Thursday, February 14, 2008

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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.


___________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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...got...it...done. 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

relentlessly.



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

then the people themselves will have to become the

arm-twisters.



But I digress. Paul


[above photo from Life magazine]

_____________________________________________




THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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

electorate.



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

_______________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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

obscure.



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:


POPE NAPOLEON THE 13TH
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)


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


POPE JESUS GOD THE SECOND
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)


POPE MUHAMMAD THE FIRST
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)


POPE KEITH
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)


POPE SASKATOON, GOVERNOR OF SASKATCHEWAN
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)


POPE LITERALIST THE 16TH
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)


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


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


POPE RABBI GOLDSTEIN
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

____________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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

morning.



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
Shattered
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
Connection
Sympathy for the Devil
Live With Me
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar
Satisfaction


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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

Sadr.



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


____________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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


______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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

evolution).



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

reality.



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


______________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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


_____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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.



___________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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


_____________________________




THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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

victory.



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

pliorio@aol.com, 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

slightly.



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

Cunninghams.

--------------------------


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


______________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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

_______________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

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 will.i.am'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



XXX
ADD CONTENT HERE
_____________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for November 6, 2007



To help everyone get through the writer's strike

(the Daily Digression is in solidarity with the

writers, by the way), here are some vintage

television-related DVDs you might enjoy.



THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: RAY CHARLES COLLECTION

Whenever I watch a DVD of Dick Cavett interviewing someone,

I am reminded that I'll never be as great an interviewer as

Cavett. Not that I'm a slouch as an interviewer (I've conducted

thousands of Q&As over the decades, always come up with

my own questions (based on my own research and spontaneous

thinking), and have had my share of scoops). But Cavett

is -- what's the word for it? -- better than I am.



And there are a copious number of DVDs out there to

prove it. I've already written about his "Comic Legends"

DVD series (see Daily Digression below, August 19 and July 30),

and "Volume One"'s interview with Groucho Marx is

truly must-see TV.



Less well-known is the "Ray Charles Collection,"

which compiles a couple Charles interviews and

performances -- and a Charles/Cavett duet!



The interviews are as revealing as any Charles Q&A out

there; at one point, in a lengthy segment discussing his

blindness, Cavett asks whether Charles would choose to be

sighted again if he could. Astonishingly, Charles says, no,

he'd rather remain blind, because he's used to it (though

he would like to regain his sight for just one day to

satisfy his curiosity about how things look).


Well worth checking out.


* * *


THE MONKEES

With all the impressive talent involved in "The Monkees"

TV series of 1966 and 1967 (Paul Mazursky, Bob Rafelson,

Boyce and Hart, etc.), it's surprising the series isn't

a lot funnier, though it is surprisingly funny at

times -- and probably funnier than you remember it

being in its initial run, if you're old enough to

remember it at all. Very variable quality. More

frenetic than funny. The first season is a lot fresher

and the songs are better, particularly in the fall

of 1966, before the band's energy was

dissipated by arguments with The Suits.



The series has been compared to the Marx Brothers's

films, and there is some truth to that, but only if

you're comparing "The Monkees" to "Animal Crackers" and

not to "Horse Feathers" or "Duck Soup."

* * *


THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL: OUTTAKE PERFORMANCES

Pennebaker's movie of the concert you've probably

already seen, so the find here is disc three, which includes

lots of outtakes from the fest. Because the Mamas

and the Papas didn't give many concerts in its lifetime,

the footage here is fascinating and valuable, if not

always musically amazing. What emerges is that Cass

Elliot had the potential to dominate the band and probably

would have become a one-name icon like Cher or

Madonna or Liza if she hadn't died at age 32. I always

saw John Phillips as, among other things, a vocal

choreographer who designed marvelously layered arrangements

for his songs in the studio; the question (for me, at least)

has always been whether they could replicate their

studio work live, and "Monday Monday," performed

here, shows they could, at least to some extent (what

an unlikely number one, by the way).



Other notable outtakes: footage of a teen-aged

Laura Nyro, shy and somewhat stage-frightened, playing

one of her first gigs. And very enjoyable to see

The Association, not exactly my favorite band of the era,

bring "Along Comes Mary" vividly to life.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for November 3, 2007



Now that the infamous touch-screen voting

machine has become as discredited as the

Edsel (more so, actually), the folks at

the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum are displaying

a possible alternative replacement. Created

by artist Jonathon Keats, it's called The OuijaVote

machine, a balloting system based on the

famous, mystical Ouija board of yore!



Whatever you might think about this satirical

seance-based system, one thing's for sure: it

couldn't possibly be worse than the touch-screen!

(And my own Ouija Board tells me it's endorsed by

no less than Sylvia Plath.)


The OuijaVote Electronic Balloting System, now on display at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum. (photo by Paul Iorio.)


The OuijaVote Machine's voting instructions. (photo by Paul Iorio.)


The OuijaVote installation was only one of the notable

works at the museum when I visited last Thursday,

which was also opening day of a display of dozens of

ultraviolent anti-war prints by Goya, all dating from

his late period, when he was deaf, pushing 70 and

coming up with darker, bolder stuff.



Meanwhile, upstairs at the museum, an impressive choral

group performed, its singing resounding beautifully

throughout the place. BAM almost never fails

to come up with something inspiring each time out.


One print of Goya's series "Los desastres de la guerra" ("The Disasters of War"), an exhibition that opened last Thursday at BAM. (photo by Paul Iorio.)


But I digress. Paul

_____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 31 to November 2, 2007


Hillary was mostly terrific in last night's

debate; she was in top shape and sounded

ready to k.o. Rudy or Mitt Foley or whoever

the GOP nominee is. More and more, it looks like

her train is bound for glory, if it doesn't get

derailed in Des Moines first.



I really did miss Mike Gravel last night, and,

frankly, felt a little sad that they wouldn't

allow him to join in any reindeer games during this

holiday mudslingin' season. He really used to

liven up the room, didn't he? So, last night,

the kook gavel was passed from Gravel to Kucinich,

who confirmed that, yes, he once had

a touching moment in which he watched a UFO sail

over the skies above Case Western's dormitories

(or something) one night.



Dennis, don't get me wrong, you will make a terrific

HHS secretary under Clinton44 (you really will!),

implementing whatever aspects of the Clinton health

plan she's able to get through the new Congress/lobbyists.

Never mind that deep into 2011, people will still be

flocking to Tijuana and Toronto to buy their

prescription pills at half price. Never mind that

the number of uninsured Americans will not

significantly drop, even deep in Clinton44's

second term in, say, 2015. (And there will

inevitably be a cover of Time magazine in 2013

that says something like, "20 Years After

Hillary's First Campaign for Universal Health

Care, Why So Little Progress?," written

by staffers who are covered by a terrific

health plan.)



Never mind all that. This UFO thing is beneath your

powers of reasoning. Figure it out: the law of

probability says, yes, there is life out there (there

are just too many combinations of planets and stars

for that not to be the case). But even the most advanced

form of life could not possibly exceed the speed limit

of the universe, which is the speed of light. And that

means that they can't travel the overwhelming distance

it would take to get here. Otherwise, we

surely would have had explicit visitors by now.


Ultimately, distance is the irreducible truth,

the ruling metaphor of all things great and small.


Distance, is, of course, everywhere.


Distance is ithe stuff of time itself, which is,

after all, merely the distance between manufactured events

(that's what a second and an hour are).


Example. When a firecracker explodes, is

that one event or a vast series of events?

Prima facie, it looks like one very brief and

very violent event.



But suppose I filmed the exploding firecracker

and then screened the film of the explosion at

such a slow speed that it took 75 years to view

the whole thing. The exploding of the firecracker

would unfold so slowly that the first five

years of the film would cover merely the initial

stages of the blast. We would see every element of

the explosion as a very distinct and separate event;

one piece of the firecracker's paper would come hurtling

toward the camera in ultra-slow mo, a journey that would

take maybe two years to complete. And then another piece

of the explosive would come hurtling toward us, with its

own unique force, shape and energy.



If we were to watch the whole 75-year film, if that were

even possible, we would come away with the absolute

belief that the explosion of the firecracker was far

from one brief moment, but rather an uncountable series of

discrete events, each as unique as a snowflake or a

fingerprint, all separated by the distance of

other events (aka, time).



Those who see the split second explosion as one event

(rather than as a 75-year series of events) would also

see the first part of the explosion and the last part as

the same thing.



When you apply that perception to the 75-year film of the

exploding firecracker (as opposed to the split-second film

of the same event), the implications are staggering. If the

split-second movie of the explosion is one event, then

couldn't you reasonably conclude that the slow-mo version

of the explosion -- the 75-year movie -- is also one event?

You could argue that the beginning of the firecracker film was

of-a-piece (quite literally) with and inextricably linked to the

final event that happens 75-years later; you could conclude

the first piece of erupting firecracker is really the same event

as the final shred falling to the ground -- but we're just

seeing it with lots of distance in between.



Similarly, when you drop an apple from a tower, you have

already determined how that event will end; the ending of

that event is contained in the beginning of it. In fact,

one could argue that the action itself is one event; in

other words, the dropping of the apple and the

splatting of the apple on the ground are of-a-piece

and so bound together that they qualify as one action.



An analogy. A human life lasts around 75 years. But

suppose we were to film an entire human life, put the

whole 75-year span on film, and then play the film back

in ultra-fast motion, so that it lasted only as long

as a firecracker explosion. If one saw only the

firecracker explosion version of that 75-year life,

one would say that the person's life, from birth to death,

through marriage and maturity, was as much one event as

a simple firecracker blast. But if we were to increase

the distance between events and slow the film

down to a 75-year running time, we would see in

excruciating detail all the individual parts that

comprise what could otherwise be seen as a mere blip.

In the split-second version of the film

of a 75-year life, birth is the same thing as

youth and maturity and death -- it's as much one event

as the dropping/splatting of the apple from the tower is.



The only thing that makes birth and death separate events

is distance; remove the distance by "speeding up the

film" and you have only one event.



Another analogy: look at a flock of birds flying in an arrow

formation. Seen from a distance, they look like one

arrow-shaped object; there is no distance between the birds.

Seen up close, they look like discrete birds. But you could

perceive the flying flock as one arrow-shaped organism (just

as we look at a human body and see a distinct entity called

a human body; yet we could easily put the body under a

microscope and see its atomic and molecular structure

and conclude that it's a collection of separate objects

that merely look like one entity because the atoms and

molecules are, if you will, flying in formation, just

as the "separate" birds of a flying flock are).



Distance is also the ruling metaphor in more subjective

realms, like human relationships. Both literally and

figuratively, one person can never fully become or

inhabit another person; the closest we can come to

traversing the distance between one person and another

is by having sex, during which one person is literally

inside of another person and, at least briefly,

blood and other bodily fluids are shared. The birth of a

child is also a radical collapsing of distance between two

individuals. Even so, it's not possible for two

people to become one; there is always some level of distance

that prevents one person from becoming the mind or

consciousness of another or even entering

the mind or consciousness of another.



So there is untraversable distance on a micro level, just

as there is untraversable distance on a macro level, where

the universal speed limit of the speed of light seems to be

both a core truth and a universal metaphor.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- Bravo to Bill Maher for personally 86ing some

9/11 conspiracy-theory hecklers from his audience

the other day. I sometimes wonder what sort of

mental defect, resulting from either physiological

damage to brain tissue or from a naturally low

intelligence quotient, causes 9/11 conspiracy nuts

to think that all or part of the World Trade Center

was brought down by the U.S. government. I

mean -- sheesh! -- the government hasn't

even been able to take down the Deutsche Bank

building more than six years after it was damaged

in the attacks.

___________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 27, 2007





Martin Scorsese's documentary on the Rolling

Stones, "Shine a Light," won't be released until

April, but the main question I have now is: how much

footage of the near-legendary Beacon Theater shows

of 2006 will it include? And will there be a soundtrack

album?



The Beacon shows -- on Oct. 29 (for Bill

Clinton's birthday) and Nov. 1, 2006 --

have become almost mythic -- and not just

because of the guest performers (Jack White,

Buddy Guy, Christina Aguilera, etc.) but also

because of the gourmet setlists.



Look for yourself -- here are the lists for

both nights (courtesy rollingstones.net), which

provide clues about what to expect

from the Scorsese pic:


Beacon Theater, Oct. 29, 2006

Start Me Up
Shattered
She Was Hot
All Down The Line
Loving Cup (with Jack White)
As Tears Go By
I'm Free
Undercover of the Night
Just My Imagination
Shine A Light
Champagne and Reefer (with Buddy Guy)
Tumbling Dice
You Got The Silver
Little T& A
Sympathy For The Devil
Live With Me (with Christina Aguilera)
Paint It Black
Jumpin' Jack Flash
Satisfaction (encore)

-------

And here's the Beacon setlist for November 1, 2006:

Jumpin' Jack Flash
Shattered
She Was Hot
All Down The Line
Loving Cup (with Jack White)
As Tears Go By
I'm Free
Some Girls
Just My Imagination
Far Away Eyes
Champagne & Reefer (with Buddy Guy)
Tumbling Dice
You Got The Silver
Connection
Sympathy For The Devil
Live With Me (with Christina Aguilera)
Honky Tonk Women
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar (encore)
Satisfaction (encore)

--------

Some sets, eh? Live rarities include "As Tears Go By,"

"Far Away Eyes," "Undercover of the Night," "Some Girls,"

"She Was Hot" and "You Got the Silver."



But as great as those setlists are, they don't quite

equal the song selection for the Stones's July 11, 2003,

concert at the Olympic Theater in Paris, a performance

captured on disc four of "Four Flicks," the four-DVD

set documenting the Stones's 2002/03 tour.



On that disc, the band gives nuanced performances of

rarely-played (or never-before played) gems like "Hand of Fate,"

"Respectable," "Before they Make Me Run," "Dance (Part 1),"

"Neighbors" and "No Expectations," among others.



To me, that's the real thrill of recent Stones shows I've

seen or heard: the obscurities. Because I've already

heard the Big Hits that close every Stones show -- Gimme/

Flash/Satisfaction/Sugar -- so many times that they've

become predictable.



The joy is surprises like "All Down the Line"

and "Connection" and "She Was Hot" and "Dead Flowers"

and "You Got the Silver" (all performed in '05/'06 but

missing, by the way, from "The Biggest Bang," the

other 4-DVD Stones concert set, released last summer).



Seeing the Stones up close in such an intimate setting

on the Paris disc reveals:


-- Jagger is an endlessly inventive and resourceful dancer,

always trying new moves


-- Richards's fingers are often playing very ordinary

chords but he somehow makes them sound extraordinary and

evocative


-- Jagger is surprisingly fluent in French


-- even without doing a break or solo, Watts's drumming

is virtually a lead instrument sometimes


-- Ron Wood chain-smokes an alarming number of cigarettes

while performing


-- Jagger's personality is almost the opposite of Richards'


-- Wyman isn't as missed as Bobby Keys would be if Keys weren't

there


-- I'm probably one of the very few Stones fans

who truly misses Nicky Hopkins. Don't get me wrong, Chuck

Leavell is brilliant, but Hopkins added an ingredient I miss.

(Maybe I feel that way because, when I was a teenager, I

thoroughly enjoyed Hopkins's solo album, "The Tin Man Was a

Dreamer," and used to listen to it all the time; if you can

find a copy, listen to "Waiting for the Band to Come," which

still holds up.)


-- Why does the band neglect nuggets from the underrated

Dirty Work? ("Hold Back," "Fight," "Had it With You" and

the title track would all sound terrific live.)


If you haven't yet seen disc four of "Four Flicks,"

check it out. The Beacon concert footage in "Shine a Light"

will probably be measured against it.



But I digress. Paul


[above photo of the Rolling Stones from the "Four Flicks" DVD booklet;

photographer unidentified.]



P.S. -- Letterman told a funny one the other night.

"Al Gore was in a bar the other night shouting,

'Anyone want a Nobel piece of ass?!'"

(I'm paraphrasing.)

---------

Saw a bumper sticker on a car in the Rockridge section of Oakland, Calif.,

the other day: "Stewart/Colbert '08."

---------


IN THE HECK-OF-A-JOB DEPT.: In today's San Francisco

Chronicle, a critic writes about hearing

Bruce Springsteen performing "Thunder Road" in Oakland

on Thursday night. Only problem is, gee wiz, Springsteen

didn't play "Thunder Road" at that concert or at his other

show in Oakland. In fact, the news is that Bruce has

virtually dropped the once ubiquitous

"Thunder Road" from setlists on this tour (he's

only played it once on this go 'round so far, in Chicago).



But let's give the crit the benefit of the doubt; Springsteen

could have played it if he had chosen to.


But I digress. Paul


______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 14, 2007



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.



Lots of Democrats think Al Gore is a far safer bet, but

there would have to be an appropriate entry point for

him to get in the race, and that precipitating event

(say, Hillary having a Muskie Moment) would have to

happen between now and early November '07, the filing

deadline for the New Hampshire primary.


But if I were Gore, I'd be thinking, why go

double or nothing at this point? It's funny, or

not so funny, historically, how people who urge you to

run aren't there when it's time to vote.



Take 1979, for example. I remember so many

Democrats urging Ted Kennedy to run for the

nomination against President Carter. But

when Kennedy finally did so, where were all

his supporters in the 24 primaries that he

lost?



Then again, a late entry by Gore might more closely

resemble Robert Kennedy's candidacy, which didn't

get started until March of '68, after he'd already

missed competing in New Hampshire. But that didn't

stop him from becoming the Democratic front runner

by the end of the primary season.



More recently, Fred Thompson had been snoozing on

the couch through most of '07 until Republicans,

smelling defeat in '08, urged him to fix some

hot coffee and get to work. Now he looks as likely as

anyone to become the GOP nominee.


Same thing could happen with Gore, who isn't nearly

as rusty as Thompson. Then again, he could end

up like this year's Ted Kennedy, if he chooses to

run.



But one thing's for sure: this may be Gore's

last best shot at the presidency, because there

will probably be an incumbent in 2012. He's

on an interstate highway right now and has to

take either the 2008 exit or wait till 2016

for another one.



There is, of course, a different dynamic with Gore

than with the two Kennedy brothers and with Thompson.

There is a lot of natural affection for Gore, partly

because he was robbed of the presidency yet

endured that defeat with grace and strength,

always looking forward, always reinventing himself.



I also think there's a sense in this country

that the early 2000s was one of the absolute

worst periods in American history (the

period between 9/11 and the defeat of Kerry

in '04). The installation of a president who hadn't

won the popular vote, the attacks of 9/11,

the ugly aftermath of that tragedy, the economic

downturn and dotcom bust, the unnecessary Iraq war:

all that has come to define an awful era

everyone just wants to bury.



And the election of Al Gore as president

in '08 might just right some of those wrongs

and undo the multiple injustices that happened

in the early part of this decade, some of

the public seems to be thinking.



And that dynamic may be more powerful than the

idea of electing America's first female president,

which is sort of an empty dream when you really look

at it, considering that other nations have already had

female leaders who have shown themselves to be

either just as corrupt (Benazir Bhutto) or just as

ordinary (Golda Meir) as the male leaders that

preceded them.



In gender politics, we have to understand that

the things some women mistake for gender

inequality are also very unfair to men, too;

that the common element in venality and

abusiveness is leverage not gender;

that as soon as some women get into positions of

leverage they become just as venal and wrongheaded

as men (and engage in sexual harassment every

bit as much, oh, yes, they do!); that researchers

trying to determine whether there is wage

inequality should contrast the subset

of men who have to unilaterally take off a month

or so every few years for health reasons to the

subset of women who have to take time off for

health reasons; that a feminist agenda could better

be served by a man than by a woman in some

cases (male candidate Barack Obama, for example,

would better represent women's interests than would

female candidate Liddy Dole, just as white candidate

Bill Clinton is a better representative of

African-American political interests

than African-American Clarence Thomas).



And the Ivy League stereotypes should also be

avoided when assessing Hillary. Everybody jokes

about how seemingly stupid our current president

is, yet he has both Harvard and Yale credentials.

How does everybody reconcile that?



On the one hand, the public says Bush is not so

smart; on the other hand, the public gives instant

credibility to a candidate because of the designer

label of his or her alma mater.



Let's get this clear and straight: dozens

of Harvard and Yale professors, probably Nobel and

Pulitzer winners among them, said, "Yes, my

student George W. Bush is smart enough to pass

academic muster, and he deserves a prestigious

degree." W's nouns and verbs may not have agreed,

but the Ivy profs did when it came to W. (The real

scandal here appears to be the shockingly lax

standards of some professors at the Ivy level, who

sometimes look increasingly like George Plimpton's

memorably phony character in the film "Good Will

Hunting.")



Whenever someone says a particular person is smart,

people should respond with, "Smart in what way?" Albert

Einstein was a physics genius but he wasn't able to

paint as brilliantly as Picasso. Picasso was

an artistic genius, but he probably knew nothing

about physics.



Not one of the truly major songwriters of

the rock era -- Dylan, Lennon, McCartney,

Townshend, etc. -- ever spent a day as

an Ivy League student.



Think about that for a moment. Over the past

50 years, the dorms of Harvard and Yale

and Princeton have been packed with students

who want to be rock stars and who have

had plenty of money and intelligence and

connections. Yet not one of those students, in

all those decades, has ever written a song that

competes with the best songs of Dylan,

Lennon, McCartney, etc. Not one. (But I digress.)




Abraham Lincoln, America's greatest president -- and

greatest writer among presidents -- hardly had any formal

schooling, much less Ivy League schooling.


And Martin Luther King Jr. was a political genius but

never attended a top-tier university.


What the Ivy League tends to produce -- by the gross -- is

the sort of corporate senior vp or executive vp type who

essentially runs the company at the behest of a chronically

vacationing, rich CEO who started the company on daddy's

dime. That's the biz model that Ivy League grads fall into

on a regular basis.



And Hillary and Romney both appear to be that sort of

stand-in -- the competent but not visionary exec who

will carry out someone else's agenda.



The real innovators in any field always seem to come

far beyond the Ivy, defying academic and gender

stereotypes. Maybe we should be thinking further

outside the box to find our leaders -- to, say, Springsteen

(Ocean County Community College drop-out) for the U.S.

Senate or Maureen Dowd (Catholic University grad) for

president (and I don't even agree with her much

of the time).


not an Ivy League grad...
-----------------------------


not an Ivy League grad...
------

Ivy grad...
--------


i am woman, hear me roar...


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Picasso from all-art.org; pic of Harris from cbc.ca;
photo of England from msnbc.com; pic of Lincoln from Lincoln Museum site]


__________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 11, 2007





When Jerry Garcia died at age 53 -- that's 53 -- in

1995, his death left a vast void in the world of live

rock 'n' roll. Never mind that Garcia had long

been in decline -- there were widespread reports that

Garcia would be playing onstage with the Grateful Dead

and had to be reminded in mid-jam what song he was playing,

which is virtually the way he'd been parodied by

the punks all those years before.



But fans still hungered for the Grateful Dead concert

experience -- the whole experience, not just the show,

but the experience of the whirling fans, the rolling

fields of tie-dye, the 49-minute jams that would ebb

and flow, but mostly ebb, the smoke dome over the

crowd, the audience members who seemed to see a

Dead show as a way to be creative themselves, as they

"danced beneath the diamond skies with one hand waving

free" or sketched pictures or wrote in a notebook as

the group played -- a free zone for four or seven hours,

a uniquely American form of pure freedom.


A String Cheese Incident fan proudly displays his home-made poster (2007).


The void left by Garcia's death was quickly filled

by Phish and the jam band movement of the Nineties, which

had already been filling that void to a lesser degree

since the early 1990s.



For the record, I was the first journalist anywhere to

have documented Phish; in January 1989, I conducted the

very first taped interview with Trey Anastasio, and I

was even the first person to tell him about a new

group called Widespread Panic, another jam band with

whom Phish would later tour and collaborate. (It's

on my tape of the '89 interview, my first and only

Q&A with Anastasio, which was ultimately

published by a weekly newspaper; it's now posted

at paulliorio.blogspot.com. By the way, the Phish

photo above was mailed to me by Phish's Mike Gordon

in March 1988.)


Phish, of course, would go on to break the Dead's

concert box office records -- and many all-time box

office records, as well. And they'd give lots of

concerts where fans danced expressively to jams

that went where ever whenever, a la the Dead.


And the jam bands multiplied -- from Widespread

Panic to the Disco Biscuits to Railroad Earth -- each

adding its own element to the genre.



Adding a violin and bluegrass to jambandism was The

String Cheese Incident, which recently disbanded after

playing several farewell gigs a few months ago. I heard

part of one of the band's final shows, July 22, 2007,

at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Calif. (in the

hills above the theatre), where the group played a bit

of reggae, several long rock jams and -- of

course -- "I Know You Rider," a song that seems to

be in the DNA of jam bands everywhere, which got it

from the Dead, who had memorably combined the song with

"China Cat Sunflower" to create a classic seque of the

hippie era.



Even more memorable than String Cheese's music was the

crowd at the show, which took out sketch pads to draw, sold

original posters in the hills, smoked a lot of stuff,

danced -- and hula hooped like nobody's business.

I mean, there were dozens of fans -- male and female -- with

multi-colored hula hoops, gyrating energetically to the

music. There were hula hoopers everywhere. On one car,

there was even a bumper sticker of a hula hooper

(see picture below).


A hula hoop bumper sticker on a car outside a String Cheese
Incident show (2007).



And after awhile I remember thinking: maybe these String

Cheese hula hoopers have the right spirit, maybe everybody

should shake it while they can when they're young,

because, when you get to be middle aged like me, there

will come a time when you can't shake it at all.

So as I watched fans hula hoop in the sunlight with

big smiles on their faces to the sounds of "I Know You Rider,"

I thought...maybe they're on to something. (Not that you're

gonna catch me picking up a hoop anytime soon!)



The String Cheese Incident's final Berkeley gigs

amounted to a sort of two-day jam band fest that

included performances by the Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe

Sector 9, Hot Buttered Rum and Railroad Earth. The crowd

milling in the hills looked like they had stepped right

out of 1972, and the cars in the lot included a surprising

number with Oregon plates (the band would follow this

show with three dates in Oregon, where it has a big fan

base).


Jam band fans draw and write as the String Cheese
Incident plays one of its final gigs (in Berkeley, July
22, 2007).



Some weeks later, at the same venue, the Grateful Dead

Nation reassembled again to hear an actual member of

the Dead, bassist Phil Lesh, fronting Phil Lesh & Friends,

as he faithfully re-created the concert sound of his former

band for a few hours. Again, the Dead Nation came out in

droves, with sixtysomething granola types mixing with

latter-day hippies wearing Dead lyrics on their t-shirts.



At the Phil Lesh show in Berkeley, fans wore Grateful Dead lyrics
on their t-shirts (Sept. 23, 2007).



The power of the Dead's enduring appeal could be felt as

recently as last Friday night (October 5), in San Francisco's

Golden Gate Park, when Jeff Tweedy of Wilco took the

stage for a memorable acoustic set. Wilco and Tweedy are,

of course, not jambanders, but there was a telling moment

late in his show when Tweedy sang one of his own

lyrics -- "Playing Kiss covers" -- and playfully started

substituting other bands's names for Kiss. First, he

replaced Kiss with Romeo Void and then with Steel Pole

Bath Tub and then with the Jefferson Airplane.


But it was only when Tweedy sang the line "Grateful Dead

covers" that the crowd roared with unanimous approval.


Jeff Tweedy, performing in San Francisco, Oct. 5, 2007.

But I digress. Paul


[all photos above by Paul Iorio --
except the picture of Phish up top.]




P.S. -- A few loose tv notes: Jimmy Vivino is doing a nice

job filling in as bandlander on "Late Night" (he even

played "Another Nail" the other night!); Chevy Chase's segment

was easily the funniest part of last week's SNL (it would be

great to see him appear regularly on Update); while most tv

outlets used an obvious music clip to accompany their stories

about Radiohead's new album, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco

smartly ran a clip of the great "Street Spirit," which shows

someone there knows the band's work well.

______________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 10, 2007


Nostalgic for the gridlock of the Nineties?
A typical newspaper headline about it from nine
years ago (Oct. 11, 1998). Lately, many are thinking
a Pres. Gore would fare better than a Clinton44.



A Subway-Series or an Opry-Series?


Today's column by Maureen Dowd in the Times was

quite perceptive, picking up on something I'd

noticed, too: Hillary is surprisingly thin-skinned

and prone to occasional paranoid thinking, when she's

not fully scripted by her handlers.


Dowd's column noted that Hillary "sounded defensive

and paranoid" responding to a question in Iowa last

Sunday about one of her Senate votes.


As Dowd wrote, Hillary "lost her cool" answering the

question (about her controversial vote to effectively

designate the Revolutionary Guard of Iran a terrorist

group). And Hillary said she'd been asked the same

question three times recently and implied it was a

query planted by the opposition. (If Clinton had truly

been asked the question three times, then she should

have had no trouble answering it.)


Of course, all of this resembles her "vast

right-wing conspiracy" comment of the 1990s

and shows that, when the pressure is on, she

tends to appear a bit paranoid.


Meanwhile, some Democrats have been

stepping up efforts to nominate ABC (Anyone

But Clinton) and to persuade Al Gore to

run again. A group called Draftgore (at draftgore.com)

has taken out a full page Gore-for-President ad in

The Times and has otherwise been urging Gore to run.


A month ago, such an effort might have seemed futile.

Today a Gore candidacy still seems highly unlikely.

But now that Fred Thompson has shown that it's still

not too late to enter the race and become the front-runner,

Gore might want to reconsider. The general is now looking

less like a subway-series (Rudy v. Hillary) and more

like something else, perhaps even an Opry-series

(Thompson v. Gore).


But I digress. Paul

_____________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 8, 2007


Ain't That American Music

Opening Day of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest


John Mellencamp playing "Pink Houses" in
Golden Gate Park last Friday (Oct. 5. 2007).
Photo by Paul Iorio.





John Mellencamp, backed by T Bone Burnett and his

ace band, played a rousing "Pink Houses" to a small

crowd in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco last Friday

afternoon, as part of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

festival, a sprawling, three-day, multi-genre series of

concerts.


Because there was virtually no advertising for the

free event, an annual gift to music fans by philanthropist

Warren Hellman, relatively few people attended the opening

day show, so I was able to casually stroll up to the

front row area on this perfect fall day and watch

Mellencamp, several feet away, belt out his signature

song -- which was sort of like watching the

Stones play "Tumbling Dice" at a backyard party.

(The crowds would grow substantially for the

subsequent days's events.)


Mellencamp played a few songs, including a striking

new original called "Jena."


"This is a song about Jena, Louisiana," said Mellencamp

from the stage. "I'm not indicting anybody or the people

down there, I'm just saying this is what happened down

there."


And then he launched into the rocker, which sounded

like a "Scarecrow"-era track. "Ohh, Jena, take your

nooses down," sang Mellencamp, who starts a

major concert tour later this fall.


Mellencamp, the biggest name to play this year's

three-day fest, performed during a set by T Bone Burnett,

who was also in fine form. (Burnett opened with Buddy

Holly's "Rave On" and kicked up some major rhythmic

dust on other tunes; singer Neko Case was also impressive.)


And then things took an even more amazing turn when

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco came on stage for a generous solo

acoustic set, playing a couple dozen songs, ranging from

Wilco gems like "Passenger Side," "Don't Forget the

Flowers" and the new "Sky Blue Sky" to a wonderful version

of Uncle Tupelo's "New Madrid" (from the overlooked

roots masterpiece "Anodyne") and several songs

associated with Woody Guthrie.


Those who missed this gig missed one of the best folk

sets by anybody in this area in recent memory. Period.

(And any reporter paid to cover the fest who didn't

cover the Tweedy set should be fired.)



Loose, tight, funny, serious and inspired,

Tweedy constantly played off the energy of the

crowd.


"Hope you weren't in the mood for some bluegrass

-- 'cause I ain't got none," Tweedy began.

At one point, a fan yelled "turn it up," and Tweedy drolly

responded:


"We're gonna turn it down. That's what it's

all about. As the show wears on, we're gonna get quieter and

quieter and quieter. Until we all just drift off to sleep."


Tweedy even turned a lone heckler into a running joke;

it started when some burn-out in the audience began

shouting (the drunk probably mistook this gathering for

that music fest of has-beens in Golden Gate Park last

month, which celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Summer of

Love and featured the bassist of Blue Cheer re-uniting

with the drummer of the Electric Flag, I think).


"Is there a really drunk guy over there?," asked Tweedy. "He

should be passed out soon." The audience laughed.


Near the end of the show, after playing "California Stars,"

always a crowd favorite, Tweedy was jazzed as he looked out

over the crowd, which had now grown considerably.


"I think I might just stay up and play some more," he

said. "Traditionally, this might be a spot where you

go off...and see if anybody wants you to come back. But I

don't want to risk that. I'm having too much fun."


Tweedy noticed the sun had finally set, so he took

off his sunglasses. "I guess the sun's not in my eyes

anymore," he said, removing his shades. "Holy shit, there's

a lot of people out there!"


He lit into "Pecan Pie" and followed it with "A Shot

in the Arm" (belting out the memorable "something in my

veins/bloodier than blood").


On "The Thanks I Get," the audience started

spontaneously singing counterpoint on the "We can make

it better" part -- without any prompting from Tweedy.

And this was a 2007 song available only via Internet

download! The singalong caught Tweedy by surprise:

"Wow! I don't know if we can make it better! Audience

participation without begging and pleading? It doesn't

get any better than that!"


On "Heavy Metal Drummer," he played with the audience

further, revising his line "playing Kiss covers" by substituting

the names of various San Francisco bands.


"Playing Romeo Void covers," he sang, then talking to the

audience: "Why is that the first band that came to my mind from

San Francisco?"


"Playing Steel Pole Bath Tub covers," he sang, the crowd

enjoying the joke.


"Quicksilver Messenger Service covers," he sang, noting:

"Your band names are all too long here!"


"Jefferson Airplane covers," he sang.


"OK -- Grateful Dead covers," he crooned, and the crowd

roared.


Coming back for the final encores, the energy onstage and

off was electric. Pointing at the orange aftermath of a sunset,

he said: "It's so pretty. Look back there. It's so pretty.

I love it so bad."


But I digress. Paul




John Mellencamp performing with Neko Case, Oct. 5, 2007.

--------------------------




Mellencamp and T Burnett & Friends, on the festival's opening afternoon.
______________________________________




Mellencamp performing with T Bone Burnett & Friends.
______________________________________




John Mellencamp, Oct. 5, 2007.

__________________________________




Mellencamp performing.
__________________________________




Jeff Tweedy playing a solo acoustic set, Oct. 5, 2007.
__________________________________




T Bone Burnett performing, Oct. 5, 2007.

______________________________



The real star of the festival, philanthropist Warren Hellman, who
spends millions of dollars of his own money each year to present
three days of free concerts by first-rank performers.



[all photos above by Paul Iorio.]


P.S. -- Joining my two cartoon characters

-- Coulter-the-god-fearing-pooch

and bin-Laden-the-jihadist-pooch -- is

Cindy-Sheehan-the-conspiracy-theory-pooch,

making a quick cameo here:




_________________________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 5, 2007























But I digress. Paul

______________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 4, 2007


It's obvious now, if it wasn't before, that health

insurance for all Americans isn't coming now or anytime

soon, and a President Hillary probably won't change that

fact, because if she becomes president, she'll run up

against the same political culture of legalized bribery

she was unable to overcome in 1993, and the

proof of that is she's unable to push through an

override of Bush's heartless veto of the

health-insurance-for-children-bill in the U.S Senate.


She keeps saying she has learned from the failures

of '93 and has the scars to show for it, yet she's

not demonstrating that growth curve or leadership in

her current job, she's not showing how she can

persuade the opposition to join her side or

how to twist arms to bring them along.


Hey, if you're good at this stuff, Hillary, show us now,

show us how you can use your special talents as a pol

to bring about an override of Bush's veto, show us the

Hillary magic that would make you an irresistible candidate.

Because this is serious stuff; people are dying

and are in pain at this hour in the U.S. because they can't

afford the sort of health care that's virtually free of charge

in Toronto and Vancouver.


No, we don't need triangulation and we don't need decorum

anymore; we need an LBJ who is going to bully -- yes,

bully -- colleagues into passing a universal health care

bill. And we need harsh civil disobedience by activists.

'Cause the current way ain't working and ain't likely to

work, even if Hillary becomes president.



It's only when one gets to be middle-aged that one

realizes how callous and cut-throat the American approach

to health-care is. And it helps me to understand why there's

such violence in America. The callousness of a nation that

says "die-if-you're-sick (unless you're rich)" is merely

mirroring the violence of the common mugger. The

private and public sectors in America don't care whether

we live or die or suffer in pain, and that attitude bleeds

into every facet of American life (or perhaps it's a symptom

of the same systemic disease). It breeds a posture that

says "why should I care about my fellow man more than he

cares about me?" and "you don't care about me, so I don't

care about you."


Yeah, it's no wonder there's so much violent crime

in America; the criminals are just imitating the

government.


But I digress. Paul

---------------------------------


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

extra! for October 3, 2007


To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end

of the trial involving Allen Ginsberg's Howl,

I'm presenting my own Howl-o-Matic, which allows

anyone to create brand new lines for the poem. Here it

is in two parts:






But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- Great to see Madonna, the Beastie Boys, John Mellencamp,

Leonard Cohen, Afrika Bambaataa, etc. nominated for the Rock

'n' Roll Hall of Fame.


But my only question, and the one question on the

lips of (I would estimate) at least a half dozens fans,

is: when is The World's Most Dangerous Band (pictured below)

going to be inducted?



The World's Most Dangerous Band: too "dangerous" for induction?
(I wouldn't want to run into these guys in an alley.)


________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 3, 2007


Today I'm introducing a new original cartoon

character -- Ann Coulter, the God-Fearing Pooch --

to go along with my previous cartoon series

(bin Laden the Jihadist Pooch). I felt my dog

bin Laden needed a like-minded companion in this

space, so I'm giving him Coulter.













But I digress. Paul

______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

extra! for October 1, 2007


I wrote about some of the new songs on the upcoming

Radiohead album, "In Rainbows," in my March 9, 2007,

column (see below), so I won't go on at length here

about the new release, which is being self-released

by the band in very novel ways on October 10 and

(around) December 3rd.



Essentially, the band is virtually giving

away a download of the first ten songs on the

album set (you can pay whatever you want at

inrainbows.com, starting on 10/10).


But only fully-paying customers will get the

truly primo stuff, located on a second CD in the

boxed set, which is slated for release in December.

There you'll find two new bona fide Radiohead

classics, "Down is the New Up" and "Four Minute

Warning," the best of the new songs previewed on

tour last year.



To be sure, I've heard most -- not all -- of the

new songs, which means there are a few I haven't

yet heard that may well turn out to be the next

"Paranoid Android" or "Lucky," for all I know. My

assessment is based on bootlegs of the new stuff

from two Radiohead shows that I heard in June of last

year.



Based on those tapes, "In Rainbows" may be even

better than "Hail to the Thief," which was an

excellent CD. And as I said, I betcha fans are

gonna be knocked out by the last song on the

second CD, "Four Minute Warning," which is sort of

like the group's "Let It Be," and "Down is the New Up,"

among others.


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for October 1, 2007











But I digress. Paul


[all cartoons by Paul Iorio.]

_________________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 30, 2007



Time was when the American left was united against

the religious right. Back in the 1980s, I spent

many hours interviewing leftists from

Abbie Hoffman to Frank Zappa, who talked about how

the religious right was trying to censor them and

targeting their work and rolling back free speech

and other liberties.



And in '89, when the focus shifted from the religious

right of America to the religious right of Islam, with

the fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie, the left

caught on quickly and saw that the militants were of-a-piece

with the book burners in the Bible belt, and they quickly

came to Rushdie's defense.



But today, part of the American left is far less

resolute about taking on the religious right of

Islam, and it's probably the biggest

single mistake some Dems are making -- and it may be why

the Hillary v. Rudy contest, if it happens, may be a

Kerryesque defeat for Hill.


Some background. The real reason Kerry lost in '04 is

this: the psychology of the electorate, post-9/11, has

been that the U.S. is a household with a bad roach problem,

so, honey, buy the extra-strength Raid, even if it costs an

extra buck, even if it's carcinogenic, even if it makes the

family pooch a bit sick.


The perception in '04 was that Bush would spray for al Qaeda

with the strong stuff, and, sure, that might cause collateral

damage in the form of a dead pet or two, but -- c'est le guerre -- at

least the roaches would be gone.


But the reality is that Bush has had over six years to catch

bin Laden and hasn't done so. The reality is also that Bush

has been inexplicably tougher on a neo-secularist like

Saddam Hussein than on the god-fearing Islamist

(and former Reagan ally) bin Laden.



The fatal flaw of the national Democrats in the Oughties,

when the history is written, is that they failed to make

the bin Laden issue their issue, they failed to

capitalize on the fact that this was a case of

the religious right of America coddling and being

otherwise soft on the religious right of Islam, and

that the Democrats could have been consistent by

vehemently battling Osama the same way they had

fought religious rightists of America in the past.

If only the left would see David Duke/Charles Manson

every time they see bin Laden, they'd take a genuinely

tougher stand and win more elections.


Remember: the '04 election was both close and not

close -- close in the sense that Kerry lost by only one

state (Ohio) and not close because he almost lost a Dem

sure shot, Wisconsin (it was 49.8 to 49.4).



And this time, Hillary won't have the benefit of a third party

candidate draining votes from the GOP, which enabled Bill

Clinton to win in '92 and Hubert Humphrey to almost win

in '68 (everyone always says '68 was a close one, but it

really wasn't; if you combine the totals of right-wing

candidates Nixon and Wallace, you'll see Hubert was buried

in a 57/43 landslide).



And it doesn't help when bin Laden releases a video

every election eve with a de facto endorsement

of the Democrats, thereby swinging key swing votes

to the GOP and causing the Dem candidate to go

quail-shooting in Michigan or tobacco chewing in

Arkansas or something to overcompensate and to show

some hard-line bona fides.



Hillary should head off that pattern by making

speeches that make sure bin Laden will never

misrecognize her as an ally.


And Hillary should make it clear that

Giuliani ain't the extra-strength Raid, that Rudy

wants to spray for roaches in the foyer when

the roaches are actually in the kitchen. Yeah,

he was a marvelous operations guy on 9/11 (there's

no way to swift-boat that), but he has no foreign

policy wisdom and backs a war in Iraq that saps

our ability to take on al Qaeda.


Let's be real: if you were bin Laden,

hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, would

you rather have extra American troops looking

for you in Waziristan or would you rather

have those same troops diverted to Takrit

and Najaf, thousands of miles away?

If I were Osama, I'd be privately rooting for Rudy.


Yeah, I would like the whole 9/11 thing to be

over -- really over -- but I'd also like a personal fortune

of a billion dollars, and I know neither is likely to occur

anytime soon. We're now like a nation sick of the chemo

and -- dammit! -- we're walking out of the hospital before

treatment is done, recurrence or not. Harsh truth be told,

9/11 ain't over till bin Laden's over, and until he's over, 9/11

hasn't even happened yet, because the next one, which

promises to be a doozy, is surely on its way, and when that

happens, many will claim to have written this.


* * *


Did you hear "Night" come roaring out of collective

generational memory on "Today" Friday and see Silvio

and the Boss harmonize on that soaring final bit

("but to-night, you're gonna break on through to

the inside...")? Sumpin' else, huh? And, by the way,

let's be real, that Lautenberg seat is likely to open

up soon after he wins a new term (the man's eightysomething,

for crissakes!), and I bet you-know-who could win it.


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 25 - 27, 2007









































But I digress. Paul

[all cartoons by Paul Iorio]

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 24, 2007



Phil Lesh and Friends performed in Berkeley yesterday

afternoon, offering a faithful and sometimes vivid

re-creation of the Dead sound from a band that -- hard

to believe -- included only one original member of the

Dead, bassist Lesh. The unpredictability of the

setlist added excitement; it was enjoyable to hear

a deep catalog track like "Candyman" come rumbling

to life during the second set, and the Beatles's "Why

Don't We Do It in the Road" was quite a surprise, though

I was hoping for Lesh's own "Pride of Cucamonga"

and "Unbroken Chain," both not played at this show

(which I heard from the hills near the Greek Theatre).


* * *


"Don't wait for the translation, Mr. Ahmadinejad:

do you renounce the fatwa against Sir Salman Rushdie,

and if not, why not?," should be but one of the

questions asked when the president of Iran appears at

Columbia University today.


And students wouldn't have a chance to ask him

such questions if he weren't appearing at the

university, which is precisely why it's important

that he does, as CU president Lee Bollinger

rightly notes.



I'd like to see Columbia take it a step further,

putting Ahmadinejad and Sir Salman together on the same

stage for a one-hour conversation. Wouldn't it be

something if one question was so brilliant

that it actually caused Ahmadinejad, even

privately, to rethink some of his more hateful

positions?


* * *


Fred Thompson, when he's not wearing his make-up and

reading from a script for "Law and Order," is proving

to be a less formidable candidate than he initially

seemed before he announced his candidacy. At this stage

in the campaign, which is likely to change several times

before primary voting begins, Thompson is starting to

look more like Giuliani's southern strategy in the

general.


* * *


Check out the latest Shouts & Murmurs, "O.J. Simpson

and Alan Greenspan Discuss the Writer's Craft,"

one of Andy Borowitz's funniest pieces.



But I digress. Paul

------------------------------------


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 21, 2007


This Is About More Than Jena



PARTYGOER: "Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna
march in New Jersey, you know?"

ISAAC DAVIS: "We should go there,
get some guys together. Get some
bricks and baseball bats
and explain things to 'em."

PARTYGOER: There was this devastating
satirical piece on that in the Times.

ISAAC DAVIS: Well, a satirical piece in the
Times is one thing, but bricks get right to the
point.

PARTYGOER: But biting satire
is better that physical force.

ISAAC DAVIS: No, physical force is
better with Nazis.

-- From Woody Allen's "Manhattan."



When I was going to high school in the southeast, if some guy

had used a racial slur against one of my African-American

friends, I would have wanted to kick his ass -- and I'm

one of the least violent guys you're ever likely to meet.

I wouldn't have put up with racism against

my friends for an instant. (Actually, knowing me, I

probably would have responded with some sort of slicing

one-liner that would've transferred the anger back to the

racist. Then again, there comes a time when a quip is

insufficient, as the above quote from Woody Allen's

"Manhattan" notes.)


But a funny thing happened in the Deep South, or at least

my part of the Deep South, in the 1970s: because of busing,

because of integration, everyone at my high school got along,

by and large. The southern sons and daughters of bigoted

parents suddenly had pals who were African-American, and we

all hung out around town and never heard a racial slur,

not even once (at least not when I was around). And my

mom and dad also always made sure that every friend I

brought to the house back then was welcome and made to feel

welcome, whether he or she was from Kenya or Capri,

Jamaica or Alabama.


And when I look back on it, I realize with a smile:

integration worked. It really did. It brought people together.

It made everybody less provincial. And it's surely no

coincidence that, by the mid-Seventies, we saw the riots

end and the burning of cities stop. (The Rodney King riots

were an anomaly.)


But now forty-plus years of progress in matters of race

are being rolled back -- and the decision by the Supreme

Court on June 28 to resegregate America just breaks my heart.

Because I know what that decision will mean on an everyday

level. And it doesn't take a Cassandra to sense what's

coming next.


Now that the Supreme Court has brought us back to 1962

in terms of racial policy, that can only mean one thing:

the riots of '67 and '68 can't be far away.


As I wrote in this column on June 29:


"Get ready in coming years for a return to more extreme

racial alienation, more extreme income disparity between blacks

and whites and -- by the next decade -- a return to the sorts of

race riots that we saw in the 1960s. Which will then force us

to relearn the lessons that we've since forgotten: that separate

is inherently unequal, and integration is the only remedy for

that inequality."


The intense passion of the protesters in Jena is a sure sign

that this is about more than just Jena. But for starters,

let's see to it that the white students who hung those

nooses are expelled for making race-based death threats

and that the charges against the Jena Six are reduced, due

to the mitigating provocation stemming from the overall

context in which the assaults occurred. As I said,

I can't help but think that, as a 17-year-old, I, too,

might have wanted to unleash a can of proverbial whoop ass on

those racists myself.


But I digress. Paul

--------------------------------------------------------


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 18, 2007


I've attended lots of political protests over the

decades, both here and abroad, but I've never in my

entire life inhaled tear gas -- except once: in

Gainesville, Florida, where I briefly lived in the 1970s

while earning an undergraduate degree in philosophy.

It happened thirty years ago as students were just

peacefully milling around after a Halloween ball;

without warning, the local cops dispersed everyone

by filling the air with tear gas.


So it came as no surprise to me see Andrew Meyer, who

probably has a future as a Berkeley resident, tasered and

roughed up by the University of Florida police, who

interrupted him in the middle of a conversation with

Sen. John Kerry the other night.


For those who might not know, Gainesville is an

exceedingly progressive oasis in the middle of what

used to be the Jim Crow southeast, but the local cops

are mostly -- how to put this? -- rednecks who think

the first amendment and other constitutional protections

are some sort of abstract theory with no practical

application. As Sen. Kerry told a reporter: "I have

never had a dialog interrupted like that in 37 years,

at any event."


When it comes to handling protesters and dealing with

erupting emergencies, the University of Florida cops

should try to emulate the San Francisco police force,

which may well be the best police department in the nation.

As a reporter, I've been up in buildings occupied by

protesters and at vast raucous rallies in San Francisco

and have seen how effectively and intelligently the S.F.

cops handle such situations in most instances. (And as a

victim of crime, I've also seen them save a life -- my own!)


The Gainesville police and the University of Florida

cops would do well to study the tactics and strategies

used by their colleagues in San Francisco.


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 17, 2007


two new original cartoons by Paul Iorio...




