left

his job, so there'd be no loss in Congress, and

has plenty of time on his hands, which he's currently

spending on a (at this point) vanity campaign for

president. Further, he's already done the veep

thing and has a southern accent, which will play

nicely in some purple states. He needs no further

introduction, folks, he's That Two Americas guy

y'all been hearin' about: former Senator John

Edwards of one of those red states Obama would

love to pick off and put in the Democratic column

next November.

Then again, all bets are off if Oprah says, "yes."

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for January 6, 2008

Why McCain and Obama Will Win in New Hampshire on Tuesday

the likely winners on Tuesday

The reasons Barack Obama

and John McCain will win

the New Hampshire primary

on Tuesday are these:

First, the Iowa win has given Obama momentum in a race that

had been virtually tied in New Hampshire.

Second, it was plain to see that Obama won last night's

debate and Clinton lost and even seemed unsure of

herself (see analysis below), which has probably added to

Obama's total by a couple percentage points.

Third, at the GOP debate, McCain trounced Romney, who

looked weak and was already suffering from negative

momentum from his Iowa loss.

Incidentally, The Daily Digression has not yet endorsed a

candidate for president and may not do so (I try to keep my

analysis as objective as possible).

But I digress. Paul

[posted at around 10:30 am [PT] on January 6.]



for January 6, 2008

I've purposely not read or heard any of the spin or

commentary about last night's presidential debates

because I want to come to my own analysis fresh.

That said, the debate winners last night were -- by many

miles -- Barack Obama and John McCain, and the big

losers were John Edwards and Mitt Romney.

Romney, rapidly losing his favorite son advantage

in New Hampshire, came off worst of all, particularly on

the health care issue when he implied that things like heart

attacks and strokes are business proposals, not

diseases, and that one could go into an ER and get

a "repair" for a thousand bucks.

Suddenly, Romney seemed like Poppy Bush being

mystified by a check-out scanner at the supermarket,

the blue blood who has been rich too long to understand

what a shrieking nightmare the American health care

system really is.

By contrast, McCain came across like the disciplinarian,

spanking Romney on immigration and sending him to bed

without his pork rinds. Mitt seemed thin-skinned, defensive,

like the son of somebody instead of his own man

(a bit like Haven Hamilton's "nice" son in the movie

"Nashville"), trying for that Reaganesqe effect but

not quite getting it. If McCain had a lead in the

polls going into the debate, he clearly increased it

with his performance last night. (Still, if nominated,

McCain might turn out to be the Dole of '08.)

On the Democratic side, Edwards seemed distracted, even

losing track of a question at one point, and otherwise

appearing flabby in direct contrast to Obama.

Obama was the star of the show, dwarfing everyone else

onstage, and completely comfortable with being a leader

in every instance.

Hillary tried a bit too hard to show that she understood the

nuances of various issues, inadvertently revealing that she

tends to get mired in unnecessary detail. For example, in

response to the question of whether we should unilaterally

strike bin Laden in Pakistan, she noted the "inherent

paranoia" about India in Pakistan and how that might play

into a surprise strike. And with regard to withdrawing from

Iraq, she brought up the ancillary issue of how we would

withdraw the translators (I'm no expert, but I would guess

they'd board the same planes that the soldiers are

boarding). In sum, she was being too...too.

Elsewhere the Dems all scrambled to say that they would

deliver the troops back to their hometowns within nine months

or a year or your pizza's free.

Hillary also repeated her much stated bit about working

hard for change. But working hard in the service of a flawed

policy is no virtue at all. One could, for example, work 20

hour days, 7 days a week, phoning world leaders and chewing

them out one by one, and that would certainly be working hard,

but it would also be working hard in the service of a

seriously misguided goal. The folks who gave us the Iraq

war worked around the clock to make the war

happen in '03 but we all would've been better off

if Rumsfeld and Co. had taken a long vacation in Cabo

instead. It's more important to work smart AND hard.

Meanwhile Richardson asks, "Is experience a leper?"

The answer to that is, "Sometimes." The wrong kind of

experience is a leper. To note an extreme example: in 1944,

Hitler was a very experienced world leader -- and a hard

worker, by the way -- but he was also clueless about

his own evil and wrongheaded policies.

Richardson keeps touting his own foreign policy

credentials but the bigger question is whether he has

foreign policy wisdom.

Just ask Richardson two simple questions to find out if

he's actually smart about foreign policy:

1) Did you support the Afghanistan war BEFORE the Afghanistan
war in 2001?

2) Did you oppose the Iraq war BEFORE the Iraq war in 2003?

If he answers yes to both questions, then he does have sound

foreign policy judgment. If he answers no to even one of the

questions, he doesn't.

All told, Richardson looked generally befuddled (if he's so

smart, how come he's not so smart?).

Also, another winner tonight was ABCs Charles Gibson,

whose performance as moderator was, in a word, perfect.

Gibson made sure that this was truly a debate and not

just a series of joint appearances, and he ended up creating

the most revealing candidate forum in many, many years,

a striking piece of television journalism.

In the wake of the debates and the Iowa results, my

best guess is that the winners on Tuesday in New Hampshire

will be McCain and Obama (though if Obama wins, it will be

by a slim margin, and there's a chance Hillary could

pull it off by a whisker).

For the first time, I can envision a debate stage, circa

Halloween, featuring Obama and McCain. It may not happen,

but after last night I can actually see how it might.

But I digress. Paul

[posted around 6:15am [PT] on January 6]



for January 5, 2008

the best picture Oscar front-runner?

After seeing Paul Thomas Anderson's "There

Will Be Blood," I couldn't help but think

the film may turn out to be the major

picture of '07 -- and a front-runner for the best

picture Oscar, too (though, admittedly, I've not

yet seen some of the other major contenders).

It's the sort of epic, like "Citizen Kane" or the

flashback parts of "The Godfather, Part 2,"

that captures the thrill of a hard-scrabble

entrepreneur overcoming impossible obstacles to become

both a wealthy tycoon and the apple that doesn't

fall far from the tree.

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a grand American

cinematic character, halfway between Noah Cross

and Howard Hughes, who starts his career as a miner

and ends up an oilman, building a fortune on a foundation

of blood and petroleum, both spilled liberally

throughout the film.

The imagery is novel and riveting. The

scene in which oil literally rains everywhere from an

unexpected geyser may well take its place in future

years in the pantheon of unforgettable, iconic cinematic

images. And I think it's safe to say

there has never been a murder on the big (or small)

screen quite like the one that ends this film.

To those who recoil at some of the violence in the movie,

I say that Plainview is not nearly as ruthless and brutal

as many of America's pioneering entrepreneurs, Plainview's

predecessors, who stole land outright (they didn't just

offer an unfair buy-out, as Plainview did) and killed those

who stood in their way. (America's founding capitalists

were also immoral enough to use free labor, which cut

their overhead considerably.)

This may be Anderson's best film to date but I bet it's not

the greatest he'll ever make, because parts of "There Will

Be Blood" hint at a future, even more brilliant film, an

Anderson "Godfather," still yet to come.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of "There Will Be Blood" from]


for January 4, 2008

In the wake of last night's Iowa caucuses, I really

don't have much to add to my column of three days ago

(see below) that accurately predicted that

Obama and Huckabee would be the winners of the Iowa

vote. My column, posted on January 1st, also correctly

noted the reasons why the victors would be Obama and

Huckabee, the reason being the fervor of their supporters

(the students and the evangelicals, respectively).

So I don't have anything else to add except to say that

lots of big budget news organizations got it wrong and

the no-budget Daily Digression got it right. Which

leads to the question: why don't certain editors give

me the next paid assignment that you're about to give

to the reporter who got it wrong?

But I digress. Paul



for January 1, 2008 (happy new year!)

Why Obama and Huckabee Will Win in Iowa on Thursday

It Looks Like The Pews Versus the Dorms (Again!) in '08

the likely winner in Iowa

First, John Edwards, you can surrender Friday morning,

if you'd like, but you probably won't, you'll probably

say something like, this doesn't settle or prove

anything, though you know it does, definitively and

forever. Thursday's Iowa vote will permanently end

Edwards's presidential prospects but I bet he might

let it drag on through the snows of New Hampshire in

the hope that South Carolina will recognize kin in

someone who talks like this. But it's over, John,

you bet the table's high limit on Iowa and lost, and (as

I wrote in a previous column) you're what Gephardt

was in '04: old news. You've served your party well

and honorably but, as Al Gore once said, it is now

time for you to go.

Second, Obama will probably win on Thursday for reasons

that are obvious to anyone who has attended one of his rallies:

he attracts true believers who support him with an unusual

level of intensity and who are likely to turn out to vote,

come blizzard or ice storm. Huckabee will win for the same


Just as in November 2004, the presidential race

is, again, coming down to The Students versus The

Evangelicals, The Pews versus The Dorms. As you may recall,

in Ohio, with the red vote and blue vote almost even, college

students started racking up totals for Kerry in Cuyahoga County

while churchgoers were coming out in droves for Bush,

both groups seeking to break the tie.

In all likelihood, both factions will again be the dominant

voting blocs on Thursday in Iowa, where I bet the finishing

order is Obama-Clinton-Edwards and Huckabee-Romney-McCain.

[For the record, this was posted at 7:30am on

January 1, 2008.]