---------------------




But I digress. Paul

[cartoons above by Paul Iorio.]
_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 14, 2007



Loose Thoughts Following Bush's Presidential Address


Former Sen. George McGovern, a World War II vet, once

memorably said that he opposed the Vietnam War, not

all wars. Pacificism merely means the other guy's violence

prevails.



Like McGovern, I oppose some wars, but not all war. I oppose

the Iraq war but wholeheartedly backed the Afghanistan one.


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

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

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

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

war stopped bin Laden's proxy government in Afghanistan.


Sometimes you have to counter-intuitively light a backfire

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

to get rid of smallpox (which is where guys like Howard Zinn

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

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

in judgment, not understanding such a central paradox; but

then we all get old).


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

Kerry, another vet, who not only supported that conflict

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

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

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


And let me state categorically, as a staunch opponent of

the Iraq war, that I will never vote for any candidate

who opposed the Afghanistan war, because such an

opposition shows a fatal lapse in judgment. I mean, what

did the anti-Afghanistan war activists suggest we do in

the weeks after 9/11? Serve bin Laden a subpoena in the

neverlands of Tora Bora? And what if his protectors had

started shooting? Then we're shooting back, right?

Well, hey, that's precisely what war is!)


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

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

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

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

make a whole lot of practical sense.


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

of the Iraq conflict cloud our collective judgment so

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

may be a very necessary one. A patient

traumatized by surgery may be overly reluctant to

have even urgent surgery in the future.


But I digress. Paul

____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 13, 2007


People's Park Two?


A placard at the ongoing protest in
the oak grove in Berkeley, Calif.
(photo by Paul Iorio)



Berkeley, California. Activists protest the development

of university-owned land. The University of California

steps in and erects a perimeter fence around the disputed

property, escalating tensions between the two sides.


Of course, I'm describing the legendary People's Park

protest of the spring of 1969, right?


Wrong. Try September 2007, the present day.


Several blocks northeast of People's Park, on

university land near a sports stadium,

the University of California wants to pave over

some old-growth oaks to develop an athletic

center, and protesters have been living in

trees since last December to stop that

from happening.


Two weeks ago, in an eerie echo of the

People's Park dispute, officials

fenced in the oak grove -- and the protesters --

in an early morning maneuver (much as the

university erected a fence around People's Park in

the 4am hour on May 15, 1969). And as before, the

partition has only heightened tensions between the

two sides. The main difference seems to be that

the 2007 fence is 10 ft. tall and the one in

1969 rose 8 feet.



There is little chance, however, that the oak grove

dispute will escalate into the sorts of bloody riots

that erupted in May 1969 over People's Park, though, at

the time of this writing, the fate of the oaks -- and

of the protesters -- is still very much up in the air.

Stay tuned.



As this sign at the oak grove shows,
the current dispute in Berkeley has become a
hub of generalized protest against various other
targets (e.g., the Bush administration,
the Iraq war), just as the '69 confrontation
bled into anti-Vietnam war activism.
(photo by Paul Iorio)


-------------

Here's one of the tree-sitters
(photo by Paul Iorio)



But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- As a resident of Berkeley who was robbed at

gunpoint two years ago, I would much rather see the

police get tough -- I mean, really tough -- with

local muggers and violent thugs rather than

with eco activists in trees.


[all photos above shot by Paul Iorio on January
24, 2007.]

__________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 10, 2007



I've long felt that September 11th of each

year should be informally regarded as a day

of remembrance in America, and workers should

have the option of taking the day off.


In that spirit, there will be no Daily

Digression tomorrow. Instead, let me share

a few original photos I shot in the eighties

and nineties of a part of New York City

I used to love a lot.


I shot this pic in 1984 through a sculpture in the World Trade Center plaza.
----


The twin towers as a backdrop to a speech by Bill Clinton; I snapped this photo on August 1, 1994, at Liberty State Park in Jersey City.
----


An early nineties photo that I shot from across the Hudson.
------


The twin towers, as seen from a hill in Hoboken, N.J.; I shot this in the 1980s.
-----


Another shot I snapped from inside a nearby sculpture.
------


I shot this one from a boat on the Hudson (early nineties).


P.S. -- Lyrics of my new song, "I Shot Osama bin Laden," will
be posted later today on my music website at www.pauliorio.blogspot.com.


[All six of the above photos of the twin towers shot by Paul Iorio.]
______________________________________
______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 7, 2007


Regarding the bin Laden video:


Osama, don't try to dig what we all say, as Pete

Townshend once put it. Don't go trying to connect with

what American progressives are writing. Your

true cultural and political soulmates are backward religious

fanatics like Ann Coulter and James Dobson.


And trying to pose like Karl Marx is a real laugh -- you've

got tens of millions of bucks, fought the Soviets when you

should've sided with them and come from a family of major

capitalists. Groucho Marx is more like it (or would be, if

there wasn't such tragedy involved).


I really do hope bin Laden dies before the 6th anniversary

of 9/11.


By the way, are we gonna hear an apology or some sort

of mea culpa from Cindy Sheehan and her fellow delusional

9/11 conspiracy theorists, now that bin Laden has, once

again, owned up to the 9/11 attacks? Or is she just too

wacko to know how to properly assess facts and evidence?


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- Bin Laden's newly darkened beard may just be the

result of filthiness rather than dye.

______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 6, 2007



Is there any fool who still believes the slogan

"If it's Mattel, it's swell" anymore?

Or the Bush banner "Mission Accomplished"? Or any number

of other lies that are regularly told by business

and government on a regular basis?


Some do believe such stuff, but usually only when they

haven't heard The Other Side of the Story, which you,

after all, have to make an effort to seek out -- and

it's so much easier, isn't it, to accept received and

passed-along information without scrutinizing it.



It's the old cliche of "never let the facts get in the

way of a good story," and it's become a central flaw in

all facets of American life today. It's the reason so

many journalists and politicians made the mistake of

supporting the invasion of Iraq in '03. It's the

reason lots of otherwise intelligent people supported

the wrongful prosecution of the Duke lacrosse players.


And it's the reason that, come later this month, when

Gen. David Petraeus presents his report on progress

in Iraq -- probably predictably concluding, with

propagandistically cautious language,

that the surge shows signs of working -- most

people will believe him. Of course, some will

reflexively not believe him, because they're

conditioned to think that anything coming from the

government is spin. Both sides need to check out

The Other Side of the Story to see what's really true.



But I'm not really sure that the former waitresses

and car dealers and clerks who constitute much of the

U.S. House of Representatives are up to the task

of true critical, skeptical thinking.



Regarding Iraq: 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

__________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for September 1, 2007


Regarding the Senator Craig scandal:



Making a sexual pass is not a sin. And making a

sexual pass to a perfect stranger is not wrong,

either (every married couple began, at some point,

as a couple of complete strangers; some of them

end that way, too!).


But making a sexual pass to an anonymous person (who may

or may not be some underaged kid who is just trying to

unload his bladder) in order to have an anonymous quickie

in a public place is both wrong and a colossal misjudgment.

Add the setting -- a toilet, for crissakes! -- and you

definitely have aberrant and predatory conduct that a U.S.

Senator should not be engaging in.


If he were, say, a 25-year-old, neophyte mayor of Boise,

his behavior would be excusable, forgivable, understandable,

particularly if it later turned out to be only an isolated

incident; but this guy is a 62-year-old repeat

offender who, at the very least, should have been fully aware

of the landmines (in the form of undercover vice officers) on

the landscape of public sex.


It's also different than the situation regarding Sen. Vitter,

who evidently patronized prostitutes. How is it different?

First, Vitter would have been able to determine

whether the prostitute was underage or not (I'm assuming a

scenario in which the suspicions about him are true). Second,

any sex with a prostitute would have taken place in a private

room, not in a public restroom where everyone entering

(including parents with children) would've been privy to

the groans and moans of an aging United States senator. Big

difference.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- By the way, yesterday's editorial in The New

York Times was astute in noting that it's likely that

Sen. Vitter, a Republican, will get to keep his seat because

a Democratic governor would be the person who'd appoint

his replacement -- and the GOP wouldn't have it (Craig's

replacement will be named by a fellow Republican). That

may be the case, but that still doesn't negate the

other, very valid reasons why Craig, not Vitt, has had

to resign, and why the former's transgressions are more

serious than the latter's (reasons noted above).



P.S.: By the way, great to see Senator Tim Johnson back

on Capitol Hill after his hemorrhage -- I must admit

I love Johnson for getting back in the game. Yeah, his

speech may be slightly impaired, but the only ones

in the Senate who are showing impaired judgment these days

are those who haven't had a hemorrhage or a stroke

(e.g., Senators Craig, Vitt, Stevens, etc.).

____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 30, 2007


The Washington Post is a great newspaper, no doubt about it,

and I'm proud to have written and reported for it in the

past. But the paper's decision not to run a Berkeley Breathed

cartoon because it might be offensive to Muslims is pure cowardice.


Let's put it in plain English: the reason some papers won't

satirize Islam is because they're afraid militants will throw

a violent temper tantrum.


The new rule at some papers (and let's codify it for

the stylebooks) is: don't poke fun at anyone who might

throw a violent fit. Of course, it's still ok to satirize

those who don't get violent in a disagreement.


Whether you're the American Nazi Party or Earth First,

the message is clear: the way to control press coverage

of your group is to object to the coverage with violence.

And then editors will throw up their hands and say

ok ok you win.


The new rule also says: It's all right to tell jokes about

any other religious or philosophical group, even though

they may be just as offended as Muslim

extremists -- so long as those other groups express their

disagreement in a more civilized way. But as soon as those

other groups start getting physical, they're off limits to

satirists, too.


Well, not on my watch. My satire has always skewered all

faiths and beliefs equally, and posted here is a vintage

example. (By the way, if anyone is offended by the following

story in any way, I would like to say, with deepest

sincerity, you need to develop a sense of humor about yourself.



[ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DETAILS MAGAZINE]



Choosing My Religion

Converting to the World's Great (And Not-So-Great) Religions -- All of Them

By Paul Iorio



If everything were to go wrong, it's somewhat comforting to know

organized religion would take you in -- no matter who you are or what you've

done or what you really believe.


But first you must convert. What religion is best for you? Which one

offers a sensible plan for eternity, no-fault redemption, praying that gets

results, easy admission to heaven, and a moral contract that's non-binding?


To answer these questions, I set out one morning to convert to the world's

great (and not-so-great) religions. Within hours, I grew certain of only one

thing: becoming holy was not the best way to expand my sexual options,

since many faiths prohibit even the most mundane erotic activities. Islam, for

example, forbids masturbation.


"It's a sin," says Abdul Hai of the Islamic Center in Chicago.

"You can't even masturbate with your wife?," I ask.

"How come you do masturbating with your wife?," says Hai.

"Mutual masturbation -- that would be okay, right?," I ask.

"I don't think so," says Hai.


So for those who sometimes feel sex is too private to do in front of

another person, Islam is clearly not the way to go.


Muslims also bar lechery. "Even if you gaze at the face of a woman out of

lust, it is forbidden," says Muhammed Salem Agwa, an imam at the Islamic

Cultural Center in New York. (Sunnis and Shiites largely agree on such

lifestyle issues.)


I then tried the Mormons. First thing I found was they take marriage very

seriously. Not only do they nix sex before marriage, they believe in marriage

after death. This, of course, raises the question of whether one can file for

divorce in eternity.


"As far as getting a divorce in the eternities, I don't think so," says an

elder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. "If you lasted until the eternities

with your marriage, it's pretty much going to last forever."


"But if you do get a divorce in eternity, do you split the soul 50:50?," I

ask.


"Good question," he says. "I never thought of that. I'll have to think about

it."


Judaism actually regulates the penis itself; circumcision is recommended

for converts. (For the uninitiated, adult circumcision is usually performed

under a local anesthetic and requires several stitches you know where.)


Next, I checked out the best ways of getting to heaven. For

Catholics, I found the password to heaven is a simple, "I'm sorry." Evidently,

the deal for Catholics is this: Commit any sin during the week, confess on

Sunday, and you're pardoned, no matter what the offense.


Catholics can even envision forgiveness for Adolf Hitler. "If at the end,

Hitler had been truly sorry for the things he had done, then the possibility of

forgiveness is there in a theoretical sense," says Father Kevin Madigan of the

Blessed Sacrament Church in Manhattan.


"Is there any point of evil beyond which you say, 'No amount of

repentance will redeem you?,'" I ask.


"No," says Father Madigan.


Catholics aren't the only ones with a loose forgiveness policy. Listen to

Pentecostal pastor Donald Lee of the Healing Stream Deliverance Church in

New York: "One of the people we're affiliated with is Son of Sam," he says,

sounding a bit like Dan Aykroyd's E. Buzz Miller character on the original

"Saturday Night Live." "We've prayed with him a number of times, and he's

really strong now in the Lord."


"That seems way over the top," I say. "If Son of Sam doesn't go to hell,

then who does?"


"He doesn't go to hell because he's totally repented. In this case, he really

meant business with God," says Lee.


"What sins won't you excuse?," I ask.


"When you experience the power of God and then you blaspheme it, you

mock it," Lee explains.


Other religions have their own quirky, irredeemable acts. What sin do

Lutherans consider unforgivable?


"To die in unbelief," says Dale Hansen, the pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran

Church in Manhattan.


"But then if I believe before I die, I'm forgiven my previous unbelief?," I

ask.


"That's right," says Hansen.

With this much forgiveness going around, heaven must be mighty

crowded, right? Not according to Jehovah's Witnesses, who claim heaven

has a tight guest list of exactly 144,000. Apparently, admission depends on

who you know. Each apostle gets to bring along 12,000 guests, says Elder

Eugene Dykes of Kingdom Hall in Columbia, South Carolina.


Despite stiff competition for admission to heaven, one can still have a shot

by following as many religious rules as possible. Among them are the Ten

Commandments, which raise complex ethical questions. For instance, would

I be considered unholy if I break the First Commandment by believing Al

Green is God?


"Oh, no, no, no," says Adriano Hernandez of the Broadway Seventh-Day

Adventist Church in Manhattan.


"Al Green is a great guy, but he's not the supreme being of the universe,"

notes Glenn Evans of the Singles' Ministry of the First Baptist Church of

Dallas, Texas.


"Believing Al Green is God means you're going to become a total servant

of Al Green," says Father Madigan, "and whenever he calls you on the phone

and wants you to do something, you're going to do that. I don't understand

how you can worship Al Green as a god."


"I think you're pulling my leg here," says the very smart Leslie Merlin of

Brick Presbyterian Church in New York.


If the Ten Commandments are strict, just think of Judaism, with its

additional 613 commandments. How do you know if you're violating, say,

commandment 537? "It's hard," admits Rabbi Jacob Spiegel of the First

Roumanian American Congregation. "We don't expect you to."


Most orders of Judaism don't expect adherence to their dietary laws. One

commandment forbids Jews to consume meat and any milk product at the

same meal, which rules out something as innocent as coffee with milk after a

burger. But Rabbi Simcha Weinberg of the Lincoln Square Synagogue slyly

reveals a loophole: "You could have the coffee first."


Islam's food restrictions are so strict it's a wonder someone hasn't

marketed them as a diet plan yet. Among the regulations, most devotees must

fast from dawn to dusk for one month a year. Does that mean not even a Slim

Fast or a megavitamin? "You cannot even take a drop of water once you start

fasting," Abdul Hai says sternly.


Praying is a good way to get your side of the story across to God. And

God reportedly understands every prayer in every tongue -- including

tongues.


Pastor Donald Lee demonstrates his fluency in tongues: "When the spirit

comes into you, you'll be speaking in tongues -- cora ba shinda da ba sa --

like that. Like right now -- kara sheek a ra da ba da sheev ba ra sa. When I

pray in tongues -- cora da shotta -- it gives the Holy Spirit a chance to dig

deep."


But don't try imitating Pastor Lee, which of course I know you're dying to

do. "You could imitate me, but it wouldn't be by the Holy Spirit," he says.

"It would just be mechanical."


Islam requires Muslims to take comfort in prayer five times a day and to

turn toward Mecca when doing so. "Suppose I turn toward San Francisco," I

say. "Does that negate my prayer?"


"You can have a compass and you keep it with you," responds

Muhammed Salem Agwa.


Because I didn't have my compass with me, I decided to try another

religion. What about Christian Science? At the very least, it's a super way to

save on healthcare. I checked out a service in Greenwich Village.


The congregation, looking like people who wash their hair with bar soap,

sings Hymn 31, a four-four ditty with catchy lyrics like: "What chased the

clouds away? Twas love, whose finger traced aloud a bow of promise on the

cloud."


Then it's open-mike time at the church, and a Christian Scientist with a

comb-over shaped like a gerrymandered congressional district says, "I have a

healing to share." Though the Scientists believe faith can cure any ailment,

this service was causing me sudden nausea. I left for the Hare Krishna house

on Second Avenue.


Approaching the Krishna center, I expected a lot of shaved heads and

chanters in neon orange robes. Instead, I found an almost irreverent

get-together of twentysomethings vaguely resembling Billy Bragg and

Sinead O'Connor.


I investigated the Krishnas further. Which Vishnu god gives me the best

return on my worship? "Kirshna," says Akunthita Dasi of the International

Society for Krishna Consciousness in Chicago.


Must my cremated ashes be scattered on the Ganges River, or will the

Hackensack or Potomac do? "We just throw ashes in the lake here," says

Chakra Pani of the Temple of Understanding near Limestone, West Virginia.


Seeking something more earthly, I tried an Orthodox Jewish Minchah

service at Congregation Talmud Torah Adereth El in Manhattan. In a tight

basement with bars on the windows, men wearing hats turned the pages of

the Torah backward and spoke Yiddish in an emphatic fast-motion ritual. I made

a contribution and quickly left.


Equally daunting was a Catholic Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New

York. Inside, worshipers repeated "I shall not fear" as a cop patrolled the

north aisle and an usher prodded me with a long-armed collection basket.

Then everybody shook hands with one another on cue and filed out to the

sound of a barely audible organ.


A nearby Buddhist meditation service was a breath of fresh incense -- at

first. But then someone told me I was meditating incorrectly and needed

formal instruction. (In Zenspeak, I didn't know what I wasn't doing.)


My head was spinning in a spiritual vortex. I wondered: could I

simultaneously shave my head, get circumcised, genuflect, speak in tongues,

pray with a compass, and stop masturbating? It may be worth trying. It

would certainly improve my chances of getting to heaven.


[From Details magazine, October 1994.]


But I digress. Paul

___________________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 26, 2007



Last Night's Show by The Beastie Boys


It was 20 years ago almost to the day that I saw my

first concert by The Beastie Boys, on a double bill

with Run DMC at MSG in NYC (see review posted below),

and the difference between that gig and the one I

heard last night in Berkeley is, obviously, substantial.

In other words, they're still evolving, even this late in

the game.



Sure, they threw in a few eighties classics from "Licensed to Ill"

and "Paul's Boutique" last night (it was particularly

great to hear "Shake Your Rump-ah" come alive live)

but the show was more about the future, as they

continue to transform into multi-genre innovators,

with always-fresh takes on punk and prog and jazz and

disco and funk and, of course, hip hop, and

lots of styles in between.



New stuff like "Electric Worm," from their latest CD,

the all-instrumental "The Mix-Up," was just as

enjoyable as classics like "Brass Monkey" and encore

"No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and "Paul Revere," which had

the audience (and fans in the hills, where I was)

singing almost every word.



One of the highlights of the night was 2004's "An Open

Letter to NYC," probably the best song about post-9/11

New York to date, with lyrics like: "Dear New York, I

know a lot has changed/two towers down but you're still

in the game."



A sidenote: too many performers at the Greek in Berkeley

greet the audience with "Hello, San Francisco," which

to Berkeleyans is sorta like someone saying, "Hello, Cincinnati."

So kudos to the Beastie Boys for getting it right and being

knowing about the local landscape ("Thank you very much for

having us here in Berkeley and the whole Bay Area" was their

first of many references to the area). Then again, the group

is now part San Franciscan, what with the addition of SF's

own Mix Master Mike, whose turntable wizardry was on abundant

display last night.




But I digress. Paul

_________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 25, 2007


Last Night's Wilco Concert


The Wilco resurgence continued apace with a show

last night in Berkeley, Calif., where the band

played most of its new album, "Sky Blue Sky," its

best CD in years, along with more than a dozen older

songs by the group. It even reached back to its '95

debut, "A.M.," for "Too Far Apart," a concert

rarity, though the real thrills came

near the finale with the

infectious "California Stars" and

the out-of-sight "Outtasite (Outta Mind),"

the best song of the night (though this

comes from someone who thinks "Being

There," not "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel,"

is the band's peak -- and from

someone who heard the gig from

the hills above the

Greek Theatre!). Of the new

ones, stand-outs included the gorgeous

"Either Way," the soulful "Side With the

Seeds" and "You Are My Face."




Singer-songwriter Richard Swift opened with some

impressive material; one song in particular -- I'm

trying to find out the title (it may be called

"Half Lit") -- is one of the most haunting new folk songs

I've heard in a long time. Well worth checking out.


But I digress. Paul

[photo of Jeff Tweedy by Jim Cooper, from theage.com.au.]
________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 24, 2007



I started loving Grace Paley's work around January

1976 and don't plan to stop until my blood starts evaporating,

which, as her stories have always pointed out, could happen

anytime between right now and a few decades from right now.



I was particularly in awe of Paley's stories in "Enormous

Changes at the Last Minute," which,

unfortunately, I haven't

owned since I wore out my previous

paperback edition a few years ago.




She was always brilliant at revealing the

vast emotional landscape in small, ordinary,

everyday moments, and could pack far, far

more in 700 perfectly-chosen words than most

writers could in 700 flabby pages.



I remember seeing her read her work in Manhattan in '81 or

'82 -- if I'm not mistaken, she was on a double bill at

the 92nd St. Y with the late, great Donald Barthelme, who was

so funny that night. Shortly afterwards, I wrote a song,

"Eloise," based on verse that appeared in one of her stories,

and it went like this:


"Eloise is like the bees/Eloise buzz like the bees does

Eloise is like the bees/Eloise buzz like the bees does

Eloise buzz like the bees does"


Yesterday, sadly, there was an enormous change at the last

minute for Paley -- her final one. But in reality she's brand

new every day, to everyone who reads her stories.


Paul.

[photo of Paley above from Ms Magazine -- photographer unknown.]

________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 19, 2007


Ah, the golden era of progressivism, back when America
still had its two-front teeth (l) and its bite (r).(Photo
by Paul Iorio.)



There seems to be an inevitability to Hillary's

nomination, and it may already be a fait accompli, but...not

so fast.


Sure, she has a big lead in the national polls, although

the one question pollsters are apparently not asking is:

are you likely to vote in the presidential primaries?


And that's key. Hillary's people say they support her when

approached by a pollster who comes to them with questions.

But let's face it: her backers aren't charged or enthusiastic or

motivated -- they're not true believers, so they're likely to

find an excuse to stay at home if there's, say, a blizzard in

Nashua on primary day.


But Barack's people -- virtually every one of 'em -- will show

up on election day. I saw with my own eyes a woman attached

to an oxygen tank attending a massive rally for Obama in

Oakland, Calif., last March 17 (see Daily Digression for March 18,

below). The guy in front of me waiting in line for nearly

two hours to get into that Obama rally used a crutch to walk

and to stand. People who have no disposable income contribute

money to Obama's campaign. And all that tells me that, come

primary day, over 100% of Obama's supporters will vote, while

maybe 75% of Hillary's backers will.


It's the Gene McCarthy syndrome. Before the New Hampshire

primary in '68, McCarthy was written off by party bosses who saw

LBJ's lead in the polls as insurmountable. But what their polling

failed to detect was that all of McCarthy's backers

were motivated to vote, while only some of Lyndon's were.

The result was an astonishingly strong and unexpected second

place finish for McCarthy -- and the beginning of the

end for LBJ.


Barack is already leading in Iowa, albeit by a thread. But add

the wind chill factor of true believerism among his supporters,

and he may actually be leading by a substantial margin.



When there is any passion for Hillary, it's usually because

supporters see her as a way to return to what now looks like a

golden progressive era, to the days of Clinton the First, when

everybody had a job and the small entrepreneur could flourish and

America still had its two front teeth and the Supreme Court was

still in the hands of the good guys and we weren't stuck in the

quicksand of Iraq.


Conversely, what is probably dampening enthusiasm for Hillary is

the same memory: people also recall the gridlock of the Clinton

years and how the administration mostly failed to put through the

progressive agenda -- even with the help of a Democratic

Congress -- and how slow the process of triangulation was.


Al Gore, of course, would benefit even more from the Golden Glow

of the Clinton era, if he were to run, and it now looks like he won't,

though don't be so sure; Fred Thompson's late entry might change

the whole chemistry of the campaign. And if Thompson were to catapult

to the lead, that might signal to Gore that, hey, the water's fine

for latecomers.


A resemblance to Obama?

-------------------------------------------

An addition to my DVD round-up of July 30; I finally got

to see all of the first volume of "The Dick Cavett Show: Comic

Legends" DVD the other day, and it's even better than the

other three discs.


Check out Cavett's extremely funny interview with Groucho Marx

(September 5, 1969):


GROUCHO: "This show is going to be a big hit because you're
on at 10 o'clock at night..."

CAVETT: "I'm on at 9 central time."

GROUCHO: [pause] "Well, I - I wouldn't go that far."

---------------------------

GROUCHO: "They've raised the price of everything. So if you're gonna

get your legs sawed off, it used to cost maybe 85 dollars -- it'd

be about a hundred and forty now."


CAVETT: "It's hardly worth it, is it?"


GROUCHO: "No, it's hardly worth it. For two hundred dollars

I'd seriously consider it."

---------------------------------

GROUCHO: "[A female fan] invited me up to her room but I didn't

want to go. She was an old bag. She was around 24."


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- Watching this morning's Democratic presidential

debate, I couldn't help but look at all the candidates at

their podiums and think: this looks like the next Democratic

administration, starring Hillary as president, Barack as veep,

and first-term cabinet members Biden, Dodd, Edwards and Kucinich

(meanwhile, Richardson, who seems increasingly befuddled, like

a guy with a dangerously high cholesterol level, should probably

take some time off for a check-up, as should Gravel).

________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 15, 2007


Lively discussion about OJ Simpson's book on this

morning's "Today" show with Denise Brown and the

publisher of OJ's book. It's good to see someone

raising her voice, loud and clear, in condemnation of

Simpson. Because, frankly, you'd be surprised that OJ

has his supporters, or tacit supporters. And among

them is apparently Michelle Caruso of The New York Daily News,

who was yelling with equal volume in SUPPORT of

Simpson in a courtroom in 1997 (see Daily Digression below,

August 8, 2007). She objected so much to my question to OJ

in 1997 ("Have you had any luck finding the real killer?")

that she attacked me out of the blue and has been doing

so ever since. Glad I can give a biased journalist heartburn.


But I digress. Paul

____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 13, 2007


Brilliant article in Sunday's Times about Ingmar Bergman

by Woody Allen. In fact, it's the best feature the

paper has run all year, by far, though I have to strongly

disagree with one point he made, and that is that

Allen says he himself is not a genius. To which

I say: if Allen is not a genius among film makers,

then who is? The title of Greatest Living

Writer/Director really does apply only to Allen and

and around five others (in a tie). (Also, terrific

piece by Martin Scorsese on Michelangelo Antonioni in

the same issue of the The Times.)


----------------------------


Remembering Merv Griffin


I had a one-on-one lunch with Merv Griffin

on his yacht in Marina del Rey, Calif., back in June 1998,

and appreciated how kind and forthcoming he was to me, a lowly

reporter writing a story for the San Francisco Chronicle at

the time.


I'll try to post the unpublished parts of the interview

at some point, but for now, a few observations: Griffin really

had a way of making everyone around him feel like a winner -- and

he was always interested in the new tv star on the horizon.

And you could tell he really loved the friendship of

Nancy Reagan (when the phone rang on the boat, he

said, "That's probably her right now").


And, yes, you could also detect a little bit of

good-natured rivalry with Johnny Carson, who had

a neighboring boat in the Marina that he pointed

out to me. He'll be remembered well.


UPDATE:


OK, I found unpublished outtakes from

my 1998 interview with Griffin, and here are some

excerpts:


ON GAME SHOWS: "Many of the games I produced were the

results of games I played in my childhood and then developed

them into tv shows, never thinking they'd become what they

became."


ON ORSON WELLES: "I think I have a tape saying he didn't

think 'Citizen Kane' was that good..."


ON ANDY WARHOL: "Warhol came on the show and one minute

before the show said, 'I will not talk.' And I said,

'What're you gonna do?' And he said, 'I'll nod.' And

it was a very funny show."


ON JOHN LENNON: "We became friends. We went out

to a couple discos but...it created

such a riot that I just finally said, "I've got to

go home, John."


ON PETER O'TOOLE: "He got furious with me on the air

and wouldn't answer. He'd say, 'yes, no.' That was

his first appearance on tv -- he was out promoting

'Lawrence of Arabia.'"


ON BILL CLINTON: "Great guy to talk to, so much fun. The

kind of guy you want to hang out with, but you can't, because

he's the president."


ON JOHNNY CARSON: "We were on opposite each other for two and

a half years. He won. There was no way he couldn't win; he had

more stations, he had the years of doing it all."


At another point, Griffin showed me Carson's yacht and said:

"Carson's boat is right over there. He travels a lot -- a lot.

He goes to Africa a lot. He goes to Russia. He's learned to

speak Russian, he speaks impeccable Russian."



ON THE VIETNAM WAR: "I was horrified by it. I was the first

to book a protester against it on my show."


ON MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: "Loved him. The most peaceful man I've

ever met. You get mesmerized talking to him. I guess because of

his eyes. He was so honest."



ON JERRY SEINFELD: "I love Jerry Seinfeld. I just scream

at that show."




Here's a collage I made of headlines I found while doing
pre-interview research on Griffin.



But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 12, 2007



Browsing through some old issues of the late, great Spy

magazine, for which I used to write and report, I happened

on a piece that shows how much braver some of the press

used to be back in the day, particularly regarding Muslim

militants.


Here's an example, by James H. Fischer, who memorably

"interviewed" the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in Spy's June

1989 issue (note the drawing of Muhammad in the

upper right hand corner). That sort of fearless

satire seems to be in low supply these days.




But I digress. Paul

__________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 8, 2007



The Untold Story About Coverage of O.J. Simpson


Ten years ago, OJ Simpson had to give up his Heisman trophy

as part of the civil settlement in his double murder

case, and I covered it for Reuters, though the interesting

thing about the story was that much of the press played

extreme softball with Simpson. I was shocked, frankly, that

there was almost no aggressive questioning of the guy, even

though everyone had access to him in the Santa Monica courthouse.


In fact, some reporters and cops were actually playing air

football with Simpson!


And after I asked him a tough question -- "Hey, OJ, have you had

any luck finding the real killers?" -- Simpson, who didn't

like my question much, became openly mocking: "Nobody

likes me, everybody hates me," Simpson said in a sing-song

voice in the corridor, after I was persistent with my questions.


Within minutes, a cop said that reporters couldn't

talk to Simpson, but the judge overruled the officer around an hour

later and said we could talk to him. So I asked him again,

"Hey OJ, have you had any luck finding the killers of your wife."


And I must say that except for a couple first-class reporters from

Court TV and a couple others, I was the only one asking

hard questions of Simpson, and that seemed to irritate

both cops and a few reporters at the scene (some of whom

were asking "tough" questions like: "OJ, do you feel you're

being harassed?").


I came up with the question spontaneously as I watched the timidity

of particular reporters toward Simpson, and it's a fair question, if you

think about it.


Then, out of the blue, as I sat quietly in the courtroom, one

cop (who had been playing air football with Simpson) started

giving me a rough time and -- equally out of the blue -- a

so-called reporter (she identified herself as Michelle Caruso

of the New York Daily News) started to play tag team

with the cop, yelling and screaming in the courtroom at me

(about my shirt, oddly, a really nice $75 conservative

shirt -- among other things) a pro pos of nothing.

I had had absolutely no prior contact with this so-called

reporter, and didn't even know her name until she told me it

(and I didn't even answer her, despite her efforts to

turn the event into an episode of "Jerry Springer").

And yet here she was screaming for no reason whatsoever

as I sat quietly.


Caruso showed no such aggressiveness in trying to interview

OJ Simpson, mind you. She was very meek when it came to him,

who she was paid to cover. But she had the rude over-familiarity

of a hick when it came to dealing with others in the courthouse,

as if she was straight out of Mayberry, RFD.


Caruso, who came to work that day with big-hair that looked like

it had been butchered by Simpson himself, shut up only when I

showed her that my cassette tape recorder was running -- which

shows that she knew her rant couldn't stand up to scrutiny.


Note to Caruso's editor at the Daily News: you should fire

Michelle Caruso right now, even after all these years, because

behavior like that is likely to be repeated by her (if it

hasn't been already).


So ten years later, as Simpson makes the rounds of golf courses,

one wonders whether he would have been serving time if certain

reporters and cops had been a bit more aggressive toward the

right people.




O.J. Simpson signs autographs for fans in
August 1997 outside the Santa Monica Courthouse
(photo by Paul Iorio).



But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- Lemme guess how Caruso's probably trying

to spin the situation now that this blog his gotten

around. She's probably saying that there was a rush

of reporters trying to reach Simpson at one point in

the courthouse and -- lemme guess again -- she's

probably trying to make it look like I was part of that

stampede, when she knows full well I was being stampeded

from behind, too.


In other words, I was being pushed from behind in that

rush toward Simpson!


In any event, she didn't bring any of that up in her rant.

But I'm guessing that she has probably tacked that on to her

explanation in the years since.



P.S. (again) -- By the way, there's tv footage somewhere, I'm sure,

of a press conference from that day, but that press conference

happened after the events I'm describing. And I'm probably in

the footage, too, because I was positioned behind O.J. (nodding at

one point at a colleague who was trying to get my attention

off-camera).





UPDATE: Just found my notes and tapes from that day, and here

are excerpts:

Caruso's metldown happened at around 2:15 that day. At a seat

behind me, she said: "You're from Reuters" and I said, "yes."

And she said, in a nasty way: "Who's your boss, who hired you?

I know all the guys there." From notes: "I didn't answer her

because she appeared hostile."


And then Caruso continued on her rant that stopped only when

she saw my tape recorder was running.


I also noted: "Cops very buddy buddy with OJ."

______________________________




THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 5, 2007



Beyond the Kos Debate: Obama, Pakistan and Killing bin Laden



If there is a python in your garden, and you have

a chance to kill it, but you vacillate and

let it go, and that python later comes into a birthday

party you're throwing for small children and bites

three kids, and one of them later dies, then you

have blood on your hands because you didn't kill

or capture the python when you could have.



And if that python then slithers away after biting

three kids, and crosses through your fence into a

neighbor's yard, then, of course, you should

climb that fence into your neighbor's yard, without

first asking your neighbor's permission, to kill

the snake on his property (assuming, of course,

you have the equipment to kill or capture it at

the ready).


And if your neighbor objects, and angrily asks what

you're doing in his yard killing an animal, and your

neighbor is a religious fundamentalist who takes

thou-shalt-not-kill a bit too literally, then you

would have to explain to him that his front yard is

inextricably linked to your front yard and that

you were in hot pursuit of a killer. (Admittedly,

you would also have to patch up the relationship later

on and smooth things down the road so that your neighbor

understands that killing the python, on his property

or not, was doing the neighborhood a big favor.)


Obviously, the python in this allegory refers to Osama

bin Laden and the neighbor to Pakistan (which,

incidentally, has a fence that's so simple and porous,

particularly around Waziristan, that I could have left

it out of the allegory altogether). And it

illustrates the truth of Barack Obama's

recent controversial comments on Pakistan.


To recap: last week, at the Woodrow Wilson International

Center for Scholars, Obama said: ''There are terrorists

holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans.

They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake

to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaeda

leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable

intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and

President Musharraf won't act, we will.''



And he was also right when he later said: "Nobody

believes we can negotiate with bin Laden." In my view,

you would no more negotiate with bin Laden than you

would with a rapist who is in the middle of raping someone.


I'm a huge fan of Diplomacy First in almost all other

foreign policy situations and an opponent of the death

penalty, but I also strongly believe that the U.S.

should kill bin Laden, not just capture him. We

already know he's guilty of mass murder -- he's

already confessed to the 9/11 slaughter -- and

anything he's likely to say in the dock at the

Hague would be bullshit, disinformation, at best.


Also, bin Laden is a mobilizing force, mostly for

those brainwashed by the madrasas, and his death

would leave no one at the top of al Qaeda who is

nearly as effective (history is full of examples

of how movements, both noble and evil, disintegrate

when the main leader is killed or imprisoned).



Me, I have a bottle of wine all picked out

for the day bin Laden dies and, when he does,

I plan to play Bob Dylan's "Masters of War,"

which goes like this: "And I hope that you die/

And your death'll come soon/I will follow your casket/

In the pale afternoon/And I'll watch while

you're lowered/Down to your deathbed/

And I'll stand over your grave/

'Til I'm sure that you're dead."


But I digress.


Getting back to the subject: Hillary is

trying to make it look like Obama

doesn't have a lot of foreign policy experience,

when in fact what he does have is something

more valuable: foreign policy wisdom.


I mean, get a load of the mess that people with foreign

policy experience have made of the world stage.

All of Hillary's experience -- uh, she was the wife

of someone who had a job in the 1990s -- led her to

vote for war authorization, a mistake that a lot of

seasoned pros made at the time. (Even so,

I'm still seriously considering voting for Hillary

in the California primary in February, though I

may not. Frankly, she lacks the natural instincts

of a politician -- remember, she is part of Hugh

Rodham's gene pool, not Bill Clinton's; she doesn't

have his genetic material in her, unless she has

swallowed some, which is highly unlikely. And her

unlikeability level, which rivals Bob Dole's or

Gray Davis's, may make her unelectable. In fact,

now that I've become more familiar with Hillary,

I can fully understand how Monica

probably looked like heaven on earth to you-know-who

by contrast!)



Look, I'm a huge admirer of Bill Clinton, but even he, after

eight years of policy experience as president, told the

nation before the 2003 Iraq war, don't worry, this war

won't take long, Saddam will be a pushover.


Not to mention Bush's crowd, with about 20,000 years

of foreign affairs and war experience between them,

who got us mired in this Iraq mess to begin with.


So much for the value of foreign policy experience!


Perhaps what we need is fresh thinking about Iraq and

al Qaeda from someone who's not so close to the

conventional wisdom and hand-me-down theories.

The so-called experts -- who also didn't

anticipate the 9/11 attacks -- have failed us

miserably.


It's sort of like the company CEO who is paid $20

million a year and is running the company into the

ground; there's an excellent chance you could put

a rank amateur in the same position with better

results (as the joke goes, give me just a million

and I'll run the company into the ground).



My theory is that Obama's remarks are causing controversy

because his rivals see for the first time that...he could

win the presidency.


Oh, I know he's trailing in the national polls but other

indicators say he could become our next president. First,

there's his astonishing lead in fundraising. Yeah,

Howard Dean had fundraising prowess, too, but this

this is waay beyond Dean.


Second, the latest Washington Post/ABC poll shows Obama

leading in Iowa, though barely -- 27 to 26 to 26 percent

over both Clinton and Edwards, who has virtually

established residence there.


Coming out of the gate in January, Obama is likely to go

two-for-two before the Christmas lights are down, first

with the non-binding primary in D.C. (1/8)

and then with the Iowa caucus (1/14), giving him momentum

for the New Hampshire primary (1/22), if not the Nevada

caucus (1/19). No doubt, the Florida primary (1/29) might

be a tough slough for Obama, though he's showing surprising

strength along that centrist stretch dubbed the I-4 corridor.


The nomination will, in all likelihood, be wrapped up for

someone by February 5, SuperDuper Tuesday, which looks to

be a two-way split (Obama in Illinois, Hillary in

New York, California a toss-up, with smaller states

peeling off evenly for both Obama and Clinton).


In other words, what we're seeing with that Iowa

poll -- 27 for Obama and 26 for Clinton) -- may be

repeated in many states, with hairline victories for

Obama in lots of contests, many of them winner-take-all.



Right wing pundits are crunching the numbers and probably

privately sweating as they realize Obama could win -- and

that's perhaps why Barack is drawing so much fire these

days. Conservative columnist David Brooks is an inadvertent

barometer of Obama's chances of winning the White House;

several months ago, on "The NewsHour," back when Obama

looked like the McGovern of '08, Brooks was praising Obama

to the skies: oh, you Dems should really nominate that

Obama guy, he's really smart and talented, Brooks

essentially said. Read: why don't you Dems nominate

that guy who has absolutely no chance of winning.


But now Brooks has changed his tune considerably, harshly

criticizing Obama on foreign policy. Read: holy shit, Obama

now has a real chance of winning!


Even Mitt Romney has attacked Obama on Pakistan as if Obama

were already the Democratic nominee. (By the way, what a

gift for memorable language this Romney fellow has -- here's

his comment to a reporter: "I do not concur in the

words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours...I

don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to

draw more friends to our effort.")


But getting back to Obama's position on Pakistan: let's get

to the core of the issue, and the core is that Pakistan (and

therefore India) must be denuclearized, and we

must provide both nations with substantial incentives so

that they agree to get rid of their nukes.



Let me explain my reasoning.

1. If we were to find bin Laden in Waziristan, we might

hesitate to go after him unilaterally because it might

enrage Islamic extremists in Pakistan who might

then overthrow Musharraf's regime.


2. The main reason we're afraid of losing Musharraf is

because he might be replaced by a Taliban leader who would

then have control of Pakistan's nukes. That

is a large part of what has been making us so timid

about finding bin Laden east of Tora Bora.


Possible solution: if we could somehow find a way to

denuclearize Pakistan (and, again, India), then most of

the danger (and anxiety) about the possible overthrowing of

Musharraf would dissipate. It would, after all, be of less

consequence if the Taliban took over a Pakistan that didn't

have nuclear weapons. Mind you, it would still be an

awful prospect, but not necessarily a grave one.


If Pakistan didn't have nukes, we'd feel freer about doing

whatever is necessary to kill the python that has

slithered into our neighbor's yard.


But I digress. Paul


[montage of campaign buttons above by Paul Iorio]

____________________________________





THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for August 3, 2007



On Thursday, we lost a journalistic

hero, Chauncey Bailey, the 57-year-old

editor of The Oakland Post newspaper,

to assassination. At the time of his

murder, he was working on an investigative

piece on the Your Black Muslim Bakery

in Oakland, Calif., and

that was what got him killed by an

employee of the Bakery, according to

investigators.



Hats off to the law enforcement agencies that

carried out the pre-dawn raid on the Bakery on

Friday, using just the right amount of

force to arrest suspects in the case.

A situation that could have turned into a near-Branch

Davidian disaster came to a peaceful

resolution because it was handled with

surgical precision. Those in charge of planning

and carrying out the arrests at the Bakery

should be promoted.


But I digress. Paul

[above photo of Chauncey Bailey from spokesmanreview.com; photographer unknown.]
__________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 31, 2007


a scene from Ingmar Bergman's "Through a Glass Darkly"



Sad to hear about the passing of Ingmar Bergman,

though glad he lived to almost 90, a lifespan

nearly as old as cinema itself. No doubt, he was

one of the two or three greatest auteurs, and my

personal favorites from his oeuvre are "Persona,"

"Wild Strawberries" and "The Seventh Seal," though

I keep returning to "Fanny and Alexander" more than

the others. One Bergman gem that's often overlooked

and underrated is "Through a Glass Darkly," which shows

madness as a quiet, haunting terror.


In the end, in the ultimate chess match, both Bergman and

collaborator Sven Nykvist were able to put off The

Inevitable Checkmate for as long as any human being can.

_________________


I've always had the feeling that if Michelangelo

Antonioni hadn't been a film maker, he would've

been a post-expressionist painter, because that's

the sensibility he brought to cinema. In fact, he

seemed to see film as an almost purely visual

medium, and the best example of that was the

dazzling end of "Zabriskie Point," which was

virtually one expressionist painting after

another, if you were to still each frame. I was

always waiting for Antonioni to take his aesthetic

to the next level and make a two-hour film that was

purely painterly visuals, with no plot, no story.

But when he mixed his abstractions with an urgent

story line, he gave us "Blow-Up," one of the most

enigmatic films ever made (and so ahead of its time

that there was actually a cameo by Jimmy Page,

no less -- in 1966!).


I mourn the passing of Antonioni, but living to 94 was

a sweet bit of luck.




a scene from "Blow-Up"
















------------------------------

P.S. -- By the way, on a completely different subject: I recently

received a Roland Digital Workstation as a birthday gift but,

unfortunately, all CDs that I record through it are erroneously

labeled (in the "CD Info" box) as "Artist: PapaJustify."


What that means or who that is, I have no idea!


Does anyone out there know how I can fix that so that

the "CD Info" box lists the proper name of the CD?


But I digress. Paul


____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 30, 2007


I've recently watched and re-watched a bunch of DVD's, and here are

some notes:


SYRIANA -- Clooney turns a corner here with his acting,

but for all the urgency of the plot, the film doesn't build

consistent or cumulative cinematic tension. The script sounds

like it was written from the research down to the action

rather than vice versa, as if the writer was trying hard

to fit academic research into natural, vivid dialogue.

Still, an admirable work, even if the plot is one of

the film's top secret elements; I've yet to find a

critic or fan who can describe the story clearly and

confidently, and in that respect it resembles a lot

of noir (does anyone know what's really happening

in "Out of the Past"?). Sure, there's probably someone

out there who has already seen "Syriana" 75 times and

can explain how everything fits together perfectly, but

I'm only on my third viewing, so I'll have to get

back to you.


* * *


GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK: A first rate flick,


no question about it, with performances by Jeff Daniels

and Robert Downey, Jr. and George Clooney himself that

are credible and poignant and very real. And David

Strathairn becomes Murrow so convincingly that I now

picture Straithairn rather than Murrow when I think

of Murrow. And that drunken-looking actor who plays

Joe McCarthy -- oh, that is McCarthy. Hmmm. An

inspired touch. Clooney is an excellent director

who should be helming more films from now on.


* * *


THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: And so The Gibson has come up

with an extended persecution fantasy, a religious cartoon

about Jesus The Christ, and it's a cartoon because nobody

could possibly endure even the first set of physical beatings,

much less the fifth or sixth, without either dying or

lapsing into unconsciousness. And it's a cartoon without

much imagination, because all The Gibson can envision is a

sustained two-hour assault. After the 7th or 9th beating,

I started wondering: doesn't this The Christ guy know

anybody in high places who could intercede on his behalf?

Sheesh!


* * *


ED SULLIVAN PRESENTS THE BEATLES: The four episodes on

which the Beatles performed live on "The Ed Sullivan

Show," complete with commercials from the original

broadcasts. The band performed nine songs on three

shows in February 1964 (playing several tunes more than once),

and then returned to the program some 19 months later,

much changed and already looking sort of "Rubber Soul"ish,

to perform another five. But that ain't all of the fun.

There are commercials that are inadvertently funny

("Aeroshave: Keeps Drenching Your Beard") and others

that will turn you into a militant feminist. And the

cultural divide -- pre-Beatles versus post -- is most

evident in the second show, from Miami, in which an

overheated Sullivan -- apparently trying to placate the

large part of his audience that was offended by the

Fab Four on the previous show -- brought on some throwback

acts and even cracked "communists!" when there were audio

problems. What's amazing is how modern the Beatles

seem, even today, and particularly in contrast to some of

the more reactionary performers on the show. By the time of

the 1965 gig, the Beatles had already tried LSD and were

in the middle of the "Rubber Soul" sessions, so Sullivan's

"you are fine ambassadors" schtict, which was ok in '64,

already seemed quaint, ancient, inappropriate.


* * *


THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: COMIC LEGENDS: Four discs of Cavett


interviewing comic icons on his late-night ABC show of the

early 1970s. Disc 2 features a very funny Woody Allen

promoting his new movie "Bananas" (Oct. 20, 1971); another

puts Mel Brooks, Rex Reed and the jarringly ill-tempered

star of "Zabriskie Point," Mark Frechette, together on the

eve of the Oscars (April 6, 1970); and Bill Cosby appears

on Nov. 10, 1971, looking a bit like Groucho Marx and sounding

as funny as I've ever heard him (and it breaks your heart

to hear him talk about his son, who he obviously loved so

much, in light of the tragedy that followed decades later).

Disc 3 has real sparks, too, particularly when Groucho Marx

proposes marriage to Truman Capote (May 25, 1971).


* * *


CHARLIE CHAPLIN'S FEATURE FILMS: I recently re-watched all


of Chaplin's major feature films, and the eye-opener was

"Modern Times," his funniest film by a mile -- and even

better than "The Gold Rush," which Chaplin himself considered

his best. His food-eating machine, the precursor to Allen's

"Execucisor," is one of the funniest cinematic inventions ever.

And though he made silents well into the talkies era, his

films somehow seem more modern than contemporaneous flicks by

the Marx Brothers.


* * *


THE MARX BROTHERS'S FILMS: And I also recently re-watched

all of the Marx Brothers's major features, and their top film,

without question, is "Duck Soup," one of the greatest comedies

ever made. Amazing what they could do when working with a primo

director (Leo McCarey, credited with inventing Laurel and Hardy).

"Night at the Opera" doesn't come close (in fact, I'd rank

"Horse Feathers," which first landed them on the cover of

Time magazine, as their second best). You can also see how

Allen is clearly the closest we have to a successor to both

Groucho and Chaplin (Fielding Mellish must be related by

blood to Rufus T. Firefly). By the way, could the Ramones

have been inspired by "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It," from

"Horse Feathers," in coming up with their own "I'm Against It"?

Also, straight-man Zeppo is funnier than you think, if you

watch closely.


* * *


MILLION DOLLAR BABY: Even better on second viewing. The movie


is almost sadder in the first half, when we watch the Hilary

Swank character in poverty, than in the second. And it kills

me the way she looks at her beloved speed bag as if it were a

juicy porterhouse.


* * *

ZOOLANDER: Surprisingly funny.


* * *

THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN: Surprisingly unfunny. Smart


concept, though.


* * *

MIAMI VICE: Excellent popcorn action flick.
Seductive vision

of the Caribbean as a place where you can boat into Havana for

lunch from the Keys.


* * *


ABOUT SCHMIDT: Repeated viewing shows it's one of the
best

films of the Oughties -- and Alexander Payne's career high

("Sideways" is way overrated; why is there is no joyful sense

of wining in a movie about wining?). Every one of "Schmidt"'s

deleted scenes is worth watching, even if I can see why Payne

deleted them. And there is no better recent evocation of

middle-aged middle America on film than the "Ahoy!" sequence.


But I digress. Paul

____________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 27, 2007


I've adored Patti Smith and her poetry and music since I was a

teenager, ever since I heard her sing, "My sins, my own/they

belong to me." And one of the great things about her is

she continues to grow, this time through an album of cover songs,

"Twelve," in which she makes the songs of others thoroughly

her own.


This morning on CBS's "The Morning Show," broadcasting from

Cleveland, Smith was in good humor and fine form, performing

(among other things) Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule

the World" in a way that made me hear the song anew. And, best

of all, she also drolly slipped in a reference to "This is

Spinal Tap" ("Hello, Cleveland!"). She's on tour now, and here's

hoping she includes a Bay Area show.


But I digress. Paul

____________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 23, 2007


Notes on the Duuude Debate!

he was askin' the questions



The format of presenting questions

through videos simply didn't work

at today's CNN/YouTube Democratic

presidential debate. Too self-conscious,

too focused on the questioners and on

the process of questioning

rather than on the candidates.



This debate should forever be known as the "Duuuude Debate"

because many questioners sounded a bit like Spicoli in

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (above), as they'd ask knowingly

inarticulate questions along the lines of "Duude, how r u

gonna go 'bout changin' things?" And then the candidate,

of course, would answer like a pre-recorded tape.


The debate also sometimes sounded like the famous

interchange between Travis Bickle and Sen. Charles Palantine

in a cab in Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver."


Look, I love lively, but this was the wrong kind of lively.

Remember: being "creative" is never the goal; being effectively

creative is always the goal.


Fresh questions that don't provoke fresh answers are virtually useless

in a debate or an interview.


A few other observations:


-- Edwards, you had your day in '04, the people

did not choose ya, you're at 12% in the latest

major national poll, and yeah I know you think

you're gonna pull a Kerry-style resurrection

in Des Moines in January, and you probably have your

"comeback kid" speech all planned for

after the caucus, but I'll let you in on

a secret: the electricity is gone, the thrill

has shifted to Obama, the momentum to Hillary, and

you will not be nominee.


-- Hillary's tone and approach have vastly improved

so that she now sounds forceful instead

of shrill. Keep it up.


-- Obama seems to be trying a more naturalistic and

conversational style, and it works nicely.


-- Biden is strong but he ain't catchin' on.


-- Gravel continues to do his Howard Beale imitation.


-- Hey, at least a jack-ass like Nancy Grace didn't moderate!


-- And the dark horse of the night: Chuck Hagel.


Clinton/Hagel...what a concept.


But I digress. Paul



P.S. -- You want an unconventional or "creative" idea for

the next debate? Make a hard rule: candidates cannot

say anything they've already said in a public speech or

during a previous debate. And make sure that happens

by asking candidates questions on completely unpredictable

topics: the difference between chess and checkers,

could D-Day have been better handled with greater

reliance on air power, could you speak two sentences

in a foreign language, etc.


And then the best question of them all: announce over

the p.a. speakers, in all seriousness, that there

has been a bomb threat to the auditorium at which

the debate is being held and all the candidates

most evacuate immediately (this would only be feasible

if there were no audience at the event). And then

we could really see, in real time, which candidates

handle the crisis best and which don't.


Then, and only then, could we get a real measure of

each candidates's intelligence level and ability to

think on his or her feet and ability to think in novel

ways, instead of just creating a forum at which we can

see how well they repeat lines and zingers they've memorized.

_________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 23, 2007











A couple passings to note:


I never got to meet Doug Marlette, who died a couple weeks

ago at age 57, but came to know his work during the period when

I contributed a few pieces to New York Newsday when he was

at New York Newsday. I've always admired his cartoons, particularly

his courage in taking on religious issues (and he had a lotta heart;

see above cartoon).



And on the Bay Area landscape, it was also quite a shock to

learn that KGO anchor Pete Wilson died, at 62, during routine

hip replacement surgery a few days ago. He was a surprisingly

effective broadcaster, who made cantankerous seem downright

amiable; most recently he had been paired for the 6pm newscast

with rising star Carolyn Johnson (see Daily Digression for

February 24), and it was a classic match-up: Wilson was like

black coffee, no sugar, and Johnson is like some deeply

irresistible cappuccino. Terrific contrast (though I must say

I almost never agreed with Wilson's commentary).


My condolences to the loved ones and colleagues of both Marlette and

Wilson.



Paul

________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 21, 2007



How the Iraq War Will Really End




It doesn't take a lot of foresight to see what

the next chess moves will probably be in

foreign policy.



As I noted in my column of July 9 (see below), Musharraf

will likely be deposed, either legitimately or

through assassination, in the next several months

and will be replaced by someone with Taliban

sympathies, who will then, of course, have control

of the Pakistan's nuclear arsneal.


Depending on how belligerent the new regime is,

we will probably, with a multi-national force that

this time includes India, Britain and a few others,

have to use air strikes to try to

remove the new government, while piggybacking on

the Taliban's natural domestic adversaries in

ground operations -- and we'd have to

do it while the regime is still fragile,

before it becomes entrenched.


Problem is, from the moment of the coup,

any new government would be exceptionally

difficult to displace, because it would be

an insta-nuclear power. So we'd have

to intervene while the coup is ongoing.


Eventually, we'd have to rapidly redeploy troops

out of Iraq to the India-Pakistan and the

Afghanistan-Pakistan borders. And with our Pakistan

intervention now pre-empting news about the low grade

civil war in Iraq, people would soon wonder: we could

have done this all along, we could've been out of Iraq

long ago!


There we were, wringing out hands, pulling all-nighters,

getting ulcers about how to solve the unsolvable war in

Iraq, and suddenly, as quick as a nuclear flash, we're out,

and nobody is paying attention anymore to the 17 dead

from a truckbomb in Kirkuk or 23 injured in the Green

Zone.


Because the stakes would be exponentially higher

in Pakistan after a coup, what with the possibility

of millions dying from, say, a nuclear strike

on Mumbai.


News about Iraq would suddenly be consigned to page A17,

and the front pages of almost every newspaper would be

solely devoted to the Pakistan conflict. And we'd see that

even though we're no longer in Iraq, al-Maliki still keeps

a tenuous hold on power, and there is still a steady but

unspectacular stream of blood in the streets everyday.


An analogy: ever notice that whenever there's a Katrina or 9/11

level catastrophe, the front pages of newspapers report no other

news? Yet if that big event had not happened, there would be maybe

a dozen urgent front page stories that everybody is taking very

seriously.


I always wonder during a Big Story: where does all the displaced

news goes when it rains catastrophe?


And that will probably be the same situation with news about

Iraq after Pakistan eclipses it. People will forget that

several months earlier everyone was saying how we'd

be in Iraq forever. And here we are suddenly out,

and there's not a whole lot more violence in

Iraq than there was when we were there.


So it's possible that the Iraq war will end when we

redeploy to Pakistan. And if that happens, we'll be

saying things like: it's astonishing now to think that

it was always in our power to load up the boats and planes

and leave Iraq. And we'll think: it turns out there

was no obstacle to withdrawal -- except overthinking.


And even if al-Maliki is overthrown by a Baathist after such an

abrupt U.S. departure, the new regime in Baghdad would be

weak and harmless (and nukeless, too). Iraq, as we discovered

after we invaded it in '03, posed no threat to us at all;

it was broke and broken by years of sanctions and isolation

-- and that was before the war, which has further degraded the

country's infrastructure and military. Even if Saddam's allies

were to re-take power, we could control the new regime the

way we should have handled Saddam: with sanctions and

occasional air strikes.


Meanwhile, a coup in Pakistan would draw in many factions and

nations in the region in unpredictable ways -- factions ranging

from K-and-L militants to Hindus and others at odds with the

Taliban (who might become our de facto surrogates in battle,

a la the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in '01).


And "multi-lateralism" this time might mean relying on

Pratibha Patil more than Gordon Brown, with the

first flashpoint being Kashmir, all politics

being local, after all.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 16, 2007


Prince -- and Sly and the Family Stone -- Live at

Radio City Music Hall? Dream On.




Just got around to reading the marvelous story in

Vanity Fair by David Kamp about Sly Stone, who

memorably says of his mohawk: "Most of it is growing

under the skin."


Meanwhile, Sly Stone and his trumpet player from the

Family Stone (among others) played for fifteen

minutes in San Jose earlier this month, and all reports

call it disappointing.


Here's an idea. Prince and a reunited Sly and the Family

Stone team up for a brief North American tour at venues

like Radio City Music Hall (with both sharing Larry Graham!).


My guess is -- and I haven't investigated this -- is that

Sly played that B-list venue in San Jose on a bill with

has-beens in a show promoted by a novice because major

promoters and venues wouldn't take a chance on his not

showing up for the gig.


But if he were to tour with Prince, Prince could simply

play a longer set if Sly didn't show (and what fan would

feel cheated by a concert in which Prince played longer?).

Just a thought.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 9, 2007


Sunday's New York Times editorial calling for U.S. withdrawal

from Iraq was bold -- and also correct, now that we've seen

the trajectory of the administration's strategy.


What are the worst case scenarios for withdrawal? Here

are my thoughts:


1) The Baathists retake power.

At this point, having the Baathists or another Sunni
faction back in power wouldn't be worse than having
a Shi'a leader allied with Iran.

* * *

2) Rwanda-like genocide breaks out.

If there is genocide, we could control it with targeted
airstrikes and by arming the victims -- but our intervention
would have to come at the invitation of the victims.

* * *

3) A leader affiliated with al-Qaeda takes over.

Before we withdraw, we would make it clear to the world
community that that is the one thing that would trigger our
unilateral re-engagement in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq should be
treated like the nazi party in Germany after '45: verboten.
But if it were to take power there, the regime would likely
be weak and besieged, and we could probably take it out
with air power.


Bush can give an address to the nation without losing face by

saying the following:


"My fellow Americans, four-and-a-half years ago we

set out to depose Saddam Hussein. We accomplished

that, tried him, executed him, and we have helped

to establish a new regime in Iraq. Now it is up to

the Iraqis to take it from here. If the Iraqis

choose al-Maliki, they will have al-Maliki. If they

choose civil war, they will have civil war. We Americans

chose civil war for ourselves in the 19th century,

and no foreign power interceded and said we couldn't

work out our differences that way. And we should

learn that lesson from history. So I'm proud to say

that we have fulfilled our missions and obligations

in Iraq and will now begin our redeployment."



Meanwhile, our anxiety should be centered on Pakistan, not Iraq.

Iraq is soo '03. Pakistan may soon become soo '08.


Just last week there was yet another assassination attempt on

Musharraf. How long do you think it will be before one of the

assassins succeeds?


And if Musharraf is assassinated, and we should all hope

he isn't, but if he is, Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal would

likely fall into the hands of the Taliban and its al Qaeda

buddies. And that is more horrifying and unacceptable than

anything currently happening in North Korea, Iran or Iraq.


A Taliban-run Pakistan with nukes is only one simple chess move away.


And it would be hard to see how the U.S. could avoid some

level of involvement in Pakistan if that were to happen.


It's like that scene in the movie "Jaws": everybody on the

crowded beach mistakenly thinks they see a shark in the open ocean,

and there is a stampede and panic as everyone frantically swims

to shore. Then, as things calm, a lone voice shouts, "The pond,

the pond," warning everyone the shark is actually in the more

remote pond, which nobody had been paying much attention to.


And that seems to be what's happening now: everyone's looking at

Iraq and nobody is watching Pakistan, where the real danger lies.

------------------------------


Cindy Sheehan does not belong anywhere near the U.S. House of

Representatives but rather under the care of a psychiatrist who

specializes in delusional thought disorders. Or at least

she acts that way.


Her opinions on the tragedy of 9/11 -- she's mentally impaired

enough to have called it a "controlled demolition" -- put her

in the same league as people who believe the moonwalks

were staged and that the holocaust was a fabrication. In

other words, she's a nut.


And further, she's not even a San Francisco resident yet she's

considering a House seat in that district. My advice to her:

go back to Vallejo. Or, better yet, to Crawford.

If I didn't know better, I'd think she's a shrill Bush plant

posing as an anti-war protester with the intention of

embarrassing the Democrats (how's that for a Cindy-like

conspiracy theory?).


* * *


Notes on the continuing lay-offs at the San Francisco Chronicle:

They're firing some good journalists -- so why are they keeping

plagiarist Ed Guthmann and fraud David Wiegand? Probable reason

they haven't fired Guthmann/Wiegand yet: they know too much. They

know that several Chron editors and reporters have screwed up as

badly as they have (and worse), and management fears they might

spill the beans if they're sacked. (Proof of their transgressions at

www.resumesidenotes.blogspot.com.)


To those who are laid off at the SF Chronicle and have an unresolved

complaint about editorial malfeasance there and want to blow

the whistle, here's some advice:

1) Don't bring up your complaint to Chron management after

you leave. They may merely try to find a way to turn the

accusation back on you -- and don't think

they're above tampering with evidence in order to save their

jobs.

2) Blow the whistle to a media reporter outside the company.

3) Remember: when the Chron investigates itself, it tends

to give itself a clean bill of health.


But I digress. Paul
______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 8, 2007


My impressions of the LiveEarth concerts (or rather,

the parts I saw on TV and online):




-- The Foo Fighters turned in the

best performance that I saw, with

a particularly strong "Times Like

These," which Dave Grohl dedicated

to Al Gore.


-- Gore himself was in good humor; "I'm 59 years old -- that's the

new 58, you know," he told Ann Curry on the NBC broadcast of

concert excerpts.


-- Shakira is almost illegally hot.


-- Surprisingly compelling performance by Alicia Keys (now I

understand why she ended up with pop's highest honor: being

mentioned in a Bob Dylan song!).


-- Madonna is still an exciting performer.


-- Glad to see that Marty DiBurghi showed up to intro "the most

punctual band on Earth," Spinal Tap.


-- The Beastie Boys, entertaining as usual.


-- Buying some Compact Fluorescents is on my to-do list today.


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Dave Grohl from spin.com.]
______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 5, 2007


Duck Soup Diplomacy





The escalation of the Iraq war reminds me

of the famous joke in the Marx Brothers'

movie "Duck Soup."



"I'm willing to do anything to prevent this

war," says the Sylvanian ambassador.


"It's too late," replies Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho

Marx), the new leader of Freedonia. "I've

already paid a month's rent on the battlefield."


Which sort of sums up the situation in Washington; the

Congress, with a mandate from voters to stop the war

asap, tries to stop the war asap but finds the

administration has already authorized a "surge."



Meanwhile, in Iraq, there is the nauseating possibility

of an unholy alliance between Iran and whatever Shi'a regime

ultimately takes hold for the long-term in Baghdad. In

ten years, the two countries might well become Shi'a East

and Shi'a West and we'll be pining for the long-ago

good o'l days of Saddam Hussein, who, for all his

considerable flaws, could at least be counted on to

shun most Islamic conservatives.


And Ahmadinejad and Khamenei aren't getting any more

progressive either. A recent human rights report from

Amnesty International is packed with examples of unspeakable

torture and oppression in Iran (including the execution

and torture of children under 18, eye-gouging as a formal

punishment, etc.).


And some of the punishment is for minor offenses. Just this

week a court in Iran sentenced a woman to around three years

in prison and ten lashes for merely going to a political rally.


Maybe it's Ahmadinejad who is actually Rufus T. Firefly.

Firefly, after all, was a hardliner ("give him ten years

in Leavenworth and eleven years in Twelveworth") who, upon

taking charge of Freedonia, laid down the law: "These are

the laws of my administration; no one's allowed to smoke or

tell a dirty joke, and whistling is forbidden....If chewing

gum is chewed, the chewer is pursued...If any pleasure is

exhibited, report to me and it will be prohibited."


Ahmadinejad may look a bit slow and stupid but don't

let that throw you. As Firefly said of Chicolini: "Gentlemen,

he may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don't

let that fool you: he really is an idiot."


I'm starting to think that everything you need to know about foreign

policy can be learned by watching "Duck Soup."


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- While I'm on the subject of vintage flicks, I was

watching Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" the other night

and marveling at the courage it took to make the film in

pre-war, isolationist America.


And it got me to thinking that perhaps now is the time for

Hollywood to make a similarly brave satire about Osama

bin Laden. After all, he's a de facto dictator, a stateless

despot, the one who forces us to remove our shoes at airports,

the one who has redesigned the Manhattan skyline, the one

who (with others) tells us which editorial cartoons we can

and cannot publish, the one who has decimated our airline

industry, and on and on.



It's time satirists took him on on the big screen. And let's

hope that a fear of bomb threats at theaters that might

show such a film won't deter film makers from making such a film.

_______________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 3, 2007


No, it doesn't surprise me to see Mohammed Asha and

Bilal Abdulla, two physicians, in the ranks of the

jidhadists. They fit the profile, or one of the profiles.


Lots of jidhadists have been rich or affluent

Islamic right wingers. Even the mujahideen of

Afghanistan in the 1980s, fighting what both Reagan and his

ally bin Laden called the "godless Soviets," were essentially

the reactionary plantation owners of the region.


And bin Laden himself is wealthier than most of

us will ever be (and he made most of his money the

American way: he inherited it).


Islamic militant movements have always been partly

populated by rich kid fanatics.


The root of jihadism, give or take an Adam Gadahn,

is early indoctrination. At ages 4, 5 and 6, in the madrasa

schools and like institutions, children are brainwashed

and hardwired to learn only one thing: the Koran is the

absolute truth and anyone who doesn't believe what they

believe should die.


That's quite a singular syllabus for elementary school kids.


After such an early miseducation, such a person is not

just intellectually damaged but becomes a ticking time

bomb, wired to explode against non-believers later in life.


Hence, a person could have a Ph.D. from Harvard and Princeton

and still not be educated -- if the education doesn't

take or if the person resists the education. As an analogy,

a kid could wear braces on his teeth for years and still not

have straight teeth if he doesn't wear his retainer or resists

the orthodontist's advice.


If someone graduates from Harvard but still believes in, say,

voodoo, then you can reasonably conclude that that Harvard grad

is not an educated person (unless, of course, he or she

approaches voodoo from a fresh, original angle that is

not merely faith-based). In fact, I wouldn't need to

know anything else about his background to dismiss

his credentials.


Asha and Abdulla were well trained, but their education

was probably overruled by early religious indoctrination,

which they likely hadn't been able to shake as adults.


Jihadism will not be defeated until the madrasa is.

School kids in Pakistan and elsewhere must be taught

philosophical points of view other than just the Koran.


My education in America and in Europe included studying the Old

Testament, Nietzsche, Kierkengaard -- and the Koran, among much

else, as well as visits to both the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle in

Istanbul (where Mohammed's hair and teeth are on display) and

to the Vatican (not to mention the cave in Crete where Zeus was

supposedly born). In other words, my education included all

points of view. The fundamentalist Muslim's education does

not include any but its own, and that fosters absolutism that

leads to jihadist violence.


Asha's stated reason for wanting to kill innocent people

was: "after you insulted our prophet, we shall not forgive

you" -- apparently referring to the Jyllands-Posten's courageous

publication of cartoons of Mohammed.



To which I say: boo hoo. Let me get this straight:

the delicate sensitivities of this would-be murderer were

so offended by a little cartoon that he decided

to kill a bunch of strangers.


You have the right to be offended -- nobody is denying you

that. But you don't have the right to get violent because

you're offended.


What guys like Asha also don't understand is they don't own

Mohammed. To me, he is a figure from history, not a religious

icon, and I reserve the right to write about him any way I

choose. (By the way, here is the Jyllands-Posten drawing that so

offended Asha and his fellow fundamentalists:)






I heard some imbecile on ABC's "Nightline"

last night say that militants didn't

fly planes into the World Trade Center

for no reason. That's like saying that

Charles Manson or Seung-Hui Cho didn't

murder all those good people for no reason.

They had a "reason" but they had no good reason.


What that person doesn't get is that the hijackers's "reasons" were

delusional (they actually thought they were going to be met in

paradise by virgins) and their militancy was the result of

an early indoctrination that they couldn't overcome in adulthood.


Eradicating Islamic militancy starts with eradicating the

early brainwashing that takes place at the madrasa.


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Investigators should start looking into the work record of

doctors Asha and Abdullah to see whether there were any suspicious

deaths of patients in their care at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in

Paisley. If they were willing to kill outside their hospitals,

they were probably willing to kill inside, too.

_____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 1, 2007






"We're gonna rip 'em up and light up the

night," Alison Krauss sang last night in

Berkeley, Calif., and she and

Union Station did just that, lighting

up the Bay Area (or at least the Greek Theatre!) with a

marvelous set of folk, bluegrass and country. Highlights

included "Oh, Atlanta," "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow"

and encore "When You Say Nothing At All."



And Union Station dobroist Jerry Douglas turned Duane

Allman's "Little Martha" into a thing of real beauty

(or a thing of greater beauty than it already was).

I'd love to hear him cover Cowboy's "Please Be With Me."


Douglas, the solo performer, first came to my attention

when he opened for Paul Simon last year at the Greek (same

venue as this show). That same weekend, he also played

at one of the best regular pop music festivals around: the

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's

Golden Gate Park.


For the uninitiated, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest is

an annual three-day concert in the park that features

dozens and dozens of amazing performers in many genres

(not just bluegrass) -- and it's completely free of charge!


And it's free solely because the festival's founder and mastermind,

Warren Hellman (known as St. Warren around San Fran!), funds

it -- with no strings attached.


Because of Hellman, Golden Gate Park turns into a musical

feast on the first weekend of October every year; walk to the left

and see Hot Tuna; walk to the right and see Richard Thompson;

two blocks over there is Iris Dement.


The star of last year's Strictly Bluegrass was, without question,

Elvis Costello, who performed on all three days (his Coward Brothers

show with T Bone Burnett was a classic).


This year's Strictly Bluegrass is scheduled for October 5, 6 and 7,

and let's hope Costello plays the fest again (and can somebody

persuade him and Nick Lowe to do an acoustic set?). Other humble

suggestions: Marti Jones and Don Dixon would be perfect for the

festival (and so would Marshall Crenshaw).

_______________________________


Sen. Patrick Leahy confirmed to Tim Russert this morning

that, yes, he's going to appear in the next Batman movie, "The Dark

Knight," scheduled for release next year. (Hope he routs the bad

guys, as he does in real life.)


Meanwhile, I'd like to see his Vermont colleague, Sen. Bernie

Sanders, formally release a CD of his folk music, which is

pretty lively stuff, by the way (I did a story on his folk album

in 1989 when he was still mayor of Burlington, and I remember

enjoying some of it).


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Alison Krauss from yottamusic.com; photographer unknown.]

___________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 30, 2007


Rosie The Riveting




Rosie O'Donnell appeared in Berkeley, Calif.,

last night, as part of the Cyndi Lauper/

Erasure/Deborah Harry concert

(dubbed the "True Colors" tour),

and did she ever unload on Donald Trump and Larry King.



"[Trump] went crazy," Rosie began. "You know, I basically

said, 'Pay no attention to the man behind the combover.'

And he went on every show in the free world, you know.

He was on 'Sesame Street': [she imitates Trump's gruff tone]

'She's fat and she's gay.' 'Home Shopping Club':

[gruff tone again] 'Fat and gay, she's gay and fat.

She's a fat gay, fat gay, gay fat, fat gay.' And he's

got that little mouth that looks like an anus. You ever

notice?"


The audience exploded with laughter and applause. But Rosie

wasn't near finished.


"[Trump] was on 'Larry King,'" she continued. "And let me

just say: Larry King...is turning into an amphibian before our

very eyes....He's anorexic first of all. He's so thin that

those suspenders are hanging on the bones of his shoulders,

you know. He looks like a human Pez dispenser. Think about

that. If you pulled his head back, the Pez would drop right

out of his mouth. And then he should eat it because, basically,

the guy looks hungry."


Again, the crowd ate it up.


Rosie's appearance was part of a night of music, comedy (a

very funny Margaret Cho) and political activism in

support of a variety of gay-rights issues.


Lauper headlined, performing an enjoyable set of new songs,

oldies and re-made oldies (most notably a re-worked "She Bop"

that seems to have been influenced by Radiohead's

"There There").


Preceding her was Erasure, who drew intense crowd response.

But then, Erasure fans have always been unusually fanatical.


As a magazine reporter, I covered Erasure from the moment their

debut album, "Wonderland," was released. Writing in the March

29, 1986, issue of the music trade magazine Cash Box, shortly

after the release of its debut album, I praised "Wonderland"

and wrote: "Reserve one of the top ten chart slots, please."


Of course, it would take years before Erasure hit the top

ten in America (acceptance in the U.K. came more quickly),

though it always had an uncommonly intense cult following.

When I saw the band perform on May 15, 1987, at the Ritz

in New York City, I wrote in my review for Cash Box, in

the May 30, 1987, issue: "It looked as if Eric Clapton

or Sting were playing here May 15, judging from the

long lines outside and the sardined throngs inside

the club. But onstage was Erasure...performing the

first of two sold-out shows in support of its recently

released second album, 'The Circus.'"


I remember leaving that '87 show and seeing a crowd that

was completely electric and jazzed (I saw one guy jump

on top of a car and pump his fists as if he had just been

liberated from a prison).


Two decades later, Erasure's audence is just as adoring as

it was in the 1980s. By applause-o-meter standards, they

were cheered at least as loudly as anyone else on the bill,

according to my perch in the hills above the Greek Theatre.


Also on the bill was the Dresden Dolls, who played

"Coin Operated Boy," which sounds like a new wave hit

from the heyday of Stiff. They also performed what was

probably the most inspired musical piece of the night, a cover

of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" that ingeniously transcribed

the guitar parts for piano and turned it into a work of

unexpected delicacy.


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Rosie O'Donnell from New York magazine; photographer unknown.]

_____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 29, 2007


The Real Swing Vote in Yesterday's Supreme Court Decision



Everybody is saying Justice Anthony Kennedy

was the swing vote in yesterday's awful decision

by the U.S. Supreme Court to resegregate

America. But the real swing vote was actually...Ralph

Nader, and I'm gonna take this moment right now to rub

it in and to say I-told-ya-so.


Because I remember those discussions in the fall of 2000

with Nader supporters who said it doesn't matter who is

elected president, it's tweedle-dee versus tweedle-dum,

yada yada yada. And I remember telling them, but

the Supreme Court hangs in the balance; you may not

agree with Al Gore on everything but at least he will

preserve the progressivism of the Court. And I remember

that they didn't listen to me.


In 2000, Nader supporters apparently had had too

much cake after eight years of Bill Clinton,

had started to take progressive policies and court

decisions for granted and couldn't imagine a time

of drought for liberals.


So they voted Nader, when they could've swung the election

to Gore, who'd just now be finishing his second term,

and we can see the result: a Court that is rolling

back nearly every major judicial advance of the past 50 years.

Yes, we are returning to the early Fifties and will now be

relearning, the hard way, why we came to our progressive

policies about integration and abortion in the first place.


Get ready in coming years for a return to more extreme

racial alienation, more extreme income disparity between blacks

and whites and -- by the next decade -- a return to the sorts of

race riots that we saw in the 1960s. Which will then force us

to relearn the lessons that we've since forgotten: that separate

is inherently unequal, and integration is the only remedy for

that inequality.


Chief Justice John Roberts has turned out to be almost as

hard right wing as Scalia or Thomas. In his confirmation hearings,

he said he'd respect bedrock precedent like Brown and Roe.

He hasn't. He implied he'd be a moderate swing vote in the

manner of Sandra Day O'Connor. He hasn't been.


Roberts, with a winning Reaganesque style and a quip for

every occasion, charmed his way through the Congressional

confirmation hearings in 2005. "Take my civil liberties, please,"

Roberts essentially joked, and the Senate club of

millionaires laughed and passed around the jelly beans as

they made him Chief Justice. Pundits talked about how

important it was to get along with colleagues, as if that

was the highest good.


Three lessons:


1) Nice is not enough in a nominee.


2) If 87-year-old John Paul Stevens retires before a Democratic

president can be elected, Congress should filibuster every Bush

Court nominee until late January 2009.


3) If Ralph Nader dares to appear in any electoral

contest again, even if he's just running for the city council,

voters should organize a boycott of any company

that contributes to his campaign.


Me, I'm considering buying a Corvair.

____________________________________


I've only seen clips of Michael Moore's "Sicko" on

YouTube and elsewhere so far, but what I've seen

hits the bullseye. I'm also reading reviews of

"Sicko" by film critics who are well-insured and affluent. Is

that a conflict-of-interest? Maybe newspapers should hire

uninsured freelancers to review it in order to provide

balance.

_______________________________


Nice interview with Paul Simon on "Charlie Rose" last night,

which reminded me that I should have included Simon in my

column of June 7th when I noted songwriters of the rock era who

ranked with Porter, Berlin and the Gershwins.


By the way, the big surprise of Simon's "Surprise" tour

last year was how some of the songs from his latest

album came alive in concert, particularly "Outrageous"

and "Father and Daughter." But what really knocked me

and lots of others out was the deep catalogue

"The Only Living Boy in New York"; until I heard him perform

it in Berkeley last year, I'd never realized, or had forgotten,

what a terrific song that is, with one of the great bridges

of folk-rock ("Half of the time we're gone but we don't know

where").

______________________________________



I once worked with a senior newspaper editor

in San Francisco who, well, let's put it this way:

he was good enough, he was smart enough, and doggone

it, people liked him!


Yes, he was a Stuart Smalley, one of those iyamwhatiyam

types, bursting with platitudes and always just

one inch short of saying iknowyouarebutwhatami (and he was

not originally from San Francisco, by the way, but from

the sticks).


Still smarting from some long-ago wedgie, he sits in

front of the mirror in late middle-age for his

Affirmation, practicing what he'll say to his bosses

when they inevitably decide to lay him off, which is that he's

good enough, he's smart enough -- well, you get the picture.

The sort of mediocrity who actually loves Charles Nelson Reilly,

puppet shows and mime, and calls Mozart's "Don Giovanni"

"Don Juan."


But I digress.


No doubt about it, Al Franken created an immediately recognizable

American archetype in Smalley, but his latest project is very

serious business. As everyone knows, Franken is running for the

U.S. Senate from Minnesota, in a race that may well determine the

balance of power on the Hill next year. And as things stand

now, he is probably the Democrats' best hope to unseat

Norm Coleman.


Democrats who underestimate Franken and are thinking of

defecting to attorney Mike Ciresi should remember that

Franken has a secret weapon that the other candidates don't:

the ability to win debates. Though Franken is currently polling

20 points behind Coleman (so is Ciresi), I bet the polls even-up

after the first debate.


And then Minnesota voters will see that Franken is good enough,

he's smart enough and -- well, you get the point.

__________________________________________

satire


Secretly recorded steamy bedroom conversation between secret

lovers Ann Coulter and Osama bin Laden


COULTER: Oh, bin, I love fundamentalist wood.

BIN LADEN: I disrobe only for god-fearing women like you.

COULTER: Do it, bin, like a believer! Hijack me.

BIN LADEN: Your body, so unlike the infidels'.

COULTER: Your cock is so unlike an atheist's.

BIN LADEN: My penis may be small, but it's a

faithful believer's penis.

COULTER: Bin, your beard is so wet and gooey from going down

on me.

BIN LADEN: You taste like a woman of faith.

COULTER: I like a penis that leans to the right.

BIN LADEN: Hard right!

[And they both laugh heartily!]

More hot chat from That Fundamentalist Duo in future columns.



But I digress. Paul


[picture of Ralph Nader by unknown photographer]
______________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 24, 2007


Norah Jones and M. Ward did a fun duet of John Fogerty's

"Green River" on Saturday night in Berkeley, Calif. (I didn't

have time to hear the whole show, unfortunately). Jones got

lots of applause for her new protest song, "My Dear Country,"

particularly the line, "There is nothing as scary as election

day." Live, "Sinkin' Soon" was the most musically engaging

of the songs from her latest album, "Not Too Late," released

earlier this year. And her stage patter was surprisingly

droll: "I can't whistle," she confessed after "Little Room."

"I can whistle inhaling. But it's weird; you just keep

exhaling!"


But I digress. Paul

__________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 23, 2007

The latest pop phenom to erupt

from MySpace into the music biz

proper is So-Cal's Colbie Caillat,

a 21-year-old singer-songwriter

whose MySpace page has become so

popular that she's now

signed with Universal Republic,

which will release her debut album, "Coco,"

next month.



Caillat performed in Berkeley last night at the Greek Theatre

(I heard her in the hills above the theatre), backed by

a four-piece band and playing seven songs. The catchiest

was "Bubbly," the original that got everyone interested

in her in the first place. Elsewhere, she mixed folk and

soul and pop and even tried some reggae ("Tied Down"), coming

across as both genuine and genuinely surprised at her

sudden success (she was the opening act for the Goo Goo Dolls,

who I couldn't stay to hear).



Maybe the founders of MySpace should consider founding

a label of their own, recording only artists who've posted

MP3's on MySpace.

------------------------------

Congrats to Barry Bonds for number 749! Seven more, and he'll

break Hank Aaron's all-time home run record.


And if he breaks the record, he should he given the same

level of respect and adulation that Aaron and

Babe Ruth were accorded when they topped the field.


As I said in my column of June 14th (in a line that has since

been repeated by others who have not properly attributed

it to me): Should Babe Ruth's home run record have an asterisk

next to it noting that he played baseball in an era of unfair

competition that excluded African-American players?


Should The Beatles have their Grammy rescinded because

they composed parts of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely

Hearts Club Band" on pot and other drugs?


Of course not. And it is essentially the same thing.


In response, someone might say: well, marijuana does not necssarily

enhance one's composing ability.


To which I'd say: well, steroids don't guarantee that someone

will hit home runs, either. There are a lot of mediocre batters

who have done steroids and have not excelled on the diamond.


In fact, I could inject steroids from now until the new year

and would probably not hit any or many home runs, if I were put

in a Giants uniform. (I'm assuming, for the sake of argument,

that Bonds did in fact intentionally use 'roids, a charge he has

denied.)



So I don't quite see eye-to-eye with the two S.F. Chronicle

reporters who piled plodding detail onto plodding detail in the

service of an insignificant story that should never have been prominently

reported to begin with. Someone should've reminded them that Bonds

is an entertainer, not a cabinet official, and they weren't starring

in "All the President's Men."


But that doesn't surprise me; I worked with editors at the Chron,

and some of 'em were talented but some of 'em missed the ball by

feet, not inches, in terms of editing and reporting.


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Colbie Caillat from MySpace.]

_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 20, 2007



Cannot confirm the authenticity of these photos, but here they are:



bin Laden, in a recent disguise.

___________________________


a rare shot of the 9/11 hijackers at an al Qaeda training camp.

______________________________


mohammed has come back to life, sporting a new look





_________________________________________________






Bravo to Britain for giving a Knighthood to novelist

Salman Rushde, who richly deserves every honor


he's received. And all those people

from the 12th century who object

should get used to addressing him as

Sir Salman Rushdie. (Meanwhile,

Pakistan's Ijaz ul-Haq, with his out-of-line

response, provides the world with a vivid glimpse

of idiocy in its purest form.)




Live from the 12th century, it's Ijaz ul-Haq (The-One-With-the-Asymmetrical-Mustache!)




By the way, last night I tried a little experiment

to see whether I could use author William

Burroughs's so-called cut-up method to

combine passages from both The Koran

and The Old Testament into one poem. I

took The Koran's "The Holy Prophet" and

randomly mixed it with the Old Testament's

"Book of Malachi" and then edited the result.


The result of the fusion is this poem, comprised

solely of text from The Koran and The Old Testament,

which I've titled:


Randomly Combining The Koran and The Old Testament


I will corrupt your seed
Your breast will become straighted by it
Because they say, why hasn't a treasure been sent down upon him
Most surely he is exulting, boasting

The law of truth was in his mouth
This is nothing but clear magic
And if we make him taste a favor after distress has afflicted him
He will certainly say, "The evils are gone"

Spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts
Warner, the curse of Allah is on the unjust
The punishment shall be doubled for them
Oh ye priests, this commandment is for you

-----------------------------

MEMO

To: All those covering Prince William, Prince Harry and the late Diane
Spencer

Please let me know what notable novel, poem, article, song, film,
sculpture, painting, photograph, political cause or business innovation
that any of the three has been primarily responsible for.

If you can't, then why are you covering them?

-------------------------

The 21 year old drinking age is in the news again,

which reminds me of a joke that circulated in my

dorm when I was an 18 year old college student.


It went like this:


Q: Guess what the drinking age is in the U.S.?

A: 21!


And everyone would always roar with laughter!

----------------------------

I'm a big admirer of ABC's George Stephanopoulos, though I

have to take issue with his statement on "World News"

the other night that American voters won't accept an

atheist candidate for national office. That may have

been the way it used to be, but we're entering an era

in which we're seeing the rise of a new generation of

Asian-American politicians, particularly in the western states,

who come from proud traditions that include Hinduism,

Buddhism, non-theistic spiritualism and non-traditional

spiritualism. And it's easy to imagine, say, a popular mayor of

San Francisco, who happens to be Asian-American and

non-theistic (in a city that is already almost half

Asian-American and counting), running for president

in the future.


In other words, the United States is finally starting to

resemble the rest of the world, which for the most part

doesn't accept theism.


My guess is that, by mid-century, being theistic or non-theistic

will not matter much in politics. It will become

a distinction as quaint and old-fashioned

as such terms as "pagan" and "heathen" are now.



Ten years ago, pundits would have said

that evidence of prior cocaine use would have

stopped a candidacy. But candidate Bush handled

such questions by saying, essentially, "none of your

business" -- and it worked. A similar response would

also probably work in answering questions about religion.



And I think the trend is moving sharply away from theism

as people become better educated and less rural -- and

also because, frankly, people are really getting

turned off by all the religious killers out there

(e.g., Mohamed Atta, Eric Rudolph, etc.). Those who look

to religion for moral guidance are beginning to see

that the holy rollers are among the least moral in our

number.


But I digress. Paul.

[pictures of Rushdie, "Mohammed," "bin Laden," and ul-Haq by unknown photographer.]

____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 18, 2007


The next presidential debate -- the so-called YouTube/CNN debate --

will happen next month in South Carolina, and there's a good

chance the Democrats will, again, be asked whether

the confederate flag should fly on the statehouse grounds

in Columbia.


At the last presidential debate in South Carolina, almost all

the Democratic candidates answered with a resounding

take-the-flag-down -- and for good reason. The stars and

bars is a racist symbol, a relic of a shameful past.



The ongoing dispute about the flying of the confederate flag

is really just a symptom of a larger national fracture.

Let's face it, there are still some crackers who,

as unbelievable as it might seem, in their heart of hearts

secretly believe that the southeast had the right to own slaves

and that the federal government had no business telling them

otherwise.


Someone needs to go over there and tell 'em what time it is, as

the saying goes.


Such people have no grasp of the extreme human rights violation

that slavery was. And they have a view of labor that is not

just pre-union but virtually feudal.


I spent part of my youth in the southeast, after having been

born and partly schooled in Maine, and one thing that really offended

me was the disrespect of some rural southeasterners toward

Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president. And even today, there

still seems to be an unspoken regional animosity toward Lincoln.



The hidden "thinking" behind confederate flag supporters is

that their 19th century ancestors fought and died for the

confederate cause and therefore they feel they have to stick

up for the wrongheaded policies of their long-dead relatives.


To which I say: you ought to own up to the fact that your

distant relatives's support of slavery was a big flaw.

They may have been admirable in other ways, but their backing

of the confederacy was completely reprehensible. And they may

even have been courageous in battle -- but, alas, in the service

of a very flawed cause. Confederate sympathizers

are essentially immigrants who have not yet

assimilated into the American mainstream (the southeastern

accent is almost a linguistic secession).


There are middle-aged Germans today who say they love

their fathers but hate the fact that they fought for

the Third Reich in the 1940s. And that's exactly what the

ancestors of the confederacy should do today: admit, at

least to themselves, that their 19th century relatives,

whatever their virtues, were dead wrong about slavery.


Meanwhile, the next GOP presidential debate occurs in September

in Florida, which incidentally has a state flag that looks

way too much like the ol' stars-and-bars. Perhaps someone

should ask the candidates whether they think the Florida

flag should be redesigned to look a little less medieval.

* * *

NBC's Ron Mott should not be covering the case of the falsely

accused Duke students; he has shown bias from the beginning

of his reportage on the case all the way until this morning

on the "Today" show, when he narrated yet another slanted piece

(I usually don't do tutoring, Ron, but if you'd like, I

could walk you through your "Today" video piece and

show you exactly where you're showing bias).


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 14, 2007


I'm not moved in the least by Mike Nifong's tears,

because he's just playing to the cameras so he

can keep his law license. Disbarring Nifong

should be just the beginning of the penalty phase;

civil suits should follow. And the victims

should look into the legal feasibility of stripping

Nifong of his pension, which should be divided

amongst the three falsely accused.


Media coverage of the Nifong resignation has ranged

from the great (Charles Gibson's "World News") to

the abysmal (namely, Ron Mott's awful report

for "The NBC Nightly News," which showed Nifong in such a

sympathetic light at times that you'd think Mott (or someone

at NBC) worked for Nifong's PR firm; and Mott's cutaways from

Nifong to the falsely accused victims always seemed to show

the victims at their least endearing or most unattractive;

that's called propaganda, Ron -- and Brian

Williams knows a lot better than that).

--------------------------


Genarlow Wilson should be released from prison now

(see column item below). Finally, protesters are

mobilizing to have Wilson freed from prison,

where he remains because of the backward thinking

of Georgia's Attorney General, Thurbert Baker,

who appears well on his way to becoming the

Michael Nifong of state AGs. My suggestion to

demonstrators: I hear Baker has a place up on

Stone Mountain, so maybe that's where you should

stage your protests.

This is Thurbert Baker, the guy keeping Genarlow Wilson in prison. The best place to protest his decision is outside Baker's Stone Mountain house, where this elected official can hear what his constituents think about this case.


Genarlow Wilson, an innocent man who should be freed from prison.

_____________________________________



-- How refreshing to see Paul McCartney mandolin-ing his way

back to the top of the charts with his new album, "Memory

Almost Full," his strongest work in years. A couple of the

songs rank with the best songs released this year

(along with Conor Oberst's "Four Winds" and The Arcade Fire's

"Intervention" and Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good"

and the Shins's "Phantom Limb" and and those new Oakley

Hall songs that I don't know the names of yet!). [By the way,

The Arcade Fire takes great pains to introduce itself

as The Arcade Fire, not Arcade Fire, and if you

really think about it, there's a substantial difference;

you wouldn't say, "I saw Rolling Stones" -- you'd say,

"I saw The Rolling Stones." See the official website:

http://www.mergerecords.com/band.php?band_id=98.]



McCartney's solo stuff has been perennially underrated (hey,

"Another Day" was always a better song than "How Do You Sleep,"

by the way), but those who take the time to listen to his

post-Beatles oeuvre will find some unexpected gems that few

seem to know about (e.g., "Little Willow," "Wanderlust,"

"The Backseat of My Car," etc.). In fact, what an anthology

that would make: the best of McCartney's deep-catalogue solo

material.


By the way, check out the nice piece by Ben Ratliff in

tomorrow's (Friday's) New York Times about McCartney's

surprise gig at the Highline Ballroom in New York. Poignantly,

Macca mentioned John Lennon (who he met for the first time

50 years ago next month) and sang his homage to him

"Here Today," from the "Tug of War" album. To quote The Times:

“It’s good to play that song in the town John loved,” [McCartney]

said.


And I, and lots of others, share his profound sadness about the

absence of Lennon, who should still be around, who should still

be playing gigs, dropping "If I Fell" as an encore at MSG or

bringing McCartney onstage for "A Day in the Life" (can you imagine

what Lennon's solo shows would have been like?), or maybe rejoining

McCartney for a new group of collaborative songs. But all that

possibility was wiped out by a supreme stroke of tragic

bad luck (if Lennon had been caught in one of midtown's

notorious traffic jams that night, he might still be

around; life is that random; then again, that same

randomness also made his freakish level of success and

genius possible).


And New York was Lennon's town when he lived in it, or at least

the upper west side was. I lived on the upper west side, a few

blocks from Lennon's place, when he lived there, and there were

always stories by neighbors and shopkeepers of sightings on

West 72nd St., though I never saw or met him.


I remember one night on the upper west side that was

more memorable than the others. It was a Monday, and I

stepped out of my apartment on West 74th at around

10:40 p.m. for a late night cup of coffee before bed.

By the time I'd walked to the coffee shop, the women

behind the counter were talking frantically, and one

of them blurted out to me, "Someone shot John Lennon."

And I said something like, "Aw, c'mon," thinking she

was joking. And then another woman said, "John Lennon just

died at the Dakota."


It was just before 11pm on December 8, 1980,

and I suddenly forgot all about getting coffee and ran

frantically down Broadway toward 72nd street and then

started running non-stop toward Central Park West. And as I

got closer and closer, I could see the crowd at the end

of the street growing bigger and bigger. When I arrived --

it was around 11:10 -- someone said Yoko Ono had already

gone to Roosevelt Hospital, and the police were blocking the

crime scene, and people with tears and boomboxes started

playing Beatles songs and Lennon songs, and I stayed for

awhile, but I had to be at work at 9 the next morning. So

I walked home just before 1am, turned on WNEW, where DJ

Vin Scelsa was helping everyone through the night with Lennon

music and talk, went to bed and cried as if a favorite relative

had been killed. It was one of the saddest nights of my life up

to that point, though I'd never met Lennon.


[photo of Lennon's glasses from John-Lennon.net; unknown photographer]
__________________________________


-- Has anyone on YouTube compiled a tape of all those

chubby guys in "The Sopranos" hugging and kissing each other,

as they do several times in each episode? It's almost like

a tic. There must be at least four hundred instances in

the series.
__________________________________


-- Should Babe Ruth's home run record have an asterisk

next to it noting that he played baseball in an era of

unfair competition that excluded African-American players?

____________________________

-- Disbarring Michael Nifong is a wonderful idea, but why

hasn't the actual accuser, Crystal Mangum, been prosecuted

for filing a false police report and for whatever

other charge can be thrown at her? (If Paris Hilton had

falsely accused innocent guys of assault, she'd deserve

eight years in prison; but Paris should never have

been jailed for the slight offense she's now in jail

for, by the way.) But the legal system

remains more imperfect than it should be in the U.S.

(even the U.S. Supreme Court acts in an amateurish fashion

at times -- witness the Bush v. Gore case of '00).
_________________________________


All Politics is Loco


I once admired British prime minister Tony Blair, mostly before

the Iraq war, but his recent comments about the press are out

of line (he said the media is "a feral best, tearing people

and reputations to bits").


Before you get all pious, Tony, keep in mind that no member of

the press ever sent a teenager to Iraq to be quite literally torn

to bits by bombs and shells in an unnecessary war.


But I digress. Paul


[above pictures of Baker and Wilson by unknown photographers.]
__________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 12, 2007


The Berkeley Art Museum in Berkeley, Calif., almost

always has some new work that's memorable, and

the recent "fer-ma-ta" exhibit was no exception,

particularly the novel photos of Joe McKay.



The idea behind McKay's photos is that streetlights

and streetlight ornaments can look just like Hollywood's

version of UFOs -- if you erase the poles that they're

attached to. And that seems to be what McKay does in

photos like "UFO No. 3" (2007), which show how everyday

parking lot/street objects can actually look like

otherworldly phenomena. After seeing his pics, it's

hard to see a streetscape the same way. Check out

his work.


* * *


I think it's so great that Genarlow Wilson has been

ordered released from prison for having had sex when

he was 17 years old (though he still remains in jail

as backward officials in Georgia appeal the release).

I'm a savvy guy about the law, no doubt about it,

but let me be completely frank: I didn't

even know it was against the law for a 17 year-old

to have sex with someone in his general age group

in America. Apparently, the puritanical impulse

is this country is far worse than I thought --

almost sharia-law like.


Let me state, without any regret whatsoever, and

in open defiance of the witch hunters out there, that

when I was 17 I had consensual sex with females my age

and slightly older, and we enjoyed it plenty. In fact,

I don't regret a moment of it and wouldn't have done

it any other way. It was a lot of fun. [Keep in mind

that I was 17 in the 1970s when deadly std's weren't

an issue.]


I hope Wilson is released yesterday.

* * *


Does anyone write about food with as much wit and color as The New

York Times's Frank Bruni? His latest gem is in tomorrow's (Wednesday's)

Times, and it starts like this: "I’m not sure it’s possible to behave

with much dignity around seven glistening pounds of pork butt, but

on a recent night at Momofuku Ssam Bar, five friends and I weren’t

even encouraged to try." Terrific stuff.


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 11, 2007


Meadow's Great Parallel Parking Finale


The non-ending ending of "The Sopranos"

was a great idea, the more I think

of it, a welcome slap in the face

to the many mediocre novelists

and readers who approach stories

with a formulaic check list (a

story must have 1) narrative arc,

2) resolution) as if fiction were

some sort of mathematical

equation, which it ain't.