* * *

Condolences to Bhutto's son, but in all honesty I think

he needs a lot more seasoning before he assumes any

throne. And one of his profs should tell him

"Democracy is the best revenge" is not a very good

or true line, because it's not the best revenge if the

other guy wins. Perhaps "Democracy is the best policy"

would have been a better bit. Speaking of democracy:

who voted for him? Maybe what he meant to say was,

"Nepotism is the best revenge."

But I digress. Paul

[photos of Obama and Edwards by Paul Iorio.]



for December 28 - 30, 2007

During the Writers's Strike, SNL Still Airs -- On DVD

E - I - E - I - O

My main girlfriend in my senior year of high

school brought me over to her house one night

in the spring of 1975 and after awhile phoned her

older sister in New York, who she wanted me to

meet. You've got to meet my older sister, she said

excitedly, her name is Marilyn and she writes for

"Rhoda" and is working on this new television show

for the fall (or was trying to become a writer for

this new television series).

So she dialed her in the kitchen, chatted some

sisterly chat and then handed me the phone. I talked

with her sister for a couple minutes at most and

remember I was sort of daunted speaking to this

star writer as she told me she was busy writing for a

brand new comedy series for NBC that would premiere in

several months (or perhaps she said she was trying to get

onboard the new series as a writer). Good luck, I said,

and we said goodbye.

I really didn't think of what she told me on the phone

that much until months later, late at night on October

11, 1975, when someone said something like come watch

this show, George Carlin's on.

It was, of course, the series premiere of "Saturday

Night Live," then dubbed "Saturday Night," and I instantly

figured out that that was the show my girlfriend's sister

had been talking about on the phone (by then she was an

ex-girlfriend because I had gone away to college, and so had she).

And when the credits rolled, either on that show or

on another one in '75, there was her name, in big

letters, on the tv screen: Marilyn Suzanne

Miller. Wow, I thought.

Anyway, that's a long, unnecessary but completely true wind-up

to saying that I recently re-watched six episodes -- numbers 13

to 18 -- from that golden first season of SNL and had a blast,

for the most part, doing so. Thing is, you get used to seeing

the first season material packaged with bits from the first five

seasons in best-of compilations and forget that there're lots

of forgotten sketches that are wildly funny amidst the overly

familiar classics.

In those six episodes are many of the all-time blockbusters

that still stand as SNL's very best material: "The Super

Bass-o-matic '76," "Lorne's Offer to the Beatles," "The

Ten-Letter Metric Alphabet," and Andy Kaufman's "Old MacDonald"

(Aykroyd's brilliant E. Buzz Miller didn't happen till the second


Loose notes on the episodes:

Episode 15, with Jill Clayburgh as host, is a real gem,

though episode 16, with Anthony Perkins as host, is a snoozer;

Desi Arnaz should've cleaned his teeth (dentures?) before

going onscreen; Ron Nessen and Jerry Rubin were not very

funny people (though seeing Nessen intro Patti Smith was

almost surreal); Chevy Chase had great stuff in Update (he

once reported that Charles Manson was no longer a threat to

society "unless society happens to cross his path"), though

his falls were clearly causing him pain -- and at least

one of his falls could have easily broken his neck. And, no

doubt about it, the reputed tension between Chase and John

Belushi is plain to see onscreen, particularly during one

Update sketch in which Belushi hauls off and punches

Chase at full velocity (see photo).

Also: Laraine Newman has such an expressive face that she

might have been a great silent movie star in another era; the

Bee and Samurai sketches were almost all formulaic

and tedious; Kaufman's "Old MacDonald" is unbelievably riotous;

the weekly "Home Movies" segment was truly the YouTube of its

day; even in the great fertile age of SNL, for every genius

bit like the Bass-o-matic or the offer to the Beatles, there

were around 17 duds.

Anyway, the vintage DVDs will have to do until the writers's strike

is settled.

Here are some pics from the first season:

pure genius (above and below)


the dawn and Dean of Update

John and Chevy didn't get along

But I digress. Paul

[photos of TV stills by Paul Iorio.]

P.S. -- So what ever happened to the relationship

between me and my girlfriend of 33 years ago (her

name is Judy, by the way)? Here's the

scoop (which even she doesn't fully know): I went to a party

in '75 (that she was not at) and snacked on some chips and

brownies and around an hour later started feeling a bit queasy.

And then I started feeling alot worse than queasy, as my heart

started racing and I felt sort of stoned though I hadn't

even had so much as a drink. I went home and slept it off

and when I woke up I felt fine but was wondering what had

caused the previous night's problem. And I remember that

I then wrote a letter to Judy, now away at college, and told

her that "something had happened" and that I'd had this

mysterious experience and didn't know what it was (hey, I

was 17, for crissakes!).

Shortly after I sent her the letter, the mystery was solved.

Later that day, the hosts of the party -- friends of mine

still -- confessed that they had (unbeknownst to me) put a

very large quantity of pot in the brownies that I'd eaten

the night before and that that had been the cause of my racing

heartbeat, etc. Not a funny practical joke, I must admit,

at least from my point of view. In any event, the letter to

my former girlfriend had already been mailed, obviously

before I could explain to her what had actually happened and

that there was no cause for concern, but I think the letter was

a turn-off to her and the damage had already been done. In any

event, we'd already drifted apart, and things were already

over anyway, so that was the last letter I wrote to her.

[this day's column updated January 2, 2008]



for December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto was the absolute opposite of so many

cowardly politicians and public officials worldwide

who play it safe, don't cause controversy and are the

last to take a daring stand on any issue. She openly defied

death threats, enraged the backward people of the northwest

territories and generally showed more courage than Osama bin Laden

has ever shown, as he hides in his doghouse and releases

cowardly videos from a big distance. Can you imagine

bin Laden having the balls Bhutto had and appearing at

rallies amongst his fans in Waziristan? (By the way, the

next time a bin Laden vid turns up at al Jazeera, would it

kill those tv reporters to break a sweat and try to track

down its chain of custody? Who gave it to the guy who

gave it to the guy? Was there any video surveillance

capturing its delivery to Jazeera? But I digress.)

All condolences about Bhutto's death must go to us all,

because her murder is a global loss and may well cause

enough turmoil to topple Musharraf, which would be a revoltin'

development, to say the least, because the country could

then topple into the hands of the Taliban.

If Pakistan and its nukes were to fall into the hands of the

Taliban or al Qaeda, the U.S. would, of course, have no choice

but to act immediately -- militarily and unilaterally, if

necessary -- to take out the new regime before it becomes

entrenched. There can be no violation of one inviolable rule:

the Taliban/al Qaeda cannot have access to nuclear weapons

under any circumstances.

On July 9, 2007, in the Daily Digression (see below), I

wrote: "Our anxiety should be centered on Pakistan, not

on Iraq. Iraq is soo '03. Pakistan may soon become soo '08."

And that now appears to be the case, or almost the case. Iraq

is becoming far less of a factor in '08 politics than it was

even six months ago, and there is the nauseating possibility

that Musharraf could be deposed in coming months (right in the

middle of primary season, no less).

By SuperDuper Tuesday, the dominant issue in the U.S.

presidential campaign may be our involvement in the war

in Pakistan.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, some have implied that my new song

"I Killed Osama bin Laden" incites violence against the

al Qaeda leader. To which I respond: and your point is what?

Look, I'm not going to sit here and explain my song (my music

website is at but I will say that I

think it would be great if Osama bin Laden were murdered.



for December 26, 2007

I've still not seen several of the major feature films

of 2007 (I'm certain I'm going to be knocked out by

the new Paul Thomas Anderson), so I'm not going to

write a ten-best of '07 list yet -- though I will say

that the two most haunting films I've seen this year

were released in '04 and '05.

The first is 2004's "Before Sunset," Richard Linklater's

sequel to his 1995 film "Before Sunrise," and what a

pleasant surprise to see the new one outshines the

original -- in fact, it may be the best two-person

ensemble picture since "My Dinner With Andre." Julie Delpy

can create the sense of falling in love like few other

actresses of her generation, and the last sequence of

the film, in which she opens up gradually like a flower

to sunlight, is very true and poignant and moving and

lovely and I'm running out of words to express exactly

how much I adore it. And that last line ("I know") is


The other film is 2005's "Nine Lives," directed by

Rodrigo Garcia, who also directed that memorable

episode of "The Sopranos" in which Carmela

has dinner and talks "Madame Bovary" with A.J.'s

schoolteacher. "Nine Lives" is pure ultra-realism,

nine separate, sometimes harrowing stories that climax

with the last, in which Glenn Close's character visits

a cemetery for a reason that becomes heartbreakingly

evident only if you're watching the last couple minutes

very closely and happen to notice the size of the grave

she's visiting. I'm surprised that some

otherwise perceptive crits didn't get or like it.

* * *

In terms of the best music released in 2007, I nominate

the following:

-- my bootleg tape of Jeff Tweedy live in Golden Gate Park

in San Francisco in October, an inspired performance of

nearly two dozen songs (amazing how strong the "Mermaid"

material is, not to mention "The Thanks I Get," "Passenger

Side," "I'm the Man Who Loves You," etc.). And I

sometimes wonder whether "California Stars" might

eventually become the unofficial (or maybe even the

official) state song of California.

-- my bootleg tape of Oakley Hall performing in

Berkeley, Calif., in May. I still don't know the

names of all the songs, but I enjoy them a lot and

listen to them more than I probably should.

I now see the band as a sort of indie Fleetwood Mac

and wouldn't be shocked if they came up with an

alt-country equivalent to "Rumors" in the future.

-- Bright Eyes's "Cassadaga," particularly the song

"Four Winds."

-- Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible," particularly "Intervention."

-- Paul McCartney's "Memory Almost Full," particularly "That Was Me"
(it's his best solo album in many years).

-- Feist's "The Reminder," particularly the irresistible "1234."

-- Bruce Springsteen's "Magic," particularly "Girls in

Their Summer Clothes," perhaps his best song since

"Brilliant Disguise" and one that I'd love to hear Brian Wilson

perform with the band that backed him on his "Smile" tour.

-- my bootleg tape of Paul Simon's '06 concert in

Berkeley, where he brought his more recent material to

vivid life and put a new light on some of his classics.

-- my bootleg tape of live versions of songs from

Radiohead's "In Rainbows," particularly "4 Minute

Warning" and "Down is the New Up."

* * *

Now that Sacha Baron Cohen has decided to forever abandon

his hilarious Borat and Ali G characters, maybe he might

consider developing a new persona that lampoons India-centric

hippies -- one of the last, uh, sacred cows not yet

touched by major satirists. A Mumbai Borat, if you will.

I thought of that after reading William Grimes's

marvelously witty review in today's New York Times

of Kirin Narayan's memoir "My Family

and Other Saints" (University of Chicago Press).

Haven't read the book yet, but the review is one of

Grimes's best. Here's an excerpt:

"Families can be so embarrassing. Imagine the agonies of
an adolescent girl whose house has become infested with
India-besotted hippies from all over the globe, whose
sarcastic father stumbles around in an alcoholic
haze and whose mother kneels at the feet of every
swami she meets. And let us not forget grandma, who
holds long conversations with her cow and once met
a 1,000-year-old cobra with a ruby in its forehead
and a mustache on its albino face...

....The god-saturated culture of India, which Paw
ridicules, seeps into Ms. Narayan’s pores. At the
same time she tries to interpret American culture in
Indian terms, a constant source of confusion. “Was
‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ a warning to the blue
baby Krishna that his wicked uncle King Kamsa
was sending demons to kill him?” she wonders. And why
was Bob Dylan saying, in another perplexing song, that
everyone would get pelted with rocks?"

Check it out in today's Times!

* * *

Uh oh! Could my humble Daily Digression column be

spawning imitators, or at least an imitator?!! Maybe.

An old high school pal of mine, who I hadn't seen for

decades (until a couple years ago), emailed me recently

and said he was naming his own blog "But I Digress."

That, of course, has been my sign-off for my column

since Feburary '07, as I told him in an email the other

week, though that apparently has not deterred him from

naming his own column, which has yet to launch, after mine.

Just so readers of the Daily Digression know: my blog has

absolutely positively nothing to do with his blog (the pal's

name is Bill Epps) and vice versa.

But I digress. Paul

[this day's column updated, 1/02/08]



for December 22, 2007

My column on "The Pat Robertson/Al Sharpton

Conservative Religious Axis" (see below)

seems to have caused a bit of (welcome) controversy.

One reader wants to know what harm it does to

believe in god and in the other supernatural

phenomena in the Bible. My answer: the harm it

does is substantial; religion leaves you

stuck in false hope and delusion, and when

the delusion wears off, and you come to, you'll

end up in more despair than if you had accepted

reality all along.

Further (and more important), religion has a negative

insidious effect on other aspects of a person's

life in that it lowers the bar and the standard of

proof that one sets in order to believe other things;

that's probably part of the reason why many in Pat

Robertson's camp believed Iraq had WMDs, despite a

complete lack of evidence -- and why many in Al Sharpton's

camp believed the lies of, say, Crystal Mangum, despite

copious evidence to the contrary.

When you're raised to believe something because "the Bible

told me so," you're also more likely later in life to

believe stuff like "Iraq has WMDs because Rumsfeld told me so"

and "the Duke Three did it because Crystal Mangum told me so."

Belief in the supernatural cripples your powers of reasoning.

But I digress. Paul



for December 18, 2007

The Robertson/Sharpton Religious Conservative Axis

Pat Robertson ("right") and Al Sharpton (right)

I recently re-watched some episodes of "All in

the Family" from its brilliant, edgy, thrillingly

audacious first season, and started wondering whether

the series, if it were premiering today, would ever

survive attacks from religious conservatives like

Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton.

Here's what might happen today. First, there would be

a boycott of its advertisers by Robertson. Second,

Sharpton would bring his bullhorn and protesters

to the Black Rock building in Manhattan. Then,

predictably, timid TV execs, with mortgages and private

school tuition to pay, would issue some insincere apology

and cancel the show in order to keep those paychecks


I also recently re-listened to parts of Richard Pryor's

landmark comedy album "That Nigger's Crazy" and thought

the same thing: if it were released today, how long would

it be before the Robertson/Sharpton crowd forced the

record company to either withdraw the album or to at least

re-title it and delete some of its bits?

And then it dawned on me that America is now less

culturally progressive than it was in the early 1970s.

Back then, Americans seemed to understand irony a lot

better and appreciated artistic freedom a lot more.

Today, I don't think some people in the Robertson/Sharpton

camp understand the nature of irony, were never schooled

in classic satire, have never understood parody. When

they should've been reading Jonathan Swift or Voltaire

or Woody Allen in school, these cultural conservatives were

instead reading stories from the Bible of highly variable

quality (I mean, the story of Abraham and Isaac is not only

crappy, but more than a little creepy). They've not been

properly educated in how one can use, say, ethnic slurs

in the service of condemning ethnic slurs. And so now we're

all supposed to lower our standards to the level

of people like Robertson and Sharpton who simply don't

get it.

The Robertson/Sharpton people should 1) not take the Bible so

literally and 2) develop a sense of humor.

I mean, I watched one episode of "All in the Family" in

which Archie used the ethnic slur "dago." Now, I have an

Italian-American last name and am very proud of my

Italian-American heritage, but I laughed and laughed when I

heard him say the word "dago" because I understood the context

in which it was said: an actor, Carroll O'Connor, was

portraying an ignorant, bigoted guy in a way that showed us how

hilariously ridiculous his ignorance and bigotry was. But if

you're schooled in literalism, which is to say unschooled, you

won't get it, and you'll probably end up insisting that

better-educated people lower themselves to your level of


* * *

The Veepstakes

Could an Obama/Bloomberg ticket be in the works?

For months, everybody has been talking about how

the presidential race of '08 might be a repeat of

the Giuliani versus Clinton U.S. Senate race that almost

happened in 2000.

But what was the ultimate fate of that match-up? And does

it tell us anything about what might happen in the 2008 race?

To recap: Giuliani quit the Senate contest (due to health

problems) and Clinton won against a weak second.

So is Giuliani fated to repeat that same pattern of

entering a high-stakes race, becoming a near front-runner

and then dropping out (for whatever reason)?

One could argue that that pattern already has repeated

itself, because Giuliani has effectively dropped out of the

race, or at least out of the early contests in Iowa, New

Hampshire and South Carolina, which may turn out to be

tantamount to dropping out of the race altogether (though

that is yet to be determined).

The other part of that equation is that, absent Giuliani,

Hillary wins against a nominal Republican opponent (that,

too, is yet to be determined).

By the way, now that Obama is a truly viable contender, it

may be time to speculate about who he'd choose for

his running-mate. My guess: Michael Bloomberg.

How an Obama/Bloomberg ticket would fare, of course, depends

on who the GOP nominates. Possibilities include:

Huckabee/Giuliani, Giuliani/Huckabee, Giuliani/McCain,

Huckabee/McCain -- though a McCain/Lieberman ticket

ain't in the cards in '08 (yes, McCain is presidential,

but actually he's more like a retired ex-president than

a future one). Least likely match-ups: Kucinich/Tancredo,

Gravel/Huckabee, Obama/Winfrey, Hillary/Gore, Giuliani/Ron Paul

and McCain/Kucinich.

* * *

Incidentally, it's a bit of a thrill that Led Zeppelin chose to

start its reunion show at O2 with newsreel footage that mentioned

the one Zep show I actually happened to attend as teenager

(see previous Digression).

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Robertson from unknown photographer; pic of Sharpton from; photo of Obama from; pic of Bloomberg from]



for December 10, 2007

Led Zeppelin reunites tonight in the U.K. for a one-off

gig, featuring the three surviving members plus Jason Bonham,

son of the late John Bonham, on drums.

I was lucky enough to have seen Zeppelin live in its prime,

when I was 15 years old, and to have caught a Zep concert that

actually made pop culture history.

The show was Zeppelin's 1973 record-breaking concert at

Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and its main

claim to fame is that it attracted more

paying fans than had ever attended a show by a single act in

the U.S., surpassing the previous record set by the Beatles at

Shea Stadium in 1965. (Zeppelin drew 56,800 fans, the Beatles

55,000. For the record, there were other bands on the bill at Shea,

though it was effectively a solo show.)

In rock culture lore, Tampa Stadium is where Led Zeppelin

officially dethroned the Beatles in the concert world,

and it happened on May 5, 1973.

To this day, on and off the web, some rock fans in the

region still talk glowingly about the concert as if it

were the Woodstock festival or the Monterey Pop fest.