I think smart people who write all

the time start to get sick of

bourgeois literary convention (he said with a flourish),

and I must admit I get bored with most stories that end

with "the butler did it" or "the last ten minutes will leave

you breathless" or those countless whodunits in which the

gun in scene one goes off in scene ten blah blah blah (but

I don't want to give away the ending). Pleeeaase. It's

as if David Chase is saying, "You want fireworks? I gave

you fireworks in the previous 85 episodes."

* * *


To all the good and honest journalists being laid off at

the San Francisco Chronicle: just keep in mind that while

your careers have ended, the careers of a flagrant plagiarist

(Ed Guthmann) and an outright fraud (David Wiegand) continue

at the paper. Which says a lot about why the Chron is going

down the toilet as fast as a flush. At the Chronicle, the

rules against plagiarism clearly do not apply to those for

whom management has a sweet spot. How touching.


But I digress. Paul

__________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 7, 2007


The Season of McCartney

Paul McCartney and the far lesser known Paul Iorio (at an event I was covering as a magazine writer).


Paul McCartney is, once again, ubiquitous, as his new

album, "Memory Almost Full," is released, and as

the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of The Beatles'

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."


I was getting in the spirit, too, the other day,

listening to the alternate version of "Hey Jude"

on the "Anthology" CD, and thinking it may be the

Beatles' greatest song and that McCartney may well

be the greatest songwriter of the 20th century.


And then I thought, who's the competition? Cole Porter?

Hey, I love Porter, but his best song was "I've Got You

Under My Skin" or maybe "You're the Top," and would anyone

seriously say those songs are better than "Hey Jude"?

Was George Gershwin a greater songwriter? Aside from

"Rhapsody in Blue" and his other classical work, what pop

song of the Gershwin brothers can stand alongside

"Hey Jude" or "Yesterday" or "Golden Slumbers" or any

number of other McCartney or Lennon/McCartney gems?

Irving Berlin? That's a tough call. In the rock era,

Bob Dylan may surpass McCartney as a lyricist, but not as

a melodist.


No, McCartney is greater than we're admitting in 2007,

and we're already admitting to a lot of praise.


And I feel lucky to have actually met the man, back

in August 1986, when I was in my twenties and was a

staff writer for the music trade magazine Cash Box

and had already lived in Manhattan for nearly a decade.

I was in my office on West 58th in Manhattan when

Capitol called to invite me and my Cash Box colleague

to come to Radio City Music Hall to meet McCartney --

in an hour or two! Needless to say, we dropped

everything and walked the fifties to Radio City

asap.


At first, McCartney was at a distance in the Radio City lobby,

and I figured I wouldn't get to meet him. But then he made a

beeline directly through the lobby to where I was standing

(not necessarily because I was standing there, of course),

and I momentarily felt a bit like Ralph Kramden (hummana-hummana),

but managed to say happy to meet you and to ask him a

couple questions before the crowd swarmed and congratulated

him on everything from "Press to Play" to his narration of

a Buddy Holly documentary.



Many years later, in the fall of 2000, on a hilltop in San

Francisco, I talked with the actor Woody Harrelson about

meeting McCartney. And we both wondered together for a time

about whether McCartney knew -- really knew -- how much

people truly love some of his songs. I still wonder.


[personal note to magazine colleague: "carbon paper!"]


But I digress. Paul


[Photo credits: photograph of me and Paul McCartney taken by unknown photographer at Radio City Music Hall in New York in August 1986.]

_________________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 3, 2007



Today's Republican Debate



So lemme get this straight. When the Democrats first proposed

social security, the Republicans called it socialism and opposed

it and were eventually proved wrong in their opposition.

When the Democrats first proposed Medicare, the Republicans called

it socialism and opposed it and were eventually proved wrong in

their opposition. And now, with this history of discredited

reactionary politics as their heritage, the new crop of GOP

candidates calls universal health care "socialism."


Or at least Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney did in today's

debate in New Hampshire. Which is a sure sign that the

single payer health plan is exactly the right course for America.


Giuliani and Romney will, of course, eventually come around --

perhaps in the year 2037 or so!


That's why they call progressives "progressive" -- because

they get to the right answer before conservatives do.


For now, the GOP is spouting the same ol' cliches, stuff

like "anything the government takes over gets worse not better,"

to paraphrase Romney.


Do they really think the private sector should be entrusted

with implementing health care policy? Are they referring to the

same private sector that gave us Enron and Drexel and Anderson and

Imclone and WorldCom and Global Crossing and countless other

corporate examples of malfeasance and greed? Are they joking or

are they merely badly informed?


And Giuliani says that single payer will make health care more

expensive. Then how come that's not the case in Canada, which has

a single payer policy? What does it say when U.S. citizens

have to go to Canada to get affordable health care?


But let the GOP go on this way. And let them continue backing the

Iraq war, too, and igoring the will of the American people as expressed

at the polls in November 2006. Because if they keep this up, they're

gonna see a blue nation rising come November 2008.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 4, 2007


If my sources are correct, the final episode of "The Sopranos"

will be a shocker. Here's what I hear: someone plants a bomb

with a timer in Tony's car. And guess who borrows the car for a

spin? More to come, as soon as I can confirm it.

* * *


Frank Zappa on Presidential Politics


After hearing The Arcade Fire's concert Saturday night, for some

reason I felt the urge to sift through some of my archival

audiotapes of my one-on-one interviews with the late Frank Zappa,

who was generous enough with his time to call me every now and

then in the 1980s. Sometimes we'd put the interviews on tape.


In one of our conversations, from February 1988, Zappa talked about

the upcoming presidential election, and his words are still resonant

today. After saying he thought Mario Cuomo was "the only guy with a

brain big enough for the job" of president, he went on to talk about

the qualities he looked for in a candidate:


"The guy I want to see in the White House is a guy who can think

on his feet, who doesn't need a speechwriter, who knows his shit,

who has the strength and the stamina and the personal conviction

to do stuff, without worrying about whether or not it's going to play in

Iowa or going to play in New Hampshire or whether he's going to

look like Mr. Perfect Little Man."


"And until we can get beyond the Perfect Little Man syndrome --

you know, you don't want a Perfect Little Man in the White House.

You want a motherfucker in there!"


* * *


So it turns out my advance information about the plotline of last

night's episode of "The Sorpanos" was almost completely correct. Still

no firm word on how the last episode will play out.

But in the meantime, here are....

Things That Haven't Been Mentioned About "The Sopranos"


"The Sopranos" has so captured the zeitgeist of the Oughties

that we may be looking at a presidential campaign that pits

Tony Soprano against Carmela, in the guise of Fred Thompson versus

Hillary Clinton, and the series also symbolically captures the

late stages of baby boomer power in business and

government perfectly, as aging ex-hippies and others feel

increasingly like Tony and the Crew, forced to do things they

feel bad about (like firing that guy who didn't deserve it

or fighting unjust wars), and as the show hurtles to its finish

like Pie-o-My on a tear, it begins to look like the fourth season

was the one with the most inspired energy and carbonation and fizz,

what with the certifiably insane, ultra-homicidal antics of Ralph

Cifarretto, who really should have been allowed to live in

order to invigorate future episodes, though the

first season is a close second, and the second was, let's

face it, a bit of a dog, and any list of the best

episodes (excluding the sixth season, which is in

progress) has to include "Pine Barrens" and

"College" and "University" and "Whoever Did This" and

"Whitecaps" (Edie Falco's high note) and

"Long Term Parking" (Steve van Zandt's high note),

though I can't help but think that it was a bad decision

to emphasize A.J. and Janice over Meadow, because series

creator David Chase could have had

Meadow graduate from college and then come back to

her hometown as a political reformer or

journalistic crusader, pitting her directly against

the interests and values of her dad and his

people, which would have meant more Meadow and less

Janice, who tended to slow things down

as she became a sort of unconvincing Melfi to

Bobby Bacala, and the series is sort

of like drinking Remy from a flask in a Lincoln

Towncar, as opposed to sipping Chianti in a garden

a la "The Godfather," and the aphorisms are also not

quite worthy of Francis Coppola/Mario Puzo (a

typical saying like "indecision is worse than a bad

decision" isn't really as wise or true as, say,

"The Godfather"'s "keep your friends close, keep your

enemies closer"), though "Sorpanos" led the trend

in television toward applying the aesthetics and

techniques and sensibilities of great film auteurs to tv

shows, which made it a sort of weekly version of a

Martin Scorsese film (just as Larry David's

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is a bit like a weekly version

of a Woody Allen picture), and though the series

started in 1999, it can trace its roots back to

1990's "Goodfellas," particularly the scene in which

the Ray Liotta character comes to a peaceful suburban

community and brutally beats some guy who is washing

his car, which sort of invented the mob-meets-the-Jersey-'burbs

landscape of "Sopranos," but now television has almost beat

feature films at their own game, with movie after

movie trying for that "Sopranos" effect and so many major

films not measuring up to even a single episode of the

series, but now that the series is ending, there may be a

public appetite for a reverse-angle "Sopranos," done from

the POV of the victims of mobsters, because people

who have run into such thugs in real life know they're

not a lot of fun, not much like lovable

Tony, and their assaults are not accompanied by a

Ronettes soundtrack, and in parts of New Jersey,

sociopaths like Tony have sort of permeated the soil and polluted

the air and become the mayors and corrupt

local officials who cause honest people real grief

(in certain parts of Jersey, "Sorpanos" DVDs are

filed under "documentary," I hear),
which

is why I've always thought that a great series

finale would go like this: Tony Soprano runs for mayor

and wins and finds himself completely at

home in that element in Jersey, finally legit in an

illegit way, even covered glowingly (by reporters who

are either naive or corrupt) in great newspapers

that are otherwise courageous in places like Pakistan and

Iraq -- the ultimate "I was cured alright" ending.



But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 3, 2007

The Winner of Today's Presidential Debate Was...


Al Gore!






No, Gore didn't participate but it wasn't hard to

imagine him dwarfing everyone else present.

Yeah, Obama gave some terrific seemingly-spontaneous

answers about immigration (very smart

of him to bring up the TB case coming in

from Canada). But I'm getting sort of tired

of him playing prophet by saying he was against

the Iraq war before the war, when the truth is

he wasn't in Congress when the authorization

vote came up. I mean, Hillary Clinton and

John Edwards also might have been bravely anti-war

had they not been in the Senate during the moment of

truth.


The true foreign policy prophets of this decade are

those who both opposed the Iraq war before the

Iraq war AND supported the war in

Afghanistan before the war in Afghanistan. One question

Wolf Blizter didn't ask Obama today: Was he for the

Afghanistan war before the Afghanistan war?


That said, Obama's response on bin Laden was terrific,

advocating a decisive and lethal response if the military

had bin Laden in its crosshairs; Kucinich's answer was

awful (in short, he'd be willing to allow bin Laden to

live so that he could plot the mass murder of more Americans).


Elsewhere, Hillary was very strong on health care, going after

the true villains, the pharmaceutical and insurance

companies (though she shouldn't keep repeating that bit

about having "scars to show from" her health care activism).


Joe Biden was very wise and smart about Iran and Darfur and

on foreign policy in general and he will

make a brilliant secretary of state under President Gore.


And Dennis Kucinich was convincing and passionate about the

single payer bill (HR 676) that he's trying to get the

House to pass (and he'll make a marvelous HHS secretary

under President Gore).


Meanwhile, Bill Richardson was off and should consider

withdrawing from the race. (What was Richardson thinking

when he cited "getting rid of junk food in schools" as part

of his health plan? People are dying because they can't afford

meds, Bill, and you trivialize the tragedy with a comment like that.)


Mike Gravel should definitely stay in the race, but only because

he's the most entertaining of the lot. Gravel should also

seriously think about getting a scan to see whether he's

had a stroke that he might be unaware of, because he sounds

increasingly like that nut in the movie "Network."


Ask some Democrats the following question -- If you could snap

your fingers and appoint anyone president, who would it be? --

and many would say "Obama." But ask them another question -- If you

could snap your fingers and appoint anyone the Democratic nominee

for president? -- the answer is less certain.


Because the last question requires naming a candidate who can win

in the general in a nation split evenly between red and blue.

And, let's be real, Obama can't. Too liberal.


And let's look at the electoral map, particularly the swing states.

Gore could probably win not only Florida and Ohio, but Iowa and even

Missouri (and maybe even purple states like New Mexico and Montana), no

matter who the GOP nominates.


On the other hand, I can't imagine Obama winning any of those

six -- and I bet he'd have a hard time picking up Democratic

sureshots like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Even New Jersey might

be out of his range. Obama is the sort of guy who'll attract

record crowds at rallies in Green Bay on the day before the election

but would ultimately end up losing Wisconsin by 53 to 47 percent. And

in Florida, he'd rack up totals in Dade but lose it on the I-4 corridor.


Hillary would have a better but not a good chance, which is why

some Dems are privately hoping Michael Bloomberg becomes the

Ross Perot of '08, the third party candidate who siphons votes

from the GOP. I mean, Bill Clinton knows all too well that he

likely would've lost in '92 had it not been for Perot, and he knows

Hillary is not strong enough to overcome the electoral math he

wasn't able to overcome in '92.


As I wrote in this column in April (see below), the Dems's best and

maybe only hope of winning the White House is a Gore/Obama ticket.

At the time, almost nobody talked about such a pairing. But

now, a lot of pundits and politicos and party insiders are saying

the same thing.

* * * *

exclusive

Arcade Fire Ends Tour With Rarity -- and Win Butler is Almost Busted


The Arcade Fire ended its latest North

American tour last night in Berkeley, Calif.,

with a magical set that included rarity

"Headlights Look Like Diamonds," which


the band hasn't played in years, showing an almost angry

intensity that hadn't been there the night before.


Perhaps the reason for that intensity was the fact that frontman

Win Butler had almost been arrested earlier in the day, or so he

said last night. Seven songs into the set, Butler gave this account

of what happened (which I was lucky enough to have caught on my tape

recorder!):


"In Berkeley today I came as close as I've ever been to being

arrested. [applause] I'd like to say I was protesting

the war in Iraq or something but I was just pleading my case to

be able to play basketball at the Berkeley gym...And so one thing

led to another and he was kind of an asshole and then so we started

yelling a little bit. And this police officer came. She called

for fucking back-up. And before I knew it, I was being escorted out

by, like, four cops. It was like serious shit. They took down my

information. I don't know what you people do around here, but

they're serious. Anyway, so, since we can't stop the war, let's at

least boycott Berkeley athletic facilities."


The crowd applauded wildly and the band immediately launched into

"Intervention."

[More on the concert later!]



But I digress. Paul

the above photo of Al Gore is by Paul Iorio; the photo of
The Arcade Fire was shot by an unknown photographer at
at an unknown show.

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 30, 2007

"And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain..."



The secret of what happens in the last two episodes of "The Sopranos"

is more closely guarded than a nuclear code, it seems, but the word is

that in this Sunday's show, "Blue Comet," the penultimate episode,

Silvio gets whacked at the Bing and Bobby Bacala also makes his final

exit, while A.J. busts his ankle. But don't tell anybody I told ya!

(Besides, in all seriousness, it's absolutely impossible to verify

plot details coming from various sources, though don't rule out the

F.B.I. playing a big role in the series finale, "Made in America."

And some seem to think, as outrageous as it sounds, Tony might

-- get this -- flip in the final reel. Again, no way to definitively

confirm any of this.)


But I digress. Paul


[picture of James Gandolfini by unknown photographer.]
_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 24, 2007


Advice for Aspiring Journalists in the Graduating Class of 2007



1. If you don't come from money, you'll probably have
to start your career as a clerk. And you'll have to
watch the unfair spectacle of lesser talents (whose parents
are wealthy) ascend to plum editorial positions right out of
the box.

2. You can be brilliant at your job and work at it 'round
the clock, but the promotion will often go to the
son or nephew of the boss. Nepotism generally trumps talent.

3. Whistleblowers do not usually end up on the cover of Time
magazine as heroes. If you whistleblow about your own company,
chances are you will be smeared by your bosses, fired for a
trumped up cause and then blacklisted in your industry.

4. Even if you expose something as egregiously evil as a
murder linked to your company's corrupt practices, you will
be surprised at how few of your esteemed colleagues will
stand by you in your investigation -- even after your findings
are proved to be completely correct!

5. If you investigate the bad guys as a freelancer, and
you are injured by the bad guys while doing your
reporting, your company will not pay your
medical expenses -- and neither will the government.
Your injuries will continue to worsen with the years.

6. Beware: the idea you pitch may be stolen by the
publication you're pitching it to.

7. Plagiarism is the third rail of journalism is what they
teach you in college. But the reality is that awful plagiarists
get away with it at major newspapers all the time because
they are either rich, famous or well-connected within their
own newspapers (see my column below for examples of that).

8. You'll know your work is great and is connecting with
readers when 1) your colleagues try to claim credit for
parts of it that they had nothing to do with; 2) other
writers start imitating it.

9. Of course, if they have to unfairly promote the boss's
son over you, then they will also have to cover themselves
by saying your work is not so great. Answer them with:
compared to whose work among your staffers? If it's
not-so-great, then how come everyone is imitating it?
And how come everyone is trying to claim credit
for it?

10. At the job interview, assume your boss is asking the dumbest
possible question, not the smartest possible question. (Example:
at the job interview when I was hired at the San Francisco Chronicle,
the editor asked me a question about a movie that I was an
absolute expert on: Roman Polanski's "Chinatown." He asked what
was the name of the family in the movie modeled after a real life
L.A. family. Wrongly thinking he was asking a brilliant
question about one of the more obscure characters, I stammered
for around half a minute before realizing he was actually asking
an obvious question about the movie's main character.)

11. The key to success: come from a rich family.

12. There are exceptions to each one of these truths that
some will cite in order to discredit them altogether.


But I digress. Paul
___________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 23, 2007


Today's New York Times reports that ABC's "World News" with

Charles Gibson has now become the dominant nightly newscast,

topping both Brian Williams' "NBC Nightly News" and "The CBS

Evening News" with Katie Couric.


Which doesn't surprise me at all. In 2002, I did some deep research

into how the morning news anchors at the major networks handled

the ultimate breaking news story: the minutes between the crash

of the first hijacked airplane and the second one on September 11,

2001. At the time, I knew almost nothing about Charles Gibson,

then co-anchor of "Good Morning America," which was on the air at

the time the planes rammed into the twin towers. But the more I

watched and re-watched the footage from that morning over and over

again, studying in detail the responses of each anchor, the more I

realized that Gibson was a massively talented television journalist

-- and the only anchor or correspondent that morning to have sized

up the situation correctly while the tragedy was unfolding.


My own report was ultimately published by The Toronto Star in

January 2003, and for those who missed it at the time, here it is:



The Immediate TV Coverage of the First Two Crashes on 9/11
(The Live Coverage Viewers Missed)


By Paul Iorio

By now, everyone has seen virtually every inch of television coverage of

the September 11th attacks around nine hundred and eleven times. It

sometimes seems as if every scrap of 9/11 footage ever shot -- whether taken

upside down near Ground Zero or from faraway Rockaway -- has already

been aired more frequently than the Zapruder film.


But most TV viewers never got to see the most riveting 9/11 television

coverage of all: the raw live footage of the seventeen minutes between the

first plane crash at 8:46 and the second at 9:03 am, as seen on the morning

news shows.


In New York, television programming was largely knocked off the air by

the toppling of transmission antennae atop the Trade Center. And on the west

coast, almost everyone was asleep during the attacks, waking only in time to

see the first tower collapse.


So for those who missed it -- almost everybody -- there's now a website

library that has compiled streaming video of all major U.S. television news

programs from that morning, shown in real-time with ads intact -- plus a

generous sampling from overseas media outlets. (The site is run by a non-

profit online TV library called The Television Archive and can be accessed at

http://client.alexa.com/tvarchive/html. Its American network feeds are from

Washington, D.C., affiliates; MSNBC and the cable Fox News Channel are

not included in the archive.) [Note: the website has since been deleted.]


The coverage from 8:30-to-9:30-am is among the most engrossing ever

broadcast -- and some of the most inadvertently telling, too, since it clearly

reveals who among the anchors and correspondents got it right and who blew

it, who could think on their feet and who couldn't, as the ultimate breaking

news story unfolded.


There are surprises. For example, Charles Gibson, co-anchor of ABC's

"Good Morning America," did an unexpectedly fine job of covering the

moment when the second plane hit and was the only anchor on the three

major networks to immediately speak up and tell us what had happened.

Others, like Bryant Gumbel, the now-departed anchor of CBS's "The Morning

Show," contributed astonishingly awful reportage.


The first to break the news to America was CNN, which cut into an

advertisement at 8:49, three minutes after the first crash, with a live picture of

the burning north tower and the words: "This just in. You are looking at

obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center

and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into

one of the towers."


"Good Morning America" arrived second, at 8:51, with Diane Sawyer

saying, "We want to tell you what we know as we know it. But we just got a

report in that there's been some sort of explosion at the World Trade Center."

(And within a couple minutes, ABC correspondent Don Dahler was providing

terrific first-hand reportage via cellphone from near Ground Zero.)


Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" would have been third, coming a half

minute after "GMA," had he not dropped the ball. At 8:51, Lauer broke away

from an interview to announce that there was breaking news but didn't say

what the news was. "I have to interrupt you right now," Lauer told his guest,

the author of a biography on billionaire Howard Hughes. "We're going to go

live right now and show you a picture of the World Trade Center, where I

understand -- Do we have it? No, we do not." He then cut to 90 seconds of

ads before Katie Couric returned to the airwaves to report what had

happened.


But the real test of anchor mettle came at the moment when the second

plane hit at 9:03. "GMA"'s Gibson took control forcefully and calmly within

two seconds of the second collision, describing events in a brisk and firm

manner, explaining what was occurring in the live footage, and rattling off

facts from memory, while showing genuine emotion ("Oh, this is terrifying,

awful"), as a wilting Diane Sawyer murmured, "Oh my god, oh my god."


Gibson was so alert that he actually broke the news of the second collision

to his correspondent at the scene, who didn't see the plane hit. And within

twenty seconds, Gibson, the first on any network to mention the Trade Center

terrorist attack of '93, was speaking plain truth before his colleagues did: "So

this looks like some sort of a concerted effort to attack the World Trade

Center that is underway." That statement may seem cautious in hindsight, but

at the time was as far as any anchor had gone on the air.


On "Today," Couric and Lauer were upstaged a bit by a sometimes

excellent witness, Elliot Walker, a Today producer who happened to be

walking near the towers when the first plane hit. Walker was already being

interviewed by the anchors when the second plane crashed, and she

spontaneously stepped into the lead role during the ten seconds after the

impact, describing exactly what had happened, while Couric and Lauer, who

had presumably seen the same thing on the TV monitor, were silent (in

contrast to the talkative Gibson on ABC).


By all rights, every network should have been on equal footing at 9:03,

with live cameras fixed on the twin towers at the moment of impact. Still,

"The Morning Show" and CNN's "Live This Morning," which had shifted to

feeds from local New York stations, failed miserably in this crucial part of the

reportage, their anchors seemingly confused about what was obvious to

reporters on other networks. One ludicrous affiliate correspondent, picked up

on CNN, cluelessly floated the idea that the two collisions might have been

the result of "faulty navigating equipment."


CNN fared better when its own newspeople returned to the airwaves, in

time to report the Pentagon hit and the south tower collapse, which Aaron

Brown covered from a visually dramatic outdoor setting some thirty blocks

from Ground Zero, with the burning towers as a backdrop (a visual that has

since been seen in CNN promos).


Meanwhile, Gumbel proved he couldn't see the finger in front of his face

on this clear Manhattan morning, while also expressing little sense of horror

about what was unfolding ("wow" and "it's a terrible scene" were the closest

he came).


Gumbel, who seemingly had to be told about the second crash by an

amateur witness ("You saw a plane?," he asked a witness, incredulously),

interviewed several observers who all told him the second plane had

obviously been flown deliberately into the tower. Yet he kept asking each

source the same dim question: "Why do you say it was deliberate?," a

question he asked no fewer than four times between 9:03 and 9:12, while

repeating such phrases as vantage point and re-racking the [video] tape. (By

contrast, Lauer suggested it was something deliberate at 9:05; Gibson had

already done so at 9:03. Gumbel didn't come around until about 9:19.) This,

from the distinguished news division of Dan Rather and Ed Bradley.


If Gumbel seemed to somehow miss the crash of the second plane, he

was the only anchor who thought he saw non-existent third and fourth jets

approach the burning towers at 9:41. "Hold it, hold it!," said a near-panicky

Gumbel to his guest. "Two jets right now, approaching the World Trade

Center! We're watching! Hold on! [pause] I'm sorry, no...we can't tell

whether it was a plane or a 'copter."


Gumbel, who inexplicably wasn't joined by any CBS News correspondent

until Jim Stewart appeared at 9:15, did hit one high note, at 8:57, when he

interviewed a doorman at the Marriott World Trade Center, the hotel that

used to be between the two towers. The doorman began like a cocky New

Yorker ("How ya doin'?") but his voice started cracking unexpectedly as he

poignantly described the trauma he had just seen: a man on fire outside the

hotel.


"I heard a guy screaming," said the doorman, seeming on the verge of

tears. "And when I looked over, there was this guy that was on fire. So I just

kind of like ran over and I tried to, like, put the fire out on him. And he was,

he was, like, screaming. I told him to roll, roll, and he said he can't. And

another man came over with his bag and kind of like put the flames out on

him."


"Today" also had raw and revealing moments. At one point, Couric read a

Reuters report that opened a horrifying window on the hell that was taking

place on the upper floors of the towers: "A person who answered the phone

on the trading floor at interdealer-broker Cantor Fitzgerald, located near the

top of the World Trade Center, said, 'Were blanking dying,' when asked what

was happening, and hung up. There was screaming and yelling in the

background, and a follow-up call was not answered."


Several anchors and witnesses made observations that now seem

perceptive and even prescient in retrospect. Couric was more correct than

she knew when she noted (at 9:37) the possibility that another attack might be

in the offing at any moment; one minute after she voiced that concern, the

Pentagon was attacked. (And thanks to a quick and well-placed Jim

Miklaszewski, Today scooped everyone on the Washington crash.)


CBS's Stewart was the first to mention Osama bin Laden on the air (at

9:16). ABC's John Miller understood faster than anyone else that there was

virtually no way people trapped on the upper floors of the towers could be

rescued, because of the heavy smoke. Lauer was the first to note the

terrorists's high level of coordination and planning. Dahler, who heard the

first plane hit, correctly dismissed the early widespread notion that the aircraft

had been a small prop plane.


There were also moments of bad information. For instance, Sawyer tried

to put something of a happy-ending on the tragedy at 9:07 by stating, "There's

a small hope that the fire may have gone out from the first site" (Dahler

quickly extinguished that false hope). And Couric read a report, later

repeated by Lauer, that claimed a small commuter plane had hit the north

tower.


The tone of the anchors shifted -- almost uniformly -- as the hour

progressed, from denial and confusion to horror, with disbelief throughout.

After the first attack, everyone on the air seemed to take solace in the

possibility that it might have been a simple accident by a pilot who had lost

control of his plane and wrecked in an unlucky spot. But after the second

attack, it was self-evident to virtually everyone that there was no innocent

explanation for what was happening.


The 8:30 hour is also fascinating because it shows the 9/11 era

arriving as abruptly and violently as the edge of a hurricane after the placid

eye of the storm. "[It's]...a beautiful fall morning," Couric noted before the

tragedy. "A beautiful day here," said "GMA" weatherman Tony Perkins.

"...It's kind of quiet around the country [weather-wise]...it's too quiet, said an

inadvertently prescient Mark McEwen on "This Morning."


After the attacks, the weather was mentioned only in relation to the fact

that the collisions couldn't have possibly been weather-related.


All told, there were no lost tempers, no crying, no real panicking on the

air. There was also no single dazzling journalistic feat that might have

elevated one news team far above the others (something on the order of

scoring a cellphone interview with a passenger on one of the hijacked jets).

That said, the best coverage clearly came from ABC (because of Gibson)

and NBC (partly due to Miklaszewski), with almost everyone else way

behind.


[From The Toronto Star, January 4, 2003.]

----------------------------------------------


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 22, 2007


The New Yorker magazine website, December 15, 2006 (and for several days afterward).

Proof That Everyone Makes Mistakes


I think a lot of people agree that there is no

greater publication on the planet than The New Yorker.

While there is no such thing as perfection in journalism,

TNY, under editor David Remnick, the Mozart of non-fiction,

comes very close.


So I was astonished last December when I came upon that

extreme rarity: a glaring New Yorker factual error!

The mistake was posted on The New Yorker's website on

December 15, 2006, and remained on the site for several

days before someone caught and corrected it. I snapped

this picture of it, posted above (which should make everyone

feel better about their own imperfections!).

* * *

Time was when the discriminatory practices of the Mormon

Church were brought out in the sunlight without fear or

favor by the news media. The New York Times had a marvelous

piece about what some consider to be the bigotry of the

Mormons and about the Romney family's refusal to condemn it.

Only thing is, that article ran on -- let's see -- December 28, 1965,

which is back when the press regularly and openly took the

Mormon church to task for its racist theology.

In fact, "racist theology" was the phrase used in an

article in the Washington Post about the Mormon church --

on, uh, September 26, 1967.



In the current round of articles about the Mormons and

the candidacy of Mitt Romney, the press is downright

timid about calling certain Mormon practices and beliefs

exactly what they are -- racist and sexist. The church won't

allow women into the priesthood. Well, that's sexist.

And the church used to bar blacks from the priesthood, and

that was racist. Why aren't certain major media organizations

taking Mitt Romney to task and asking him whether he

renounces the sexist and racist policies of his church?

Perhaps because there appears to be a bias at some

publications for organized religion.


By the way, has anyone noticed how The New York Times has become

blatantly biased in favor of organized religion in the last

few years? The Times's new emphasis on religion resembles

nothing so much as...the 19th century version of the New York Times.

Whata throwback. Faith-based journalism. You get the sense a

top editor there is a bit of a holy roller. Editors at the Times

should understand that references to religious phenomena that don't

include proper citation (e.g., according to the Old Testament,

etc.) are highly offensive to the many who don't accept any

religious framework at all. It should be in the paper's stylebook.


* * *


From all reports, Michael Moore's "Sicko" seems on track to be

the major documentary of 2007 -- and the most worthy, given its

subject: the horror and shame of the American health care system,

which is going to claim many thousands of casualties this year

because people can't afford treatment.


Truth is, in all probability, there will be no change in the

health care system even if Hillary Clinton is elected president

and Democrats take full control of Congress. After all,

in 1993, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress

couldn't pass a single-payer plan. So why should we expect

anything will be different in 2009 under even the best electoral

scenario?


No, as long as the rich continue to make obscene profits off

of sick people (and as long as they contribute those profits to the

campaigns of political candidates), there will be no change. And the

uninsured will continue to have their lifespans needlessly reduced

by years and decades.


My suggestion to activists is: instead of rioting and protesting

at WTO conferences, stage relentless protests outside the homes

and mansions of the heads of the top ten pharmaceutical companies.

Find out where the top executives at Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, J&J,

Glaxo, etc. live, and then demonstrate outside the homes they bought

by overcharging sick people. And escalate to civil disobedience, if

necessary.


That may be the only way we can show how serious we are about having

a single-payer health plan that covers all men, women and children in

the U.S. The government has truly failed us on this one and

will probably continue to do so no matter who is elected in 2008.


But I digress. Paul

____________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 19, 2007


Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York seems to be one of

the only major public officials in the nation with the guts to take

on the gun lobby. His undercover expose of Virginia gun-sellers might

actually save some lives in the future and may even lead to a

tightening of gun control (or at least an enforcement of the existing

laws!) there and elsewhere. Along with Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston,

he's also leading a vast coalition of mayors in what now amounts to

the main national movement to stop the next Virginia Tech massacre.


And the Virginians who think it's none of Bloomberg's

business are dead wrong; if your smokestack is polluting my air, then

your smokestack is my business.


Maybe a Bloomberg for president
candidacy is not such a bad

idea after all. I had him wrongly pegged as a sort of Steve Forbes,

but Forbes never had this sort of political courage.

* * *

My Own Contemporaneous Memory of "Sgt. Pepper's," Which is Turning 40


OK, first off, I was only 9, going on ten, when The Beatles's

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released, so I

and my friends were really more concerned at the time with

whether The Monkees were about to overtake The Beatles and what

the new Herman's Hermits single was going to be, though I do

remember that on or around the time of the June 1 release

there was a big to-do about the album on NBC's "Today" show,

which meant the grown-ups were now paying attention, and it

sort of felt as if a major symphony had just been released, or as

if the adults were saying to the teacher

come-look-at-what-junior-created-because-this-time-it-may-

actually-be-worth-something, though I also vividly recall that

the marvelous AM radio stations that had been playing "Yellow

Submarine" and "Penny Lane" and "I Hear a Symphony" and all

those brilliant singles of 1966 were now sort of cool to this

new Beatles album, and I remember one radio AM DJ playing a "Pepper's"

track and remarking afterwards that he wished the Beatles would

go back to making the more straightforward singles of the old days,

because the "Pepper's" material just wasn't any fun to him, a

sentiment echoed all over the place, though as a kid I liked it

more and more as I listened to it, especially as I grew older

and turned from 10 to 11 and 12, at which point "Abbey Road"

had supplanted "Pepper's" on my turntable, though

before that happened, my contemporaneous memory of

June 1967 is that "She's Leaving Home" was too depressing and

"Within You Without You" was a bore, and I much preferred "There's

a Kind of Hush" as a 10 year old (the Stones were for older kids

who had already sprouted hair on their faces), though I grew to love

the whole album and now think that "A Day In the Life" may

be the Beatles greatest collaboration, even if I can't help but

think it should be credited to Lennon/McCartney/Martin,

after George Martin, who supplied the dazzling connective

tissue between Lennon and McCartney's two songs, or their two song

fragments, because you see, John and Paul hadn't really

written a complete song until Martin joined the two fragments, but,

wow, is that a fun song to play on the acoustic guitar, by the way,

give it a try, but I must admit the one "Pepper's" song I go back

to all the time in my adulthood is "Fixing a Hole," mostly because

of its fabulous middle eight ("But it really doesn't matter..."), a

supremely inspired bit from McCartney, much better than "Getting

Better," which is sorta mean, and I love how the energy level

builds beautifully on what used to be called Side Two, a hint of

the medley to come at the end of "Abbey Road," and Lennon

was right about "Sgt. Pepper's" when he said it really

didn't have a unified theme the way, say, "Tommy"

does, that it was really just another batch of breathtaking

Beatles songs without an overarching structure, though the

reprise at the end makes the album feel unified when it's

actually not, but that's no knock on the album at all,

because I'm always suspicious of conscious themes and deliberate unity,

I've always preferred "Who's Next" to "Quadrophenia," and I'd

rather have the unity of a work arise organically and present

itself intuitively rather than be imposed on the album by

design, after all, there's no "theme" to "Blonde on Blonde" or

"Blood on the Tracks" or "Exile on Main Street" or "Rubber Soul,"

yet those albums are unified in a way that cannot be explained or

that you cannot put your finger on, which is the most effective

and satisfying form of musical unity, and which is why the less

calculated design of "Abbey Road" makes it, not "Sgt. Peppers,"

the Beatles's greatest album.


But I digress. Paul
________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Friday, May 18, 2007


A DAILY DIGRESSION NEWS EXCLUSIVE


Mitt's 'Macaca' Moment?


"Ma'm, there's no media back here, please," said

someone guarding a private area where former governor Mitt Romney

was schmoozing with Ann Coulter and others at the

Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2 in

Washington, D.C.


But someone sneaked in an unauthorized camera anyway

and caught what might be Mitt's own "Macaca" moment,

as well as some revealing footage of Romney and Coulter

massaging each others's conservatism in a backstage area.

The video has since been posted on YouTube but

not yet covered by the media.


The video starts off innocently enough, as Coulter

looks at Romney adoringly and says: "You have

great answers on everything, the Reagan position on

abortion."


At another point, she says,
"You know, a photo of you and

me together is going to be famous when you do something

I don't like and I viciously attack you."


"Never, that will never happen, never will happen," Romney

says.


Moments later, Coulter falls into her fundamentalist

bomb-throwing mode. "No, they don't understand, we hate liberal atheists,"

Coulter says. "You can't get these sectarian wars going with us.

We're all Christians."


And Romney responds with: "There're no Sunni or Shia here."


One could imagine the outrage if Romney had said, "There

are no Jews or Muslims here," a virtually identical remark.


Romney's comment arguably has an ugly resonance, given

the segregationist history of the Mormon church, which he has

always been deeply involved in. And it raises questions about

whether Romney is tolerant of other religions.


The fact that he chose to respond with "There're no Sunni

or Shia here" (rather than with a more neutral "Yes,

we're all united" or "No insurgents here!") seems to suggest

an neo-segregationist mindset.


Surely, his defenders would probably say that he was

just joking around.


Then again, former Sen. George Allen was also just

kidding around when he used the word "Macaca" last year, a remark

that seriously damaged his candidacy. Don Imus was also just

joking. And Sen. Joe Biden certainly didn't intend anything

derisive when he called Sen. Barack Obama "clean" in an

interview that caused him lots of political grief. One

could contend that the quote by Romney is at least as offensive.


Plus, the quote feeds into the perception that Romney

supports what some consider to be the racist and sexist theology of

the Mormon Church, which excluded blacks from the priesthood

until 1978 and still bars women from being ordained priests today.


Romney, who was president of Boston's Mormon churches for

several years in the 1990s, has been criticized for his church's

policy of discrimination against women. His father, the late

George Romney, a governor of Michigan in the 1960s and also

a devout Mormon, was similarly criticized during his

own presidential campaign, "accused of adhering to a

'racist faith' that holds up the promise of a

'segregated heaven,'" according to an article published

in The Washington Post on September 26,

1967. The Romney family can trace its Mormon heritage

to the 19th century and to ancestors

who practiced polygamy, according a story that ran in

the New York Times on December 28, 1965.


The 2007 CPAC event, which featured speeches by Romney

("I invited all the Massachusetts conservatives to come

hear me today, and I'm glad to report that they're both here,"

went his Reaganesque speech), Coulter and numerous other

right-wingers, took place at the Omni Shoreham

Hotel in Washington, D.C., from March 1st to 3rd.


But I digress. Paul
______________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 15, 2007


And so the Corleone family took the stage in South

Carolina last night for the second Republican presidential debate,

with Sen. John McCain as Michael Corleone, the cool

headed battle-tested vet; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as

Sonny the hothead, and Rep. Ron Paul as weak and feckless Fredo.


There was even an I-paid-for-this-microphone-esque moment,


and it belonged to Giuliani, understandably outraged that Ron Paul had

the absurd gall to say we were attacked on 9/11 because we had bombed

Iraq.


For the record, and for Ron Paul's education: in the

luggage of the hijackers was a letter, first revealed by Bob Woodward of

The Washington Post back in '01, that stands as the de facto

letter-of-intent of the hijackers; it mentioned nothing about

politics and cited only religious motives for the mass murder

they were about to commit. (It was several weeks later,

after bin Laden realized that the 9/11 attacks weren't playing

as well as he thought they would in Islam, that he released a

Cho-like video in which he ladled on a few hastily

articulated political justifications for the massacre (you

Americans killed lots of people at Antietam, didn't you?, was the tone

of his video, as I recall).


Thing is, for all of Giuliani's virtues, he remains an

operations guy, not a policymaker. Oh, yeah, he was a shower o' gold

on 9/11, no doubt about it, the guy you'd follow to shelter

in a nuke attack. But his ideas on policy are not just wrong

(see: his speech at the Republican national convention in 2004)

but dangerously amateurish.


Still, Giuliani helped his cause tonight, no doubt, but so did

McCain, with his wise and restrained opposition to the

torture of terror suspects.


Meanwhile, Rep. Paul should consider resigning not just

from the presidential race but from the U.S. House of Representatives

and political life altogether.


But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 14, 2007


On Romney and Faith


The United States has finally accumulated enough history

and tradition to have entered into a period of dynastic politics, in

which established families (such as the Bushes and Clintons)

take turns reigning for extended periods. The latest dynastic

politician to hit the national stage is Mitt Romney, and nothing

in last night's fascinating profile of him on "60 Minutes"

has changed my view that he may well become the Republican

candidate for president next year (see The Daily Digression,

April 27, 2007)
.


But Romney didn't entirely put to rest unsettling issues

related to his active participation in the Mormon church, which ABC's

George Stephanopoulos also questioned him about in a brave interview

last February.


"Your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches

that Jesus will return, probably to the United States, and reign on

earth for 1,000 years," noted Stephanopoulos in that interview.


Which suggests another question: put plainly, should

we elect candidates who hold kooky, irrational beliefs?


Should we elect a president who believes in voodoo or

who believes in ESP or who believes that aliens in UFOs actually

assassinated President Kennedy in 1963? Or who believes that a dead

man will come back to life and live for at least another millennium?


What do such eccentric beliefs say about a candidate's

judgment, about a person's ability to distinguish fantasy from reality,

about a candidate's ability to assess fact-based evidence?


Doesn't religious literalism have an insidiously

corrosive effect on a person's judgment and reasoning, since it lowers

the bar for the evidence required for someone to believe something is

true? If your standard of proof is the-Bible-told-me-so, aren't you

more likely to apply a similar lax standard of proof when, say,

determining whether Saddam once tried to buy yellowcake? If a

Christian Scientist who believes in prayer over medicine were to be

elected president, might he or she try to solve other crises

-- e.g., a terrorist attack, a devastating hurricane -- solely

through prayer?


In my view, these are the questions that make faith

a legitimate and necessary point of candidate scrutiny. And any

politician who objects to such hard questions about his faith,

or has a problem with the establishment clause, should consider

leaving politics for a more compatible forum: the church.


But I digress. Paul

___________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 8, 2007


The Coarsening of Pop Culture


The condemnation of offensive content in rap music and

in all the arts just keeps getting louder and more widespread, now

that Jesse Jackson and hip hop mogul Russell Simmons have joined

the chorus.



And it is true that examples of vulgar material

abound. The stuff I found recently, just browsing in public

libraries, is shockingly depraved, and here are excerpts from the

worst offenders:


Mozart's "Don Giovanni"
from Da Ponte's libretto of the aria "Madamina, il catalogo e questo..."

LEPORELLO: "In France he boned 91 hoes,
in Germany he took on a thousand-three mo'"

* * *

Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment"

RASKOLNIKOV: "Chopped that lady with an ax/
How she feelin' now, I didn't ask."

* * *

Shakespeare's "King Lear"

REGAN: "Plucked out the snitch's eyes for good/
Let him sniff his way on back to the 'hood."

* * *

Aristophanes' "Lysistrata"

KINESIAS: "My bitch ain't puttin' out no mo'/
Till we stop this muthafuckin' war"

* * *

The Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley"

"Hang your head, Dooley/
We gonna put a cap up yo' ass."

* * *

Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

CAESAR: "Yo Brutus, thanks for all the help/
If I come back to life, I gonna make you yell"

* * *

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

"Killed that cracker, put him in the floor/
Don't wanna hear his heart beat like befo'"

* * *

Cellini's "The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini"

"I stabbed that man with all the gold chains/
Blood shot out like a water main"

* * *

Dante's "Inferno"

"Bitch, I put you in a circle of hell/
Frozen alive in the wishing well"

* * *

Francis Scott Key's "The Star Spangled Banner"


"The bombs that we blew off up in the air/
Made sure Crips colors was stayin' there"

* * *

Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

"Homie Jake, he ain't get no wood/
Can't satisfy his lady like he should"

* * *

But I digress. Paul
____________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 7, 2007


Iraq and "Moby Dick"


If Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" were released today,

critics would call it an obvious allegory about the Iraq war and

the monomaniacal hunt for Saddam Hussein.


As someone who opposed the Iraq war from the start, I

always thought we should have turned our harpoons toward bin Laden,

not toward Saddam.


And now the Iraq debate is mired in the clutter of

detail. Yellowcake. 16 words. Slam dunk.


But a true understanding of how the Iraq mess evolved

requires only a very clear memory of the past five years or so.


Flashback to October 2001. Big debate in the U.S. about

whether we should go to war with Afghanistan (a war I backed wholeheartedly).

Lots of analysts on news shows saying we'd be bogged down for a generation

in Afghanistan, just look at what happened to the Soviets in the 1980s.


Turns out they were wrong. Kabul was a pushover, and we

were able to rid the world of a truly uncivilized and violent regime.

Americans everywhere were emboldened by that victory. This is easy, we

thought.


So Bush and many others thought, hmm, maybe we could

do the same thing in Iraq and be done with pesky Saddam within a matter

of weeks. I remember that even President Clinton took to the airwaves

saying an Iraq war wouldn't take long at all.


Other progressives saw the war
as an opportunity to get rid

of a chronic human rights abuser. And the Congressional Dems who had just

finished opposing the successful Afghanistan war didn't want to be caught

on the wrong side this time, so they voted for authorization of war in

Iraq.


Let's be frank: everyone was too drunk on the Afghanistan

victory to remember that Iraq was exponentially larger and more complex

than Afghanistan and that there'd be an awful civil war if we ever took

out the central government in Baghdad (as Cheney himself warned in the

1990s on "Meet The Press" and elsewhere).


But in 2003, all such doubts were dismissed as the

same sort of static that had preceded the Afghanistan war in '01.


And the administration was hyping the war beyond the

facts (just as Nixon and LBJ had done with Vietnam). There were the

16 words of January '03: Saddam was trying to rustle up some uranium

for a nuke. Except it wasn't true.


But many wanted war anyway, whether Saddam was trying to

go nuclear or not. And many wanted peace anyway, whether Saddam was trying

to go nuclear or not. It's not like the administration hyped it and

everyone said: that clinches it, Iraq is trying for WMDs, so let's go to

war now. No, those who were unconvinced about using force against Saddam

remained unconvinced, WMDs or not.


After all, when have WMDs ever been a tripwire

for war? Kim Jong Il has a lot more than yellowcake and we're not

talking war. Ahmadinejad's nuclear program is far more advanced than

Saddam's ever was, and we're not even sending in inspectors.


As I've written before, the only real solution to the

Iraq war was to not have gotten in to begin with. If we pull out

immediately now, there will almost certainly be genocide. And suppose

there is genocide on the level of the bloodshed in Darfur today or in

Rwanda in '94? Suppose we withdraw and a half million Shiites are

murdered by Sunnis? Wouldn't we then have a humanitarian obligation to

redeploy our troops back to Iraq in order to stop the bloodshed (in

much the same way activists are now urging us to intercede in Darfur)?


We have to stop the war and start the partitioning of

Iraq now; that way we can withdraw in a way that insures

that we won't have to get back in again.


Meanwhile, we're all making the same mistake we made

in 2003: we're spending way too much time on Iraq when our foreign

policy focus should be solely on the real danger: Osama bin Laden, who has

now been free to plan his next attack for over 2,000 days.


But I digress. Paul
_________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 6, 2007


Remembering Zep -- on the 34th Anniversary


Thirty-four years ago yesterday, I and my friends

saw Led Zeppelin perform a notable gig in pop culture history.


At that concert, at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida

(my hometown through most of the 1970s), Zep 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 on May 5, 1973.


Was the 1973 Tampa Stadium gig a great Zeppelin performance?

Some of it was. Guitarist Jimmy Page was in rare form and the rest of

the band sounded jazzed about having broken the Beatles's

record. But Plant was hoarse, a fairly substantial drawback.


I attended the show as a 15-year-old high school student,

arriving at the Stadium with friends well before the Saturday night

concert began. After showing 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.


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.


Robert 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."


Jimmy 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

again. "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. "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

cheered.


Several songs later, after "The Rain Song," it became

clear the crowd was now getting seriously out of control. Plant got

testy.


"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

nice."


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.


Unfortunately, I had to be home by around 11pm,

which meant missing encores "The Ocean" and "Communication

Breakdown."


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. That alone is worth searching the

Internet for a bootleg CD of the show.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- All quotes in the above report come verbatim from my tape of
the concert.

________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Cinco de Mayo


Last Night's Bright Eyes/Oakley Hall Show


"The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Koran's mute/

If you burn them all together you get close to the truth,"

sang Conor Oberst last night at Bright Eyes's terrific but

too-short show in Berkeley, Calif.


That song, "Four Winds," from Bright Eyes's new

"Cassadaga" album, has been out for only a few weeks, but it sounds

like one of the best new songs I've heard from anyone this year -- and

certainly the most audacious. The band did most of the new

album, which features some of Oberst's best lyrics ever. His

war poem "No One Would Riot for Less" hushed the place:

"He says, help me out/hell is coming/Could you do it

now?/hell is here."


Opening acts Gillian Welch (she joined Bright Eyes

for a marvelous "Look at Miss Ohio") and Jim James were enjoyable, but

the act that really took me by surprise was the first on the bill:

Oakley Hall.


Oakley Hall is a relatively unknown Brooklyn band

that will almost certainly not be relatively unknown for long.

Judging from the Berkeley gig, they have vast potential to become

A Next Big Thang. They might have an "Anodyne" or even a "Murmur"

in them, and vocalist Rachel Cox is very winning and charming (though

I didn't have a good view of her or the band; I heard the whole concert

from the hills). At last night's show, in a half hour, they played six

songs, and every one of 'em hit the bullseye. The band's next album,

"I'll Follow You," will be released in August.



But I digress. Paul



P.S. -- OK, OK, for all you setlist obsessives out there, here's
last night's Bright Eyes list:

Clairaudients
Hot Knives
Middleman
The First Day of My Life
Four Winds
Make a Plan to Love Me
Classic Cars
No One Would Riot for Less
Cleanse Song
I Believe in Symmetry
All the Best (by John Prine)
Happy Birthday
Look at Miss Ohio
At the Bottom of Everything
_________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 1, 2007


While visiting Istanbul alone as a teenager in the 1970s, I

asked some Turkish hippie selling cassette audiotapes in an

underground bazaar what Turkish rocker he liked most. He

didn't hesitate.