Was Tampa Stadium a great Zeppelin performance? Some

of it was. Guitarist Jimmy Page was in rare form and the rest of

the band sounded excited about having broken the Beatles's

record. But Robert Plant was hoarse, a fairly substantial


I attended as a 15-year-old high school student,

arriving at the Stadium with a friend well before the

Saturday night concert began. After presenting our five-dollar

advance tickets (six on the day of the show), we took a

place on the field, around a third of the way to the stage.

The springtime atmosphere was mostly festive as the speakers

blasted such music as the Allman Brothers Band's "Revival"

(with its lyrics, "People can you feel it/love is everywhere").

But the crowd was occasionally rowdy, too, throwing bottles at

police officers at one point.

Zeppelin took the stage after 8pm, with the introduction:

"Ladies and gentlemen, what more can I say? Led Zeppelin!"

Fans screamed as if they were on fire.

Plant stepped to the mike. "Looks like we've done something

nobody's done before," he said, referring to the box office record.

"And that's fantastic," he added, according to my bootleg

tape of the show.

Page struck a practice chord. John Bonham played a drum

roll. Feedback filled the air. Then Bonham pounded

out the intro to "Rock and Roll."

As Plant started singing, it became obvious he was straining to

hit the high notes (due to some sort of cold), which was disappointing.

But Page more than made up for it, fluidly riffing through

a stunning twenty-minute opener that included "Celebration Day,"

"Black Dog," "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Misty Mountain Hop"

in quick succession.

Just before "Misty Mountain," Plant chatted to the crowd


"Anyone make the Orlando gig we did last time?," he asked.

Fans cheered.

"This is the second gig we've done since we've been back to

the States and uh..." Plant seemed speechless for a moment.

"And I can't believe it!"

But the lovey-dovey mood evaporated a bit after "Since

I've Been Loving You," when front row fans began getting out of

control, pushing against barriers and forcing Plant to play

security guard.

"Listen, listen," Plant said to the unruly crowd, according

to my tape. "May I ask you, as we've achieved something

between us that's never been done before, if we could just

cool it on these barriers here because otherwise there're

gonna be a lot of people who might get [hurt],"

Plant told the crowd. "So if you have respect for the person

who's standing next to you, which is really what it's all

about, then possibly we can act more gently."

"We don't want problems, do we?," Plant asked. The crowd


Several songs later, after "The Rain Song," it became clear

the crowd was now getting seriously out of control. Plant got


"We want this to be a really joyous occasion," he says. "And

I'm going to tell you this, because three people have been

taken to the hospital, and if you keep pushing on that barrier,

there're going to be stacks and stacks of people going. So for

goodness sakes...can we move back just a little bit because it's

the only way. If you can't do that, then you can't really live

with your brother. Just for this evening anyway."

"Can you cooperate?!," asked Plant, a bit exasperated. There

was tepid applause. "It's a shame to talk about things like

cooperation when there're so many of us. Anyway you people sitting

up the sides are doing a great job. [fans cheer] But these poor

people are being pushed by somebody. So cool it. That's not very


Plant also took the opportunity to publicly diss Miami. For some

unknown reason, the band was apparently still sore about a 1970

gig in Miami Beach that stands as the last time Zep played in

that area.

"We played the Convention Center in Miami, which was really

bad," said Plant to the crowd, just before

introducing "Dazed and Confused." "The gig was good, but

there were some men walking around all the time making

such a silly scene." He didn't elaborate.

The crowd problems seemed to dissipate after a few more songs.

By the time the group roared into "Whole Lotta Love," near the

end of the almost three-hour set, Plant shouted, "We've got 57,000

people here and we're gonna boogie!,” segueing into “Let That

Boy Boogie Woogie.” The crowd went nuts, acting like

Beatlemaniacs at Shea.

Unfortunately, I had to be home by around 11pm,

which meant missing encores "The Ocean" and "Communication


The highlight of the night, judging from a tape of the show and

from memory, was "Over the Hills and Far Away," if only because

of Page's incendiary solo, which was quite unlike his solos in

other live versions of the song. Also notable were extended

instrumental segments during “No Quarter” (courtesy

bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones) and “Dazed and Confused,”

a rousing “The Song Remains the Same,” and a predictable but

engaging “Stairway to Heaven.”

No doubt, some of the same songs will turn up on tonight's

reunion gig setlist. Here's hoping the band decides

to do a full-scale tour in 2008, 'cause it's been a long time.

* * * *

Yet Another Tragedy Caused By Gun Permissiveness

Almost no news organization is reporting the Colorado

shootings this way: "In the wake of the Omaha


Yet every news organizaton should be mentioning Omaha

in its stories about Colorado. Context is Journalism 101.

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

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

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

now that there's this new shooting spree in Colorado.

And lemme guess the reason why certain tv newsers aren't

mentioning Omaha in stories about Colorado; they're

probably saying something like, "The shooter in the last

one used an AK-47 and the shooter this time used an AK-46,

which, of course, is a vast difference."

They fail to see that the common denominator is bullets.

Both shooters used bullets. If they hadn't, nobody'd be

dead today.

Now let's take a look at the real reason Omaha isn't

being brought up in stories about Colorado: it's

called the NRA. The NRA is so well-organized, so

lawyered up, with so many true believers who know

how to threaten you without threatening you, that

some news orgs take the path of least resistance

and leave out references to Omaha in stories about

Colorado, just as they left out references to Virginia Tech

in stories about Omaha, just as they'll leave out references

to Colorado in stories about the next shooting (and, by the way,

just as they left out references to Tawana Brawley in stories

about Crystal Mangum).

At some news organizations, they report the truth without fear

or favor -- unless the truth is too unpopular.

* * *

Looks like NBC's long-shot gamble on "Friday Night

Lights" might actually be paying off. After

a season-plus of basement ratings, the critically acclaimed

series -- which is arguably almost as brilliant

as "The Sopranos" in its way -- was tied last week

for the number one spot in its time period among

viewers 18-49, the main demo advertisers

care about, though it was #3 overall for its time

period. Now the question is whether its momentum

will be slowed by the writers' strike.

But I digress. Paul



for December 9, 2007

Advice for the Six Major Presidential Candidates

when she was fab

Hillary Clinton

Hillary is losing altitude because she appears to

be overscripted, overhandled, overcoached,

overadvised -- and voters can see through it.

The latest example is her response to the hostage

ordeal at her HQ in New Hampshire. To me, she seemed,

above all, privately pleased that she was being given

an opportunity to look like she was in control in a crisis.

But I bet in reality she was handling the ordeal even

better than she was at that appearance; my guess is

she was behind the scenes making calls and intelligently

assessing the situation -- but that was all off-camera.

So her staged reaction seemed less flattering to her than the

way her actions probably unfolded off-camera in real time.

What I'm trying to say is that the real Hillary would

probably be more compelling to voters than the scripted

public one.

Maybe she should try to tap into the identity she

developed at Wellesley College, when she went from

caterpillar to butterfly and gave the commencement

address and wrote a ballsy senior thesis and had an

attracive style, before she married The Viking, as she

has affectionately called him.

Also, it does take a village, but -- much more important -- it

takes villagers. At this point, Hillary has the village, but

Obama seems to have a lot of the villagers.

* * *

not asking permission to take out bin Laden

Barack Obama

I've said it before and will say it again: the level

of enthusiasm for Obama is an extraordinary political

phenomenon -- it's like nothing I've ever seen before in politics

(in fact, it's more like rock star adulation).

I've already written about seeing him speak (see previous

Digressions), so I won't go into that again. But I will

say that just yesterday, I walked by shops in downtown Oakland,

Calif., and there were Obama placards in barber shop

windows and Obama bumper stickers on cars. To date, I

have seen exactly one Hillary '08 bumper sticker in

the Bay Area, a blue thing on a car that looked like some

sort of government vehicle.

My advice to Obama is: keep it up with regard to your

hard position on finding bin Laden -- it's not only the

correct policy, but it will play beautifully against

the Republican candidate in November, if you're nominated.

I think voters are now picturing each candidate in the

Oval Office and one of the things they're picturing is

this: If a President Obama received a PDB titled "Bin

Laden's Whereabouts in Waziristan Pinned Down," would

you believe for one moment that President Barack wouldn't

immediately swing into action, marshaling the support of

Musharraf and others for a lightning strike in the

northwest territories?

And voters are also picturing the alternative: a President

Hillary who would receive such an PDB and might get

over-advised, too cautious, afraid of spending

political capital, become over-concerned about how it

would look politically if we bombed Wazirstan, analyzing

it into fine dust until the moment was lost.

In other words, the way they run their campaigns is the

way they would likely run their presidencies.

* * *

he should schedule his withdrawal speech after McCain's next month

John Edwards

When Edwards first appeared on the scene in the primaries

in '04, he was electric, like a high voltage wire whipping

in a wind storm, like a brand new rock star.

Problem is, he began repeating his same speech at virtually

every stop -- the Two Americas thing -- and voters began

to sense a disingenuousness, a sort of pre-fab presentation.

It was like Steve Forbes's "hope, growth and opportunity"

bit -- at first it seemed somewhat fresh, and then it became

just so much cynical grandstanding. And after being

relegated to the second spot on the '04 ticket, and sort

of being spanked by Cheney at that one debate,

he lost his luster a bit. So when he came back for

seconds in early '07, he had the stigma of a loser,

and the freshness was way gone. (A sidenote: you know who

should probably run for office? Edwards' advisor Kate

Michelman, whose speech earlier this year in Berkeley

shows she has an engaging charisma.)