"Cem Karaca," he said furtively but proudly, looking

cautiously around him, as if the very mention of his name could land him

in prison. He then sold me Karaca's latest, "Nem Kaldi," his

third album, which I grew to enjoy and proceeded to listen to

for decades.


For Turkey, Karaca's music was audacious, a combination of

hard rock and folk rock and Anatolian music, along with subversive

lyrics, all of which earned Karaca condemnation by right wing

Turks who accused him of treason. Hence, it was no surprise when,

in 1980, the government issued an arrest warrant for Karaca that sent

him into exile for most of that decade (he was charged, essentially,

with writing lyrics that incited revolution).


Aside from the much better known Plastic People of the

Universe (of the former Czechoslavakia), Karaca -- along with

Francesco Guccini, the Bob Dylan of Italy -- represented the most

radical mainstream (non-English language) rock to have come out

of greater Europe in the 1970s.


But where the Plastic People were resisting a now-defunct

communism, Karaka was struggling against reactionaries who are

still very much in power today: conservative Islamists.


On my visit to Istanbul, I saw first-hand how Islamic

totalitarians were as oppressive as communists ever were. On that

1976 trip, I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron

Curtain -- into Bulgaria, the most totalitarian of the Eastern

Bloc nations -- and then into Islam. By far, there was less freedom

on an everyday basis in Islam (even secular Islam) than there was

behind the Iron Curtain. (I could write several pages of anecdotes,

but that's not the subject of this column.)


So it was encouraging to see hundreds of thousands of

progressives taking to the streets of Istanbul the other day to protest

their prime minister's nomination of an Islamist (Abdullah Gul) for

president. And today, the secularists scored a big victory

when Turkey's Supreme Court nullified the Parliamentary vote

that would've put Gul in office.


Somehow I get the feeling that if Cem Karaca were still

alive, he'd be joining the protesters in celebrating their victory today.


But I digress. Paul
_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 29, 2007


Which of the Candidates Saw 9/11 Coming?


Presidential candidates with hindsight are as plentiful

as gravel, those with foresight as scarce as gold. As the

election season heats up -- and as we approach the sixth

anniversary of 9/11, with bin Laden still roaming and

plotting freely -- voters can't help but ask: which of

the current presidential contenders saw the attacks of

9/11 coming and warned us about the danger?


According to my own research, only one had such

foresight: Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.


Listen to Biden on June 21, 2000, speaking on the floor

of the U.S. Senate: "We all know about Pakistan, the gateway to Afghanistan

for Osama bin Laden and his buddies. Can anybody think of a better place

to beef up border security, so that terrorists can be apprehended as they

go to and from those Afghan training camps?"


Again, that was Biden in the year 2000, over a year before

bin Laden committed mass murder on U.S. soil. And Biden had the

danger sized up perfectly -- before the fact.


To be sure, Biden wasn't alone in ringing the alarm but

he almost was (and I should note that my research is limited to candidates

who were U.S. Senators and Representatives before or during 9/11).


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also sounded an early alarm

about the Taliban. "The Taliban in their activities...there [in Afghanistan]

have placed them outside the circle of civilized human behavior," said

Pelosi, on June 13, 2001.


On the other hand, Rep. Dennis Kucinich turns up

in the Congressional Record as one of the least prescient and

least perceptive members of Congress in sensing the al Qaeda threat

before 9/11.


Get this: fifteen months before the 9/11 attacks,

Kucinich put into the Congressional Record a Los Angeles Times column

that opined that peace was a-happenin' all over the world and that the

threat of terrorism was largely on the decline ("even the Taliban

leadership in Afghanistan is now said to be uneasy with the Osama bin

Laden gang of terrorists," said the thoroughly un-prescient column

that Kucinich put into the CR).


Other members and former members of Congress also had

foresight -- among them, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Frank Pallone

of New Jersey -- but none are among the current presidential hopefuls.

Senators Edwards and McCain were apparently silent in the Senate about

the al Qaeda threat (as was Sen. Clinton in her first eight months

or so in office in '01).


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- By the way, one wonders what it was about the pre-9/11 Taliban

that attracted a profoundly misguided guy like John Walker Lindh. Was

Lindh attracted to the fact that the Taliban was blowing up sacred

Buddhist statuary or that it was forcing Hindus to wear yellow stars in

public in Kabul? Here's an idea: don't release Lindh until Mullah Omar

is dead (or until Lindh couldn't possibly reconnect, upon release, with

the Taliban racists who he bonded with as a teen)

_________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 27, 2007


The winner of last night's presidential debate was without a

doubt Sen. Hillary Clinton and the loser was without a doubt Sen. Barack

Obama. And it really all came down to one question from NBC's Brian

Williams about what their first responses would be if there was a new

terrorist attack.


Obama gave one of the worst debate responses since

Howard Dean in '04. (Remember when Dean, sounding a bit like Gen.

Turgidson talking about an obviously insane Gen. Ripper in

"Dr Strangelove," said we had to wait for all the facts to come

in before condemning bin Laden?) Obama acted as if the

hypothetical terror attack on two American cities would be an

opportunity for some sort of academic think-tanking about

infrastructure.


Sen. Clinton sounded like the only grown-up in the room,

saying we should quickly retailate against the attacker and whatever

government was backing the attacker, once we had definitively

determined who had hit us. And she almost never strayed from important

issues -- like health care, health care and health care -- and seemed

genuine, sympathetic, appealing, even presidential (very different

from her previous strident and scolding persona).


For the very first time, I can truly see the presidential

seal on her podium.


It is way too early to make a prediction about the 2008

race, but lemme venture into the minefield anyway. Here's a possible

scenario: The Democratic ticket is Clinton/Edwards (Obama sulks

after a Gene McCarthy-like defeat and declines the number two spot,

which Hillary doesn't really want him for anyway, since he's

too liberal for a national candidacy). The Republican ticket is

Romney/McCain, after Giuliani self-destructs in the primaries, having

been forced to spend all his time on defense about his marital history

and nefarious dealings as mayor. (McCain is simply too old and -- more

important -- appears too old to be president; his shot was in '00.)


So there you have it: Clinton/Edwards versus Romney/McCain

in November '08 (a prediction that may seem laughable -- or maybe not -- a

year from now).


* * *

Bravo to Richard Gere for kissing actress Shilpa Shetty

in such a fun and flamboyant and passionate way. If I were Gere, I would

no more apologize to the reactionaries of India for kissing publicly then

I would to American Seventh-day Adventists for dancing.


To all the wonderful cultural liberals in India: you

should organize public kiss-ins throughout India to protest the

conservative prohibition in your country.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 24, 2007


Some overreaching journalists are suggesting

that Cho was imitating the movie "Oldboy" in the still

photos that he sent in his multi-media package to NBC News.

Only problem with that theory is that there is absolutely no

evidence that Cho had ever seen the movie "Oldboy." Unless he

otherwise referred to that film in his writings (and keep in mind

that he tended to write about things that influenced him), I don't

think he was making any cinematic allusion at all. And it's hard

to see how he might have been influenced by a movie he

had never seen. The connection seems to be based only

on some sort of loose ethnic stereotype (i.e., Cho

was Korean-American and the movie was South Korean,

which is sort of like assuming I'm a big fan of

Fellini's "Roma" because I have an Italian last name).



The Cho photos show extremely generic and very common

attack poses that resemble scenes from countless

cop and action movies (if you want to read too much into them,

maybe the pose with the gun to his head was from Martin

Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," for crissakes; and the "Oldboy"

pose is similar to a shot near the beginning of Chaplin's

"Modern Times").


There is absolutely no doubt, however, that Cho was

extremely influenced by and apparently obsessed with the rock

band Guns 'n' Roses, specifically the lyrics of

the group's song "Mr. Brownstone," which actually turn up in

Cho's writings. In fact, I've written a story about the Cho/GNR

connection, which is in the upcoming issue of The Boston Phoenix (it's

on the web now at http://thephoenix.com/article_ektid38425.aspx).

__________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 21, 2007


Read my latest story, about the connection between the Virginia Tech
murderer and the lyrics of Guns 'n' Roses, in The Boston Phoenix at:

http://thephoenix.com/article_ektid38425.aspx


___________________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 19, 2007


The media is as busy as Victoria Station talking about

the airing of the Cho videotapes, and I have to say that I strongly

agree with the decision by NBC News to broadcast

the videos and pictures. It's important for

everyone to examine the mental illness of a guy like Cho,

without filter, in order to better understand the kind

of extreme madness that created this extreme tragedy.

The more we know, the better we're equipped to prevent

such an event in the future. (Those who think that

it will only spur copycats have an untenable position;

perhaps they think we should blot out all coverage of

the Virginia Tech massacre in order to deter imitators.)


If we don't see explicit, disturbing pictures of a

melanoma, how will we recognize it when it shows up in the future?


Keep in mind that the news media regularly airs

videos from the worst mass murderer in American history, Osama

bin Laden, who killed around 100 times as many people, in a

couple hours in 2001, as Cho did last Monday. The enormity of

the VTech crime incidentally points up the enormity of the 9/11

murders; for every person Cho shot dead, bin Laden killed 100.

(By the way, I bet that Islamic militants are fully aware of

the VTech massacre and are now thinking along those lines for

a future attack.)


But I digress. Paul
________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 18, 2007


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. (Sidenote:

kudos to professor Lucinda Roy for picking up on the fact that

Cho was a sicko. I just finished reading Cho's "plays" -- which

are really more like skits -- and it's clear he's not only

mentally ill, but a lousy writer, too. His main literary

influence seemed to be the Guns 'n' Roses's album "Appetite for

Destruction" (that's probably where he got his pseudonym "Ismael

Ax," which sounds a bit like Axl Rose, GNR's frontman).
And

you don't have to be a psychiatrist to see that he acted like someone

livid about having been molested by someone older when he was

younger. If I had been in Lucinda Roy's place,

I would have talked to campus security about

"testing" the guy through undercover officers

(in other words, have an undercover cop provoke

him and see whether he gets violent or not).


That said, I really hope this doesn't give some

mediocre creative writing teacher the excuse to

put some brilliant kid who is influenced by Dostoyevsky

or Bret Easton Ellis under police scrutiny. Not every

teacher is as perceptive as Lucinda Roy. I bet there's

going to me a temporary epidemic of teachers/editors

saying that a certain person's story made them feel

uncomfortable, when in fact they merely disagreed

with its point of view or didn't get it. It

reminds me of the old tale about musician Tom Petty,

who reportedly sent a note to executives suggesting

that the title of his next album be "You're Going to

Get It"; an overcautious exec reportedly took it as

a threat.


Truth is, on a personal level as a writer, I would never

have produced such pushing-the-envelope pieces

as "Choosing My Religion" for Details or "Streaming

Katie's Consciousness" for The Chicago Tribune or

"It's Not So Smart To Be Smart Anymore" for Spy

magazine (as I recall, other writers were stealing

bits of that one as fast as they could type!)

if I hadn't also been coming up with other stories

that didn't see print because they were a bit

too over-the-top for mainstream consumption.


Anyway, back to the main issue. I even heard a

not-so-bright suggestion on the Today show that if

all the students had been armed, this shooting might have

been avoided. Why is that wrongheaded? Because you have to look

at what works. It's very simple: in countries where gun laws

are strict, this sort of massacre never happens. So we need to

do what they do. If people who drink X don't get cancer, then

we need to drink X. Before we hit the snooze alarm again.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- I'm a big fan of Sen. Harry Reid, except when he

criticizes LBJ's arm-twisting of legislators. Truth is,

if LBJ hadn't insisted on ramming through certain

bills, we might still have limited racial

segregation today. The lack of LBJ-like tactics

is the reason we can't get a gun control bill

or single payer health care legislation

through Congress with an override margin.

_______________________________

Thanks to "JLD" of Utah for his thoughtful comment on my column today.


_________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 15, 2007


My heart goes out to the victims of today's massacre at

Virginia Tech. As someone who was violently robbed at gunpoint nearly

two years ago, I can testify to the fact that you don't have to be

shot or physically injured to suffer injury from an act of gun violence.

I'm certain the toll of the truly wounded is much higher than will ever be

reported.

* * *


Pop Culture Too Coarse? Try Mozart.


In the wake of the Don Imus contoversy, there has been

widespread condemnation of offensive content in rap music and in all

the arts. Examples of vulgar material are abundant:

-- In the words of one piece of music, a guy brags about someone who

has had casual sex with 91 women in one country and a thousand-three

in another.

-- In another work, a drama, someone is held down in a chair while his body

parts are sadistically cut out.

-- And then there's the best-selling book about a psycho ax murderer

that is ubiquitous in most school libraries.


Disgusting examples of the coarsening of pop culture? I've

just described Mozart's "Don Giovanni," Shakespeare's "King Lear"

and Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment."


One wonders whether the people calling for censorship of

rap have ever heard of "Don Giovanni" or read a translation of DaPonte's

libretto. Parts of it do indeed have the braggadoccio of sexist rap (to

paraphrase Leporello's rap in "Madamina, il catalogo e questo":

"In France, he boned 91 hos, in Germany he took on a

thousand-three mo'").


How many polite school principals would put Dostoyevsky's

"Crime and Punishment" in classrooms if it were titled

"Psycho Ax Killer," which is what it's about? And are most

schoolteachers even aware that parts of "King Lear" are as gruesome

and violent as anything in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs"?


You can avoid seeing what happens to Gloucester by

simply not reading "Lear," just as you can avoid hearing shocking

rap lyrics by switching to Lite FM. And I personally avoided experiencing

any of Don Imus's programs for decades by tuning into NPR in

the morning instead.


Fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim, who condemn

so-called lax moral standards in pop culture (what a cliche that has

become!), forget one thing: nobody is forcing them to listen to

Snoop Dogg or Howard Stern or Madonna. If 36 Mafia offends

your Muslim or Christian or Jewish sensibilities, turn it off

and go listen to religious music of your choosing.


Whether censorship comes from the king of your country

or from a stateless militant group outside your nation, it's still

censorship. And the religious totalitarians's use of asymmetrical

warfare makes them as intimidating as a government with an army.


Such was the case with the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989

when Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" was taken off bookshelves at

stores intimidated by fundamentalists. The government of the

U.S. did not ban the book at those shops; the Muslim militants did.


So it scarcely matters, in a sense, whether the suppression

of free speech comes from the government or from a militant group

using asyemmtrical means. The practical result is the same: the

quashing of free speech.


The Muslim militants who violently objected to the Mohammed

cartoons are like the dictator who wants to control the press,

and they are worthy of the same level of open defiance.


And that's why it was important for the Jyllands-Posten and

others to publish the so-called Mohammed cartoons. After all, Mohammed may

be a religious figure to the religious, but he's a figure from history to

me, and I reserve the right, as a writer, to portray historic figures

from Jesus to Napoleon any way I please.


If you want to treat Mohammed as a religious icon, you can.

And if I want to portray him as a figure from history, I will. How come

my framework includes you, but yours doesn't include me?


Late night comedians and the rest of us should be able to

make jokes about both Mormon polygamy and the fact that, say, Mohammed

had twelve wives. It's not reasonable to contend that we can

satirize all religions except Islam.


Fundamentalists of all faiths have to be weaned away

from absolutism, which is the cause of almost all the war and

terrorism today. And, yes, fundamentalists should develop a sense

of humor about their religions, which after all are really

pretty funny if you try to take them literally. (People rising

from the dead? A guy with 12 wives? You can't be serious.)


And we shouldn't try to make the book burners (or bin Laden,

for that matter) seem as if they're intellectuals with complex reasoning

behind their actions. Remember, they embrace a literalist reading

of the Koran, and that's the salient fact about them, so there

couldn't possibly be intellectual value in what they believe, no

matter who they've studied under or what they've read. There are

some confused people in America who see the beards and sandals

of jihadists and mistake them for existentialist philosophers.

(They love to say stuff like "he was educated in Paris." Oh, really?

What school in Paris? There are a lot of lousy schools in Paris.)


No, would-be censors like the militants who were burning

books and music and movies in Islamabad last week might best be described

as Muslim rednecks who most closely resemble the sunbelt rednecks in America

that burned all those Beatles albums in the mid-sixties. Both share a

literal belief in their respective religions.


As I said, defiance is the only correct response to

totalitarianism, and we should express ourselves without regard to

whether absolutists are offended or not. Society should not adjust to

the psychotic but vice versa.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- A non-absolutist is like me: I think I'm right

about my secular view of, say, Mohammed, but I recognize the

fact (and tolerate) that you also think you're right about your

religious view of Mohammed.


On the other hand, an absolutist thinks he's right about

his own religious view of Mohammed, but he insists that

everyone share his view and that there be no dissenting opinions.


That's the difference.

__________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 13, 2007


It's an interesting spectacle to watch certain neo-racist white

people in the media overcorrect for their own neo-racism by giving podium to

a liar and discredited source like Al Sharpton.


But I digress. Paul

__________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 12, 2007


Oh, I hear the silence, I hear that wonderful

Al Sharpton-less silence. I no longer hear Sharpton doing his loudmouth

thing on tv about the Crystal Gail Mangum defamation case. No,

he's mighty quiet right about now about all of her lies.


But the downside of that wonderful Al

Sharpton-less silence is that I don't hear him

apologizing, as he should, for promoting her

grotesque fabrications. And I also don't hear

him defending her, as he would if he still

believed Mangum's bullshit. Of course, he still

hasn't gotten around to an apology for supporting

the lies of Tawana Brawley nearly two decades ago, so he's got a

backlog of dishonesty to sift through. He's busy.



The Crystal Gail Mangum defamation case is over,

but it ain't over.


The people who were right from the start should be

rewarded. The people who were wrong should be penalized.


Those who should get a promotion and a raise: CBS's

Byron Pitts, The New York Times's Peter Applebome, Duke's James

Coleman, those who worked with the late Ed Bradley on his "60 Minutes"

report on the Duke case, author Kurt Andersen, many others.


Those who should be demoted or fired: NBC's Ron Mott,

genuine idiot Nancy Grace, Geraldo Rivera, Michael Nifong, the Duke faculty

members who reflexively backed Mangum, editors who claimed it wasn't

relevant to bring up the fact that Mangum lied about once stealing a taxi

cab and driving it drunk as cops chased her, Wilson and Glater of the Times,

many others.


As for Crystal Gail Mangum herself: as I stated

yesterday, she should be charged with perjury, filing a false police report,

public drunkenness, and whatever other laws she broke.


For the record: my own earliest mention of the Duke case

was published, in The Chicago Tribune, almost exactly a year ago, on

April 25, 2006, when I satirized those in the media who bought Mangum's

dubious accusations. Writing in the voice of a Katie Couric who was

panicking over the fact that she might have been lied to by Mangum, I wrote

in The Chicago Tribune: "I really hope that Duke lacrosse scandal doesn't

turn into the next Jennifer Wilbanks disaster -- did I use the word

'alleged' enough? I'll have to rerack the tapes."


I think we all oughta re-rack the tapes now, and see who's

to bless and who's to blame.


But I digress. Paul

________________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 11, 2007


On my birth certificate, my name is officially Paul Lockett

Iorio, Lockett being the family name on my mother's British side

of the family, Iorio being the name on my dad's Italian side. If

customs in the U.S. were different, I might have grown up as

Paul Lockett instead of Paul Iorio. Though I'm proud of both

names, both come with a different set of cultural stereotypes.


So imagine if I had won some sort of writing award last week

that somehow came to the attention of Don Imus, and Imus had

made some trite, ethnically ignorant, supposedly funny remark

like, "Whoaa, they're giving prizes to the mafia now -- I

wonder where he left the horse's head to get that award."



A joke that wouldn't be told if my name were Paul Lockett.

A joke that wouldn't be told by anyone who knew that the

Italian side of my family is mostly scholarly, far more

familiar with Capote than Capone. A joke that robs a person

of his individuality and identity before millions of people.


So my heart goes out to the Rutgers basketball team players

who had their identities distorted and reduced to a cliche by

some old guy in a cowboy hat last week.


Still, if Imus's joke had been on me, I know I would have had a

sense of humor about it and would have rolled with the joke.

After all, everybody gets skewered in free-speech America, and

you have to have thick skin and a fine appreciation of the

fact that your-joke-about-me permits my-joke-about-you.


And, context IS everything when it comes to making

audacious remarks. Remember, Lenny Bruce used the same word that Michael

Richards used in his own routine -- and virtually as many times, too -- but

Bruce got away with saying "nigger" (even among African Americans) because

he was funny and meaningful and progressive; Richards was merely spouting

angrily and hatefully (as Paul Rodriguez said, "I was waiting for the joke").


Anyway, I think Imus should use this opportunity to

retire; after all, he sounds old, he's resorting to cliches

instead of fresh perceptions and doesn't know where the lines on

the highway are anymore. He's had his run, and now it's time for

someone new.


Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly Mr. Politically Correct

(just read past editions of this column and articles on my home

page). And I admire Bill Maher and others who know there's a way

to be outrageous and there's a way not to. Mick Jagger, for

example, knew how to write an over-the-top audacious lyric like

"Brown Sugar" without ever really offending anyone; but if a dim

band like, say, Great White, had tried to write up the same idea,

it would likely be way out-of-line and deeply offensive.


As Bob Dylan once put it, "To live outside the law you must be

honest." Those who want to thrill everybody by racing in the

opposing lane of traffic (and getting away with it) have to have

a keen sense of where the lines on the highway are drawn to

begin with.


The best insight I've read about the Imus affair comes

from Alessandra Stanley in today's New York Times: "Mr. Imus wants to be

both a shock jock and Charlie Rose," she wrote, "and the two roles

inevitably collide." Exactly. If he didn't have so much gravitas as a

serious interviewer, he'd still have his job.


* * *

Glad to see that the late Ed Bradley's excellent report on

the dubious charges against Duke University lacrosse players won a

Peabody Award last week.


Also glad that it looks like charges will be dropped against

the Duke Three later today. Still, my questions are these:


Why did it take so long to drop charges that were so

obviously false?


Isn't the real story of the Duke Three case about a flaw

in the American legal system that allowed such a case to go forward for

so long?


Why haven't charges yet been brought against the accuser,

Crystal Gail Mangum, for filing a false police report, perjury, public

drunkenness, etc.?


But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 9, 2007


Forget Gallup and Harris; YouTube May Be the Only Political
Poll That Really Matters



There are lots of political polls tracking the popularity of the

2008 presidential hopefuls, but the only one that may count

in terms of measuring pure buzz is not really a poll at all


It's YouTube, which is also,

inadvertently, a telling gauge of the

relative popularity of politicians and other

phenomena, a measure of who's making the biggest noise right

here, right now.


An analysis of viewership of political videos offered through

YouTube reveals some fascinating results. For example, Sen.

Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are the front-runners in

YouTube hits, with the intensity of interest going to Obama.

The candidacies of former Senators John Edwards and John


McCain are generating little heat on the website.


And Sen. Chris Dodd's YouTube ratings are


abysmal, while former vice president

Al Gore's are encouraging.


The value of YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/)

as a poll lies in the fact that it shows how many times people

have viewed a particular video that is offered through its site.


So if you were to put, say, Hillary Clinton's name in YouTube's

search engine, you'd see not only a list

of Hillary-related videos but information about the

number of times each has been watched. It measures

the passion and obsessiveness (or lack thereof) of

political supporters in their private Internet interactions

in a way that polls by Gallup and Roper and Quinnipiac don't

(though, to be sure, the YouTube audience probably skews

younger than the overall voting population).



And that's also what seems to make YouTube a better

measure of buzz than, say, Google, because YouTube's

gauge is more particularized. In other words, if you were

to type "Hillary Clinton" into the Google search engine,

you'd get nearly four million undifferentiated hits -- but not

all of those search results would be about Sen. Clinton.

Google, as indispensable as it is, doesn't note how

many times a specific site has been viewed.



YouTube does. We can see that more than a million people

have watched Sen. Clinton sing "The Star-Spangled Banner"

off-key on the main website featuring that clip. And almost

three million have viewed the "Vote Different" video, a mash-up

of the famous Apple Computer ad of the 1980s that now

shows Hillary as Goliath. (That video, as is the case with

most YouTube clips, is posted in several places on the website,

making it difficult to determine its exact total viewership.

For the purposes of this Daily Digression, I'm citing only the most

viewed posting of a specific video.)



But the million-plus views of her national anthem clip don't

really speak to her popularity, since there's a tendency for

YouTube ratings to be the highest for videos that are either humorous

or embarrassing to a candidate.



Hence, the clip of Donald Trump fondling the breasts of former

New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is dressed in drag, is the

highest-rated Giuliani-related site (over 221,000 hits). And

Al Gore's biggest video is also a funny one, a humorous cartoon

from the makers of "Furturama" called "A Terrifying Message From

Al Gore" (over a million and a half hits, almost as many as the

Michael Richards-at-the-Laugh-Factory clip).



Common sense suggests that those watching the funny clips or the

gotcha-videos about a candidate are not necessarily fans of that

politician. Rather, a politician's real supporters probably tend

toward authorized videos or policy speeches -- clips that are of

interest to the true believers only, for the most part, and are

pretty much a bore to the general public.



For example, Obama's leading authorized campaign clips,

"Meet Barack Obama" and "My Plans for 2008," have a

relatively large audience (109,170 and 175,113 hits,

respectively), as do some of Clinton's ( "Hillary on Oil Profits"

has had 269,689 viewers, though "Hillary Clinton Announces Run for

President" gets a paltry 23,709 hits).



Al Gore, who has said he is not running for president, also has

high ratings for authorized campaign and wonk videos; his recent

testimony before Congress has received 58,257 hits in its first week,

though his other clips don't have as many viewers.



Edwards's ratings are variable, as are former Gov. Mitt

Romney's; an Edwards "exclusive to YouTube" has had over

118,000 hits, though his press conference about his wife's

cancer has had only 13,093 views (and his speech for a

local politician in North Carolina has had only 368 views).



Meanwhile, a Romney for President ad has had just 29,059 hits,

though a clip from his debate in the 1994 Massachusetts U.S.

Senate race, in which he takes liberal stands on abortion and

gay rights, has been watched 94,613 times.


McCain's most-watched video is one in which he appears to

nod off during a State of the Union speech by President Bush

(235,123 hits); but ratings for his policy speeches are in the

cellar (1,980 hits for McCain speaking about Gitmo; 1,835 viewers

for McCain talking about war veterans; and a dreadful 795

hits for McCain's ad for Congressional candidate Martha Rainville).


Sen. Joe Biden seems to generate hits only when he messes up; his

controversial comments about Indians have had over 24,000 viewers

and his infamous remarks about Obama have had over 15,000 hits.


But viewership of his policy videos is shockingly low; Biden's

speech on global warming had 506 viewers and his comments on Iraq

drew 2,190 hits, which is almost at Mike Gravel-level lows (Gravel's

speech on Iraq has had 2,113 hits, while a video piece about the

"censorship" of Mike Gravel had only 920 views).


Former Sen. Fred Thompson, increasingly mentioned as a possible

candidate, could use some help with his YouTube numbers; though

one of his appearances on Fox News drew 18,672 views, his video on

campaign reform had exactly zero hits.



Candidates Chris Dodd, Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter

had viewership that was mostly in the low hundreds, though there are

notable exceptions like Brownback's speech on stem cell research

(over 9,000 hits), Hunter's talk on the so-called Border Fence with

Mexico (over 6,000 views) and Dodd's appearance on Don

Imus's show about the steamy novel written by Sen. Jim

Webb (over 343,000 hits).



Only a few of these videos approach the status of such

YouTube blockbusters as OK Go's "Here It Goes Again" music video, which

has had a phenomenal 14 million hits on just one website (an estimated 21

million views in all).


But I digress. Paul



[above photos of Edwards and Obama by Paul Iorio, 2007.]

____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 7, 2007

The Muslim rednecks burning books and music and movies in

Islamabad remind me of the sunbelt rednecks in America who burned all those

Beatles albums in the mid-sixties. No difference. Though most

American progressives see the resemblance, I wonder why the rest don't

(or won't).


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 4, 2007


Imagine if there had been a Correspondents' dinner in 1954 at

which Edward R. Murrow was swing dancing with Sen. Joseph McCarthy,

while jokingly pointing his finger at McCarthy and saying, "You witch

hunter, you!"


Or a dinner in early 1974 in which Dan Rather did the bump

with H.R. Haldeman.


Well, that's sorta what it looked like at the recent

event where NBC Entertainment's David Gregory was part of MC Rove's

performance in Washington.


To be sure, Rove is no McCarthy or Haldeman(and Gregory

is no Murrow) -- but the principle is the same. You watch the performance

and wonder: is he the same NBC reporter who asks (supposedly) aggressive

questions to administration officials? Isn't he the same guy who always

seems to be sparring like a petulant adolescent with one Bushie or

another? Or is all that just an act to bolster his standing?


It's interesting that when he subs for Matt Lauer on

"Today," you really notice the absence of Lauer, whose star power is

underrated. I remember covering the Oscar parties one year for a

newspaper and seeing each movie star and film maker enter the party in

front of fans across the street. As each would enter, fans would shriek to

varying degrees. One of the biggest screams of the night from the

crowd was not for a film star but for Lauer, when he made his entrance.

* * *

NEW CIRQUE SHOW A-COMIN'


I've only attended one Cirque de Soleil performance in my life,

on the afternoon of January 9, 2000, in Irvine, California, which I saw

because I was writing about the troupe for the San Francisco Chronicle.


Anyway, I have to say I wasn't overly wowed by

Cirque at the time. After the show, I sat down under the Irvine big top

with Cirque's Roch Jertis and others, but still came away feeling that

the performance was like too much ice cream, losing its pleasure after

the 32nd amazing feat or so. (I also remember the performers appeared to

be flinging objects into the audience from the aisles -- there was a

hostile vibe to "Dralion.")


But the premiere last year of their blockbuster "Love,"

structured around the music of the Beatles, won over even Cirque

detractors, who were glad the troupe finally seemed to be abandoning

some of its pretentious obscurantism.


Well, guess what? The 'ol pretentious obscurantism is

baaaaccck! It's been announced that this holiday season, in New York,

Cirque will present what it calls "a new creation" titled "A Winter Tale"

or "Winter's Tale" -- it's hard to tell what the title is from their website,

which also offers this description of the so-called plot:


"...When the snow doesn't arrive, [a boy] embarks on a quest with three companions...to find the snow and bring it back where it belongs. The adventurers journey to an imaginary Arctic...When at last the sun returns, they fly home on the wings of a giant crane and unleash an epic snowstorm."


So lemme get this straight: it ain't snowing in a boy's

hometown, so the kid takes off to the Arctic to find some of the white

stuff. (Couldn't he have just gone to Buffalo? Am I not supposed to ask

such questions?) Then the sun comes out, so he boards a crane (a crane?)

to bring snow to his town.


Cirque really oughta stick with The Beatles.


But I digress. Paul
__________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 3, 2007


ELEVEN QUESTIONS ALMOST NOBODY ASKS


If the U.S. Capitol building had been destroyed on 9/11, it would have almost certainly been rebuilt as it was. Why is the World Trade Center not being rebuilt as it was?


If the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance has no significant religious content, as its supporters claim, then why include it?


If athletes can be stripped of their records because of steroid use, should writers and artists be stripped of their awards if they are found to have created their work on drugs or booze?


If Michael Jackson's alleged crimes are serious enough to warrant a 20-year prison sentence in California, how come such creepy offenses are virtually legal in Baja California (and in many other countries)?


Why does almost nobody ask where Mullah Omar is?


Why isn't President Bush referred to as Bush, Jr., and his father as Bush, Sr.?


Why do reporters ask sources who didn't anticipate the 9/11 attacks to speculate about the probability of future terrorist attacks?


Why do American liberals seem to react more strongly against religious rightists who burn books than they do against Islamic rightists who assassinate authors?


Why have American conservatives been spending more time on providing health care for the brain damaged and the comatose than for the uninsured?


Why doesn't anyone advocate expanding Megan's Law to include dangerous recidivists like murderers, chronic DUI offenders and serious non-sexual assaulters?


Where is Osama bin Laden?


But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 30, 2007


On Stanley Kubrick


A lot of people don't get the aesthetic of extreme clarity of

artists and writers like Stanley Kubrick and Donald Barthelme and

the Ramones and others who make radical use of deliberate repetition for

effect (a style that can be nicely applied to journalism, too, by

the way). I was sort of surprised when I wrote for a particular

Bay Area newspaper and found that some editors and writers there

actually thought that element was a flaw in Kubrick's films

(and they were ones to talk -- many of them wrote schlock!).

I remember one editor railing against a beautifully minimalist

and deliberately repetitive passage in one of his movies -- and I

realized that a lot of his brilliance was going way over the

heads of her and others.


Kubrick, perhaps the greatest film director America has

produced, has now been dead for eight years. That means

there are now people who not only don't get his work, but

there's a new generation that doesn't even know his work.


After all, there hasn't been a new Kubrick picture since

the director's death in March 1999, so there are now some

teenagers who have no contemporaneous memory of a first-run

Kubrick flick. It's unfortunate that, to some, the first impression

of him might come from the recently released "Color Me

Kubrick," a feature film starring John Malkovich as a

con-man who once pretended to be Kubrick.


If you've never seen a Kubrick film
-- well, it's

obvious which ones you should watch. But if you've

already seen all his films countless times and still

want a fresh experience, my suggestion is try "Barry

Lyndon" and stay with it. It seems as if so many

people have dropped out of that film mid-way because

its first forty minutes are too slow, but those who

watch it to the end are rewarded with a riveting last

half -- and a hefty dose of extreme clarity.


But I digress. Paul

_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 29, 2007


The Death of Hip Hop


I didn't see my first rap concert until 1980, when I stopped by

the Peppermint Lounge in New York to watch the Treacherous Three,

one of the pioneers of hip hop, play to a lot of empty chairs.

I remember thinking how futuristic and fresh rap sounded, and only

then reached back to buy a copy of the Sugarhill Gang's 1979

breakthrough, "Rapper's Delight."


By 1980, hip hop was already around five years old, though

still years away from mainstream acceptance. I and my friends didn't

really fall in love with rap until 1982's "The Message" by Grandmaster

Flash and the Furious Five, which -- at least in NYC -- was massive,

even bigger than "Thriller" in some circles.


And I don't mean just the single "The Message" but the album

"The Message," particularly the deeply fun funk of "She's Fresh"

and "It's Nasty." It goes without saying that the title track is

one of rap's great achievements, sort of like hip hop's "A Hard

Rain's A-Gonna Fall" -- and the main reason for the group's

induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame several weeks ago.


It wasn't until later in the 1980s, at the Cat Club in NY, that

I finally got to see Melle Mel perform "The Message" -- backed by

the same rhythm section, Doug Wimbish and Keith Leblance, who played

on the album -- at a show that turned everybody into a dancer. Rap

was no longer playing to empty chairs.


Twenty-five years later, rap is now so ubiquitous that I wouldn't

be surprised if there are already Muzak versions of LL Cool J's

"I Need Love" playing in dentist offices. (Even the cute penguins in the

movie "Happy Feet" sing a sweet rendition of "The Message.")


Proof of its assimilation into even the most conservative

precincts of America is last night's correspondents dinner,

in which none other than Karl Rove actually performed a rap.

Dancing a bit like the Jeff Daniels character in the movie

"Something Wild" (when Daniels rocks out to the Feelies'

version of "Fame"), Rove was good-natured -- and he clearly amused

the crowd, though his performance, really, meant only one thing:


Rap is dead.


No, I don't care how much creative vitality is still left in

the genre. When something becomes that mainstream,

its dangerous pioneering spark must be gone.


So, on this day, March 29, 2007, I mourn the passing of hip hop

-- born 1975, died 2007.


But I digress. Paul

___________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 26, 2007


Whenever I visit my hometown of the 1970s, there is always someone

from the past who compares himself-as-a-middle-aged-professional-today

to me-when-I-was-a-scruffy-15-year-old, as opposed to

comparing me now to him now.


Truth is, I don't know anyone I grew up with in my general

age group -- not even those who have since become respectable and

successful in middle age -- who doesn't have a skeleton, great or small,

in the closet from his or her teenage years. (This, of course, does not

apply to any of my current old friends or any friend that was once near

and dear, who are and have always been virtuous and beyond reproach!)


In the old days, skeletons of almost any sort would derail

a political candidacy, but that era appears to be, thankfully, long gone.

One of the more refreshing aspects of the 2008 campaign is that

Barack Obama's candidacy has apparently not been hurt by his admission

that he used marijuana and cocaine in his youth.


That's a measure of how far we've evolved since 1987, when

the revelation of mere marijuana smoking ended the Supreme Court

nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Douglas Ginsburg --

or since 1984, when an extra-marital affair destroyed the

presidential aspirations of Gary Hart.


As recently as 1992, the public wasn't sure whether

Bill Clinton would overcome the "didn't inhale" controversy or the

Gennifer Flowers scandal, but he prevailed (and fabulously). And the

reason probably has less to do with the cliche of "nobody's perfect" than

with the fact that standards of behavior constantly shift; one

generation's peccadillo is another's normalcy.


By the 2000 election, candidate George W. Bush was able to

deflect questions of alcohol and substance abuse in his past with a

simple, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."


And today we have candidates -- like Rudy Giuliani -- for

whom you'd need a complicated org chart to keep track of all the

lovers and wives.


So it's no wonder Obama's confession has barely caused a ripple

among the public and the press. It's as if voters have finally accepted

the traumatic truth that they will always be forced to choose a president

from a personnel pool that includes (the horror!) only flawed human beings.


But I digress. Paul
______________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 25, 2007


Let me interrupt everything here for a moment with a bulletin,

with breaking news. You'd better sit down for this one, because

it's a shocker:


Thousands of people are going to die this year in the U.S.

because they can't afford health insurance.


And here's another bit of breaking news:


Osama bin Laden is still on the loose and almost certainly

plotting his next attack on the U.S.


OK, now everybody can get back to opposing the Iraq

war or supporting the Iraq war or supporting the troops but not the

war or supporting the authorization for the war but not the war per se

or whatever. It's obvious now that the only real solution to the Iraq

war was to not have gotten in to begin with.


And so now we're diverted, just as I thought we'd be in '03,

by a war that isn't doing anybody any good.


If it weren't for the Iraq war, the House of Represntatives

might be passing super-urgent legislation, such as:


HR 101: The health care system that works so well in Canada
-- we want the same thing here now. Period.


and


HR 102: Resolved: the U.S. will kill or capture Osama
bin Laden by the end of 2007. Military funding will be prioritized
accordingly.


What a lot of people don't realize is that 9/11 wasn't an

event from the past -- it's an event that has yet to happen. The next

9/11 promises to be a real doozy, and it's probably scheduled for

around 2009 (remember, the time between the first World Trade Center

attack in 1993 and the second one in 2001 was eight years).


And what if it's a dirty bomb attack on New York or

downtown Boston or downtown San Francisco? Or on all three? Imagine

a radiation spill in North Beach in San Fran that would require the

dismantling and the disposal of such beloved buildings as City Lights

and Zoetrope (a recent issue of TNY had a riveting report on the impact

a dirty bomb might have).


After 9/11, we all decried the "poverty of imagination"

that stopped us from anticipating the attacks. We seem to be making the

same mistake again.


As for Iraq, we should handle it through either

partition or coalition. In other words, either split the place into

three autonomous republics (and prohibit an al Qaeda presidential candidate

for the Sunni third) or bring the Sunnis into a meaningful power-sharing

arrangement with al-Maliki -- an arrangement that could effectively

counter-balance the power of the Mahdi Army.


The autonomous republics (not provinces) would then operate

under the aegis of a federalized Baghdad for the purpose of equitably

distributing oil revenues nationwide.


And let's stop talking about Iraq as if we're there to

win or lose. The only U.S. ambition should be to get out of there ASAP

-- but without sparking genocide and a humanitarian catastrophe. The

factional violence will stop only when we substantially re-enfranchise the

Sunnis who we disenfranchised in 2003.

* * *

It's been over six years since the U.S. was embarrassed by the

Floridians
who denied Al Gore a proper recount in the 2000

election. And that's still on the minds of a lot of Dems as '08 approaches

and the pickings look slim in terms of candidates. As I hiked the hills

east of San Francisco the other week, I saw a bumper sticker that makes

sense the more I think of it: Gore/Obama '08.


But I digress. Paul.
____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 22, 2007



Don't you just love these guys? They blacklist you and

then say, "Hey, he's not working, so we can't hire him!"


That's how Zero Mostel, blacklisted in Hollywood

for most of the 1950s, must have felt when he showed his

film resume to studio moguls in the early 1960s. He

probably had a tough time explaining the gap between

1951's "The Model and the Marriage Broker" and 1961's

"Waiting for Godot" (or maybe not, come to think of it).


Thankfully the involuntary lay-off didn't exclude him from

landing a starring role in 1968's "The Producers" (or "...Forum..."

before that), which I recently saw again after hearing that

the musical version of the movie will end its Broadway run

on April 22 after six years at the St. James.


As has been widely reported, taking its place at that

theater this fall will be yet another Mel Brooks project:

Brooks's musical adaptation of "Young Frankenstein," his

1974 film.


And so the trend of making Broadway musicals out of feature

films continues.


While I'm digressing, here's an idea for a musical that

producers have not yet brought to The Great White Way:

"Robert Altman's Nashville: The Musical." Perhaps

with T-Bone Burnett as musical director.


Think about it. The musical would come readymade with a

marvelous and underrated batch of songs ("It Don't Worry Me,"

"Dues," "200 Years," etc.) and lots of colorful characters.

Many of the film's memorable scenes are already performances

on stage by singer-songwriters and country musicians. And the

sprawling dramatic action between the separate sets of

characters could easily be handled onstage by spotlighting --

i.e., by having the acton between, say, Barbara Jean and her

husband take place stage left, then shifting the spotlight

to stage right, where scenes involving Haven Hamilton happen.


Anyway, I'm sort of surprised someone hasn't thought of

this yet, given the number of unlikely musical adapations that have

been staged over the years.


But I digress. Paul
__________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 18, 2007



Obamamania Arrives in Oakland -- And May Be Unstoppable


I have attended lots of presidential campaign speeches,

dating all the way back to 1964 (when my dad put me, a 7-year-old,

on his shoulders so I could glimpse Hubert Humphrey stumping for LBJ),

but I have never ever seen the level of electricity and excitement

generated by Sen. Barack Obama's speech in Oakland, California,

yesterday afternoon.


To say he was greeted like a rock star would be to

understate the case; I have to search back in memory many years to

think of a rock show that created this sort of adult intensity

(perhaps Springsteen in '78).


Almost everyone waiting to attend the rally was smiling

-- even though they had to wait for more than an hour in a line that

seemed to stretch all the way to Sacramento. The only time

I'd ever seen such mass smiling was at a Grateful Dead

concert in 1987. It was almost as if political springtime

was blooming in fast motion on this sunny

St. Patrick's Day, like that great moment in the

documentary "The War Room" when the Grateful Dead's

"Scarlet Begonias" rang out as Bill Clinton's

campaign shifted permanently into high gear.


This is, after all, the last spring before voters

go to the polls in most of the presidential

primaries (the Iowa caucus is only slightly

more than nine months away).


At the Oakland rally, a woman attached to

her oxygen tank was in the crowd. Pamphlets and

buttons and bumper stickers and ideas

were exchanged everywhere like pollen. Strangers talked

to strangers as if they were old pals. The guy in line in

front of me, Michael, on a crutch, was convinced Obama was

the new JFK. His friend, Carter, handed me an Obama

campaign button that showed the candidate looking a bit

like, well, JFK.



The crowd was around 12,000 strong
but sounded like

triple that. Once I had filed into the outdoor rally, getting a

glimpse of him reminded me of trying to get a look at

Led Zeppelin in 1973 at a stadium concert: almost impossible.

It wasn't until around 20 minutes into his speech that

I saw him for the first time. He looked dapper, trim,

youthful -- even Kennedyesque.


And when he condemned the Iraq war and mentioned the

Walter Reed scanadal, the response was almost

Beatlesque.


Seeing Obama-mania first-hand tells me he could be

unstoppable. I may be wrong, but I can't imagine that

Hillary's supporters are nearly as enthusiastic about

their own candidate.


As for John Edwards, I was at his speech in Berkeley

two weeks ago, and the crowd was exponentially

smaller and less intense; most attendees seemed

to be there to see a figure from the past, not a

current contender, and diversity was sorely missing (you

could literally count the number of African-Americans at

the Edwards rally on one hand). And the Edwards crowd

seemed more hostile, too.


The only point of comparison that comes close
to the

Obamamania at this speech was a Jesse Jackson for president rally

I attended in Manhattan in 1988 that packed the Upper West Side.

But that was not really like this. In '88, people wanted to

glimpse an historical (and an historic) icon, it seemed; yesterday,

people acted as if Obama was the future.


No other rally I've seen has been as intense: not

Bill Clinton in Jersey City in '95 (or in San Fran in '06), not

McGovern in '72 (which felt like a college lecture), not Jerry Brown

in Union Square in NY in '92, certainly not Mondale in '84. And I

betcha Hillary's seemingly ghostwritten and somehow off-key speeches

don't generate Obama's kind of steam.


A few days ago, I wrote that Obama was the Paul Tsongas

of '08. But after this rally I've changed my mind. He's more

like the Tiger Woods of the '08 campaign. And he seems to

be an unstoppable force, like Bill Clinton after he became

"the comeback kid" in the snows of New Hampsire in '92. For the

first time, I'm thinking Obama might well become the Democratic

nominee for president of the United States in 2008.


* * * *


Speaking of Obama: interesting story on him in yesterday's

New York Times by Jennifer Steinhauer. But I found it sort of

peculiar that classmates didn't consider him particularly smart

in his schooldays.


"He was clearly bright but there are people in our class that

are nuclear physicists," says one source in her story.


Hmmm. It always seems there's a source that says something

like, "he was no rocket scientist." Shouldn't that cliche be retired?

I mean, frankly, I wouldn't want want a nuclear physicist or a rocket

scientist running the U.S. (unless his name is Einstein, and there

was only one). People shouldn't confuse technical intelligence with the

sort of big picture smarts required to run a country like the U.S.


It's like that old line about Michael Dukakis; he could speak

many languages but couldn't communicate in any of them. Obama

may not be a "nuclear physicist" but he can communicate, and you can't

teach what he can do.


Also, this puzzling line from the story: "...power is asserted and

social relativity established in Los Angeles by the car you drive, and

in New York by the college you attended...."


Huh? That's a new one to me. (I wonder what

Woody Allen would think of that line.) Some of the people I knew

in the arts (when I lived in and around Manhattan for almost

two decades) never even attended college and yet were among

the most powerful and prestigious people in their fields.

Post-college accomplishment is what rules the roost in NY and LA

(remember, Robert Evans never drove a car in L.A. when he was making

all those great features). Steinhauer must be thinking of Boston.

* * *

Kudos to the Mary Brogan Museum in Tallahassee, Florida,

for displaying John Sims's artwork "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate

Flag." (There is another use for the Confederate flag, but that's only

when you run out of Charmin.) Those who like Sims' work might also like

this wonderful new song I just heard on WFMU called "Kill The Klansmen"

by the Sun City Girls. Check it out.


But I digress. Paul

________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for The Ides of March, 2007



Bin Laden has been on the loose for 2,010 days now. That's

2,010 days he's had to plan his next act of mass murder.


If anybody is reading this in far eastern Afghanistan or

far western Pakistan, where bin Laden is presumed to be

hiding: would you please get this guy? Do the world a favor.

* * *

But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 14, 2007



Bravo to Rep. Pete Stark for his endorsement of atheism,

but frankly I think many of his colleagues share his

opinion in private. I mean, to be honest, I don't think I

know hardly anyone who believes all that religious junk anymore

(Ann Coulter and bin Laden and their kind seem to be

among the last hold-outs of fundamentalism). And the best

polls have shown that most of the people on the planet are

either atheists or virtually atheists.


And atheism has long been mainstream. The up-front atheism

or near-atheism of entertainers and artists such as

George Carlin, Woody Allen and Bill Maher

has long been embraced by mainstream audiences.


And saying that you can't reject religion without

having completely read the New Testament or the Torah or the

Koran is nonsense; almost all religions have supernatural

elements, and that alone rules out their credibility

prima facie.


It's like saying you can't dismiss voodoo

without knowing about the divine principle of Nana Buluku.



Further, anyone who has to consult page 204 of some book to

know whether something is moral or immoral has either no innate sense

of morality or a crippled innate sense of morality. I don't

need to consult a book to know that killing Adolf Hitler in 1944

would've been a highly moral and correct action that might have

saved countless lives; yet killing under most circumstances is

an immoral act. Problem with Moses is that his commandments have

no nuance and are simplistically absolutist, so they have no

practical value in complex situations.


* * *


By the way, I want to mention that I just saw a scene
from

the upcoming Sandra Bullock flick "Premonition" that

looks very much like it ripped off the idea behind my song

"Pretty Women at the Funeral." In the scene, Bullock's character

confronts an unfamiliar pretty woman (played by Amber Valleta) at

the funeral of her husband, asking her why she's there at the

funeral (implying, of course, that Valleta had had an affair

or relationship with her late husband, which turns out to be the case).


That scene is exactly what happens in the lyrics of

my song (the script even uses language from the lyric).


This apparent theft of intellectual property is not cool

and possibly actionable. Keep in mind that my song "Pretty Women

at the Funeral" was copyrighted in 2005 (see lyrics at

www.pauliorio.blogspot.com).


But I digress. Paul


___________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 9, 2007



Radiohead's Next Album


I try not to write about music anymore,

because I self-released a debut album last year that has

(to my surprise!) been added to radio playlists in three

nations, so I try to avoid any appearance of conflict of

interest in my journalism.