My only advice for Edwards is (hate to say it): start

writing your withdrawal speech, which you might have

to give a few weeks from now. Schedule it

after McCain's, and the press won't cover it as much.

* * *

Jesus was born in Provo, and Iran has nukes

Mitt Romney

Romney is like those pre-Beatles relics of the

1960s who used to organize so-called decency rallies,

appear with Anita Bryant, and act aghast over the

onstage antics of Jim Morrison.

His persona would've played nationwide even 15 years

ago, back before the dot-com revolution when old

guys in polyester suits still ran old-boy old-line

companies, and ex-hippies of the Baby Boom generation were

their subordinates. Today, however, the ex-hippies are

the entrenched power, and Romney seems, well, square and

antiquated even by the standards of 20-years ago.

And frankly, his dreadful religion speech, in which he

insulted non-theists while asking for respect for his

own belief system, looked more like a withdrawal or

resignation speech. (In fact, if you watch his appearance

with the sound down, it looks like he's resigning from something.)

* * *

the Earth was created 350 years ago

Mike Huckabee

I don't think I agree with Mike Huckabee on any issue, but

he's undeniably likable -- and his affection for Keith Richards

shows that he may be more open-minded than he seems. But his

views on evolution are, let's face it, straight from a Taliban

cave. You have to hope this guy knows better but is pandering

to those who don't. Or maybe not. Perhaps he's one of

the many who has no regard for evidence-based belief.

If he's nominated, he may be a Republican McGovern. Only

thing is, the Democrats may also nominate a

McGovern -- Obama -- so it would be a battle of the factions.

* * *

looking too long in the rear-view mirror

Rudy Giuliani

Hearing Giuliani on Russert this morning talking about

how he once shut down traffic around the Stock Exchange

when he was mayor, or something like that, I was reminded

that he's truly a small screen guy, not a big picture policy

maker. His focus is always on operations, tactics, details,

rather than on strategy, overall planning, policy, and that

is why people are sensing he's not really presidential.

And notice that his emphasis is always on 9/11 but

not on finding ways to stop bin Laden from attacking again.

If there were a terrorist attack and my building was on

fire, and Giuliani was my neighbor, he'd be the one I'd

follow to safety, no doubt about it. But I would not

vote to have him deal with the terrorists responsible

for the attack, because he tends to act too viscerally;

he almost has the mindset of a security guard sometimes

(remember when he personally ejected Arafat from Lincoln

Center in the Nineties?).

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Hillary by unknown photographer; Obama from; Edwards from; Huckabee from; Romney from; Giuliani from]



for December 8, 2007


The Beatnik versus the Class Clown in 2008?

High school yearbook
photos of Obama (l) and Huckabee (r)?

The rising stars this month among the presidential candidates

are Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee, and that means we may have

a clear, stark choice at the polls this November between two

American archetypes: the class clown and the beatnik.

And it also appears as if both of them attended C. Estes

Kefauver High School in the Sixties, according to my

research of the National Lampoon's "1964 High School

Yearbook Parody." Could the yearbook photo (above) on the

left be Obama (Swisher) and the one on the right Huckabee

(Weisenheimer)? Check out the resemblance.

And also -- who knew Dennis Kucinich (below) also attended

Kefauver High?

Kucinich in high school?

And could this former Kefauver student (below) actually be the

brilliant singer Amy Winehouse, circa several years ago?

Amy Winehouse at Kefauver High?

But I digress. Paul

[all three clippings above from "The Original National Lampoon 1964 High School Yearbook Parody," 1974 edition.]



for December 7, 2007

Mitt Romney gave an awful speech yesterday, showing

a disrespect for and implied bigotry toward nontheists,

while saying, essentially, that he's not going to open

up his Mormon beliefs to public scrutiny because

he knows full well that such far-out and strange notions

couldn't possibly stand up to scrutiny.

Well, Mr. Romney, you still have to answer to Ali G.

Here's an excerpt from Season 2 of "Da Ali G Show"

(wouldn't it be great if the next presidential debate

were hosted by Ali G?):



AUTHOR JOHN GRAY: It's the Mormons or the Muslims. In both those

religions it's ok to have more than one wife.

[Editor's note: for the record, Mormons no longer practice
polygamy, though they still hold other beliefs that are
shockingly bizarre.]

* * *

Oooops! I forgot! Gays, guns and god are forbidden

topics during a presidential election year, which is

why you're hearing absolutely n-o-t-h-i-n-g about gun

control in the wake of the Omaha slayings.

So I now have a new personal policy. From here in, I'll

not extend sympathies to victims of gun violence who

weren't in favor of stricter gun regulations before being

shot. Because everybody, by now, can see plainly and in full

light that gun permissiveness is precisely the cause of all

these mass killings.

After every one of these slaughters, gun fanatics always

say the same thing, and that is: "If a nearby bystander

had been armed, the gunman could have been taken out."

OK, fine. let's put that theory to the test. Name one

major mass shooting incident -- Columbine, Virginia

Tech, etc. -- where an armed bystander (not a cop or

guard) saved the day by shooting the gunman. Name one.

The reason you can't name one is because there isn't

one, and the reason there isn't one is because in a

random shooting 1) victims are taken by surprise,

and 2) it's all over within minutes, before anyone

else can lock and load, and 3) the gunman typically

ends the rampage by killing himself.

Even in robberies that unfold over a longer period of

time, there is still massive and unpredictable risk

when an armed bystander intervenes (it often ends up

more like the robbery sequence (in the pastry shop)

in the movie "Boogie Nights" than like a Charles

Bronson flick).

Look, I was robbed at gunpoint a couple years ago,

and I must confess that I would've been extremely

pleased if some armed onlooker had shot the gunman

dead in the head on the spot; but I also know that

that same hypothetical good Samaritan might have missed

him and hit me instead.

But I digress. Paul



for December 6, 2007

You always hear the same litany of cliches every

time there's some random shooting, whether at Virginia

Tech or at this mall or at that school. If the shooter

was a teenager or a young person, he or she is invariably

described as a loner, disaffected, alienated, etc. (which

pretty much describes most teenagers at one time or another,

by the way).

Never mind that even Lee Harvey Oswald, the archetype of

this cliche, was far from a loner: he had a wife, in-laws,

a steady job at the Depository with co-workers, and political

activist friends.

And the Columbine shooters were part of what was virtually

a high school fraternity.

No, we use the cliche "loner" because, after the fact, after

some nutcase does something criminal, suddenly nobody knows

him or her, and everybody pretends that the person was some

sort of complete stranger.

The most salient and telling and important detail about these

shooters is this: each one had a gun.

A gun. If that sicko in Nebraska hadn't had a rifle yesterday,

none of those people at the mall would be dead today. If he

had had only his fists to express his misguided

rage, maybe one person would have had a black eye before

he was restrained by a security guard. If he had had only a

knife, he might have injured only one person before someone

heroically restrained him.

How many of these shootings do we have to have

before people realize that we need vastly tighter

gun control and the banning of some weapons in this


Every time something like this happens, gun nuts blow all

the smoke they can to obscure the fact that guns were

primarily responsible for the tragedy. And

everybody seems to forget the eight or 12 mass

murders that preceded this one in the past few years alone,

Virginia Tech among them.

My sympathies to those affected by this tragedy.

But I digress. Paul



for December 6, 2007

Welcome to the Theistic States of America !

President Huckabee proposes a couple minor changes to the flag (above).

It seems as if the same people who object to perceived

slights against Muslims or Jews or Christians couldn't

care less about the fact that "under god" in the

Pledge of Allegiance deeply offends the nontheistic.

Those who walk on eggshells because of Muslim

touchiness about their religion, who see

anti-Semitism under every stone, who bend over

backwards to make aspects of Mormonism appear

less nutty than they are: such people also

show complete insensitivity about imposing theism

in a setting that should be free of religion.

In this era, it seems that every burqa in America

has been given federal landmark status and far-out

notions of fundamentalist Christians are considered

off-limits to satirists, yet the children of non-theists

are virtually forced to engage in religious chants -- and nobody

seems to bring up issues of tolerance and sensitivity as it

relates to them.

It's an outrage, which is why there is now a case pending

before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about removing

"under god" from the Pledge of Allegiance (or, more accurately,

restoring the Pledge to its original text).

Try to imagine what it feels like to be a public school kid

who thinks theistic beliefs are wacko yet is virtually forced

to join in a daily pledge that includes, effectively, a group

religious chant -- a group religious chant in a school that

is funded by taxpayers who are nontheists, Hindus, Christians,

etc. ("Group religious chant," by the way, is what "under god"

in the Pledge is. And the chant is essentially compulsory

because it's implicitly coercive in a school environment.)

By contrast, putting "in god we trust" on coins or buildings

is not really objectionable, because it's a passive part of the

landscape. And regarding Christmas, I and my Jewish and

nontheist friends celebrate a secular version of Christmas

every year. But all that is very different than forcing a

kid in public school to chant the word "god" with his classmates.

Nowadays, apparently, you have to throw a violent temper

tantrum and riot in order to have your philosophical world

view respected. I'm probably more offended by "under god"

in the Pledge than many Muslims are by the Mohammed

cartoons --- but I'm just nicer and more non-violent

about it, hence some feel they can run over my sensibilities

with impunity.

So when I'm irreverent in my writings toward various

religions, I'm merely taking my cue from how I've been

treated all my life.

To those who defend "under god" in the Pledge by saying

that it has no significant religious meaning, I respond

with: if it has no significant religious meaning, then

why include it? If the two words mean nothing to the

faithful but insult me, then why include them? If

those two words have no significant religious meaning, then

why not replace the words "under God" with, say, "under Allah"?

Why not? It's just two insignificant words. How would you

feel about that if you were a non-Muslim?

The obvious reason is that having public school kids

chant "under Allah" in the Pledge would violate the

beliefs of non-Muslims, just as "under god" violates my

own private beliefs. So why not take out those two words

if they insult people who don't buy the theistic fantasy?

We're talking about public schools, after all, in a

secular society.

As I said, the same people who twist themselves into

pretzels to understand the illogic of the Teddy Bear

Islamists or of the Mormons seem to care not one whit when

it comes to respecting the sensibilities of the nontheistic.

Meanwhile, I listen to presidential candidates spew cockamamie

religious theories -- I think one candidate believes the Earth

was formed 350 years ago, another one thinks Jesus was born in

Park City during the Ghost Dance of 1872, or something like

that -- and much of the press just nods like a bobblehead

doll and fails to ask the obvious hard questions: will your

policy decisions as president be based on the same non-rationality

evident in your religion? Will your decisions be faith-based?

Would you demand a higher standard of evidence and proof

when determining whether we should wage war than you demand

in gauging the truth of the claims in the Bible?

No, those questions are verboten. And any kid who refuses to

chant about god in school becomes a pariah. Forget about reforming

Islam -- America is the nation that needs an Ataturk.

But I digress. Paul

[flag montage by Paul Iorio.]



for December 3, 2007

The Fate of the Earth

(above) the reason human beings will one day become extinct.

The funniest movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick's

"Dr. Strangelove," is also one of the scariest

pictures ever made -- and it doesn't include a

single joke. But every time I see it, and I'm

sort of embarrassed to admit how many times

I've seen it, I laugh and laugh.

Kubrick began shooting his comedy about nuclear

annihilation 45 years ago last October, back when

it looked like much of the human race was poised

to die an awful radioactive death. And through

the Sixties and Seventies, everyone had a healthy fear

of the Bomb, though in the cushy, Seinfeld Nineties --

during that cozy period between the end of the

Cold War and the attacks of 9/11 ("Peace Breaks Out"

was a memorable newspaper headline of the era) --

we stopped being so afraid of nukes.

Experts diagnosed the proliferation problem many

decades ago, but it has only gotten worse over the

years. As the number of nations with nukes

has mushroomed, we seem to have become less, not more,

concerned about it. We hear more talk about global

warming nowadays than about nuclear winter, which

(if the latter ever arrives) will make even the

most extreme predictions of climate change seem

quaint and moot.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a gigantic admirer of Al Gore's

campaign to fight global warming, but when the story of

the end of the human race finally unfolds, the villain will

probably ultimately be radioactivity, not fluorocarbons, and

the truly prescient work will be Jonathan Schell's "The Fate

of the Earth," not "An Inconvenient Truth."

And it might not be the communists or the jihadists

who do us in, but rather some obscure dictator who has had,

say, an undiagnosed stroke that has made him or her clinically


When we sit there in the year 2022, watching tv meteorologists

tell us where the radiation cloud is headed today, trying to escape

on frozen highways to dodge a high pressure system that

will keep a dome of radiation over the area for a week or

two, we'll be saying to ourselves, "We saw this coming,

yet it still happened." It's like a car skidding on ice

and heading for a wall; you can slam on the brakes all you

want, but inevitably there's going to be a bad collision.

Perhaps there is no solution to nuclear proliferation (just

as there's no cure for most metastasized forms of cancer)

and the spread of nukes will continue unless, as Schell

wrote, we are willing to destroy all nuclear weapons along

with the means to produce them, which would also mean

reducing ourselves to a 19th century level of

technological advancement -- and that would be

impossible in any event, because the knowledge to create

a nuke would still exist.

So the human race has a chronic and probably fatal disease,

and as with any chronic illness, we can manage but not cure

it. Realistic hope lies in surviving not forever but

for as long as we can stave off what is probably

inevitable. Perhaps our next president will consider

creating a new cabinet-level position -- the Deptartment

of Nuclear Weapons Control -- to try to manage, in a

more focused fashion, the central crisis of our time.

For now, we might as well have a good laugh, courtesy

of "Strangelove," about our probable impending doom,

because there will come a time -- say, after

the gamma burns -- when laughter will be very

hard to come by.

* * *

In Berkeley, It's a Two-Man Race: Ron Paul v. Barack Obama

What many pundits are failing to note in noting

the rise of Mike Huckabee in the Iowa polls is that

Huckabee is virtually a favorite son (Iowa borders Arkansas),

and favorite sons (like Harkin in Iowa or Tsongas in

New Hampshire) have often outpolled the eventual nominee

in their home regions.

On the Democratic side, the inevitability of Hillary's

nomination seems slightly less inevitable lately. I've

believed that Barack Obama would make a strong showing

since hearing him speak in Oakland last March 17 (see

Daily Digression, March 18, 2007). I mean, when a guy on a

crutch stands for around two hours in line to see him,

when a woman with an oxygen tank stands and

waits to catch a glimpse of his passing limo, you

know you're dealing with an extraordinarily

intense level of political enthusiasm for a


I used to think Obama was unelectable, mostly

because of his liberalism, but now I'm thinking...who

do the Republicans have to run against him?

The GOP doesn't have a formidable candidate. Obama could

conceivably win against a weak GOP candidate, particularly

in an election year that may also become a recession

year -- and there's nothing like a downturn

in the economy to feed the public's appetite

for dramatic change, which is Obama's calling card.

Meanwhile, John Edwards is looking increasingly

like Dick Gephardt circa 2004 -- a candidate

past his expiration date for freshness -- and my

guess is he'll be withdrawing next month,

probably along with John McCain and Fred Thompson

and a couple others who will likely

exit presidential politics for good.

In these weeks before the California primary, which

could be crucial, I've documented the political mood in

perennially activist Berkeley, Calif., by taking some

some photos of bumper stickers and placards

over the past couple weeks, and here they are:

there are lots of Obama stickers in Berkeley, but very few Hillary ones.

Who woulda thunk it? A GOP Texan is actually popular in Berkeley!

The only Edwards stickers I've seen are Kerry/Edwards '04 leftovers.

fueling voter anger. Will 2008 be a recession year?

The tree-sitters in Berkeley, who celebrated their 1st anniversary in the oaks yesterday, have evidently expanded their agenda. as their sign shows.

But I digress. Paul



for December 1, 2007

The Teddy Bear Islamists

jihadists riot over the darndest things! ("and if I ever have a teddy bear, I think I'm gonna name him Bill! George! anything but Mohammed!")

There's not an easy solution to the culture clashes now

going on in the Benelux nations and in France. Starting

with the unforgivable assassination of film maker Theo

van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri in '04 to the Islamic violence

against European cartoonists in '05 to the current riots in

France, the most liberal parts of western Europe are seeing

the weeds strangle the flowers in the garden.

The problem boils down to this: Muslim miitant immigrants are

very unlike immigrant groups of the past in that they want

to destroy the liberal framework that allows them to thrive in

their new homes.

The Muslim extremist immigrants in Amsterdam and Stockholm

are permitted to pray as they choose and speak as they wish,

yet these newcomers are fundamentally hostile to free speech

and freedom of religion.

Yes, we must let a thousand flowers bloom, but we should

never allow weeds that strangle the flowers to grow in

the garden.

Elsewhere, Muslim fundamentalists continue to show a shocking

intolerance for even the most innocuous free expression.

The latest case involves schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons who

is being jailed in Sudan for letting her students name a teddy bear


First, don't give me any cultural relativism crap, because it

doesn't apply in this case (common sense does), and we shouldn't

be making excuses for fanatics who act his way. Anyone who would

punish someone for allowing her students to name a teddy bear

Mohammed is backward. Period.

Judge Mohammed Youssef of the Kartoum North Criminal Court is

simply a reactionary -- and even more backward than Sonny Perude

and his holy raindancers.

I lived abroad for extended periods when I was a kid, so

I understand reflexively that every nation has both its

throwbacks and its progressives and its moderates and, frankly,

the same poltiical grid we have here, more or less.

There are red states and blue states (or provinces) in Nigeria

and in France and in Japan and in Sudan. And my early experience

helps me to see through an accent or a turban in order to

recognize someone as the David Duke of the Ukraine or the

Eugene McCarthy of Pakistan.

I find that it's always the most provincial Americans -- who

never traveled outside the U.S. in their youths and

were raised by redneck parents -- who now tend to overcorrect

for their own provinciality by trying too hard to see a logic

that isn't there in the jihadist argument.

The Teddy Bear Islamists are not speaking from logic or

reason but from an early religious indoctrination that

they are not able to overcome in adulthood.

If the Third Reich taught us anything, it's that an entire

culture of millions of people can all be very wrong, can

all suffer from a collective mental illness, can all have

no reasonable side to their side of the story.

There are those who only half-heartedly defend Gibbons by

saying, "She didn't mean to blaspheme," as if her punishment

would be somehow justifiable if she had intended some

religious irreverence.