But last night, I relistened to my bootleg tapes of

Radiohead's two shows in Berkeley, California, last

year, in which the band debuted a dozen new songs

that have still yet to be released, and I was just too

impressed not to blog about it. Months of listening

reveals that the best of the bunch is the

sublimely resolute "Four Minute Warning," while

"Down is the New Up" is enormously catchy and

"Videotape" poignant. And "House of Cards" was

already being greeted as a favorite by the

audience last June.


(By the way, somebody should've filmed the first night

in Berkeley because, as others have noted, the vivid multi-colored

stage lighting was captured by the heavy fog in the hills and

forests outside the Greek Theater (where I was); strolling

through the dyed fog (as Greenwood played his extraterrestrial riffs

and Yorke sang his otherworldly melodies), I felt as if I'd

stepped into a sci-fi flick (when is someone going

to use "Climbing Up the Walls" in one?).


Also, the live version of "Paranoid Android" on my tape

proves beyond a doubt that that's one of the most powerful

songs of the rock era, a piece of awesome beauty. Imagine the

"rain down" part transcribed for solo cello or viola -- it would

sound like deep mourning itself.


I also couldn't help but think how absolutely awesome

it would sound if Christine Aquilera were to cover

"Paranoid Android." (How about an entire album of

Aquilera singing Radiohead?)



If Radiohead ever gets around to recording the new album,

they should consider cutting it live, because every live

version on my tape surpasses the studio version. Not since

the Beatles has dissonance been so danceable; and (to

paraphrase xgau) rarely has sadness sounded so

pretty.


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 7, 2007



Blasphemous Satire


Interviewing Osama bin Laden


Traveling through Tora Bora the other day, I decided to

stop by Osama bin Laden's cave for a quick chat on the eve of his

50th birthday. Osama welcomed me in, popped open a Red Bull and

plopped down on a bean bag chair.


I soon noticed bin Laden was not in his usual robe and

turban, but was wearing a Star of David and a yarmulke. A copy of the

Torah and Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" were on his coffee

table. I knew this would be no ordinary interview.


LOOKS LIKE YOU'VE CHANGED. ARE YOU THROUGH WITH TERRORISM?

OSAMA BIN LADEN: Yeah, the terrorism thing wasn't
panning out anymore. Everything we tried didn't work. For example,
we had a couple jihadists aboard a JetBlue flight last month, but
it was delayed for so long that even the hijackers stomped off the
plane in disgust!

WHAT CAUSED YOU TO BECOME A JEW?

BIN LADEN: It started when I was reading Rushdie's
"Satanic Verses" in my cave. Loved the story of Mahound. And Gibreel
was so sly. So that got me thinking about leaving the faith, and I
considered Hinduism and even Scientology before settling on Judaism.

YOU ACTUALLY LIKED RUSHDIE'S NOVEL?

BIN LADEN: I didn't expect to like it but it grew on me.
And I even enjoyed the bit about Mohammed's 12 wives. I, too, once had
sex with a prostitute named that way and, frankly, it
increased the eroticism. But the turning point was when I realized
those verses might be satanic after all. Sheesh!

SO YOU'RE ACTUALLY RENOUNCING ISLAM?

BIN LADEN: Yep. No turning back now. There were other issues,
too. Allah never answered my prayers. I prayed for a Kalashnikov.
Nada. I prayed for victory over the infidel. Nada.

WHY JUDAISM?

BIN LADEN: I confess I was touched by a rabbi I was
holding hostage, a cantor who sang so beautifully that I decided not to slit
his throat after a couple verses of "My Heart Will Go On." He was brought
to me by Adam Gadahn.

THAT ORANGE COUNTY GUY WITH THE FAKE ACCENT?

BIN LADEN: Yeah. We used to privately call him The High
Imam of the Great Mall of Milpitas.

WAS THERE A TIPPING POINT?

BIN LADEN: Well, I started reading the Torah -- or the
Tawrat, as I used to call it -- and realized it was a lot like the Koran.
I mean, it almost seemed like a case of copyright infringement, if you
ask me. But I was drawn to all those commandments -- they sort of gave me
structure during a mid-life crisis.

WHAT DO YOUR AL QAEDA COMRADES THINK ABOUT ALL THIS?

BIN LADEN: They're cool with it. In fact, I saw
Ayman al-Zawahiri chuckling over a copy of "Satanic Verses" I gave to him.
Ayman likes Rushdie, too! But I think the real tipping point for all of
us was the JetBlue thing. Seven hours on the tarmac. And not even a
meal -- just peanuts. It just became too hard to be a jihadist.

* * *

But I digress. Paul

____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 5, 2007



Hillary: Conscience of a Former Conservative


Reporting on Sen. Hillary Clinton's speech in Selma on Sunday,

The New York Times's Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny noted that she

appeared to be engaging in a bit of revisionist personal history.

According to The Times:

"Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, recalled going with her church youth minister
as a teenager in 1963 to hear Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in
Chicago. Yet, in her autobiography and elsewhere, Mrs. Clinton has
described growing up Republican and being a “Goldwater Girl” in 1964
— in other words, a supporter of the presidential candidacy of Barry
Goldwater, who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act."


If Hillary did attend the speech by Rev. King in

1963, then how come she apparently had not brought up that fact until

last Sunday? Are we to believe that, for decades, she had been sitting

on a fond and valuable remembrance of seeing the Rev. King first-hand as

a teenager but had not written or spoken about it to anyone in public?


I think reporters who have access to Sen. Clinton should

follow-up on Healy and Zeleny's excellent reportage and ask: Did she

really attend the speech? What did Rev. King say that day? How did

she feel as a white supporter of Barry Goldwater in an audience full

of civil rights activists? Was she pro-Goldwater in terms of foreign

policy but not on civil rights, or vice versa?


What exactly was it about Goldwater's policies that

appealed to her back then, and does she still admire him today? Was

Rev. King's speech the event that got her thinking about becoming a

Democrat? What was Rev. King like on that day? Can she corroborate

her claim that she attended the speech? Did she take photos?


On the other hand, if she wasn't at the speech, that would

not be a minor infraction in terms of personal integrity; if someone in

another profession -- say, a journalist -- publicly claimed to have

attended an event that he hadn't actually attended, he would likely

be drummed out of the business.


And it would also not be a minor point in terms of

political context, given the fact that brave people fought for civil

rights at the time, risking their lives and their bodies, while Sen.

Goldwater and his kind tried to stop their progress. Indeed, it's easy

to take a dangerous stand once the danger has abated.



Remember, a President Goldwater would almost certainly

have not provided the back-up support -- a federalized national guard and

thousands of troops -- required for the success of the subsequent civil

rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery on

March 25, 1965.



On Sunday in Selma, perhaps Sen. Clinton should have

spoken of her authentic personal journey from the wrong side of history

to the right side, how she once was lost and now she's found. Maybe she

should have admitted how wrong she was in the 1960s to have supported

Goldwater, and how right she is now.


But then that points up Sen. Clinton's fatal flaw: she

seems to have a hard time admitting when she's wrong -- and that extends

to her current failure to repudiate her 2002 vote to authorize the war

in Iraq.


Yesterday afternoon, former Sen. John Edwards,

campaigning for president in Berkeley, California, at a rally I

attended, had no such problem admitting his mistake: "I voted for

this war," Edwards said plainly. "I was wrong to vote for this war."


Sen. Clinton has not done the same. And she has

also not been very clear about which side she was really on when bones

were being broken on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.


* * *

By the way, shouldn't the Edmund Pettus Bridge be

re-named The John Lewis Bridge or The Freedom Bridge or The Martin

Luther King Jr. Bridge in honor of those who sacrificed so much on

March 7, 1965? Pettus, after all, was a Confederate brigadier general

who killed people in a war that tried to keep African-Americans

enslaved. Why implicitly honor a guy like Pettus?

* * *

Sounds like Ann Coulter is slurring her words again.

Probably drunk on religious fanaticism again. Always beware of

religious right-wingers like Coulter and bin Laden,

who I hear have had two sons together:

Mohamed Atta and Eric Rudolph.


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 3, 2007



The Powers-That-Be Say:

Plagiarism is Now OK -- If You're Rich, Famous or Well-Connected




Time was when plagiarism was said to be the

third rail of journalism: touch it and your career is dead.

The industry was always merciless and unforgiving

even to first-time offenders, shaming them in

various media columns and firing them on the

spot.



But how times have changed! It's now

2007 and the powers-that-be say that plagiarism is ok

-- if you're rich, famous or well-connected, that is.


For example: the other day, I turned on

"The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," one of

my favorite news programs. To be sure, Lehrer

is about as good as it gets when it comes

to broadcast journalism (and so are Elizabeth

Farnsworth, Judy Woodruff and most of the

the others). But what was plagiarist Doris

Kearns Goodwin doing on the show as a panelist?


Goodwin, you might remember,

was almost drummed out of the biz in 2002 after

it was revealed that she ripped off dozens of

pages from Lynne McTaggart's book "The

Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys."


She touched the third rail -- hell,

she had intimate relations with

the third rail -- and yet she still

appears on one of the best tv news

programs around.


Later that same day, I read my local

newspaper -- the San Francisco

Chronicle -- and saw a story by yet

another plagiarist who got away with it,

Edward Guthmann (who incidentally

is not famous but is well-connected at

his own paper, having been there for decades).



In a 2005 article, Guthmann plagiarized

parts of a 2003 story that appeared in

The New Yorker magazine, and his public

excuse was something like the usual

he-forgot-to-put-quotes-around-it defense.



Yet the guy still collects a weekly paycheck

from the paper (a scandal in itself, considering that far more

honest and far more brilliant freelancers can't even pay their

bills. Of course, you can expect no better from some in

the Chronicle features department, considering that one of its main

editors, David Wiegand, has engaged in provable fraud (the proof is

on this website: http://resumesidenotes.blogspot.com).



And it wouldn't exactly be accurate to say that this

was Guthmann's first offense. In 1999, he apparently

ripped off one of the key insights in my

own Los Angeles Times story on "Chinatown"

and rushed it into print in the San Francisco

Chronicle, where I was once a

staff writer, days before mine ran (my

story had been in the L.A. Times

computer for weeks, and the circumstantial

evidence shows it had been leaked to

Guthmann).


It's worth noting that in the 25 years since the

movie's release, no critic had made the insight

I made about the movie. And then in the same

week in 1999, two writers made the same point

in print, and mine was demonstrably first. The

circumstantial evidence alone is damning for Guthmann,

particularly in light of his latest transgressions.



My 1999 story on "Chinatown" was also

ripped off more extensively in a 2000 book by publisher

John Wiley & Sons, "The Film Director: Updated

for Today's Filmmaker, the Classic Practical

Reference to Motion Picture and Television

Techniques, Second Edition," by Richard L. Bare.



The book has a section on the movie "Chinatown" that includes

at least eight instances in which Bare uses material from my Los

Angeles Times story, "Sleuthing 'Chinatown'" (July 8, 1999), without

specifically citing it.


At the end of his book, Bare mentions my story in a generalized

bibliography (not in specific endnotes). He doesn't cite my piece within

the text and doesn't mention the places in his book where he used my

material.



As I mentioned, there are at least eight instances in which Bare

quotes, paraphrases or otherwise uses information from my story without

properly crediting me. (I've included eight juxtaposed examples below.)


The reader clearly gets the impression that Bare himself unearthed

the material in the "Chinatown" section of the book, when in

fact I came up with the hard-to-find information (info that was available

to me only because I had scored a rare interview with Polanski).


And you can also see how Bare cynically and slightly

modifies several of my passages, though his alterations make it no

less a case of theft, since his text closely tracks and parallels

my own while stealing my core reportage.


It's worth noting that people are fired in journalism

every year for lesser cases of plagiarism. So I can't help but

think this case was kept quiet because John Wiley & Co. has lots

of friends in the biz.


After all, why side with me? Wiley might get you a book

deal down the road.


By the way, you betcha I contacted Wiley a couple years

ago to express my displeasure and to ask them to compensate

me for their theft of my work. After all, their theft of my

work potentially cost me money, since it reduced the value

of my Polanski story in an anthology I was submitting

to publishers. As might be expected, Wiley arrogantly

defended their plagiarism, and I've long since dropped

the issue. But the record should be corrected and the

public should know what kind of company Wiley is.



Here are the eight main examples of the book’s plagiarism of my story:

EXAMPLE#1:
MY STORY: Today, Towne says "Polanski was right about the end"....Towne now says that
Polanski is "virtually...the only director I would willingly work for as a writer."
THE BARE BOOK: Today, Towne admits he was wrong about the ending and adds that he
would gladly work with Roman Polanski again."
-----------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #2:
MY STORY: "A pivotal eight-week writing session [followed] in which Polanski and
Towne dismantled Towne's script and then painstakingly rebuilt it piece by piece."
THE BARE BOOK: "During an eight-week-long session held before shooting began, the
writer and director tore apart Towne's original script and reshaped it into the final draft that
Polanski shot..."
-------------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #3:
MY STORY: The most substantial disagreement was about the ending of the film, in which Towne wanted Cross to be killed by Evelyn. Polanski insisted on a more disturbing finale....With the backing of Evans, Polanski eventually won the battle over the ending.
THE BARE BOOK: The biggest fight that the writer and the director had seemed to be over the ending. Towne wanted a happier one, while Polanski insisted on a tragic conclusion. Polanski won out, with Evans in his corner.
------------------------------------------------------

EXAMPLE #4:
MY STORY: Their writing workday would begin around 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning and
would last until around 7 or 8 in the evening -- and was usually followed by a night of hard partying.
THE BARE BOOK: Polanski and Towne would spend eight to ten hours a day writing,
rewriting and haggling. At night, they would go out and party...
------------------------------------------------------

EXAMPLE #5:
MY STORY: "'We took the script and broke it down into one-sentence summations of each
scene,'" Towne says. "Then we took a scissors and cut those little scenes...and pasted them on the door of his house where we were working. And the game was to shift those things around until we got them in an order that worked."
THE BARE BOOK: Polanski would roll up his sleeves and encapsulate each scene onto a
card, tacking them in a row on the wall. Then he would begin to shift the cards, rearranging the sequence of events until he felt he had a shootable story line.
-----------------------------------------------------

EXAMPLE #6:
MY STORY: Polanski says he never once thought during the making of the movie that it
would become a classic.
THE BARE BOOK: Neither [Polanski nor Towne] had the slightest inkling their creation
would become a classic of film noir.
----------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #7:
MY STORY: ...Most Paramount executives openly predicted the film would fail.
THE BARE BOOK: No one at Paramount was betting that the picture would earn its cost
back.
----------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #8:
MY STORY: Four years earlier, his wife, Sharon Tate...was sadistically murdered by
members of Charles Manson's gang. [Please note that the relation in time of the film to the Manson murders had not been brought up in print before my article, as far as I know.]
BARE'S BOOK: Roman Polanski, four years after his wife was murdered by the infamous
Manson family, was summoned by producer Robert Evans to direct "Chinatown."

* * *

One of the many problems with plagiarism,

besides the obvious ethical issues, is that it hurts

the smaller entrepreneurs of journalism. For example, if an

insight by an unknown blogger is ripped off by, say, Time

magazine, that insight forever belongs to Time magazine

in the public mind. (It doesn't work the other way around;

if an insight by Time magazine is stolen by, say, an unknown

blogger, most readers will immediately assume the blogger got

it from Time, because Time is better distributed.)


Adding insult to injury, if the unknown

journalist comes up with a scoop and is

then ripped off by Time, the blogger

can no longer try to publish his own piece

without people wrongly thinking he stole it

from the magazine.


So it was hard the other day to pick up a

newspaper and see the byline of a plagiarist

and then turn on the tv and see yet another

plagiarist. It was hard to see where fairness

is located out there.


But I digress. Paul
________________________________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 1, 2007



John McCain and David Letterman Talk



It was June 1975, and I was a teenager standing

with a couple friends at the end of a long,

deserted pier on Tampa Bay in Florida. In the

distance, a smiling middle-aged man started walking

the long, hot walk toward the three of us, and

as he came closer it became obvious he

was walking the span just to see us, even

though none of us knew him. When he

finally came to the far end of the pier, he

reached out his hand to me and said, "Hi,

my name is Jimmy Carter, and I'm

running for president of the United States."

And then he hung out with us and made

small talk about the boats in the bay.


True story.


It shows how Carter won in '76, even

though he was a long-shot at

the time: he probably shook every

hand in America to win the presidency,

and no voter -- not even a nobody teenager

like me (I wasn't even old enough to vote yet)

-- was unimportant to him.



It also shows how early the '76 campaign

season began (Carter had announced his

candidacy months earlier, in '74) and how a

candidate who ranked in the single-digits in

the polls came from behind to beat the favorites

of the national party.


In the polls at that time, Carter was where, say,

dark horses like Mike Gravel and Bill Richardson

are today: nowhere. At the end of a long, deserted

pier, politically speaking.



Watching Sen. John McCain on "The Late Show with

David Letternman" last night made me think that

the conventional political wisdom will surely be

upended several times before the first primary

votes are cast in 10 months or so.


Elections as unpredictable as this one recall nothing so

much as the overly familiar lyrics of a Bob Dylan

song: "Don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in

spin/And there's no tellin' who that it's

namin'/For the loser now will be later to

win."


Sen. McCain and Rudy Giuliani may be

the front-runners for the GOP nomination now,

but they may be old news by January.


Watching McCain on Letterman last night, I was surprised by

how creaky he seemed, how much slower his reaction time

was than it had been, how much he resembled a revered

former president more than a vital candidate. Against a

vigorous Rudy, he'll likely look like a retiree.



Remember, Republicans have to veer right in

the primaries and toward the center in the general (while

Dems have to veer left in the primaries and toward

the center in the general) -- and that tends to favor the

nomination of a Republican who is tight with the religious

right -- neither McCain nor Giuliani. As in '76,

maybe we should be looking at the guy polling

in the single digits


Somehow I get the feeling that a voter at the end of

a long pier somewhere is being approached by a

a man who sticks out his hand and says, "Hi, I'm

Duncan Hunter and I'm running for president of the

United States."

* * *

Well, folks, your trusty freelance writer

tried one last time yesterday to land

the ultimate "get" -- an interview with

author J.D. Salinger, who never talks to

the press. I finally reached his wife

(I had tried her number once before, a

couple years ago, but didn't know whether

I had unearthed the right number or not).


Well, yesterday afternoon, I found I did

have the right number, but she was in

no mood to talk. "I don't think I

really want to talk with you," she said.

So I said thanks for your time and

goodbye. Perhaps she and her husband

had seen my web-exclusive feature

about Salinger and not liked it.

For those who want to read the story,

it's on this website.


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Wednesday, February 28,2007



A Confederacy of Dunces?


Slavery was finally, belatedly condemned by the state of

Virginia a few days ago, though vestiges of the old

Confederacy still linger today in mainstream

American politics. Last fall's promotion to Senate

Minority Whip of Trent Lott, who resigned his

leadership role in 2002 after praising the late

Senator Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat

presidential candidacy of 1948, was yet another

reminder that there are some on Capitol Hill

who are still sympathetic to Jim Crow and the

Confederacy -- and many more who seem that way.


The alarming thing about Lott’s remarks on

Thurmond in '02 is they’re not very far from

alarming remarks by other U.S. Senators that

praise or appear to praise former segregationists

and Confederates.


In fact, the new Minority Leader of the Senate,


Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, spoke glowingly

in 1997 about Thurmond's presidential candidacy in

remarks that are quite close to those that caused

Lott to lose his post in '02 (see the

quote below).




My own search of the Congressional Record shows

that several Senators have taken the floor in recent

years to praise (or quote in a positive context)

both Thurmond and Robert E. Lee, the most famous

Confederate general of the U.S. Civil War.


In fact, the Senate can sometimes seem like a

Robert E. Lee (and Strom Thurmond) fan club. Here

are some samples from the Congressional Record:


"My dad and my granddad talked about the [1948]
election for a little while, and all I remember for sure
is that they said Strom Thurmond was a fine man,
they were going to vote for him for President of the
United States."
-- Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, on June 3, 1997, in a
Senate tribute to Thurmond


"In the end, what Douglas Southall Freeman said of
Robert Lee four decades ago might also be said of
Senator Thurmond today. ‘He [is] one of a small
company of great men in whom there is no inconsistency
to be explained, no enigma to be solved.”
-- John Ashcroft, then a Senator from Missouri,
June 3, 1997, in a Senate tribute to
former Sen. Strom Thurmond.


"My senior Senator [Thurmond] is the epitome of
Robert E. Lee's comment that the most sublime
word in the English language is duty.”
-- former Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-SC, May 21, 1997,
speaking about Thurmond becoming the
longest-serving Senator in the history of the Senate.


"The national history [educational] standards were more
interested in those who were politically correct. The
standards slighted or ignored many central figures in U.S.
history, particularly white males. To name a few,
Robert E. Lee was left out, Thomas Edison and the
Wright brothers were left out, Paul Revere was left out,
so we could have many, many references to the
Ku Klux Klan, so we could have references to
heroes from other continents."
-- Ashcroft, as Senator, November 6, 1997, speaking
about national education testing standards.


"I have thought about Senator Russell's reference to
Robert E. Lee when he quoted Lee as saying,
`Duty is the sublimest word in the English language.'
That has been my credo."
-- Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WVA, July 27, 1995, during
a tribute in which he was praised
for having cast 14,000 votes in his career.


"It is said, in the old Confederate Army, that they
didn't give medals. So the single honor was to be
mentioned in Robert E. Lee's communiques to
Richmond. Having the distinguished Senator from
West Virginia [Byrd] say something about me and to
pronounce me a honest man I take in the same way
that any private in Hood's brigade would have taken
in the mention of their name in one of those communiques."
-- Former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex, November 15, 2002,
referring to a compliment paid to him by Sen. Byrd
during discussion of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.


"Snatching the initiative to turn the tide of battle,
Lt. Gen. James A. Longstreet, under the command of
Gen. Robert E. Lee, forced back Union forces directed
by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, in an advance known as
`Longstreet's Flank Attack.' Mr. President, this legislation
will allow the Park Service to acquire this stretch of land,
which will serve to complete Wilderness Battlefield."
-- Sen. John Warner, R-Va, May 4, 1999, speaking
admiringly of the Confederate military while arguing
for government acquisition of a Civil War battlefield.


"And here we have a man like [former Arkansas Senator]
David Pryor, who has all the qualities that Robert E. Lee
described, and more: tenacious, determined on what he
believes, intellect, the character to stick with his ideas in
a totally honest way, and vision about where the country
ought to be heading. These are remarkable traits to be
wrapped up in one man, and rare and unusual in the U.S.
Congress.”
-- Former Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-AR, September 24, 1996,
in a tribute to former Sen. David Pryor.


"When asked by a mother what advice he could give her
for the rearing of her infant son, General Robert E. Lee,
then President of Washington and Lee, replied, ‘Madam,
teach him to deny himself.’"
-- Former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, entered this eulogy
by the president of a Baptist university into the
Congressional Record, April 29, 1996.

* * *

Anyway, now that the ol' Confederacy is

in an apologizin' mood, perhaps they

can start redesignin' some of the

state flags that incorporate the

Confederate banner.

* * *

What I'm reading today: nice

editorial in today's New York

Times on issues related to the

Establishment Clause. And, on

a far different subject, check

out Frank Bruni's witty review

of Robert's, which proves that

great loins are where you find

them!


But I digress. Paul
________________________________
________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Tuesday, February 27, 2007



In a hundred years, history students

will be asked, "What U.S. president

finally became president a full eight

years after winning his first

presidential election?"


And the answer will be, of course,

the 44th president of the U.S.,

President Gore, who served from

January 2009 until January 2013.


But first Gore has to beat Rudy

Giuliani, the (at this point)

probable GOP candidate -- and

Gore may be the only Dem who

can do it. Barack

versus Rudy would be a 61%

blow-out for the GOP, a

Dukakis/Bush landslide that

would give Barack, the

Paul Tsongas of campaign '08,

10 states at best.


Hillary v. Rudy, replicating the U.S.

Senate contest that almost

happened back in 2000, would

still result in President Rudy, but by

a closer margin. Why? The anti-war Dems

would siphon off the votes required for

a Hillary win, just as they did to Hubert

Humphrey in 1968.


How soon Dems forget the main lesson

of '68: a party divided against itself

cannot stand against a united GOP.

Hillary sort of resembles the Humphrey

that was unwilling to break with LBJ

over the war until it was too late (in her

case, she inexplicably refuses to say she

blew the Iraq authorization vote).

The anti-war Dems, already turning out

to heckle her when she campaigns,

are rightly wondering why they should

vote for someone who made the same

mistake Bush made on Iraq. Voters don't

want hindsight in a leader, they want

foresight, and Gore had that in opposing

the Iraq war from the start while Hillary

didn't.


In any case, Gore appears to be running.

The latest signs, on display at the Oscars

last night, are these:

First, anticipating that he'll be running against

Italian-American Giuliani next year, he

appears with a highly respected star

who has an Italian-American last name,

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Second, Gore's public image was slyly

repaired at the Oscars by no less than

George Clooney, who publicly debunked

Gore's main perceived flaw: that he's

too stiff.


Gore, too stiff?, Clooney essentially said.

No, he's bad, he's Wildman Gore these days.

Oh yeah, he was quaffing a few with me and

Nicholson backstage, so believe me, he's

too much of a bad-ass to run for such a

goody two shoes office as prez of the USA,

know what I mean?


So, yeah, Gore may be runnin'.

(By the way, check out David Reminick's

terrific Comment on Gore in the new issue

of The New Yorker; it may be Remnick's best

editorial in years.)

Also, here are some faux

secret slogans of the current crop

of candidates:

Kucinich for President in 1968

Barack Obama at Bonnaroo in 2008

Hillary for President -- of Barnard College

Brownback for President of Oz '08

John McCain for President in 1956

Giuliani for President in '01

Dukakis '08: If Vilsack Can Try, So Can I

Bill Richardson/Wen Ho Lee '08

Dodd/Imus '08

But I digress. Paul
______________________________________________
______________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Monday, February 26, 2007.



Thoughts on the Oscars. Ellen DeGeneres

made the show seem like daytime tv. At

times, I thought it was 3:30 on a weekday

afternoon and that she was about to give a

Frigidaire to someone in the audience.

Yes, she is charming but she's

-- how to put this? -- not funny.


And the ratings don't lie: Ellen's

version of the Oscars "delivered the

third-lowest viewer tally in at least

15 years," according to today's Los

Angeles Times.



Bring back Jon Stewart! Even better,

bring back Steve Martin!


Like everyone else, I loved Martin Scorsese's

belated win but thought Clint Eastwood's

"Letters From Iwo Jima" was far better than

"The Departed." And who knew Eastwood knew

Italian so fluently? And Steven Spielberg was

such a winning presence last night (and a good

sport, too, taking that photo).



Other notes: Helen Mirren is overrated.

Also, anybody notice how obviously calculated

(and, frankly, phony) her "I give you the Queen"

soundbite came off, especially if you saw her entire

speech? Further, I didn't quite catch her drift: she

thrusts forward the statuette and says, "I give

you the Queen." Is the (nominally male) statuette

supposed to be the Queen? Was she introducing a clip

from the film? Is everyone too cowed by her "Dame"

status to ask such questions? One small step for man...


Kate Winslet is underrated (didn't

she look like love itself last night?). Meryl Streep

has rarely looked more attractive in recent years

(and she provided the night's funniest moment

with just one look). "Letters from Iwo Jima"

should've won best pic -- and will probably

resonate down the decades better

than "Departed."


With regard to "The Queen," I saw half of it on a red-eye

and then turned it off to listen to Bob Dylan's brilliant

"Modern Times." Frankly, I really don't care about

British royalty, unless Shakespeare is writin' about it.

What do The Royals do all day to earn their

millions, anyway? These are not really people of

accomplishment, now, are they? Diane Spencer, last

I heard, was driving drunk (or having her driver

drive drunk) through big city streets on a

Saturday night at a high speed, endangering

innocent people. (Oh, I know: her defense is

she was running from a man with a camera. Not a

man with a gun but a man with a camera. Think about

that one.)

[Note: I'm sure the previous graf will probably

offend those who admired Diana, but think of it

this way: suppose your son or daughter or mother

or father had been in Paris on the night of the

crash and had been killed by the princess's car.

How would you then feel about Diana's behavior?

Is drunken driving at high speeds

ok if it's done by someone you like?]


But the real winner of the night was Al Gore.

It's now obvious, or should be: Gore is the

only Dem who can beat Rudy next year (Hillary

comes off like a scold, alienating even her

closest supporters; Dems would be far better

off nominating Nancy Pelosi for president);

Sen. Obama would not be able to withstand GOP

attack ads -- not in swing states like Ohio

or Florida, which he'd have to win to

become president).


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________
_________________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Sunday, February 25, 2007



Lights Out for Network TV's Best Series?


NBC insists the show will go on, at least for now,

for "Friday Night Lights," which many consider

network TV's best dramatic series -- despite

the fact that the series has usually landed

in third or fourth place in whatever time slot it has

occupied since its debut last October.


Though the network is clearly not

talking about ending "FNL," and though the show

may yet be saved in the long run, a hard look at the

ratings suggests that only a miracle on the order

of a hail Mary pass could possibly stop its eventual

cancellation.


Despite its recent relocation to a less

competitive time slot, Wednesdays at 8pm, the

program continues to tank. In its previous time,

Tuesdays at 8pm, its failure was partly blamed on

the fact that it was up against ABC's runaway hit

"Dancing with the Stars." Now there is no such

competitor, which makes it all the more likely the

show might not enjoy another full season on the air.


So why aren't viewers watching "Friday

Night Lights"?


A few theories. "FNL" is one of those artful

depictions of the red state quotidian (created

by sophisticated blue state producers) that

seems to play better in blue states than

in red ones.


Hardcore red staters -- say,

churchgoing NASCAR Republicans -- apparently

don't want artful when it comes to

television viewing. They seem to want shows

like "WWE Friday Night SmackDown!" wrestling.

And they don't want to come home from a hard

day shoveling this or loading that to watch

a subtle drama about teenagers.


It's like a cat looking in

the mirror: it doesn't recognize

itself no matter how clear the image. Likewise,

red-staters probably don't see themselves

in "Friday Nights Lights." After all, this

is a program in which the quarterback for the Dillon

Panthers, Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), actually

talks to a classmate about Jackson Pollock in one

episode. Such atypicality is admirable -- but

is a TV viewer in a Don Garlits t-shirt going

to get it?


The show seems to be caught between demographics:

it's too smart for most mainstream red state

sports fans, but the football theme is not

exactly smart enough for the blue staters (even

though the show is about a lot more than football).


And it also seems to fall between

audiences in terms of age, as it's a show

mostly about teenagers, but its sensibility

is very adult,


It's sort of like the plight of a

critically acclaimed show of the mid-1990s,

"My So-Called Life," starring Claire Danes,

which was canceled after a short run. The

ratings problem with that series about teenagers

(also created by smart adults) appeared to be

that grown ups didn't want to see a

drama about teens, and teens didn't want to see

a drama that was so adult (again, the cat didn't

recognize itself in the mirror).


And for all its artfulness, the series

isn't perfect in the way, say, most episodes

of "The Sopranos" are. Promising plotlines

are not always pursued (whatever happened

to the scandal about Ray "Voodoo" Tatom's

eligibility, for example? Or what about the

fallout from Tyra Collette's affair with

that Los Angeles businessman?).







THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 23, 2007











A couple passings to note:


I never got to meet Doug Marlette, who died a couple weeks

ago at age 57, but came to know his work during the period when

I contributed a few pieces to New York Newsday when he was

at New York Newsday. I've always admired his cartoons, particularly

his courage in taking on religious issues (and he had a lotta heart;

see above cartoon).



And on the Bay Area landscape, it was also quite a shock to

learn that KGO anchor Pete Wilson died, at 62, during routine

hip replacement surgery a few days ago. He was a surprisingly

effective broadcaster, who made cantankerous seem downright

amiable; most recently he had been paired for the 6pm newscast

with rising star Carolyn Johnson (see Daily Digression for

February 24), and it was a classic match-up: Wilson was like

black coffee, no sugar, and Johnson is like some deeply

irresistible cappuccino. Terrific contrast (though I must say

I almost never agreed with Wilson's commentary).


My condolences to the loved ones and colleagues of both Marlette and

Wilson.



Paul

________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 21, 2007



How the Iraq War Will Really End




It doesn't take a lot of foresight to see what

the next chess moves will probably be in

foreign policy.



As I noted in my column of July 9 (see below), Musharraf

will likely be deposed, either legitimately or

through assassination, in the next several months

and will be replaced by someone with Taliban

sympathies, who will then, of course, have control

of the Pakistan's nuclear arsneal.


Depending on how belligerent the new regime is,

we will probably, with a multi-national force that

this time includes India, Britain and a few others,

have to use air strikes to try to

remove the new government, while piggybacking on

the Taliban's natural domestic adversaries in

ground operations -- and we'd have to

do it while the regime is still fragile,

before it becomes entrenched.


Problem is, from the moment of the coup,

any new government would be exceptionally

difficult to displace, because it would be

an insta-nuclear power. So we'd have

to intervene while the coup is ongoing.


Eventually, we'd have to rapidly redeploy troops

out of Iraq to the India-Pakistan and the

Afghanistan-Pakistan borders. And with our Pakistan

intervention now pre-empting news about the low grade

civil war in Iraq, people would soon wonder: we could

have done this all along, we could've been out of Iraq

long ago!


There we were, wringing out hands, pulling all-nighters,

getting ulcers about how to solve the unsolvable war in

Iraq, and suddenly, as quick as a nuclear flash, we're out,

and nobody is paying attention anymore to the 17 dead

from a truckbomb in Kirkuk or 23 injured in the Green

Zone.


Because the stakes would be exponentially higher

in Pakistan after a coup, what with the possibility

of millions dying from, say, a nuclear strike

on Mumbai.


News about Iraq would suddenly be consigned to page A17,

and the front pages of almost every newspaper would be

solely devoted to the Pakistan conflict. And we'd see that

even though we're no longer in Iraq, al-Maliki still keeps

a tenuous hold on power, and there is still a steady but

unspectacular stream of blood in the streets everyday.


An analogy: ever notice that whenever there's a Katrina or 9/11

level catastrophe, the front pages of newspapers report no other

news? Yet if that big event had not happened, there would be maybe

a dozen urgent front page stories that everybody is taking very

seriously.


I always wonder during a Big Story: where does all the displaced

news goes when it rains catastrophe?


And that will probably be the same situation with news about

Iraq after Pakistan eclipses it. People will forget that

several months earlier everyone was saying how we'd

be in Iraq forever. And here we are suddenly out,

and there's not a whole lot more violence in

Iraq than there was when we were there.


So it's possible that the Iraq war will end when we

redeploy to Pakistan. And if that happens, we'll be

saying things like: it's astonishing now to think that

it was always in our power to load up the boats and planes

and leave Iraq. And we'll think: it turns out there

was no obstacle to withdrawal -- except overthinking.


And even if al-Maliki is overthrown by a Baathist after such an

abrupt U.S. departure, the new regime in Baghdad would be

weak and harmless (and nukeless, too). Iraq, as we discovered

after we invaded it in '03, posed no threat to us at all;

it was broke and broken by years of sanctions and isolation

-- and that was before the war, which has further degraded the

country's infrastructure and military. Even if Saddam's allies

were to re-take power, we could control the new regime the

way we should have handled Saddam: with sanctions and

occasional air strikes.


Meanwhile, a coup in Pakistan would draw in many factions and

nations in the region in unpredictable ways -- factions ranging

from K-and-L militants to Hindus and others at odds with the

Taliban (who might become our de facto surrogates in battle,

a la the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in '01).


And "multi-lateralism" this time might mean relying on

Pratibha Patil more than Gordon Brown, with the

first flashpoint being Kashmir, all politics

being local, after all.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 16, 2007


Prince -- and Sly and the Family Stone -- Live at

Radio City Music Hall? Dream On.




Just got around to reading the marvelous story in

Vanity Fair by David Kamp about Sly Stone, who

memorably says of his mohawk: "Most of it is growing

under the skin."


Meanwhile, Sly Stone and his trumpet player from the

Family Stone (among others) played for fifteen

minutes in San Jose earlier this month, and all reports

call it disappointing.


Here's an idea. Prince and a reunited Sly and the Family

Stone team up for a brief North American tour at venues

like Radio City Music Hall (with both sharing Larry Graham!).


My guess is -- and I haven't investigated this -- is that

Sly played that B-list venue in San Jose on a bill with

has-beens in a show promoted by a novice because major

promoters and venues wouldn't take a chance on his not

showing up for the gig.


But if he were to tour with Prince, Prince could simply

play a longer set if Sly didn't show (and what fan would

feel cheated by a concert in which Prince played longer?).

Just a thought.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 9, 2007


Sunday's New York Times editorial calling for U.S. withdrawal

from Iraq was bold -- and also correct, now that we've seen

the trajectory of the administration's strategy.


What are the worst case scenarios for withdrawal? Here

are my thoughts:


1) The Baathists retake power.

At this point, having the Baathists or another Sunni
faction back in power wouldn't be worse than having
a Shi'a leader allied with Iran.

* * *

2) Rwanda-like genocide breaks out.

If there is genocide, we could control it with targeted
airstrikes and by arming the victims -- but our intervention
would have to come at the invitation of the victims.

* * *

3) A leader affiliated with al-Qaeda takes over.

Before we withdraw, we would make it clear to the world
community that that is the one thing that would trigger our
unilateral re-engagement in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq should be
treated like the nazi party in Germany after '45: verboten.
But if it were to take power there, the regime would likely
be weak and besieged, and we could probably take it out
with air power.


Bush can give an address to the nation without losing face by

saying the following:


"My fellow Americans, four-and-a-half years ago we

set out to depose Saddam Hussein. We accomplished

that, tried him, executed him, and we have helped

to establish a new regime in Iraq. Now it is up to

the Iraqis to take it from here. If the Iraqis

choose al-Maliki, they will have al-Maliki. If they

choose civil war, they will have civil war. We Americans

chose civil war for ourselves in the 19th century,

and no foreign power interceded and said we couldn't

work out our differences that way. And we should

learn that lesson from history. So I'm proud to say

that we have fulfilled our missions and obligations

in Iraq and will now begin our redeployment."



Meanwhile, our anxiety should be centered on Pakistan, not Iraq.

Iraq is soo '03. Pakistan may soon become soo '08.


Just last week there was yet another assassination attempt on

Musharraf. How long do you think it will be before one of the

assassins succeeds?


And if Musharraf is assassinated, and we should all hope

he isn't, but if he is, Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal would

likely fall into the hands of the Taliban and its al Qaeda

buddies. And that is more horrifying and unacceptable than

anything currently happening in North Korea, Iran or Iraq.


A Taliban-run Pakistan with nukes is only one simple chess move away.


And it would be hard to see how the U.S. could avoid some

level of involvement in Pakistan if that were to happen.


It's like that scene in the movie "Jaws": everybody on the

crowded beach mistakenly thinks they see a shark in the open ocean,

and there is a stampede and panic as everyone frantically swims

to shore. Then, as things calm, a lone voice shouts, "The pond,

the pond," warning everyone the shark is actually in the more

remote pond, which nobody had been paying much attention to.


And that seems to be what's happening now: everyone's looking at

Iraq and nobody is watching Pakistan, where the real danger lies.

------------------------------


Cindy Sheehan does not belong anywhere near the U.S. House of

Representatives but rather under the care of a psychiatrist who

specializes in delusional thought disorders. Or at least

she acts that way.


Her opinions on the tragedy of 9/11 -- she's mentally impaired

enough to have called it a "controlled demolition" -- put her

in the same league as people who believe the moonwalks

were staged and that the holocaust was a fabrication. In

other words, she's a nut.


And further, she's not even a San Francisco resident yet she's

considering a House seat in that district. My advice to her:

go back to Vallejo. Or, better yet, to Crawford.

If I didn't know better, I'd think she's a shrill Bush plant

posing as an anti-war protester with the intention of

embarrassing the Democrats (how's that for a Cindy-like

conspiracy theory?).


* * *


Notes on the continuing lay-offs at the San Francisco Chronicle:

They're firing some good journalists -- so why are they keeping

plagiarist Ed Guthmann and fraud David Wiegand? Probable reason

they haven't fired Guthmann/Wiegand yet: they know too much. They

know that several Chron editors and reporters have screwed up as

badly as they have (and worse), and management fears they might

spill the beans if they're sacked. (Proof of their transgressions at

www.resumesidenotes.blogspot.com.)


To those who are laid off at the SF Chronicle and have an unresolved

complaint about editorial malfeasance there and want to blow

the whistle, here's some advice:

1) Don't bring up your complaint to Chron management after

you leave. They may merely try to find a way to turn the

accusation back on you -- and don't think

they're above tampering with evidence in order to save their

jobs.

2) Blow the whistle to a media reporter outside the company.

3) Remember: when the Chron investigates itself, it tends

to give itself a clean bill of health.


But I digress. Paul
______________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 8, 2007


My impressions of the LiveEarth concerts (or rather,

the parts I saw on TV and online):




-- The Foo Fighters turned in the

best performance that I saw, with

a particularly strong "Times Like

These," which Dave Grohl dedicated

to Al Gore.


-- Gore himself was in good humor; "I'm 59 years old -- that's the

new 58, you know," he told Ann Curry on the NBC broadcast of

concert excerpts.


-- Shakira is almost illegally hot.


-- Surprisingly compelling performance by Alicia Keys (now I

understand why she ended up with pop's highest honor: being

mentioned in a Bob Dylan song!).


-- Madonna is still an exciting performer.


-- Glad to see that Marty DiBurghi showed up to intro "the most

punctual band on Earth," Spinal Tap.


-- The Beastie Boys, entertaining as usual.


-- Buying some Compact Fluorescents is on my to-do list today.


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Dave Grohl from spin.com.]
______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 5, 2007


Duck Soup Diplomacy





The escalation of the Iraq war reminds me

of the famous joke in the Marx Brothers'

movie "Duck Soup."



"I'm willing to do anything to prevent this

war," says the Sylvanian ambassador.


"It's too late," replies Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho

Marx), the new leader of Freedonia. "I've

already paid a month's rent on the battlefield."


Which sort of sums up the situation in Washington; the

Congress, with a mandate from voters to stop the war

asap, tries to stop the war asap but finds the

administration has already authorized a "surge."



Meanwhile, in Iraq, there is the nauseating possibility

of an unholy alliance between Iran and whatever Shi'a regime

ultimately takes hold for the long-term in Baghdad. In

ten years, the two countries might well become Shi'a East

and Shi'a West and we'll be pining for the long-ago

good o'l days of Saddam Hussein, who, for all his

considerable flaws, could at least be counted on to

shun most Islamic conservatives.


And Ahmadinejad and Khamenei aren't getting any more

progressive either. A recent human rights report from

Amnesty International is packed with examples of unspeakable

torture and oppression in Iran (including the execution

and torture of children under 18, eye-gouging as a formal

punishment, etc.).


And some of the punishment is for minor offenses. Just this

week a court in Iran sentenced a woman to around three years

in prison and ten lashes for merely going to a political rally.


Maybe it's Ahmadinejad who is actually Rufus T. Firefly.

Firefly, after all, was a hardliner ("give him ten years

in Leavenworth and eleven years in Twelveworth") who, upon

taking charge of Freedonia, laid down the law: "These are

the laws of my administration; no one's allowed to smoke or

tell a dirty joke, and whistling is forbidden....If chewing

gum is chewed, the chewer is pursued...If any pleasure is

exhibited, report to me and it will be prohibited."


Ahmadinejad may look a bit slow and stupid but don't

let that throw you. As Firefly said of Chicolini: "Gentlemen,

he may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don't

let that fool you: he really is an idiot."


I'm starting to think that everything you need to know about foreign

policy can be learned by watching "Duck Soup."


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- While I'm on the subject of vintage flicks, I was

watching Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" the other night

and marveling at the courage it took to make the film in

pre-war, isolationist America.


And it got me to thinking that perhaps now is the time for

Hollywood to make a similarly brave satire about Osama

bin Laden. After all, he's a de facto dictator, a stateless

despot, the one who forces us to remove our shoes at airports,

the one who has redesigned the Manhattan skyline, the one

who (with others) tells us which editorial cartoons we can

and cannot publish, the one who has decimated our airline

industry, and on and on.



It's time satirists took him on on the big screen. And let's

hope that a fear of bomb threats at theaters that might

show such a film won't deter film makers from making such a film.

_______________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 3, 2007


No, it doesn't surprise me to see Mohammed Asha and

Bilal Abdulla, two physicians, in the ranks of the

jidhadists. They fit the profile, or one of the profiles.


Lots of jidhadists have been rich or affluent

Islamic right wingers. Even the mujahideen of

Afghanistan in the 1980s, fighting what both Reagan and his

ally bin Laden called the "godless Soviets," were essentially

the reactionary plantation owners of the region.


And bin Laden himself is wealthier than most of

us will ever be (and he made most of his money the

American way: he inherited it).


Islamic militant movements have always been partly

populated by rich kid fanatics.


The root of jihadism, give or take an Adam Gadahn,

is early indoctrination. At ages 4, 5 and 6, in the madrasa

schools and like institutions, children are brainwashed

and hardwired to learn only one thing: the Koran is the

absolute truth and anyone who doesn't believe what they

believe should die.


That's quite a singular syllabus for elementary school kids.


After such an early miseducation, such a person is not

just intellectually damaged but becomes a ticking time

bomb, wired to explode against non-believers later in life.


Hence, a person could have a Ph.D. from Harvard and Princeton

and still not be educated -- if the education doesn't

take or if the person resists the education. As an analogy,

a kid could wear braces on his teeth for years and still not

have straight teeth if he doesn't wear his retainer or resists

the orthodontist's advice.


If someone graduates from Harvard but still believes in, say,

voodoo, then you can reasonably conclude that that Harvard grad

is not an educated person (unless, of course, he or she

approaches voodoo from a fresh, original angle that is

not merely faith-based). In fact, I wouldn't need to

know anything else about his background to dismiss

his credentials.


Asha and Abdulla were well trained, but their education

was probably overruled by early religious indoctrination,

which they likely hadn't been able to shake as adults.


Jihadism will not be defeated until the madrasa is.

School kids in Pakistan and elsewhere must be taught

philosophical points of view other than just the Koran.


My education in America and in Europe included studying the Old

Testament, Nietzsche, Kierkengaard -- and the Koran, among much

else, as well as visits to both the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle in

Istanbul (where Mohammed's hair and teeth are on display) and

to the Vatican (not to mention the cave in Crete where Zeus was

supposedly born). In other words, my education included all

points of view. The fundamentalist Muslim's education does

not include any but its own, and that fosters absolutism that

leads to jihadist violence.


Asha's stated reason for wanting to kill innocent people

was: "after you insulted our prophet, we shall not forgive

you" -- apparently referring to the Jyllands-Posten's courageous

publication of cartoons of Mohammed.



To which I say: boo hoo. Let me get this straight:

the delicate sensitivities of this would-be murderer were

so offended by a little cartoon that he decided

to kill a bunch of strangers.


You have the right to be offended -- nobody is denying you

that. But you don't have the right to get violent because

you're offended.


What guys like Asha also don't understand is they don't own

Mohammed. To me, he is a figure from history, not a religious

icon, and I reserve the right to write about him any way I

choose. (By the way, here is the Jyllands-Posten drawing that so

offended Asha and his fellow fundamentalists:)






I heard some imbecile on ABC's "Nightline"

last night say that militants didn't

fly planes into the World Trade Center

for no reason. That's like saying that

Charles Manson or Seung-Hui Cho didn't

murder all those good people for no reason.

They had a "reason" but they had no good reason.


What that person doesn't get is that the hijackers's "reasons" were

delusional (they actually thought they were going to be met in

paradise by virgins) and their militancy was the result of

an early indoctrination that they couldn't overcome in adulthood.


Eradicating Islamic militancy starts with eradicating the

early brainwashing that takes place at the madrasa.


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Investigators should start looking into the work record of

doctors Asha and Abdullah to see whether there were any suspicious

deaths of patients in their care at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in

Paisley. If they were willing to kill outside their hospitals,

they were probably willing to kill inside, too.

_____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for July 1, 2007






"We're gonna rip 'em up and light up the

night," Alison Krauss sang last night in

Berkeley, Calif., and she and

Union Station did just that, lighting

up the Bay Area (or at least the Greek Theatre!) with a

marvelous set of folk, bluegrass and country. Highlights

included "Oh, Atlanta," "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow"

and encore "When You Say Nothing At All."



And Union Station dobroist Jerry Douglas turned Duane

Allman's "Little Martha" into a thing of real beauty

(or a thing of greater beauty than it already was).

I'd love to hear him cover Cowboy's "Please Be With Me."


Douglas, the solo performer, first came to my attention

when he opened for Paul Simon last year at the Greek (same

venue as this show). That same weekend, he also played

at one of the best regular pop music festivals around: the

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's

Golden Gate Park.


For the uninitiated, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest is

an annual three-day concert in the park that features

dozens and dozens of amazing performers in many genres

(not just bluegrass) -- and it's completely free of charge!


And it's free solely because the festival's founder and mastermind,

Warren Hellman (known as St. Warren around San Fran!), funds

it -- with no strings attached.


Because of Hellman, Golden Gate Park turns into a musical

feast on the first weekend of October every year; walk to the left

and see Hot Tuna; walk to the right and see Richard Thompson;

two blocks over there is Iris Dement.


The star of last year's Strictly Bluegrass was, without question,

Elvis Costello, who performed on all three days (his Coward Brothers

show with T Bone Burnett was a classic).


This year's Strictly Bluegrass is scheduled for October 5, 6 and 7,

and let's hope Costello plays the fest again (and can somebody

persuade him and Nick Lowe to do an acoustic set?). Other humble

suggestions: Marti Jones and Don Dixon would be perfect for the

festival (and so would Marshall Crenshaw).