Whether she intended or didn't intend to disrespect Islam

(and she obviously didn't), she doesn't belong in jail.

Religious free expression -- whether in favor of a

religion or in opposition to it or in satirizing it -- should

not be penalized anywhere, and all laws forbidding blasphemy

should be scrapped as antiques from a less enlightened era.

Of course, the fanatics have every right to be offended

by whatever offends them but have absolutely no right to

get violent about it and should work on developing

alternate ways to express their anger instead of reaching

for the violence option every time someone tells a religious

joke they don't like. And they should

learn to be tolerant and to appreciate (or at least not

kill) the diversity of a thousand flowers blooming.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of teddy bear from]



for November 19, 2007

If I Were Running All Television News, Here's What I'd Do

Create a prime-time show called "Conversations with Katie Couric."


miscast Katie, which is easy to do because she is a bit

too hard for "Today" but not quite hard enough

for "The CBS Evening News." And that's why CBS

should take her off the "Evening News" and create

a prime time (10pm) show for her, modeled

loosely on Murrow's "Person to Person," where

her gift for gab can flourish. Call it "Conversations

with Katie Couric," a weekly interview-centered

series with Couric doing the "get" interview of each

week; the first half would begin with five minutes of

breaking or headline news and then move into newsy

interviews, while the second half would feature Q&As

with entertainment figures, who would also perform at

the end of each show.

* * *

CBS's Matt Lauer?

MATT LAUER TO "60 MINUTES": Lauer's interviewing

has become much sharper after all these years -- to the

point where he now sounds like he'd fit right in at

"60 Minutes." It's time for him to take the next

step up.

* * *

International velvet -- but with a tough Q&A style.


velvet manner fool you -- she's a surprisingly tough interviewer

and would also be a strong addition to "60 Minutes," though

she's not quite at the Lesley Stahl level (who is?).

* * *

"Am I the only one who notices that people eventually retire?!"


Who will replace Rooney, who has served long and

humorously for his network, when he leaves? Could

Maureen Dowd be persuaded to contribute a weekly endnote?

* * *

Lots of guys see her and lose control of at least two glands.

ERIN BURNETT, "TODAY" HOST?: I'm suspicious of anyone who

gets a seal of approval from the odious Rush Limbaugh, but

there's no denying that lots of men lose control of their salivary

(and other) glands when they see Burnett. Plus she has

this rare ability to say memorable things about very

dry topics (there has never been a housing recession that

hasn't precipitated a general recession, for instance).

And she's postively carbonated. If I ran NBC News, I'd make

her a co-anchor of "Today" immediately.

* * *

A natural at being in charge.


who should probably be credited with the fall of Trent Lott

(remember her show on the Friday before the Lott storm?), runs

a usually terrific program. But there should be more David Sanger,

Linda Greenhouse, Martha Raddatz (she gets better each time

out), Janine Zacharia (hey, a reporter who's actually not

afraid to be inspired!), Janet Hook, E.J. Dionne. Less Michael

Duffy, less Joan Biskupic, far less Gebe Martinez,

* * *

An appearance on Leno might even it up with Williams.

BEST NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: Charles Gibson remains

the best of the anchors by many measures but Brian Williams

is close behind. Funny thing is, Williams's surprisingly

humorous SNL turn has actually made Gibson appear a bit

over-serious by contrast. Can a Gibson appearance on Leno or

Letterman be far away?

* * *

Astonishingly awful.

FIRE NANCY GRACE: Shrill and wrong-headed, Nancy

Grace shouldn't work another day in journalism until she admits

her failings in the biased coverage of the Duke Three case.

(Shouldn't there be a penalty for being wrong and a reward

for being right in tv journalism?)

* * *

Amazing grace.

CAROLYN JOHNSON TO ABC: Still mostly unknown to

national audiences, this local anchor at the ABC affiliate here in

the Bay Area is brainy and refined and pretty. If I were

running ABC News, I'd bring her to the network by (initially)

having her do some on-air health and science

reports for "World News." (Her colleague, Dan Ashley, is

also impressive.)

* * *

KPIX's coverage of the Jill Carroll hostage crisis.


a lot of talent at KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco,

the news division is almost comically error prone (see photo).

And it also has a morning anchor who pronounces "fiscal"

physical. Improvement required.

But I digress. Paul

[photo credits: Couric pic from; Lauer from; kay from; Rooney from; Burnett from; Ifill from; Gibson from; Grace from; Johnson by Paul Iorio; KPIX by Paul Iorio.]



for November 15, 2007

If the 2008 presidential race were determined by a

tally of bumper stickers, Barack Obama would become

the Democratic nominee and Ron Paul would be the GOP

candidate -- at least in the San Francisco Bay Area!

Hillary bumper stickers are around but not very numerous,

Edwards stickers exist mostly in the form of leftover

Kerry/Edwards '04 stickers (and there is a surprising number

of 'em still around), and the Kucinich-bumper-sticker-epidemic

of early '07 has sort of faded like UFOs in the mist (to mix

a metaphor). But "Obama '08" can be seen on a lot of fenders in

the area.

Lately, both in San Francisco and Berkeley, Ron Paul

stickers and posters have been cropping up; I saw one

sticker on the UC Berkeley campus the other week and

a poster in the window of an apartment in north

San Francisco the other day.

Which leads to an intriguing question: suppose (and

this is very unlikely, admittedly) the nominees are

Hillary and Ron Paul (who wins in some populist Internet

uprising)? There would then be a Republican candidate

to the left of the Democratic nominee on the war, causing

traditional Dems to vote Paul and trad Republicans to

vote Hillary.

To complicate matters, I saw a chilling bumper sticker

for sale on a stand on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley the

other day, and it read: "Nader '08." Of course,

in the above scenario, Nader would be in the bizarre

position of siphoning votes from the Republican candidate

this time. Go figure.

* * *

Now that Marvel Comics has put some of its superhero

comics online, can we expect some of the indies

to follow suit?

Specifically, wouldn't it be nice to have cyber-access to

Daniel Clowes's "Ghost World"?

Flipping through one of the few "Ghost World"s included

in Clowes's "Eightball" series in the 1990s, I was

reminded of the great powder blue twilight look of the

thing (the movie adaptation was amazing, but I keep

wondering whether it could have been filmed in blue/black

and white like the strip).

Anyway, for those who want to see "Ghost World" online,

here's a taste: the first page of the episode included in

"Eightball" #16:

But I digress. Paul



for November 14, 2007

Isn't it interesting that Sonny Perdue waited

until the AccuWeather Five Day Forecast was

solid before doing his kooky pray-for-rain

thing on the Georgia state Capitol steps? As

the Church Lady might put it, "How convenient."

Days before the pray-in, meteorologists were

predicting thunderstorms by Thursday in the

Atlanta area.

So now it's inevitable that some cornball tv news

anchor will get on the air on Thursday and say, "And

finally on this broadcast: today it rained in

the Atlanta metro area. In fact, it was a soaker,

just what the parched peach state needed. And this

comes merely two days after the governor of Georgia

prayed for rain on the steps of the state

Capitol. [Reganesque pause]Could

it be that someone up there likes him?"

Meanwhile, here are some other things Perdue might do to

create a rainstorm:

1. Avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk

2. Sacrifice a lamb and a goat, and co-mingle their blood with
parsley on top

For now, Perdue's imitation of the Taliban, which also believes

god and government should be one, will have to suffice.

But I digress. Paul



for November 12, 2007

First-hand report on the oil spill in San Francisco Bay

"Just come on down to the shoreline/Where the water used to be." -- Steve Forbert
Above: San Francisco Bay, yesterday afternoon. (photo by Paul Iorio)

Yesterday afternoon I took an eight-mile hike

through San Francisco, mostly to see and

photograph the damage from the oil spill that

happened near the Bay Bridge last Wednesday.

Walking along the north shore, I saw some places

that were devastated by the slick and others that appeared

to be untouched, though a lot of the shoreline was

cordoned off with ribbons -- and "Danger" signs were


The worst I saw was just west of Fisherman's

Wharf, around what is called Aquatic Park, where

gooey black oil was coating some rocks (but not

others) as if someone had splattered black paint

on them. I saw several Gulls with oil on them, but

none completely covered with it; one had oil on the

left side of its neck and on the bottoms

of its feet (see photo), the latter being

the most common condition among affected birds.

The contaminated Gulls and ducks appeared to be

notably less energetic and vibrant than the other

birds around them.

Bird stained by oil on the left side of its neck (and on its feet), on the north shoreline of San Francisco, November 11, 2007. (Photo by Paul Iorio)

Elsewhere, I didn't see any boats in the Marina

blackened (unlike the ones that were reportedly

damaged in Sausalito) and didn't see much spillage

along some of the shore north of Crissy Field to

the Golden Gate Bridge area.

All told, the real horror is that one of the

greatest bays on the planet could have been

thoroughly ruined for many years if the

Cosco Busan's fuel tank had had an even slightly

larger rupture. One way to try to stop oil spills

in the future might be to drastically increase the

fines against companies involved, so that they

have an extreme financial incentive to make sure

they don't put a drunk in the captain's seat or sail

a ship that is even slightly faulty.

For now, the Coast Guard might do well to post new

signs that quote the old song by Steve Forbert:

"Oil, oil/Don't buy it at the station/You can

have it now for free/Just come on down to the

shoreline/Where the water used to be."