_______________________________


Sen. Patrick Leahy confirmed to Tim Russert this morning

that, yes, he's going to appear in the next Batman movie, "The Dark

Knight," scheduled for release next year. (Hope he routs the bad

guys, as he does in real life.)


Meanwhile, I'd like to see his Vermont colleague, Sen. Bernie

Sanders, formally release a CD of his folk music, which is

pretty lively stuff, by the way (I did a story on his folk album

in 1989 when he was still mayor of Burlington, and I remember

enjoying some of it).


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Alison Krauss from yottamusic.com; photographer unknown.]

___________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 30, 2007


Rosie The Riveting




Rosie O'Donnell appeared in Berkeley, Calif.,

last night, as part of the Cyndi Lauper/

Erasure/Deborah Harry concert

(dubbed the "True Colors" tour),

and did she ever unload on Donald Trump and Larry King.



"[Trump] went crazy," Rosie began. "You know, I basically

said, 'Pay no attention to the man behind the combover.'

And he went on every show in the free world, you know.

He was on 'Sesame Street': [she imitates Trump's gruff tone]

'She's fat and she's gay.' 'Home Shopping Club':

[gruff tone again] 'Fat and gay, she's gay and fat.

She's a fat gay, fat gay, gay fat, fat gay.' And he's

got that little mouth that looks like an anus. You ever

notice?"


The audience exploded with laughter and applause. But Rosie

wasn't near finished.


"[Trump] was on 'Larry King,'" she continued. "And let me

just say: Larry King...is turning into an amphibian before our

very eyes....He's anorexic first of all. He's so thin that

those suspenders are hanging on the bones of his shoulders,

you know. He looks like a human Pez dispenser. Think about

that. If you pulled his head back, the Pez would drop right

out of his mouth. And then he should eat it because, basically,

the guy looks hungry."


Again, the crowd ate it up.


Rosie's appearance was part of a night of music, comedy (a

very funny Margaret Cho) and political activism in

support of a variety of gay-rights issues.


Lauper headlined, performing an enjoyable set of new songs,

oldies and re-made oldies (most notably a re-worked "She Bop"

that seems to have been influenced by Radiohead's

"There There").


Preceding her was Erasure, who drew intense crowd response.

But then, Erasure fans have always been unusually fanatical.


As a magazine reporter, I covered Erasure from the moment their

debut album, "Wonderland," was released. Writing in the March

29, 1986, issue of the music trade magazine Cash Box, shortly

after the release of its debut album, I praised "Wonderland"

and wrote: "Reserve one of the top ten chart slots, please."


Of course, it would take years before Erasure hit the top

ten in America (acceptance in the U.K. came more quickly),

though it always had an uncommonly intense cult following.

When I saw the band perform on May 15, 1987, at the Ritz

in New York City, I wrote in my review for Cash Box, in

the May 30, 1987, issue: "It looked as if Eric Clapton

or Sting were playing here May 15, judging from the

long lines outside and the sardined throngs inside

the club. But onstage was Erasure...performing the

first of two sold-out shows in support of its recently

released second album, 'The Circus.'"


I remember leaving that '87 show and seeing a crowd that

was completely electric and jazzed (I saw one guy jump

on top of a car and pump his fists as if he had just been

liberated from a prison).


Two decades later, Erasure's audence is just as adoring as

it was in the 1980s. By applause-o-meter standards, they

were cheered at least as loudly as anyone else on the bill,

according to my perch in the hills above the Greek Theatre.


Also on the bill was the Dresden Dolls, who played

"Coin Operated Boy," which sounds like a new wave hit

from the heyday of Stiff. They also performed what was

probably the most inspired musical piece of the night, a cover

of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" that ingeniously transcribed

the guitar parts for piano and turned it into a work of

unexpected delicacy.


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Rosie O'Donnell from New York magazine; photographer unknown.]

_____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 29, 2007


The Real Swing Vote in Yesterday's Supreme Court Decision



Everybody is saying Justice Anthony Kennedy

was the swing vote in yesterday's awful decision

by the U.S. Supreme Court to resegregate

America. But the real swing vote was actually...Ralph

Nader, and I'm gonna take this moment right now to rub

it in and to say I-told-ya-so.


Because I remember those discussions in the fall of 2000

with Nader supporters who said it doesn't matter who is

elected president, it's tweedle-dee versus tweedle-dum,

yada yada yada. And I remember telling them, but

the Supreme Court hangs in the balance; you may not

agree with Al Gore on everything but at least he will

preserve the progressivism of the Court. And I remember

that they didn't listen to me.


In 2000, Nader supporters apparently had had too

much cake after eight years of Bill Clinton,

had started to take progressive policies and court

decisions for granted and couldn't imagine a time

of drought for liberals.


So they voted Nader, when they could've swung the election

to Gore, who'd just now be finishing his second term,

and we can see the result: a Court that is rolling

back nearly every major judicial advance of the past 50 years.

Yes, we are returning to the early Fifties and will now be

relearning, the hard way, why we came to our progressive

policies about integration and abortion in the first place.


Get ready in coming years for a return to more extreme

racial alienation, more extreme income disparity between blacks

and whites and -- by the next decade -- a return to the sorts of

race riots that we saw in the 1960s. Which will then force us

to relearn the lessons that we've since forgotten: that separate

is inherently unequal, and integration is the only remedy for

that inequality.


Chief Justice John Roberts has turned out to be almost as

hard right wing as Scalia or Thomas. In his confirmation hearings,

he said he'd respect bedrock precedent like Brown and Roe.

He hasn't. He implied he'd be a moderate swing vote in the

manner of Sandra Day O'Connor. He hasn't been.


Roberts, with a winning Reaganesque style and a quip for

every occasion, charmed his way through the Congressional

confirmation hearings in 2005. "Take my civil liberties, please,"

Roberts essentially joked, and the Senate club of

millionaires laughed and passed around the jelly beans as

they made him Chief Justice. Pundits talked about how

important it was to get along with colleagues, as if that

was the highest good.


Three lessons:


1) Nice is not enough in a nominee.


2) If 87-year-old John Paul Stevens retires before a Democratic

president can be elected, Congress should filibuster every Bush

Court nominee until late January 2009.


3) If Ralph Nader dares to appear in any electoral

contest again, even if he's just running for the city council,

voters should organize a boycott of any company

that contributes to his campaign.


Me, I'm considering buying a Corvair.

____________________________________


I've only seen clips of Michael Moore's "Sicko" on

YouTube and elsewhere so far, but what I've seen

hits the bullseye. I'm also reading reviews of

"Sicko" by film critics who are well-insured and affluent. Is

that a conflict-of-interest? Maybe newspapers should hire

uninsured freelancers to review it in order to provide

balance.

_______________________________


Nice interview with Paul Simon on "Charlie Rose" last night,

which reminded me that I should have included Simon in my

column of June 7th when I noted songwriters of the rock era who

ranked with Porter, Berlin and the Gershwins.


By the way, the big surprise of Simon's "Surprise" tour

last year was how some of the songs from his latest

album came alive in concert, particularly "Outrageous"

and "Father and Daughter." But what really knocked me

and lots of others out was the deep catalogue

"The Only Living Boy in New York"; until I heard him perform

it in Berkeley last year, I'd never realized, or had forgotten,

what a terrific song that is, with one of the great bridges

of folk-rock ("Half of the time we're gone but we don't know

where").

______________________________________



I once worked with a senior newspaper editor

in San Francisco who, well, let's put it this way:

he was good enough, he was smart enough, and doggone

it, people liked him!


Yes, he was a Stuart Smalley, one of those iyamwhatiyam

types, bursting with platitudes and always just

one inch short of saying iknowyouarebutwhatami (and he was

not originally from San Francisco, by the way, but from

the sticks).


Still smarting from some long-ago wedgie, he sits in

front of the mirror in late middle-age for his

Affirmation, practicing what he'll say to his bosses

when they inevitably decide to lay him off, which is that he's

good enough, he's smart enough -- well, you get the picture.

The sort of mediocrity who actually loves Charles Nelson Reilly,

puppet shows and mime, and calls Mozart's "Don Giovanni"

"Don Juan."


But I digress.


No doubt about it, Al Franken created an immediately recognizable

American archetype in Smalley, but his latest project is very

serious business. As everyone knows, Franken is running for the

U.S. Senate from Minnesota, in a race that may well determine the

balance of power on the Hill next year. And as things stand

now, he is probably the Democrats' best hope to unseat

Norm Coleman.


Democrats who underestimate Franken and are thinking of

defecting to attorney Mike Ciresi should remember that

Franken has a secret weapon that the other candidates don't:

the ability to win debates. Though Franken is currently polling

20 points behind Coleman (so is Ciresi), I bet the polls even-up

after the first debate.


And then Minnesota voters will see that Franken is good enough,

he's smart enough and -- well, you get the point.

__________________________________________

satire


Secretly recorded steamy bedroom conversation between secret

lovers Ann Coulter and Osama bin Laden


COULTER: Oh, bin, I love fundamentalist wood.

BIN LADEN: I disrobe only for god-fearing women like you.

COULTER: Do it, bin, like a believer! Hijack me.

BIN LADEN: Your body, so unlike the infidels'.

COULTER: Your cock is so unlike an atheist's.

BIN LADEN: My penis may be small, but it's a

faithful believer's penis.

COULTER: Bin, your beard is so wet and gooey from going down

on me.

BIN LADEN: You taste like a woman of faith.

COULTER: I like a penis that leans to the right.

BIN LADEN: Hard right!

[And they both laugh heartily!]

More hot chat from That Fundamentalist Duo in future columns.



But I digress. Paul


[picture of Ralph Nader by unknown photographer]
______________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 24, 2007


Norah Jones and M. Ward did a fun duet of John Fogerty's

"Green River" on Saturday night in Berkeley, Calif. (I didn't

have time to hear the whole show, unfortunately). Jones got

lots of applause for her new protest song, "My Dear Country,"

particularly the line, "There is nothing as scary as election

day." Live, "Sinkin' Soon" was the most musically engaging

of the songs from her latest album, "Not Too Late," released

earlier this year. And her stage patter was surprisingly

droll: "I can't whistle," she confessed after "Little Room."

"I can whistle inhaling. But it's weird; you just keep

exhaling!"


But I digress. Paul

__________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 23, 2007

The latest pop phenom to erupt

from MySpace into the music biz

proper is So-Cal's Colbie Caillat,

a 21-year-old singer-songwriter

whose MySpace page has become so

popular that she's now

signed with Universal Republic,

which will release her debut album, "Coco,"

next month.



Caillat performed in Berkeley last night at the Greek Theatre

(I heard her in the hills above the theatre), backed by

a four-piece band and playing seven songs. The catchiest

was "Bubbly," the original that got everyone interested

in her in the first place. Elsewhere, she mixed folk and

soul and pop and even tried some reggae ("Tied Down"), coming

across as both genuine and genuinely surprised at her

sudden success (she was the opening act for the Goo Goo Dolls,

who I couldn't stay to hear).



Maybe the founders of MySpace should consider founding

a label of their own, recording only artists who've posted

MP3's on MySpace.

------------------------------

Congrats to Barry Bonds for number 749! Seven more, and he'll

break Hank Aaron's all-time home run record.


And if he breaks the record, he should he given the same

level of respect and adulation that Aaron and

Babe Ruth were accorded when they topped the field.


As I said in my column of June 14th (in a line that has since

been repeated by others who have not properly attributed

it to me): Should Babe Ruth's home run record have an asterisk

next to it noting that he played baseball in an era of unfair

competition that excluded African-American players?


Should The Beatles have their Grammy rescinded because

they composed parts of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely

Hearts Club Band" on pot and other drugs?


Of course not. And it is essentially the same thing.


In response, someone might say: well, marijuana does not necssarily

enhance one's composing ability.


To which I'd say: well, steroids don't guarantee that someone

will hit home runs, either. There are a lot of mediocre batters

who have done steroids and have not excelled on the diamond.


In fact, I could inject steroids from now until the new year

and would probably not hit any or many home runs, if I were put

in a Giants uniform. (I'm assuming, for the sake of argument,

that Bonds did in fact intentionally use 'roids, a charge he has

denied.)



So I don't quite see eye-to-eye with the two S.F. Chronicle

reporters who piled plodding detail onto plodding detail in the

service of an insignificant story that should never have been prominently

reported to begin with. Someone should've reminded them that Bonds

is an entertainer, not a cabinet official, and they weren't starring

in "All the President's Men."


But that doesn't surprise me; I worked with editors at the Chron,

and some of 'em were talented but some of 'em missed the ball by

feet, not inches, in terms of editing and reporting.


But I digress. Paul


[photo of Colbie Caillat from MySpace.]

_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 20, 2007



Cannot confirm the authenticity of these photos, but here they are:



bin Laden, in a recent disguise.

___________________________


a rare shot of the 9/11 hijackers at an al Qaeda training camp.

______________________________


mohammed has come back to life, sporting a new look





_________________________________________________






Bravo to Britain for giving a Knighthood to novelist

Salman Rushde, who richly deserves every honor


he's received. And all those people

from the 12th century who object

should get used to addressing him as

Sir Salman Rushdie. (Meanwhile,

Pakistan's Ijaz ul-Haq, with his out-of-line

response, provides the world with a vivid glimpse

of idiocy in its purest form.)




Live from the 12th century, it's Ijaz ul-Haq (The-One-With-the-Asymmetrical-Mustache!)




By the way, last night I tried a little experiment

to see whether I could use author William

Burroughs's so-called cut-up method to

combine passages from both The Koran

and The Old Testament into one poem. I

took The Koran's "The Holy Prophet" and

randomly mixed it with the Old Testament's

"Book of Malachi" and then edited the result.


The result of the fusion is this poem, comprised

solely of text from The Koran and The Old Testament,

which I've titled:


Randomly Combining The Koran and The Old Testament


I will corrupt your seed
Your breast will become straighted by it
Because they say, why hasn't a treasure been sent down upon him
Most surely he is exulting, boasting

The law of truth was in his mouth
This is nothing but clear magic
And if we make him taste a favor after distress has afflicted him
He will certainly say, "The evils are gone"

Spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts
Warner, the curse of Allah is on the unjust
The punishment shall be doubled for them
Oh ye priests, this commandment is for you

-----------------------------

MEMO

To: All those covering Prince William, Prince Harry and the late Diane
Spencer

Please let me know what notable novel, poem, article, song, film,
sculpture, painting, photograph, political cause or business innovation
that any of the three has been primarily responsible for.

If you can't, then why are you covering them?

-------------------------

The 21 year old drinking age is in the news again,

which reminds me of a joke that circulated in my

dorm when I was an 18 year old college student.


It went like this:


Q: Guess what the drinking age is in the U.S.?

A: 21!


And everyone would always roar with laughter!

----------------------------

I'm a big admirer of ABC's George Stephanopoulos, though I

have to take issue with his statement on "World News"

the other night that American voters won't accept an

atheist candidate for national office. That may have

been the way it used to be, but we're entering an era

in which we're seeing the rise of a new generation of

Asian-American politicians, particularly in the western states,

who come from proud traditions that include Hinduism,

Buddhism, non-theistic spiritualism and non-traditional

spiritualism. And it's easy to imagine, say, a popular mayor of

San Francisco, who happens to be Asian-American and

non-theistic (in a city that is already almost half

Asian-American and counting), running for president

in the future.


In other words, the United States is finally starting to

resemble the rest of the world, which for the most part

doesn't accept theism.


My guess is that, by mid-century, being theistic or non-theistic

will not matter much in politics. It will become

a distinction as quaint and old-fashioned

as such terms as "pagan" and "heathen" are now.



Ten years ago, pundits would have said

that evidence of prior cocaine use would have

stopped a candidacy. But candidate Bush handled

such questions by saying, essentially, "none of your

business" -- and it worked. A similar response would

also probably work in answering questions about religion.



And I think the trend is moving sharply away from theism

as people become better educated and less rural -- and

also because, frankly, people are really getting

turned off by all the religious killers out there

(e.g., Mohamed Atta, Eric Rudolph, etc.). Those who look

to religion for moral guidance are beginning to see

that the holy rollers are among the least moral in our

number.


But I digress. Paul.

[pictures of Rushdie, "Mohammed," "bin Laden," and ul-Haq by unknown photographer.]

____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 18, 2007


The next presidential debate -- the so-called YouTube/CNN debate --

will happen next month in South Carolina, and there's a good

chance the Democrats will, again, be asked whether

the confederate flag should fly on the statehouse grounds

in Columbia.


At the last presidential debate in South Carolina, almost all

the Democratic candidates answered with a resounding

take-the-flag-down -- and for good reason. The stars and

bars is a racist symbol, a relic of a shameful past.



The ongoing dispute about the flying of the confederate flag

is really just a symptom of a larger national fracture.

Let's face it, there are still some crackers who,

as unbelievable as it might seem, in their heart of hearts

secretly believe that the southeast had the right to own slaves

and that the federal government had no business telling them

otherwise.


Someone needs to go over there and tell 'em what time it is, as

the saying goes.


Such people have no grasp of the extreme human rights violation

that slavery was. And they have a view of labor that is not

just pre-union but virtually feudal.


I spent part of my youth in the southeast, after having been

born and partly schooled in Maine, and one thing that really offended

me was the disrespect of some rural southeasterners toward

Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president. And even today, there

still seems to be an unspoken regional animosity toward Lincoln.



The hidden "thinking" behind confederate flag supporters is

that their 19th century ancestors fought and died for the

confederate cause and therefore they feel they have to stick

up for the wrongheaded policies of their long-dead relatives.


To which I say: you ought to own up to the fact that your

distant relatives's support of slavery was a big flaw.

They may have been admirable in other ways, but their backing

of the confederacy was completely reprehensible. And they may

even have been courageous in battle -- but, alas, in the service

of a very flawed cause. Confederate sympathizers

are essentially immigrants who have not yet

assimilated into the American mainstream (the southeastern

accent is almost a linguistic secession).


There are middle-aged Germans today who say they love

their fathers but hate the fact that they fought for

the Third Reich in the 1940s. And that's exactly what the

ancestors of the confederacy should do today: admit, at

least to themselves, that their 19th century relatives,

whatever their virtues, were dead wrong about slavery.


Meanwhile, the next GOP presidential debate occurs in September

in Florida, which incidentally has a state flag that looks

way too much like the ol' stars-and-bars. Perhaps someone

should ask the candidates whether they think the Florida

flag should be redesigned to look a little less medieval.

* * *

NBC's Ron Mott should not be covering the case of the falsely

accused Duke students; he has shown bias from the beginning

of his reportage on the case all the way until this morning

on the "Today" show, when he narrated yet another slanted piece

(I usually don't do tutoring, Ron, but if you'd like, I

could walk you through your "Today" video piece and

show you exactly where you're showing bias).


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 14, 2007


I'm not moved in the least by Mike Nifong's tears,

because he's just playing to the cameras so he

can keep his law license. Disbarring Nifong

should be just the beginning of the penalty phase;

civil suits should follow. And the victims

should look into the legal feasibility of stripping

Nifong of his pension, which should be divided

amongst the three falsely accused.


Media coverage of the Nifong resignation has ranged

from the great (Charles Gibson's "World News") to

the abysmal (namely, Ron Mott's awful report

for "The NBC Nightly News," which showed Nifong in such a

sympathetic light at times that you'd think Mott (or someone

at NBC) worked for Nifong's PR firm; and Mott's cutaways from

Nifong to the falsely accused victims always seemed to show

the victims at their least endearing or most unattractive;

that's called propaganda, Ron -- and Brian

Williams knows a lot better than that).

--------------------------


Genarlow Wilson should be released from prison now

(see column item below). Finally, protesters are

mobilizing to have Wilson freed from prison,

where he remains because of the backward thinking

of Georgia's Attorney General, Thurbert Baker,

who appears well on his way to becoming the

Michael Nifong of state AGs. My suggestion to

demonstrators: I hear Baker has a place up on

Stone Mountain, so maybe that's where you should

stage your protests.

This is Thurbert Baker, the guy keeping Genarlow Wilson in prison. The best place to protest his decision is outside Baker's Stone Mountain house, where this elected official can hear what his constituents think about this case.


Genarlow Wilson, an innocent man who should be freed from prison.

_____________________________________



-- How refreshing to see Paul McCartney mandolin-ing his way

back to the top of the charts with his new album, "Memory

Almost Full," his strongest work in years. A couple of the

songs rank with the best songs released this year

(along with Conor Oberst's "Four Winds" and The Arcade Fire's

"Intervention" and Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good"

and the Shins's "Phantom Limb" and and those new Oakley

Hall songs that I don't know the names of yet!). [By the way,

The Arcade Fire takes great pains to introduce itself

as The Arcade Fire, not Arcade Fire, and if you

really think about it, there's a substantial difference;

you wouldn't say, "I saw Rolling Stones" -- you'd say,

"I saw The Rolling Stones." See the official website:

http://www.mergerecords.com/band.php?band_id=98.]



McCartney's solo stuff has been perennially underrated (hey,

"Another Day" was always a better song than "How Do You Sleep,"

by the way), but those who take the time to listen to his

post-Beatles oeuvre will find some unexpected gems that few

seem to know about (e.g., "Little Willow," "Wanderlust,"

"The Backseat of My Car," etc.). In fact, what an anthology

that would make: the best of McCartney's deep-catalogue solo

material.


By the way, check out the nice piece by Ben Ratliff in

tomorrow's (Friday's) New York Times about McCartney's

surprise gig at the Highline Ballroom in New York. Poignantly,

Macca mentioned John Lennon (who he met for the first time

50 years ago next month) and sang his homage to him

"Here Today," from the "Tug of War" album. To quote The Times:

“It’s good to play that song in the town John loved,” [McCartney]

said.


And I, and lots of others, share his profound sadness about the

absence of Lennon, who should still be around, who should still

be playing gigs, dropping "If I Fell" as an encore at MSG or

bringing McCartney onstage for "A Day in the Life" (can you imagine

what Lennon's solo shows would have been like?), or maybe rejoining

McCartney for a new group of collaborative songs. But all that

possibility was wiped out by a supreme stroke of tragic

bad luck (if Lennon had been caught in one of midtown's

notorious traffic jams that night, he might still be

around; life is that random; then again, that same

randomness also made his freakish level of success and

genius possible).


And New York was Lennon's town when he lived in it, or at least

the upper west side was. I lived on the upper west side, a few

blocks from Lennon's place, when he lived there, and there were

always stories by neighbors and shopkeepers of sightings on

West 72nd St., though I never saw or met him.


I remember one night on the upper west side that was

more memorable than the others. It was a Monday, and I

stepped out of my apartment on West 74th at around

10:40 p.m. for a late night cup of coffee before bed.

By the time I'd walked to the coffee shop, the women

behind the counter were talking frantically, and one

of them blurted out to me, "Someone shot John Lennon."

And I said something like, "Aw, c'mon," thinking she

was joking. And then another woman said, "John Lennon just

died at the Dakota."


It was just before 11pm on December 8, 1980,

and I suddenly forgot all about getting coffee and ran

frantically down Broadway toward 72nd street and then

started running non-stop toward Central Park West. And as I

got closer and closer, I could see the crowd at the end

of the street growing bigger and bigger. When I arrived --

it was around 11:10 -- someone said Yoko Ono had already

gone to Roosevelt Hospital, and the police were blocking the

crime scene, and people with tears and boomboxes started

playing Beatles songs and Lennon songs, and I stayed for

awhile, but I had to be at work at 9 the next morning. So

I walked home just before 1am, turned on WNEW, where DJ

Vin Scelsa was helping everyone through the night with Lennon

music and talk, went to bed and cried as if a favorite relative

had been killed. It was one of the saddest nights of my life up

to that point, though I'd never met Lennon.


[photo of Lennon's glasses from John-Lennon.net; unknown photographer]
__________________________________


-- Has anyone on YouTube compiled a tape of all those

chubby guys in "The Sopranos" hugging and kissing each other,

as they do several times in each episode? It's almost like

a tic. There must be at least four hundred instances in

the series.
__________________________________


-- Should Babe Ruth's home run record have an asterisk

next to it noting that he played baseball in an era of

unfair competition that excluded African-American players?

____________________________

-- Disbarring Michael Nifong is a wonderful idea, but why

hasn't the actual accuser, Crystal Mangum, been prosecuted

for filing a false police report and for whatever

other charge can be thrown at her? (If Paris Hilton had

falsely accused innocent guys of assault, she'd deserve

eight years in prison; but Paris should never have

been jailed for the slight offense she's now in jail

for, by the way.) But the legal system

remains more imperfect than it should be in the U.S.

(even the U.S. Supreme Court acts in an amateurish fashion

at times -- witness the Bush v. Gore case of '00).
_________________________________


All Politics is Loco


I once admired British prime minister Tony Blair, mostly before

the Iraq war, but his recent comments about the press are out

of line (he said the media is "a feral best, tearing people

and reputations to bits").


Before you get all pious, Tony, keep in mind that no member of

the press ever sent a teenager to Iraq to be quite literally torn

to bits by bombs and shells in an unnecessary war.


But I digress. Paul


[above pictures of Baker and Wilson by unknown photographers.]
__________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 12, 2007


The Berkeley Art Museum in Berkeley, Calif., almost

always has some new work that's memorable, and

the recent "fer-ma-ta" exhibit was no exception,

particularly the novel photos of Joe McKay.



The idea behind McKay's photos is that streetlights

and streetlight ornaments can look just like Hollywood's

version of UFOs -- if you erase the poles that they're

attached to. And that seems to be what McKay does in

photos like "UFO No. 3" (2007), which show how everyday

parking lot/street objects can actually look like

otherworldly phenomena. After seeing his pics, it's

hard to see a streetscape the same way. Check out

his work.


* * *


I think it's so great that Genarlow Wilson has been

ordered released from prison for having had sex when

he was 17 years old (though he still remains in jail

as backward officials in Georgia appeal the release).

I'm a savvy guy about the law, no doubt about it,

but let me be completely frank: I didn't

even know it was against the law for a 17 year-old

to have sex with someone in his general age group

in America. Apparently, the puritanical impulse

is this country is far worse than I thought --

almost sharia-law like.


Let me state, without any regret whatsoever, and

in open defiance of the witch hunters out there, that

when I was 17 I had consensual sex with females my age

and slightly older, and we enjoyed it plenty. In fact,

I don't regret a moment of it and wouldn't have done

it any other way. It was a lot of fun. [Keep in mind

that I was 17 in the 1970s when deadly std's weren't

an issue.]


I hope Wilson is released yesterday.

* * *


Does anyone write about food with as much wit and color as The New

York Times's Frank Bruni? His latest gem is in tomorrow's (Wednesday's)

Times, and it starts like this: "I’m not sure it’s possible to behave

with much dignity around seven glistening pounds of pork butt, but

on a recent night at Momofuku Ssam Bar, five friends and I weren’t

even encouraged to try." Terrific stuff.


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 11, 2007


Meadow's Great Parallel Parking Finale


The non-ending ending of "The Sopranos"

was a great idea, the more I think

of it, a welcome slap in the face

to the many mediocre novelists

and readers who approach stories

with a formulaic check list (a

story must have 1) narrative arc,

2) resolution) as if fiction were

some sort of mathematical

equation, which it ain't.

I think smart people who write all

the time start to get sick of

bourgeois literary convention (he said with a flourish),

and I must admit I get bored with most stories that end

with "the butler did it" or "the last ten minutes will leave

you breathless" or those countless whodunits in which the

gun in scene one goes off in scene ten blah blah blah (but

I don't want to give away the ending). Pleeeaase. It's

as if David Chase is saying, "You want fireworks? I gave

you fireworks in the previous 85 episodes."

* * *


To all the good and honest journalists being laid off at

the San Francisco Chronicle: just keep in mind that while

your careers have ended, the careers of a flagrant plagiarist

(Ed Guthmann) and an outright fraud (David Wiegand) continue

at the paper. Which says a lot about why the Chron is going

down the toilet as fast as a flush. At the Chronicle, the

rules against plagiarism clearly do not apply to those for

whom management has a sweet spot. How touching.


But I digress. Paul

__________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 7, 2007


The Season of McCartney

Paul McCartney and the far lesser known Paul Iorio (at an event I was covering as a magazine writer).


Paul McCartney is, once again, ubiquitous, as his new

album, "Memory Almost Full," is released, and as

the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of The Beatles'

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."


I was getting in the spirit, too, the other day,

listening to the alternate version of "Hey Jude"

on the "Anthology" CD, and thinking it may be the

Beatles' greatest song and that McCartney may well

be the greatest songwriter of the 20th century.


And then I thought, who's the competition? Cole Porter?

Hey, I love Porter, but his best song was "I've Got You

Under My Skin" or maybe "You're the Top," and would anyone

seriously say those songs are better than "Hey Jude"?

Was George Gershwin a greater songwriter? Aside from

"Rhapsody in Blue" and his other classical work, what pop

song of the Gershwin brothers can stand alongside

"Hey Jude" or "Yesterday" or "Golden Slumbers" or any

number of other McCartney or Lennon/McCartney gems?

Irving Berlin? That's a tough call. In the rock era,

Bob Dylan may surpass McCartney as a lyricist, but not as

a melodist.


No, McCartney is greater than we're admitting in 2007,

and we're already admitting to a lot of praise.


And I feel lucky to have actually met the man, back

in August 1986, when I was in my twenties and was a

staff writer for the music trade magazine Cash Box

and had already lived in Manhattan for nearly a decade.

I was in my office on West 58th in Manhattan when

Capitol called to invite me and my Cash Box colleague

to come to Radio City Music Hall to meet McCartney --

in an hour or two! Needless to say, we dropped

everything and walked the fifties to Radio City

asap.


At first, McCartney was at a distance in the Radio City lobby,

and I figured I wouldn't get to meet him. But then he made a

beeline directly through the lobby to where I was standing

(not necessarily because I was standing there, of course),

and I momentarily felt a bit like Ralph Kramden (hummana-hummana),

but managed to say happy to meet you and to ask him a

couple questions before the crowd swarmed and congratulated

him on everything from "Press to Play" to his narration of

a Buddy Holly documentary.



Many years later, in the fall of 2000, on a hilltop in San

Francisco, I talked with the actor Woody Harrelson about

meeting McCartney. And we both wondered together for a time

about whether McCartney knew -- really knew -- how much

people truly love some of his songs. I still wonder.


[personal note to magazine colleague: "carbon paper!"]


But I digress. Paul


[Photo credits: photograph of me and Paul McCartney taken by unknown photographer at Radio City Music Hall in New York in August 1986.]

_________________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 3, 2007



Today's Republican Debate



So lemme get this straight. When the Democrats first proposed

social security, the Republicans called it socialism and opposed

it and were eventually proved wrong in their opposition.

When the Democrats first proposed Medicare, the Republicans called

it socialism and opposed it and were eventually proved wrong in

their opposition. And now, with this history of discredited

reactionary politics as their heritage, the new crop of GOP

candidates calls universal health care "socialism."


Or at least Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney did in today's

debate in New Hampshire. Which is a sure sign that the

single payer health plan is exactly the right course for America.


Giuliani and Romney will, of course, eventually come around --

perhaps in the year 2037 or so!


That's why they call progressives "progressive" -- because

they get to the right answer before conservatives do.


For now, the GOP is spouting the same ol' cliches, stuff

like "anything the government takes over gets worse not better,"

to paraphrase Romney.


Do they really think the private sector should be entrusted

with implementing health care policy? Are they referring to the

same private sector that gave us Enron and Drexel and Anderson and

Imclone and WorldCom and Global Crossing and countless other

corporate examples of malfeasance and greed? Are they joking or

are they merely badly informed?


And Giuliani says that single payer will make health care more

expensive. Then how come that's not the case in Canada, which has

a single payer policy? What does it say when U.S. citizens

have to go to Canada to get affordable health care?


But let the GOP go on this way. And let them continue backing the

Iraq war, too, and igoring the will of the American people as expressed

at the polls in November 2006. Because if they keep this up, they're

gonna see a blue nation rising come November 2008.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 4, 2007


If my sources are correct, the final episode of "The Sopranos"

will be a shocker. Here's what I hear: someone plants a bomb

with a timer in Tony's car. And guess who borrows the car for a

spin? More to come, as soon as I can confirm it.

* * *


Frank Zappa on Presidential Politics


After hearing The Arcade Fire's concert Saturday night, for some

reason I felt the urge to sift through some of my archival

audiotapes of my one-on-one interviews with the late Frank Zappa,

who was generous enough with his time to call me every now and

then in the 1980s. Sometimes we'd put the interviews on tape.


In one of our conversations, from February 1988, Zappa talked about

the upcoming presidential election, and his words are still resonant

today. After saying he thought Mario Cuomo was "the only guy with a

brain big enough for the job" of president, he went on to talk about

the qualities he looked for in a candidate:


"The guy I want to see in the White House is a guy who can think

on his feet, who doesn't need a speechwriter, who knows his shit,

who has the strength and the stamina and the personal conviction

to do stuff, without worrying about whether or not it's going to play in

Iowa or going to play in New Hampshire or whether he's going to

look like Mr. Perfect Little Man."


"And until we can get beyond the Perfect Little Man syndrome --

you know, you don't want a Perfect Little Man in the White House.

You want a motherfucker in there!"


* * *


So it turns out my advance information about the plotline of last

night's episode of "The Sorpanos" was almost completely correct. Still

no firm word on how the last episode will play out.

But in the meantime, here are....

Things That Haven't Been Mentioned About "The Sopranos"


"The Sopranos" has so captured the zeitgeist of the Oughties

that we may be looking at a presidential campaign that pits

Tony Soprano against Carmela, in the guise of Fred Thompson versus

Hillary Clinton, and the series also symbolically captures the

late stages of baby boomer power in business and

government perfectly, as aging ex-hippies and others feel

increasingly like Tony and the Crew, forced to do things they

feel bad about (like firing that guy who didn't deserve it

or fighting unjust wars), and as the show hurtles to its finish

like Pie-o-My on a tear, it begins to look like the fourth season

was the one with the most inspired energy and carbonation and fizz,

what with the certifiably insane, ultra-homicidal antics of Ralph

Cifarretto, who really should have been allowed to live in

order to invigorate future episodes, though the

first season is a close second, and the second was, let's

face it, a bit of a dog, and any list of the best

episodes (excluding the sixth season, which is in

progress) has to include "Pine Barrens" and

"College" and "University" and "Whoever Did This" and

"Whitecaps" (Edie Falco's high note) and

"Long Term Parking" (Steve van Zandt's high note),

though I can't help but think that it was a bad decision

to emphasize A.J. and Janice over Meadow, because series

creator David Chase could have had

Meadow graduate from college and then come back to

her hometown as a political reformer or

journalistic crusader, pitting her directly against

the interests and values of her dad and his

people, which would have meant more Meadow and less

Janice, who tended to slow things down

as she became a sort of unconvincing Melfi to

Bobby Bacala, and the series is sort

of like drinking Remy from a flask in a Lincoln

Towncar, as opposed to sipping Chianti in a garden

a la "The Godfather," and the aphorisms are also not

quite worthy of Francis Coppola/Mario Puzo (a

typical saying like "indecision is worse than a bad

decision" isn't really as wise or true as, say,

"The Godfather"'s "keep your friends close, keep your

enemies closer"), though "Sorpanos" led the trend

in television toward applying the aesthetics and

techniques and sensibilities of great film auteurs to tv

shows, which made it a sort of weekly version of a

Martin Scorsese film (just as Larry David's

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is a bit like a weekly version

of a Woody Allen picture), and though the series

started in 1999, it can trace its roots back to

1990's "Goodfellas," particularly the scene in which

the Ray Liotta character comes to a peaceful suburban

community and brutally beats some guy who is washing

his car, which sort of invented the mob-meets-the-Jersey-'burbs

landscape of "Sopranos," but now television has almost beat

feature films at their own game, with movie after

movie trying for that "Sopranos" effect and so many major

films not measuring up to even a single episode of the

series, but now that the series is ending, there may be a

public appetite for a reverse-angle "Sopranos," done from

the POV of the victims of mobsters, because people

who have run into such thugs in real life know they're

not a lot of fun, not much like lovable

Tony, and their assaults are not accompanied by a

Ronettes soundtrack, and in parts of New Jersey,

sociopaths like Tony have sort of permeated the soil and polluted

the air and become the mayors and corrupt

local officials who cause honest people real grief

(in certain parts of Jersey, "Sorpanos" DVDs are

filed under "documentary," I hear),
which

is why I've always thought that a great series

finale would go like this: Tony Soprano runs for mayor

and wins and finds himself completely at

home in that element in Jersey, finally legit in an

illegit way, even covered glowingly (by reporters who

are either naive or corrupt) in great newspapers

that are otherwise courageous in places like Pakistan and

Iraq -- the ultimate "I was cured alright" ending.



But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for June 3, 2007

The Winner of Today's Presidential Debate Was...


Al Gore!






No, Gore didn't participate but it wasn't hard to

imagine him dwarfing everyone else present.

Yeah, Obama gave some terrific seemingly-spontaneous

answers about immigration (very smart

of him to bring up the TB case coming in

from Canada). But I'm getting sort of tired

of him playing prophet by saying he was against

the Iraq war before the war, when the truth is

he wasn't in Congress when the authorization

vote came up. I mean, Hillary Clinton and

John Edwards also might have been bravely anti-war

had they not been in the Senate during the moment of

truth.


The true foreign policy prophets of this decade are

those who both opposed the Iraq war before the

Iraq war AND supported the war in

Afghanistan before the war in Afghanistan. One question

Wolf Blizter didn't ask Obama today: Was he for the

Afghanistan war before the Afghanistan war?


That said, Obama's response on bin Laden was terrific,

advocating a decisive and lethal response if the military

had bin Laden in its crosshairs; Kucinich's answer was

awful (in short, he'd be willing to allow bin Laden to

live so that he could plot the mass murder of more Americans).


Elsewhere, Hillary was very strong on health care, going after

the true villains, the pharmaceutical and insurance

companies (though she shouldn't keep repeating that bit

about having "scars to show from" her health care activism).


Joe Biden was very wise and smart about Iran and Darfur and

on foreign policy in general and he will

make a brilliant secretary of state under President Gore.


And Dennis Kucinich was convincing and passionate about the

single payer bill (HR 676) that he's trying to get the

House to pass (and he'll make a marvelous HHS secretary

under President Gore).


Meanwhile, Bill Richardson was off and should consider

withdrawing from the race. (What was Richardson thinking

when he cited "getting rid of junk food in schools" as part

of his health plan? People are dying because they can't afford

meds, Bill, and you trivialize the tragedy with a comment like that.)


Mike Gravel should definitely stay in the race, but only because

he's the most entertaining of the lot. Gravel should also

seriously think about getting a scan to see whether he's

had a stroke that he might be unaware of, because he sounds

increasingly like that nut in the movie "Network."


Ask some Democrats the following question -- If you could snap

your fingers and appoint anyone president, who would it be? --

and many would say "Obama." But ask them another question -- If you

could snap your fingers and appoint anyone the Democratic nominee

for president? -- the answer is less certain.


Because the last question requires naming a candidate who can win

in the general in a nation split evenly between red and blue.

And, let's be real, Obama can't. Too liberal.


And let's look at the electoral map, particularly the swing states.

Gore could probably win not only Florida and Ohio, but Iowa and even

Missouri (and maybe even purple states like New Mexico and Montana), no

matter who the GOP nominates.


On the other hand, I can't imagine Obama winning any of those

six -- and I bet he'd have a hard time picking up Democratic

sureshots like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Even New Jersey might

be out of his range. Obama is the sort of guy who'll attract

record crowds at rallies in Green Bay on the day before the election

but would ultimately end up losing Wisconsin by 53 to 47 percent. And

in Florida, he'd rack up totals in Dade but lose it on the I-4 corridor.


Hillary would have a better but not a good chance, which is why

some Dems are privately hoping Michael Bloomberg becomes the

Ross Perot of '08, the third party candidate who siphons votes

from the GOP. I mean, Bill Clinton knows all too well that he

likely would've lost in '92 had it not been for Perot, and he knows

Hillary is not strong enough to overcome the electoral math he

wasn't able to overcome in '92.


As I wrote in this column in April (see below), the Dems's best and

maybe only hope of winning the White House is a Gore/Obama ticket.

At the time, almost nobody talked about such a pairing. But

now, a lot of pundits and politicos and party insiders are saying

the same thing.

* * * *

exclusive

Arcade Fire Ends Tour With Rarity -- and Win Butler is Almost Busted


The Arcade Fire ended its latest North

American tour last night in Berkeley, Calif.,

with a magical set that included rarity

"Headlights Look Like Diamonds," which


the band hasn't played in years, showing an almost angry

intensity that hadn't been there the night before.


Perhaps the reason for that intensity was the fact that frontman

Win Butler had almost been arrested earlier in the day, or so he

said last night. Seven songs into the set, Butler gave this account

of what happened (which I was lucky enough to have caught on my tape

recorder!):


"In Berkeley today I came as close as I've ever been to being

arrested. [applause] I'd like to say I was protesting

the war in Iraq or something but I was just pleading my case to

be able to play basketball at the Berkeley gym...And so one thing

led to another and he was kind of an asshole and then so we started

yelling a little bit. And this police officer came. She called

for fucking back-up. And before I knew it, I was being escorted out

by, like, four cops. It was like serious shit. They took down my

information. I don't know what you people do around here, but

they're serious. Anyway, so, since we can't stop the war, let's at

least boycott Berkeley athletic facilities."


The crowd applauded wildly and the band immediately launched into

"Intervention."

[More on the concert later!]



But I digress. Paul

the above photo of Al Gore is by Paul Iorio; the photo of
The Arcade Fire was shot by an unknown photographer at
at an unknown show.

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 30, 2007

"And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain..."



The secret of what happens in the last two episodes of "The Sopranos"

is more closely guarded than a nuclear code, it seems, but the word is

that in this Sunday's show, "Blue Comet," the penultimate episode,

Silvio gets whacked at the Bing and Bobby Bacala also makes his final

exit, while A.J. busts his ankle. But don't tell anybody I told ya!

(Besides, in all seriousness, it's absolutely impossible to verify

plot details coming from various sources, though don't rule out the

F.B.I. playing a big role in the series finale, "Made in America."

And some seem to think, as outrageous as it sounds, Tony might

-- get this -- flip in the final reel. Again, no way to definitively

confirm any of this.)


But I digress. Paul


[picture of James Gandolfini by unknown photographer.]
_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 24, 2007


Advice for Aspiring Journalists in the Graduating Class of 2007



1. If you don't come from money, you'll probably have
to start your career as a clerk. And you'll have to
watch the unfair spectacle of lesser talents (whose parents
are wealthy) ascend to plum editorial positions right out of
the box.

2. You can be brilliant at your job and work at it 'round
the clock, but the promotion will often go to the
son or nephew of the boss. Nepotism generally trumps talent.

3. Whistleblowers do not usually end up on the cover of Time
magazine as heroes. If you whistleblow about your own company,
chances are you will be smeared by your bosses, fired for a
trumped up cause and then blacklisted in your industry.

4. Even if you expose something as egregiously evil as a
murder linked to your company's corrupt practices, you will
be surprised at how few of your esteemed colleagues will
stand by you in your investigation -- even after your findings
are proved to be completely correct!

5. If you investigate the bad guys as a freelancer, and
you are injured by the bad guys while doing your
reporting, your company will not pay your
medical expenses -- and neither will the government.
Your injuries will continue to worsen with the years.

6. Beware: the idea you pitch may be stolen by the
publication you're pitching it to.

7. Plagiarism is the third rail of journalism is what they
teach you in college. But the reality is that awful plagiarists
get away with it at major newspapers all the time because
they are either rich, famous or well-connected within their
own newspapers (see my column below for examples of that).

8. You'll know your work is great and is connecting with
readers when 1) your colleagues try to claim credit for
parts of it that they had nothing to do with; 2) other
writers start imitating it.

9. Of course, if they have to unfairly promote the boss's
son over you, then they will also have to cover themselves
by saying your work is not so great. Answer them with:
compared to whose work among your staffers? If it's
not-so-great, then how come everyone is imitating it?
And how come everyone is trying to claim credit
for it?

10. At the job interview, assume your boss is asking the dumbest
possible question, not the smartest possible question. (Example:
at the job interview when I was hired at the San Francisco Chronicle,
the editor asked me a question about a movie that I was an
absolute expert on: Roman Polanski's "Chinatown." He asked what
was the name of the family in the movie modeled after a real life
L.A. family. Wrongly thinking he was asking a brilliant
question about one of the more obscure characters, I stammered
for around half a minute before realizing he was actually asking
an obvious question about the movie's main character.)

11. The key to success: come from a rich family.

12. There are exceptions to each one of these truths that
some will cite in order to discredit them altogether.


But I digress. Paul
___________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 23, 2007


Today's New York Times reports that ABC's "World News" with

Charles Gibson has now become the dominant nightly newscast,

topping both Brian Williams' "NBC Nightly News" and "The CBS

Evening News" with Katie Couric.


Which doesn't surprise me at all. In 2002, I did some deep research

into how the morning news anchors at the major networks handled

the ultimate breaking news story: the minutes between the crash

of the first hijacked airplane and the second one on September 11,

2001. At the time, I knew almost nothing about Charles Gibson,

then co-anchor of "Good Morning America," which was on the air at

the time the planes rammed into the twin towers. But the more I

watched and re-watched the footage from that morning over and over

again, studying in detail the responses of each anchor, the more I

realized that Gibson was a massively talented television journalist

-- and the only anchor or correspondent that morning to have sized

up the situation correctly while the tragedy was unfolding.


My own report was ultimately published by The Toronto Star in

January 2003, and for those who missed it at the time, here it is:



The Immediate TV Coverage of the First Two Crashes on 9/11
(The Live Coverage Viewers Missed)


By Paul Iorio

By now, everyone has seen virtually every inch of television coverage of

the September 11th attacks around nine hundred and eleven times. It

sometimes seems as if every scrap of 9/11 footage ever shot -- whether taken

upside down near Ground Zero or from faraway Rockaway -- has already

been aired more frequently than the Zapruder film.


But most TV viewers never got to see the most riveting 9/11 television

coverage of all: the raw live footage of the seventeen minutes between the

first plane crash at 8:46 and the second at 9:03 am, as seen on the morning

news shows.


In New York, television programming was largely knocked off the air by

the toppling of transmission antennae atop the Trade Center. And on the west

coast, almost everyone was asleep during the attacks, waking only in time to

see the first tower collapse.


So for those who missed it -- almost everybody -- there's now a website

library that has compiled streaming video of all major U.S. television news

programs from that morning, shown in real-time with ads intact -- plus a

generous sampling from overseas media outlets. (The site is run by a non-

profit online TV library called The Television Archive and can be accessed at

http://client.alexa.com/tvarchive/html. Its American network feeds are from

Washington, D.C., affiliates; MSNBC and the cable Fox News Channel are

not included in the archive.) [Note: the website has since been deleted.]


The coverage from 8:30-to-9:30-am is among the most engrossing ever

broadcast -- and some of the most inadvertently telling, too, since it clearly

reveals who among the anchors and correspondents got it right and who blew

it, who could think on their feet and who couldn't, as the ultimate breaking

news story unfolded.


There are surprises. For example, Charles Gibson, co-anchor of ABC's

"Good Morning America," did an unexpectedly fine job of covering the

moment when the second plane hit and was the only anchor on the three

major networks to immediately speak up and tell us what had happened.

Others, like Bryant Gumbel, the now-departed anchor of CBS's "The Morning

Show," contributed astonishingly awful reportage.


The first to break the news to America was CNN, which cut into an

advertisement at 8:49, three minutes after the first crash, with a live picture of

the burning north tower and the words: "This just in. You are looking at

obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center

and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into

one of the towers."


"Good Morning America" arrived second, at 8:51, with Diane Sawyer

saying, "We want to tell you what we know as we know it. But we just got a

report in that there's been some sort of explosion at the World Trade Center."

(And within a couple minutes, ABC correspondent Don Dahler was providing

terrific first-hand reportage via cellphone from near Ground Zero.)


Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" would have been third, coming a half

minute after "GMA," had he not dropped the ball. At 8:51, Lauer broke away

from an interview to announce that there was breaking news but didn't say

what the news was. "I have to interrupt you right now," Lauer told his guest,

the author of a biography on billionaire Howard Hughes. "We're going to go

live right now and show you a picture of the World Trade Center, where I

understand -- Do we have it? No, we do not." He then cut to 90 seconds of

ads before Katie Couric returned to the airwaves to report what had

happened.


But the real test of anchor mettle came at the moment when the second

plane hit at 9:03. "GMA"'s Gibson took control forcefully and calmly within

two seconds of the second collision, describing events in a brisk and firm

manner, explaining what was occurring in the live footage, and rattling off

facts from memory, while showing genuine emotion ("Oh, this is terrifying,

awful"), as a wilting Diane Sawyer murmured, "Oh my god, oh my god."


Gibson was so alert that he actually broke the news of the second collision

to his correspondent at the scene, who didn't see the plane hit. And within

twenty seconds, Gibson, the first on any network to mention the Trade Center

terrorist attack of '93, was speaking plain truth before his colleagues did: "So

this looks like some sort of a concerted effort to attack the World Trade

Center that is underway." That statement may seem cautious in hindsight, but

at the time was as far as any anchor had gone on the air.


On "Today," Couric and Lauer were upstaged a bit by a sometimes

excellent witness, Elliot Walker, a Today producer who happened to be

walking near the towers when the first plane hit. Walker was already being

interviewed by the anchors when the second plane crashed, and she

spontaneously stepped into the lead role during the ten seconds after the

impact, describing exactly what had happened, while Couric and Lauer, who

had presumably seen the same thing on the TV monitor, were silent (in

contrast to the talkative Gibson on ABC).