But I digress. Paul

Oil on the rocks near San Francisco's Aquatic Park, November 11, 2007. (photo by Paul Iorio.)



for November 11, 2007

Remembering Norman Mailer

My only first-hand encounter with Norman Mailer was

a distant one and happened in February 1989 in Manhattan,

at a PEN reading in support of Salman Rushdie, freshly

marked for death by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Mailer

spoke and also read from "The Satanic Verses," and

the event was interrupted by a bomb scare of some

sort -- though he was completely undaunted by that

fact and even a bit fired up by it.

From the podium, Mailer noted that telephoned bomb

threats only cost a quarter to make -- and then he

challenged the religious right of Islam: "Blow out your

farts," he roared, quoting Jean Genet.

It was a memorable moment -- virtually everyone in the audience

was emboldened by Mailer at a time when we needed to

be emboldened.

Sure, he had his personal flaws. He really couldn't be credibly

accused of modesty (one of his books was even titled

"Advertisements for Myself"), but then modesty is an overrated

virtue, much easier to achieve once you've already received

your due (hey, Muhammad Ali, who Mailer vividly wrote about,

made pure poetry out of immodesty).

Truthfulness is more important. So is insight. And his very

best work had plenty of both -- and the power to make readers

see the world in brand new ways.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Mailer from; photographer unknown.]



for November 9, 2007

Since I've been focusing on the 1960s in the last
couple columns, here are two more Sixties-related
DVDs of note:

"It's all the same street," sings the Grateful Dead's

Bob Weir on a DVD called "Rock & Roll Goldmine." The

familiar lyric, of course, is from the Dead's "Truckin',"

which they perform live at an unidentified concert. But

the reason for watching is there's a wonderfully

spontaneous moment when Weir completely blanks out

as the song begins, missing the first verse and catching up

only during the "same street" line. It's revealing to see the

good-natured way both Jerry Garcia and Weir react to the

miscue -- and it's a nice live version of the song.

Also, now that the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's

"Thriller" is being celebrated, perhaps it's time for a

fresh re-evaluation of Jackson. A good place to start

is the footage of the Jackson Five's first performance,

in 1969, on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (available on disc three

of Sullivan's "Rock 'n' Roll Classics" series).

Sullivan is not just enthusiastic but in genuine awe

after watching 10-year-old Michael Jackson and his

brothers light up the place with "I Wonder Who's Loving

Her Now." And he applauds Diana Ross, who's in the audience,

for her gargantuan A&R find.

"The little fella in front is incredible," says Sullivan,

seeming almost dazed by the band.

Michael Jackson's performance was both dazzling and sad;

dazzling because you could see what an epochal talent

Jackson was; but sad because...well, he looked and acted

more like a pressured adult than he does today. At age 10,

he acted like a 40-year-old, and at age 40, he acted like a


The expression on his face tells us everything we need

to know about the very adult pressures he was being saddled

with as a kid (show biz deadlines, contracts, complex cues,

etc.). Sure, we all danced to the sounds of Michael Jackson's

lost childhood -- sounded great, didn't it? -- but

many of us now have no sympathy for the freakish adult that

loss has produced.

But I digress. Paul



for November 8, 2007

Brokaw's "Boom!" and My Own Subjective Remembrances of the 1960s

the suburban kids of WWII vets came of age in the
1960s and looked something like this.
(photo by Paul Iorio)

Now that Tom Brokaw is making the rounds and talking up

his new book, "Boom!," about the 1960s, here are a few of my own

subjective remembrances of the Sixties.

First, there was a huge difference between the older

baby boomers, born around 1940 like Brokaw (the

Elvis-to-Beatles generation) and the younger ones,

born around 1957, as I was (the Beatles-to-Led Zeppelin


When Brokaw was eight years old, Perry Como and

Peggy Lee were duking it out for dominance on the

music charts.

When I was eight years old, everyone was talking

about the rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones.

And the next year, kids my age were wondering

whether the Monkees would eclipse the Beatles.

Yes, there was a moment, just a moment, if you

were between eight and twelve years old in the fall

of 1966 (Brokaw was 26), just after the Beatles had

played their last-ever live gig but before the release

of "Strawberry Fields Forever," when it looked like

the Monkees, with the one-two punch of "Clarksville"

and "I'm a Believer," might actually overtake the

Beatles (that was the-talk-of-the-recess-yard when I

was in the 4th grade and still carrying around my

Monkees lunchbox -- talk that was poo-pooed by my hip

babysitter, who knew better and would always remove my

Herman's Hermits and Monkees and Beatles 45s from

the turntable and put on full-length LPs by the

Mamas and the Papas, the Beatles, the Supremes, the

Beatles, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Beatles, etc.).

I sometimes think the Sixties actually began when Khrushchev

made his famous space-age "flying" gesture with his hands

during the Kitchen Debate with Nixon in 1959 -- a sign

that neo-psychedelic perception had already

started to permeate the mainstream.

It's hard to say when the 1970s began, but I do know the

1960s ended for good when the Ramones released their

anti-hippie debut in 1976 (see photo below).

The last vestiges of the 1960s were blown away for good in 1976,
with the release of The Ramones's debut. (photo by Roberta Bayley)

And, yes, it's true the '68 presidential election wasn't the

squeaker it has been made out to be (as I noted in The Daily

Digression of September 30, 2007, posted below, the combined

right wing vote -- Nixon's total plus Wallace's -- equalled

almost 60%). But that doesn't really say anything about

the conservatism of the era, because a big percentage of

anti-war Democrats -- put off by the party's unfair treatment

of Eugene McCarthy, depressed by the assassination of Robert

Kennedy and unenthusiastic about Hubert Humphrey, who they

considered a puppet of LBJ -- didn't vote.

My own remembrance of 1968: I was in the 6th grade and

unusually politically active for my age. (Below is my

6th grade class notebook cover, on which I wrote

"Julian Bond" for president. Bond had recently given

an impressive speech at the Democratic National Convention.)

Every weekend for a time in 1968, I'd write a new political

speech -- on the Abe Fortas controversy or on the ABM treaty or

on the latest bombing in Vietnam -- and deliver it on a garbage

can in the backyard of our suburban house; and my audience

was always exactly one person: my younger sister, who

would sit quietly and listen as brother Paul gave his speech.

I was for Julian Bond for President in the 6th grade.

Taking my cue from the college protesters of the

day, I initiated and organized a cafeteria boycott in

the 6th grade to protest a new rule that said students

were not allowed to go to the bathroom without

being accompanied by someone else (in

order to prevent graffiti).

The night before the boycott, I phoned almost everybody in

the sixth grade class at Riverhills Elementary School

in Temple Terrace, Florida, and asked them to bring

their own lunches and to boycott the school's cafeteria

food that week. Then I enlisted my younger sister

and had her call her own friends in the 4th grade

to ask them to join in, too.

Much to my surprise, my boycott was a massive success.

Nearly everybody brought their own lunches that week,

and the school had mountains of uneaten beans and rice

and Salisbury Steaks left over at the end of each day.

School officials were pissed. When they found out

I was the person behind the cafeteria boycott, I was

called in by the principal, who sounded like a George

Wallace supporter as she gave me a stern lecture

condemning the rebelliousness of Today's Youth.

I was eleven years old and was already seeing the

downside of being the Mark Rudd/Abbie Hoffman of

Riverhills Elementary!

The next year, I attended a progressive private

school where I was happy to have been given an outlet

for my political ideas: a newspaper called The Weekly

Wong. My first articles for the paper, in 1969, were

an anti-Nixon satire called "I Dreamed I Was Richard

Nixon" and an anti-war editorial (both are

posted below).

Satirizing Nixon, when I was 12 (aw, c'mon -- what d'ya expect? I was barely out of elementary school!!).

Opposing the Vietnam War, at age 12.

By 1969, when I was 12, I had already gone beyond student

politics to community activism, and some of it was even

covered by the main newspaper of my hometown at the time, The

Tampa Tribune (there was an article in the Tribune in '69

about my anti-war fundraising and another article in '73 or '74

quoting me about an Impeach Nixon rally I had helped to organize).

But my political outbursts had actually started

much earlier, at age seven, in 1964, when I wrote this

scathing "editorial" about the presidential race

(no, I wasn't a Goldwater Girl!):

scathing editorial I wrote at age 7.

And this one:

an endorsement, at age 7.

[Incidentally, my political activism happened almost exclusively

between the ages of 10 and 17; since age 18, I've not been

politically active. (I've taken a different direction and gone on to

write and report for almost all the major newspapers in the U.S. and for

several magazines.) Interesting that I was extremely involved in

politics in childhood but am not today, in contrast to my sister, who

was not very active in politics in childhood but is extremely involved

in it today.]

On a day-to-day level, what did the 1960s really look and feel

like in America? To be honest: like the suburban landscape

portrayed in the first part of the movie "Apollo 13," which

inadvertently captures the co-existence of both the Silent

Majority and the Baby Boomers. (And, yes, the break-up of

the Beatles was truly that traumatic if you were of a

certain age!) Now that I think of it, even more accurate

was the Sixties suburbia of Oliver Stone's "Born on the 4th

of July."

Sixties movies (and feminism) arguably began right here,
with Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura,"
which resonates even today (David Chase's
open-ended "Sopranos" finale echoes the ending
of the film).

But I digress. Paul