By all rights, every network should have been on equal footing at 9:03,

with live cameras fixed on the twin towers at the moment of impact. Still,

"The Morning Show" and CNN's "Live This Morning," which had shifted to

feeds from local New York stations, failed miserably in this crucial part of the

reportage, their anchors seemingly confused about what was obvious to

reporters on other networks. One ludicrous affiliate correspondent, picked up

on CNN, cluelessly floated the idea that the two collisions might have been

the result of "faulty navigating equipment."


CNN fared better when its own newspeople returned to the airwaves, in

time to report the Pentagon hit and the south tower collapse, which Aaron

Brown covered from a visually dramatic outdoor setting some thirty blocks

from Ground Zero, with the burning towers as a backdrop (a visual that has

since been seen in CNN promos).


Meanwhile, Gumbel proved he couldn't see the finger in front of his face

on this clear Manhattan morning, while also expressing little sense of horror

about what was unfolding ("wow" and "it's a terrible scene" were the closest

he came).


Gumbel, who seemingly had to be told about the second crash by an

amateur witness ("You saw a plane?," he asked a witness, incredulously),

interviewed several observers who all told him the second plane had

obviously been flown deliberately into the tower. Yet he kept asking each

source the same dim question: "Why do you say it was deliberate?," a

question he asked no fewer than four times between 9:03 and 9:12, while

repeating such phrases as vantage point and re-racking the [video] tape. (By

contrast, Lauer suggested it was something deliberate at 9:05; Gibson had

already done so at 9:03. Gumbel didn't come around until about 9:19.) This,

from the distinguished news division of Dan Rather and Ed Bradley.


If Gumbel seemed to somehow miss the crash of the second plane, he

was the only anchor who thought he saw non-existent third and fourth jets

approach the burning towers at 9:41. "Hold it, hold it!," said a near-panicky

Gumbel to his guest. "Two jets right now, approaching the World Trade

Center! We're watching! Hold on! [pause] I'm sorry, no...we can't tell

whether it was a plane or a 'copter."


Gumbel, who inexplicably wasn't joined by any CBS News correspondent

until Jim Stewart appeared at 9:15, did hit one high note, at 8:57, when he

interviewed a doorman at the Marriott World Trade Center, the hotel that

used to be between the two towers. The doorman began like a cocky New

Yorker ("How ya doin'?") but his voice started cracking unexpectedly as he

poignantly described the trauma he had just seen: a man on fire outside the

hotel.


"I heard a guy screaming," said the doorman, seeming on the verge of

tears. "And when I looked over, there was this guy that was on fire. So I just

kind of like ran over and I tried to, like, put the fire out on him. And he was,

he was, like, screaming. I told him to roll, roll, and he said he can't. And

another man came over with his bag and kind of like put the flames out on

him."


"Today" also had raw and revealing moments. At one point, Couric read a

Reuters report that opened a horrifying window on the hell that was taking

place on the upper floors of the towers: "A person who answered the phone

on the trading floor at interdealer-broker Cantor Fitzgerald, located near the

top of the World Trade Center, said, 'Were blanking dying,' when asked what

was happening, and hung up. There was screaming and yelling in the

background, and a follow-up call was not answered."


Several anchors and witnesses made observations that now seem

perceptive and even prescient in retrospect. Couric was more correct than

she knew when she noted (at 9:37) the possibility that another attack might be

in the offing at any moment; one minute after she voiced that concern, the

Pentagon was attacked. (And thanks to a quick and well-placed Jim

Miklaszewski, Today scooped everyone on the Washington crash.)


CBS's Stewart was the first to mention Osama bin Laden on the air (at

9:16). ABC's John Miller understood faster than anyone else that there was

virtually no way people trapped on the upper floors of the towers could be

rescued, because of the heavy smoke. Lauer was the first to note the

terrorists's high level of coordination and planning. Dahler, who heard the

first plane hit, correctly dismissed the early widespread notion that the aircraft

had been a small prop plane.


There were also moments of bad information. For instance, Sawyer tried

to put something of a happy-ending on the tragedy at 9:07 by stating, "There's

a small hope that the fire may have gone out from the first site" (Dahler

quickly extinguished that false hope). And Couric read a report, later

repeated by Lauer, that claimed a small commuter plane had hit the north

tower.


The tone of the anchors shifted -- almost uniformly -- as the hour

progressed, from denial and confusion to horror, with disbelief throughout.

After the first attack, everyone on the air seemed to take solace in the

possibility that it might have been a simple accident by a pilot who had lost

control of his plane and wrecked in an unlucky spot. But after the second

attack, it was self-evident to virtually everyone that there was no innocent

explanation for what was happening.


The 8:30 hour is also fascinating because it shows the 9/11 era

arriving as abruptly and violently as the edge of a hurricane after the placid

eye of the storm. "[It's]...a beautiful fall morning," Couric noted before the

tragedy. "A beautiful day here," said "GMA" weatherman Tony Perkins.

"...It's kind of quiet around the country [weather-wise]...it's too quiet, said an

inadvertently prescient Mark McEwen on "This Morning."


After the attacks, the weather was mentioned only in relation to the fact

that the collisions couldn't have possibly been weather-related.


All told, there were no lost tempers, no crying, no real panicking on the

air. There was also no single dazzling journalistic feat that might have

elevated one news team far above the others (something on the order of

scoring a cellphone interview with a passenger on one of the hijacked jets).

That said, the best coverage clearly came from ABC (because of Gibson)

and NBC (partly due to Miklaszewski), with almost everyone else way

behind.


[From The Toronto Star, January 4, 2003.]

----------------------------------------------


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 22, 2007


The New Yorker magazine website, December 15, 2006 (and for several days afterward).

Proof That Everyone Makes Mistakes


I think a lot of people agree that there is no

greater publication on the planet than The New Yorker.

While there is no such thing as perfection in journalism,

TNY, under editor David Remnick, the Mozart of non-fiction,

comes very close.


So I was astonished last December when I came upon that

extreme rarity: a glaring New Yorker factual error!

The mistake was posted on The New Yorker's website on

December 15, 2006, and remained on the site for several

days before someone caught and corrected it. I snapped

this picture of it, posted above (which should make everyone

feel better about their own imperfections!).

* * *

Time was when the discriminatory practices of the Mormon

Church were brought out in the sunlight without fear or

favor by the news media. The New York Times had a marvelous

piece about what some consider to be the bigotry of the

Mormons and about the Romney family's refusal to condemn it.

Only thing is, that article ran on -- let's see -- December 28, 1965,

which is back when the press regularly and openly took the

Mormon church to task for its racist theology.

In fact, "racist theology" was the phrase used in an

article in the Washington Post about the Mormon church --

on, uh, September 26, 1967.



In the current round of articles about the Mormons and

the candidacy of Mitt Romney, the press is downright

timid about calling certain Mormon practices and beliefs

exactly what they are -- racist and sexist. The church won't

allow women into the priesthood. Well, that's sexist.

And the church used to bar blacks from the priesthood, and

that was racist. Why aren't certain major media organizations

taking Mitt Romney to task and asking him whether he

renounces the sexist and racist policies of his church?

Perhaps because there appears to be a bias at some

publications for organized religion.


By the way, has anyone noticed how The New York Times has become

blatantly biased in favor of organized religion in the last

few years? The Times's new emphasis on religion resembles

nothing so much as...the 19th century version of the New York Times.

Whata throwback. Faith-based journalism. You get the sense a

top editor there is a bit of a holy roller. Editors at the Times

should understand that references to religious phenomena that don't

include proper citation (e.g., according to the Old Testament,

etc.) are highly offensive to the many who don't accept any

religious framework at all. It should be in the paper's stylebook.


* * *


From all reports, Michael Moore's "Sicko" seems on track to be

the major documentary of 2007 -- and the most worthy, given its

subject: the horror and shame of the American health care system,

which is going to claim many thousands of casualties this year

because people can't afford treatment.


Truth is, in all probability, there will be no change in the

health care system even if Hillary Clinton is elected president

and Democrats take full control of Congress. After all,

in 1993, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress

couldn't pass a single-payer plan. So why should we expect

anything will be different in 2009 under even the best electoral

scenario?


No, as long as the rich continue to make obscene profits off

of sick people (and as long as they contribute those profits to the

campaigns of political candidates), there will be no change. And the

uninsured will continue to have their lifespans needlessly reduced

by years and decades.


My suggestion to activists is: instead of rioting and protesting

at WTO conferences, stage relentless protests outside the homes

and mansions of the heads of the top ten pharmaceutical companies.

Find out where the top executives at Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, J&J,

Glaxo, etc. live, and then demonstrate outside the homes they bought

by overcharging sick people. And escalate to civil disobedience, if

necessary.


That may be the only way we can show how serious we are about having

a single-payer health plan that covers all men, women and children in

the U.S. The government has truly failed us on this one and

will probably continue to do so no matter who is elected in 2008.


But I digress. Paul

____________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 19, 2007


Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York seems to be one of

the only major public officials in the nation with the guts to take

on the gun lobby. His undercover expose of Virginia gun-sellers might

actually save some lives in the future and may even lead to a

tightening of gun control (or at least an enforcement of the existing

laws!) there and elsewhere. Along with Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston,

he's also leading a vast coalition of mayors in what now amounts to

the main national movement to stop the next Virginia Tech massacre.


And the Virginians who think it's none of Bloomberg's

business are dead wrong; if your smokestack is polluting my air, then

your smokestack is my business.


Maybe a Bloomberg for president
candidacy is not such a bad

idea after all. I had him wrongly pegged as a sort of Steve Forbes,

but Forbes never had this sort of political courage.

* * *

My Own Contemporaneous Memory of "Sgt. Pepper's," Which is Turning 40


OK, first off, I was only 9, going on ten, when The Beatles's

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released, so I

and my friends were really more concerned at the time with

whether The Monkees were about to overtake The Beatles and what

the new Herman's Hermits single was going to be, though I do

remember that on or around the time of the June 1 release

there was a big to-do about the album on NBC's "Today" show,

which meant the grown-ups were now paying attention, and it

sort of felt as if a major symphony had just been released, or as

if the adults were saying to the teacher

come-look-at-what-junior-created-because-this-time-it-may-

actually-be-worth-something, though I also vividly recall that

the marvelous AM radio stations that had been playing "Yellow

Submarine" and "Penny Lane" and "I Hear a Symphony" and all

those brilliant singles of 1966 were now sort of cool to this

new Beatles album, and I remember one radio AM DJ playing a "Pepper's"

track and remarking afterwards that he wished the Beatles would

go back to making the more straightforward singles of the old days,

because the "Pepper's" material just wasn't any fun to him, a

sentiment echoed all over the place, though as a kid I liked it

more and more as I listened to it, especially as I grew older

and turned from 10 to 11 and 12, at which point "Abbey Road"

had supplanted "Pepper's" on my turntable, though

before that happened, my contemporaneous memory of

June 1967 is that "She's Leaving Home" was too depressing and

"Within You Without You" was a bore, and I much preferred "There's

a Kind of Hush" as a 10 year old (the Stones were for older kids

who had already sprouted hair on their faces), though I grew to love

the whole album and now think that "A Day In the Life" may

be the Beatles greatest collaboration, even if I can't help but

think it should be credited to Lennon/McCartney/Martin,

after George Martin, who supplied the dazzling connective

tissue between Lennon and McCartney's two songs, or their two song

fragments, because you see, John and Paul hadn't really

written a complete song until Martin joined the two fragments, but,

wow, is that a fun song to play on the acoustic guitar, by the way,

give it a try, but I must admit the one "Pepper's" song I go back

to all the time in my adulthood is "Fixing a Hole," mostly because

of its fabulous middle eight ("But it really doesn't matter..."), a

supremely inspired bit from McCartney, much better than "Getting

Better," which is sorta mean, and I love how the energy level

builds beautifully on what used to be called Side Two, a hint of

the medley to come at the end of "Abbey Road," and Lennon

was right about "Sgt. Pepper's" when he said it really

didn't have a unified theme the way, say, "Tommy"

does, that it was really just another batch of breathtaking

Beatles songs without an overarching structure, though the

reprise at the end makes the album feel unified when it's

actually not, but that's no knock on the album at all,

because I'm always suspicious of conscious themes and deliberate unity,

I've always preferred "Who's Next" to "Quadrophenia," and I'd

rather have the unity of a work arise organically and present

itself intuitively rather than be imposed on the album by

design, after all, there's no "theme" to "Blonde on Blonde" or

"Blood on the Tracks" or "Exile on Main Street" or "Rubber Soul,"

yet those albums are unified in a way that cannot be explained or

that you cannot put your finger on, which is the most effective

and satisfying form of musical unity, and which is why the less

calculated design of "Abbey Road" makes it, not "Sgt. Peppers,"

the Beatles's greatest album.


But I digress. Paul
________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Friday, May 18, 2007


A DAILY DIGRESSION NEWS EXCLUSIVE


Mitt's 'Macaca' Moment?


"Ma'm, there's no media back here, please," said

someone guarding a private area where former governor Mitt Romney

was schmoozing with Ann Coulter and others at the

Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2 in

Washington, D.C.


But someone sneaked in an unauthorized camera anyway

and caught what might be Mitt's own "Macaca" moment,

as well as some revealing footage of Romney and Coulter

massaging each others's conservatism in a backstage area.

The video has since been posted on YouTube but

not yet covered by the media.


The video starts off innocently enough, as Coulter

looks at Romney adoringly and says: "You have

great answers on everything, the Reagan position on

abortion."


At another point, she says,
"You know, a photo of you and

me together is going to be famous when you do something

I don't like and I viciously attack you."


"Never, that will never happen, never will happen," Romney

says.


Moments later, Coulter falls into her fundamentalist

bomb-throwing mode. "No, they don't understand, we hate liberal atheists,"

Coulter says. "You can't get these sectarian wars going with us.

We're all Christians."


And Romney responds with: "There're no Sunni or Shia here."


One could imagine the outrage if Romney had said, "There

are no Jews or Muslims here," a virtually identical remark.


Romney's comment arguably has an ugly resonance, given

the segregationist history of the Mormon church, which he has

always been deeply involved in. And it raises questions about

whether Romney is tolerant of other religions.


The fact that he chose to respond with "There're no Sunni

or Shia here" (rather than with a more neutral "Yes,

we're all united" or "No insurgents here!") seems to suggest

an neo-segregationist mindset.


Surely, his defenders would probably say that he was

just joking around.


Then again, former Sen. George Allen was also just

kidding around when he used the word "Macaca" last year, a remark

that seriously damaged his candidacy. Don Imus was also just

joking. And Sen. Joe Biden certainly didn't intend anything

derisive when he called Sen. Barack Obama "clean" in an

interview that caused him lots of political grief. One

could contend that the quote by Romney is at least as offensive.


Plus, the quote feeds into the perception that Romney

supports what some consider to be the racist and sexist theology of

the Mormon Church, which excluded blacks from the priesthood

until 1978 and still bars women from being ordained priests today.


Romney, who was president of Boston's Mormon churches for

several years in the 1990s, has been criticized for his church's

policy of discrimination against women. His father, the late

George Romney, a governor of Michigan in the 1960s and also

a devout Mormon, was similarly criticized during his

own presidential campaign, "accused of adhering to a

'racist faith' that holds up the promise of a

'segregated heaven,'" according to an article published

in The Washington Post on September 26,

1967. The Romney family can trace its Mormon heritage

to the 19th century and to ancestors

who practiced polygamy, according a story that ran in

the New York Times on December 28, 1965.


The 2007 CPAC event, which featured speeches by Romney

("I invited all the Massachusetts conservatives to come

hear me today, and I'm glad to report that they're both here,"

went his Reaganesque speech), Coulter and numerous other

right-wingers, took place at the Omni Shoreham

Hotel in Washington, D.C., from March 1st to 3rd.


But I digress. Paul
______________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 15, 2007


And so the Corleone family took the stage in South

Carolina last night for the second Republican presidential debate,

with Sen. John McCain as Michael Corleone, the cool

headed battle-tested vet; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as

Sonny the hothead, and Rep. Ron Paul as weak and feckless Fredo.


There was even an I-paid-for-this-microphone-esque moment,


and it belonged to Giuliani, understandably outraged that Ron Paul had

the absurd gall to say we were attacked on 9/11 because we had bombed

Iraq.


For the record, and for Ron Paul's education: in the

luggage of the hijackers was a letter, first revealed by Bob Woodward of

The Washington Post back in '01, that stands as the de facto

letter-of-intent of the hijackers; it mentioned nothing about

politics and cited only religious motives for the mass murder

they were about to commit. (It was several weeks later,

after bin Laden realized that the 9/11 attacks weren't playing

as well as he thought they would in Islam, that he released a

Cho-like video in which he ladled on a few hastily

articulated political justifications for the massacre (you

Americans killed lots of people at Antietam, didn't you?, was the tone

of his video, as I recall).


Thing is, for all of Giuliani's virtues, he remains an

operations guy, not a policymaker. Oh, yeah, he was a shower o' gold

on 9/11, no doubt about it, the guy you'd follow to shelter

in a nuke attack. But his ideas on policy are not just wrong

(see: his speech at the Republican national convention in 2004)

but dangerously amateurish.


Still, Giuliani helped his cause tonight, no doubt, but so did

McCain, with his wise and restrained opposition to the

torture of terror suspects.


Meanwhile, Rep. Paul should consider resigning not just

from the presidential race but from the U.S. House of Representatives

and political life altogether.


But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 14, 2007


On Romney and Faith


The United States has finally accumulated enough history

and tradition to have entered into a period of dynastic politics, in

which established families (such as the Bushes and Clintons)

take turns reigning for extended periods. The latest dynastic

politician to hit the national stage is Mitt Romney, and nothing

in last night's fascinating profile of him on "60 Minutes"

has changed my view that he may well become the Republican

candidate for president next year (see The Daily Digression,

April 27, 2007)
.


But Romney didn't entirely put to rest unsettling issues

related to his active participation in the Mormon church, which ABC's

George Stephanopoulos also questioned him about in a brave interview

last February.


"Your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches

that Jesus will return, probably to the United States, and reign on

earth for 1,000 years," noted Stephanopoulos in that interview.


Which suggests another question: put plainly, should

we elect candidates who hold kooky, irrational beliefs?


Should we elect a president who believes in voodoo or

who believes in ESP or who believes that aliens in UFOs actually

assassinated President Kennedy in 1963? Or who believes that a dead

man will come back to life and live for at least another millennium?


What do such eccentric beliefs say about a candidate's

judgment, about a person's ability to distinguish fantasy from reality,

about a candidate's ability to assess fact-based evidence?


Doesn't religious literalism have an insidiously

corrosive effect on a person's judgment and reasoning, since it lowers

the bar for the evidence required for someone to believe something is

true? If your standard of proof is the-Bible-told-me-so, aren't you

more likely to apply a similar lax standard of proof when, say,

determining whether Saddam once tried to buy yellowcake? If a

Christian Scientist who believes in prayer over medicine were to be

elected president, might he or she try to solve other crises

-- e.g., a terrorist attack, a devastating hurricane -- solely

through prayer?


In my view, these are the questions that make faith

a legitimate and necessary point of candidate scrutiny. And any

politician who objects to such hard questions about his faith,

or has a problem with the establishment clause, should consider

leaving politics for a more compatible forum: the church.


But I digress. Paul

___________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 8, 2007


The Coarsening of Pop Culture


The condemnation of offensive content in rap music and

in all the arts just keeps getting louder and more widespread, now

that Jesse Jackson and hip hop mogul Russell Simmons have joined

the chorus.



And it is true that examples of vulgar material

abound. The stuff I found recently, just browsing in public

libraries, is shockingly depraved, and here are excerpts from the

worst offenders:


Mozart's "Don Giovanni"
from Da Ponte's libretto of the aria "Madamina, il catalogo e questo..."

LEPORELLO: "In France he boned 91 hoes,
in Germany he took on a thousand-three mo'"

* * *

Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment"

RASKOLNIKOV: "Chopped that lady with an ax/
How she feelin' now, I didn't ask."

* * *

Shakespeare's "King Lear"

REGAN: "Plucked out the snitch's eyes for good/
Let him sniff his way on back to the 'hood."

* * *

Aristophanes' "Lysistrata"

KINESIAS: "My bitch ain't puttin' out no mo'/
Till we stop this muthafuckin' war"

* * *

The Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley"

"Hang your head, Dooley/
We gonna put a cap up yo' ass."

* * *

Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

CAESAR: "Yo Brutus, thanks for all the help/
If I come back to life, I gonna make you yell"

* * *

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

"Killed that cracker, put him in the floor/
Don't wanna hear his heart beat like befo'"

* * *

Cellini's "The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini"

"I stabbed that man with all the gold chains/
Blood shot out like a water main"

* * *

Dante's "Inferno"

"Bitch, I put you in a circle of hell/
Frozen alive in the wishing well"

* * *

Francis Scott Key's "The Star Spangled Banner"


"The bombs that we blew off up in the air/
Made sure Crips colors was stayin' there"

* * *

Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

"Homie Jake, he ain't get no wood/
Can't satisfy his lady like he should"

* * *

But I digress. Paul
____________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 7, 2007


Iraq and "Moby Dick"


If Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" were released today,

critics would call it an obvious allegory about the Iraq war and

the monomaniacal hunt for Saddam Hussein.


As someone who opposed the Iraq war from the start, I

always thought we should have turned our harpoons toward bin Laden,

not toward Saddam.


And now the Iraq debate is mired in the clutter of

detail. Yellowcake. 16 words. Slam dunk.


But a true understanding of how the Iraq mess evolved

requires only a very clear memory of the past five years or so.


Flashback to October 2001. Big debate in the U.S. about

whether we should go to war with Afghanistan (a war I backed wholeheartedly).

Lots of analysts on news shows saying we'd be bogged down for a generation

in Afghanistan, just look at what happened to the Soviets in the 1980s.


Turns out they were wrong. Kabul was a pushover, and we

were able to rid the world of a truly uncivilized and violent regime.

Americans everywhere were emboldened by that victory. This is easy, we

thought.


So Bush and many others thought, hmm, maybe we could

do the same thing in Iraq and be done with pesky Saddam within a matter

of weeks. I remember that even President Clinton took to the airwaves

saying an Iraq war wouldn't take long at all.


Other progressives saw the war
as an opportunity to get rid

of a chronic human rights abuser. And the Congressional Dems who had just

finished opposing the successful Afghanistan war didn't want to be caught

on the wrong side this time, so they voted for authorization of war in

Iraq.


Let's be frank: everyone was too drunk on the Afghanistan

victory to remember that Iraq was exponentially larger and more complex

than Afghanistan and that there'd be an awful civil war if we ever took

out the central government in Baghdad (as Cheney himself warned in the

1990s on "Meet The Press" and elsewhere).


But in 2003, all such doubts were dismissed as the

same sort of static that had preceded the Afghanistan war in '01.


And the administration was hyping the war beyond the

facts (just as Nixon and LBJ had done with Vietnam). There were the

16 words of January '03: Saddam was trying to rustle up some uranium

for a nuke. Except it wasn't true.


But many wanted war anyway, whether Saddam was trying to

go nuclear or not. And many wanted peace anyway, whether Saddam was trying

to go nuclear or not. It's not like the administration hyped it and

everyone said: that clinches it, Iraq is trying for WMDs, so let's go to

war now. No, those who were unconvinced about using force against Saddam

remained unconvinced, WMDs or not.


After all, when have WMDs ever been a tripwire

for war? Kim Jong Il has a lot more than yellowcake and we're not

talking war. Ahmadinejad's nuclear program is far more advanced than

Saddam's ever was, and we're not even sending in inspectors.


As I've written before, the only real solution to the

Iraq war was to not have gotten in to begin with. If we pull out

immediately now, there will almost certainly be genocide. And suppose

there is genocide on the level of the bloodshed in Darfur today or in

Rwanda in '94? Suppose we withdraw and a half million Shiites are

murdered by Sunnis? Wouldn't we then have a humanitarian obligation to

redeploy our troops back to Iraq in order to stop the bloodshed (in

much the same way activists are now urging us to intercede in Darfur)?


We have to stop the war and start the partitioning of

Iraq now; that way we can withdraw in a way that insures

that we won't have to get back in again.


Meanwhile, we're all making the same mistake we made

in 2003: we're spending way too much time on Iraq when our foreign

policy focus should be solely on the real danger: Osama bin Laden, who has

now been free to plan his next attack for over 2,000 days.


But I digress. Paul
_________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 6, 2007


Remembering Zep -- on the 34th Anniversary


Thirty-four years ago yesterday, I and my friends

saw Led Zeppelin perform a notable gig in pop culture history.


At that concert, at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida

(my hometown through most of the 1970s), Zep 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 on May 5, 1973.


Was the 1973 Tampa Stadium gig a great Zeppelin performance?

Some of it was. Guitarist Jimmy Page was in rare form and the rest of

the band sounded jazzed about having broken the Beatles's

record. But Plant was hoarse, a fairly substantial drawback.


I attended the show as a 15-year-old high school student,

arriving at the Stadium with friends well before the Saturday night

concert began. After showing 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.


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.


Robert 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."


Jimmy 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

again. "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. "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

cheered.


Several songs later, after "The Rain Song," it became

clear the crowd was now getting seriously out of control. Plant got

testy.


"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

nice."


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.


Unfortunately, I had to be home by around 11pm,

which meant missing encores "The Ocean" and "Communication

Breakdown."


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. That alone is worth searching the

Internet for a bootleg CD of the show.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- All quotes in the above report come verbatim from my tape of
the concert.

________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Cinco de Mayo


Last Night's Bright Eyes/Oakley Hall Show


"The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Koran's mute/

If you burn them all together you get close to the truth,"

sang Conor Oberst last night at Bright Eyes's terrific but

too-short show in Berkeley, Calif.


That song, "Four Winds," from Bright Eyes's new

"Cassadaga" album, has been out for only a few weeks, but it sounds

like one of the best new songs I've heard from anyone this year -- and

certainly the most audacious. The band did most of the new

album, which features some of Oberst's best lyrics ever. His

war poem "No One Would Riot for Less" hushed the place:

"He says, help me out/hell is coming/Could you do it

now?/hell is here."


Opening acts Gillian Welch (she joined Bright Eyes

for a marvelous "Look at Miss Ohio") and Jim James were enjoyable, but

the act that really took me by surprise was the first on the bill:

Oakley Hall.


Oakley Hall is a relatively unknown Brooklyn band

that will almost certainly not be relatively unknown for long.

Judging from the Berkeley gig, they have vast potential to become

A Next Big Thang. They might have an "Anodyne" or even a "Murmur"

in them, and vocalist Rachel Cox is very winning and charming (though

I didn't have a good view of her or the band; I heard the whole concert

from the hills). At last night's show, in a half hour, they played six

songs, and every one of 'em hit the bullseye. The band's next album,

"I'll Follow You," will be released in August.



But I digress. Paul



P.S. -- OK, OK, for all you setlist obsessives out there, here's
last night's Bright Eyes list:

Clairaudients
Hot Knives
Middleman
The First Day of My Life
Four Winds
Make a Plan to Love Me
Classic Cars
No One Would Riot for Less
Cleanse Song
I Believe in Symmetry
All the Best (by John Prine)
Happy Birthday
Look at Miss Ohio
At the Bottom of Everything
_________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for May 1, 2007


While visiting Istanbul alone as a teenager in the 1970s, I

asked some Turkish hippie selling cassette audiotapes in an

underground bazaar what Turkish rocker he liked most. He

didn't hesitate.


"Cem Karaca," he said furtively but proudly, looking

cautiously around him, as if the very mention of his name could land him

in prison. He then sold me Karaca's latest, "Nem Kaldi," his

third album, which I grew to enjoy and proceeded to listen to

for decades.


For Turkey, Karaca's music was audacious, a combination of

hard rock and folk rock and Anatolian music, along with subversive

lyrics, all of which earned Karaca condemnation by right wing

Turks who accused him of treason. Hence, it was no surprise when,

in 1980, the government issued an arrest warrant for Karaca that sent

him into exile for most of that decade (he was charged, essentially,

with writing lyrics that incited revolution).


Aside from the much better known Plastic People of the

Universe (of the former Czechoslavakia), Karaca -- along with

Francesco Guccini, the Bob Dylan of Italy -- represented the most

radical mainstream (non-English language) rock to have come out

of greater Europe in the 1970s.


But where the Plastic People were resisting a now-defunct

communism, Karaka was struggling against reactionaries who are

still very much in power today: conservative Islamists.


On my visit to Istanbul, I saw first-hand how Islamic

totalitarians were as oppressive as communists ever were. On that

1976 trip, I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron

Curtain -- into Bulgaria, the most totalitarian of the Eastern

Bloc nations -- and then into Islam. By far, there was less freedom

on an everyday basis in Islam (even secular Islam) than there was

behind the Iron Curtain. (I could write several pages of anecdotes,

but that's not the subject of this column.)


So it was encouraging to see hundreds of thousands of

progressives taking to the streets of Istanbul the other day to protest

their prime minister's nomination of an Islamist (Abdullah Gul) for

president. And today, the secularists scored a big victory

when Turkey's Supreme Court nullified the Parliamentary vote

that would've put Gul in office.


Somehow I get the feeling that if Cem Karaca were still

alive, he'd be joining the protesters in celebrating their victory today.


But I digress. Paul
_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 29, 2007


Which of the Candidates Saw 9/11 Coming?


Presidential candidates with hindsight are as plentiful

as gravel, those with foresight as scarce as gold. As the

election season heats up -- and as we approach the sixth

anniversary of 9/11, with bin Laden still roaming and

plotting freely -- voters can't help but ask: which of

the current presidential contenders saw the attacks of

9/11 coming and warned us about the danger?


According to my own research, only one had such

foresight: Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.


Listen to Biden on June 21, 2000, speaking on the floor

of the U.S. Senate: "We all know about Pakistan, the gateway to Afghanistan

for Osama bin Laden and his buddies. Can anybody think of a better place

to beef up border security, so that terrorists can be apprehended as they

go to and from those Afghan training camps?"


Again, that was Biden in the year 2000, over a year before

bin Laden committed mass murder on U.S. soil. And Biden had the

danger sized up perfectly -- before the fact.


To be sure, Biden wasn't alone in ringing the alarm but

he almost was (and I should note that my research is limited to candidates

who were U.S. Senators and Representatives before or during 9/11).


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also sounded an early alarm

about the Taliban. "The Taliban in their activities...there [in Afghanistan]

have placed them outside the circle of civilized human behavior," said

Pelosi, on June 13, 2001.


On the other hand, Rep. Dennis Kucinich turns up

in the Congressional Record as one of the least prescient and

least perceptive members of Congress in sensing the al Qaeda threat

before 9/11.


Get this: fifteen months before the 9/11 attacks,

Kucinich put into the Congressional Record a Los Angeles Times column

that opined that peace was a-happenin' all over the world and that the

threat of terrorism was largely on the decline ("even the Taliban

leadership in Afghanistan is now said to be uneasy with the Osama bin

Laden gang of terrorists," said the thoroughly un-prescient column

that Kucinich put into the CR).


Other members and former members of Congress also had

foresight -- among them, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Frank Pallone

of New Jersey -- but none are among the current presidential hopefuls.

Senators Edwards and McCain were apparently silent in the Senate about

the al Qaeda threat (as was Sen. Clinton in her first eight months

or so in office in '01).


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- By the way, one wonders what it was about the pre-9/11 Taliban

that attracted a profoundly misguided guy like John Walker Lindh. Was

Lindh attracted to the fact that the Taliban was blowing up sacred

Buddhist statuary or that it was forcing Hindus to wear yellow stars in

public in Kabul? Here's an idea: don't release Lindh until Mullah Omar

is dead (or until Lindh couldn't possibly reconnect, upon release, with

the Taliban racists who he bonded with as a teen)

_________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 27, 2007


The winner of last night's presidential debate was without a

doubt Sen. Hillary Clinton and the loser was without a doubt Sen. Barack

Obama. And it really all came down to one question from NBC's Brian

Williams about what their first responses would be if there was a new

terrorist attack.


Obama gave one of the worst debate responses since

Howard Dean in '04. (Remember when Dean, sounding a bit like Gen.

Turgidson talking about an obviously insane Gen. Ripper in

"Dr Strangelove," said we had to wait for all the facts to come

in before condemning bin Laden?) Obama acted as if the

hypothetical terror attack on two American cities would be an

opportunity for some sort of academic think-tanking about

infrastructure.


Sen. Clinton sounded like the only grown-up in the room,

saying we should quickly retailate against the attacker and whatever

government was backing the attacker, once we had definitively

determined who had hit us. And she almost never strayed from important

issues -- like health care, health care and health care -- and seemed

genuine, sympathetic, appealing, even presidential (very different

from her previous strident and scolding persona).


For the very first time, I can truly see the presidential

seal on her podium.


It is way too early to make a prediction about the 2008

race, but lemme venture into the minefield anyway. Here's a possible

scenario: The Democratic ticket is Clinton/Edwards (Obama sulks

after a Gene McCarthy-like defeat and declines the number two spot,

which Hillary doesn't really want him for anyway, since he's

too liberal for a national candidacy). The Republican ticket is

Romney/McCain, after Giuliani self-destructs in the primaries, having

been forced to spend all his time on defense about his marital history

and nefarious dealings as mayor. (McCain is simply too old and -- more

important -- appears too old to be president; his shot was in '00.)


So there you have it: Clinton/Edwards versus Romney/McCain

in November '08 (a prediction that may seem laughable -- or maybe not -- a

year from now).


* * *

Bravo to Richard Gere for kissing actress Shilpa Shetty

in such a fun and flamboyant and passionate way. If I were Gere, I would

no more apologize to the reactionaries of India for kissing publicly then

I would to American Seventh-day Adventists for dancing.


To all the wonderful cultural liberals in India: you

should organize public kiss-ins throughout India to protest the

conservative prohibition in your country.


But I digress. Paul

______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 24, 2007


Some overreaching journalists are suggesting

that Cho was imitating the movie "Oldboy" in the still

photos that he sent in his multi-media package to NBC News.

Only problem with that theory is that there is absolutely no

evidence that Cho had ever seen the movie "Oldboy." Unless he

otherwise referred to that film in his writings (and keep in mind

that he tended to write about things that influenced him), I don't

think he was making any cinematic allusion at all. And it's hard

to see how he might have been influenced by a movie he

had never seen. The connection seems to be based only

on some sort of loose ethnic stereotype (i.e., Cho

was Korean-American and the movie was South Korean,

which is sort of like assuming I'm a big fan of

Fellini's "Roma" because I have an Italian last name).



The Cho photos show extremely generic and very common

attack poses that resemble scenes from countless

cop and action movies (if you want to read too much into them,

maybe the pose with the gun to his head was from Martin

Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," for crissakes; and the "Oldboy"

pose is similar to a shot near the beginning of Chaplin's

"Modern Times").


There is absolutely no doubt, however, that Cho was

extremely influenced by and apparently obsessed with the rock

band Guns 'n' Roses, specifically the lyrics of

the group's song "Mr. Brownstone," which actually turn up in

Cho's writings. In fact, I've written a story about the Cho/GNR

connection, which is in the upcoming issue of The Boston Phoenix (it's

on the web now at http://thephoenix.com/article_ektid38425.aspx).

__________________________________________



THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 21, 2007


Read my latest story, about the connection between the Virginia Tech
murderer and the lyrics of Guns 'n' Roses, in The Boston Phoenix at:

http://thephoenix.com/article_ektid38425.aspx


___________________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 19, 2007


The media is as busy as Victoria Station talking about

the airing of the Cho videotapes, and I have to say that I strongly

agree with the decision by NBC News to broadcast

the videos and pictures. It's important for

everyone to examine the mental illness of a guy like Cho,

without filter, in order to better understand the kind

of extreme madness that created this extreme tragedy.

The more we know, the better we're equipped to prevent

such an event in the future. (Those who think that

it will only spur copycats have an untenable position;

perhaps they think we should blot out all coverage of

the Virginia Tech massacre in order to deter imitators.)


If we don't see explicit, disturbing pictures of a

melanoma, how will we recognize it when it shows up in the future?


Keep in mind that the news media regularly airs

videos from the worst mass murderer in American history, Osama

bin Laden, who killed around 100 times as many people, in a

couple hours in 2001, as Cho did last Monday. The enormity of

the VTech crime incidentally points up the enormity of the 9/11

murders; for every person Cho shot dead, bin Laden killed 100.

(By the way, I bet that Islamic militants are fully aware of

the VTech massacre and are now thinking along those lines for

a future attack.)


But I digress. Paul
________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 18, 2007


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. (Sidenote:

kudos to professor Lucinda Roy for picking up on the fact that

Cho was a sicko. I just finished reading Cho's "plays" -- which

are really more like skits -- and it's clear he's not only

mentally ill, but a lousy writer, too. His main literary

influence seemed to be the Guns 'n' Roses's album "Appetite for

Destruction" (that's probably where he got his pseudonym "Ismael

Ax," which sounds a bit like Axl Rose, GNR's frontman).
And

you don't have to be a psychiatrist to see that he acted like someone

livid about having been molested by someone older when he was

younger. If I had been in Lucinda Roy's place,

I would have talked to campus security about

"testing" the guy through undercover officers

(in other words, have an undercover cop provoke

him and see whether he gets violent or not).


That said, I really hope this doesn't give some

mediocre creative writing teacher the excuse to

put some brilliant kid who is influenced by Dostoyevsky

or Bret Easton Ellis under police scrutiny. Not every

teacher is as perceptive as Lucinda Roy. I bet there's

going to me a temporary epidemic of teachers/editors

saying that a certain person's story made them feel

uncomfortable, when in fact they merely disagreed

with its point of view or didn't get it. It

reminds me of the old tale about musician Tom Petty,

who reportedly sent a note to executives suggesting

that the title of his next album be "You're Going to

Get It"; an overcautious exec reportedly took it as

a threat.


Truth is, on a personal level as a writer, I would never

have produced such pushing-the-envelope pieces

as "Choosing My Religion" for Details or "Streaming

Katie's Consciousness" for The Chicago Tribune or

"It's Not So Smart To Be Smart Anymore" for Spy

magazine (as I recall, other writers were stealing

bits of that one as fast as they could type!)

if I hadn't also been coming up with other stories

that didn't see print because they were a bit

too over-the-top for mainstream consumption.


Anyway, back to the main issue. I even heard a

not-so-bright suggestion on the Today show that if

all the students had been armed, this shooting might have

been avoided. Why is that wrongheaded? Because you have to look

at what works. It's very simple: in countries where gun laws

are strict, this sort of massacre never happens. So we need to

do what they do. If people who drink X don't get cancer, then

we need to drink X. Before we hit the snooze alarm again.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- I'm a big fan of Sen. Harry Reid, except when he

criticizes LBJ's arm-twisting of legislators. Truth is,

if LBJ hadn't insisted on ramming through certain

bills, we might still have limited racial

segregation today. The lack of LBJ-like tactics

is the reason we can't get a gun control bill

or single payer health care legislation

through Congress with an override margin.

_______________________________

Thanks to "JLD" of Utah for his thoughtful comment on my column today.


_________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 15, 2007


My heart goes out to the victims of today's massacre at

Virginia Tech. As someone who was violently robbed at gunpoint nearly

two years ago, I can testify to the fact that you don't have to be

shot or physically injured to suffer injury from an act of gun violence.

I'm certain the toll of the truly wounded is much higher than will ever be

reported.

* * *


Pop Culture Too Coarse? Try Mozart.


In the wake of the Don Imus contoversy, there has been

widespread condemnation of offensive content in rap music and in all

the arts. Examples of vulgar material are abundant:

-- In the words of one piece of music, a guy brags about someone who

has had casual sex with 91 women in one country and a thousand-three

in another.

-- In another work, a drama, someone is held down in a chair while his body

parts are sadistically cut out.

-- And then there's the best-selling book about a psycho ax murderer

that is ubiquitous in most school libraries.


Disgusting examples of the coarsening of pop culture? I've

just described Mozart's "Don Giovanni," Shakespeare's "King Lear"

and Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment."


One wonders whether the people calling for censorship of

rap have ever heard of "Don Giovanni" or read a translation of DaPonte's

libretto. Parts of it do indeed have the braggadoccio of sexist rap (to

paraphrase Leporello's rap in "Madamina, il catalogo e questo":

"In France, he boned 91 hos, in Germany he took on a

thousand-three mo'").


How many polite school principals would put Dostoyevsky's

"Crime and Punishment" in classrooms if it were titled

"Psycho Ax Killer," which is what it's about? And are most

schoolteachers even aware that parts of "King Lear" are as gruesome

and violent as anything in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs"?


You can avoid seeing what happens to Gloucester by

simply not reading "Lear," just as you can avoid hearing shocking

rap lyrics by switching to Lite FM. And I personally avoided experiencing

any of Don Imus's programs for decades by tuning into NPR in

the morning instead.


Fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim, who condemn

so-called lax moral standards in pop culture (what a cliche that has

become!), forget one thing: nobody is forcing them to listen to

Snoop Dogg or Howard Stern or Madonna. If 36 Mafia offends

your Muslim or Christian or Jewish sensibilities, turn it off

and go listen to religious music of your choosing.


Whether censorship comes from the king of your country

or from a stateless militant group outside your nation, it's still

censorship. And the religious totalitarians's use of asymmetrical

warfare makes them as intimidating as a government with an army.


Such was the case with the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989

when Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" was taken off bookshelves at

stores intimidated by fundamentalists. The government of the

U.S. did not ban the book at those shops; the Muslim militants did.


So it scarcely matters, in a sense, whether the suppression

of free speech comes from the government or from a militant group

using asyemmtrical means. The practical result is the same: the

quashing of free speech.


The Muslim militants who violently objected to the Mohammed

cartoons are like the dictator who wants to control the press,

and they are worthy of the same level of open defiance.


And that's why it was important for the Jyllands-Posten and

others to publish the so-called Mohammed cartoons. After all, Mohammed may

be a religious figure to the religious, but he's a figure from history to

me, and I reserve the right, as a writer, to portray historic figures

from Jesus to Napoleon any way I please.


If you want to treat Mohammed as a religious icon, you can.

And if I want to portray him as a figure from history, I will. How come

my framework includes you, but yours doesn't include me?


Late night comedians and the rest of us should be able to

make jokes about both Mormon polygamy and the fact that, say, Mohammed

had twelve wives. It's not reasonable to contend that we can

satirize all religions except Islam.


Fundamentalists of all faiths have to be weaned away

from absolutism, which is the cause of almost all the war and

terrorism today. And, yes, fundamentalists should develop a sense

of humor about their religions, which after all are really

pretty funny if you try to take them literally. (People rising

from the dead? A guy with 12 wives? You can't be serious.)


And we shouldn't try to make the book burners (or bin Laden,

for that matter) seem as if they're intellectuals with complex reasoning

behind their actions. Remember, they embrace a literalist reading

of the Koran, and that's the salient fact about them, so there

couldn't possibly be intellectual value in what they believe, no

matter who they've studied under or what they've read. There are

some confused people in America who see the beards and sandals

of jihadists and mistake them for existentialist philosophers.

(They love to say stuff like "he was educated in Paris." Oh, really?

What school in Paris? There are a lot of lousy schools in Paris.)


No, would-be censors like the militants who were burning

books and music and movies in Islamabad last week might best be described

as Muslim rednecks who most closely resemble the sunbelt rednecks in America

that burned all those Beatles albums in the mid-sixties. Both share a

literal belief in their respective religions.


As I said, defiance is the only correct response to

totalitarianism, and we should express ourselves without regard to

whether absolutists are offended or not. Society should not adjust to

the psychotic but vice versa.


But I digress. Paul


P.S. -- A non-absolutist is like me: I think I'm right

about my secular view of, say, Mohammed, but I recognize the

fact (and tolerate) that you also think you're right about your

religious view of Mohammed.


On the other hand, an absolutist thinks he's right about

his own religious view of Mohammed, but he insists that

everyone share his view and that there be no dissenting opinions.


That's the difference.

__________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 13, 2007


It's an interesting spectacle to watch certain neo-racist white

people in the media overcorrect for their own neo-racism by giving podium to

a liar and discredited source like Al Sharpton.


But I digress. Paul

__________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 12, 2007


Oh, I hear the silence, I hear that wonderful

Al Sharpton-less silence. I no longer hear Sharpton doing his loudmouth

thing on tv about the Crystal Gail Mangum defamation case. No,

he's mighty quiet right about now about all of her lies.


But the downside of that wonderful Al

Sharpton-less silence is that I don't hear him

apologizing, as he should, for promoting her

grotesque fabrications. And I also don't hear

him defending her, as he would if he still

believed Mangum's bullshit. Of course, he still

hasn't gotten around to an apology for supporting

the lies of Tawana Brawley nearly two decades ago, so he's got a

backlog of dishonesty to sift through. He's busy.



The Crystal Gail Mangum defamation case is over,

but it ain't over.


The people who were right from the start should be

rewarded. The people who were wrong should be penalized.


Those who should get a promotion and a raise: CBS's

Byron Pitts, The New York Times's Peter Applebome, Duke's James

Coleman, those who worked with the late Ed Bradley on his "60 Minutes"

report on the Duke case, author Kurt Andersen, many others.


Those who should be demoted or fired: NBC's Ron Mott,

genuine idiot Nancy Grace, Geraldo Rivera, Michael Nifong, the Duke faculty

members who reflexively backed Mangum, editors who claimed it wasn't

relevant to bring up the fact that Mangum lied about once stealing a taxi

cab and driving it drunk as cops chased her, Wilson and Glater of the Times,

many others.


As for Crystal Gail Mangum herself: as I stated

yesterday, she should be charged with perjury, filing a false police report,

public drunkenness, and whatever other laws she broke.


For the record: my own earliest mention of the Duke case

was published, in The Chicago Tribune, almost exactly a year ago, on

April 25, 2006, when I satirized those in the media who bought Mangum's

dubious accusations. Writing in the voice of a Katie Couric who was

panicking over the fact that she might have been lied to by Mangum, I wrote

in The Chicago Tribune: "I really hope that Duke lacrosse scandal doesn't

turn into the next Jennifer Wilbanks disaster -- did I use the word

'alleged' enough? I'll have to rerack the tapes."


I think we all oughta re-rack the tapes now, and see who's

to bless and who's to blame.


But I digress. Paul

________________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 11, 2007


On my birth certificate, my name is officially Paul Lockett

Iorio, Lockett being the family name on my mother's British side

of the family, Iorio being the name on my dad's Italian side. If

customs in the U.S. were different, I might have grown up as

Paul Lockett instead of Paul Iorio. Though I'm proud of both

names, both come with a different set of cultural stereotypes.


So imagine if I had won some sort of writing award last week

that somehow came to the attention of Don Imus, and Imus had

made some trite, ethnically ignorant, supposedly funny remark

like, "Whoaa, they're giving prizes to the mafia now -- I

wonder where he left the horse's head to get that award."



A joke that wouldn't be told if my name were Paul Lockett.

A joke that wouldn't be told by anyone who knew that the

Italian side of my family is mostly scholarly, far more

familiar with Capote than Capone. A joke that robs a person

of his individuality and identity before millions of people.


So my heart goes out to the Rutgers basketball team players

who had their identities distorted and reduced to a cliche by

some old guy in a cowboy hat last week.


Still, if Imus's joke had been on me, I know I would have had a

sense of humor about it and would have rolled with the joke.

After all, everybody gets skewered in free-speech America, and

you have to have thick skin and a fine appreciation of the

fact that your-joke-about-me permits my-joke-about-you.


And, context IS everything when it comes to making

audacious remarks. Remember, Lenny Bruce used the same word that Michael

Richards used in his own routine -- and virtually as many times, too -- but

Bruce got away with saying "nigger" (even among African Americans) because

he was funny and meaningful and progressive; Richards was merely spouting

angrily and hatefully (as Paul Rodriguez said, "I was waiting for the joke").


Anyway, I think Imus should use this opportunity to

retire; after all, he sounds old, he's resorting to cliches

instead of fresh perceptions and doesn't know where the lines on

the highway are anymore. He's had his run, and now it's time for

someone new.


Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly Mr. Politically Correct

(just read past editions of this column and articles on my home

page). And I admire Bill Maher and others who know there's a way

to be outrageous and there's a way not to. Mick Jagger, for

example, knew how to write an over-the-top audacious lyric like

"Brown Sugar" without ever really offending anyone; but if a dim

band like, say, Great White, had tried to write up the same idea,

it would likely be way out-of-line and deeply offensive.


As Bob Dylan once put it, "To live outside the law you must be

honest." Those who want to thrill everybody by racing in the

opposing lane of traffic (and getting away with it) have to have

a keen sense of where the lines on the highway are drawn to

begin with.


The best insight I've read about the Imus affair comes

from Alessandra Stanley in today's New York Times: "Mr. Imus wants to be

both a shock jock and Charlie Rose," she wrote, "and the two roles

inevitably collide." Exactly. If he didn't have so much gravitas as a

serious interviewer, he'd still have his job.


* * *

Glad to see that the late Ed Bradley's excellent report on

the dubious charges against Duke University lacrosse players won a

Peabody Award last week.


Also glad that it looks like charges will be dropped against

the Duke Three later today. Still, my questions are these:


Why did it take so long to drop charges that were so

obviously false?


Isn't the real story of the Duke Three case about a flaw

in the American legal system that allowed such a case to go forward for

so long?


Why haven't charges yet been brought against the accuser,

Crystal Gail Mangum, for filing a false police report, perjury, public

drunkenness, etc.?


But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 9, 2007


Forget Gallup and Harris; YouTube May Be the Only Political
Poll That Really Matters



There are lots of political polls tracking the popularity of the

2008 presidential hopefuls, but the only one that may count

in terms of measuring pure buzz is not really a poll at all


It's YouTube, which is also,

inadvertently, a telling gauge of the

relative popularity of politicians and other

phenomena, a measure of who's making the biggest noise right

here, right now.


An analysis of viewership of political videos offered through

YouTube reveals some fascinating results. For example, Sen.

Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are the front-runners in

YouTube hits, with the intensity of interest going to Obama.

The candidacies of former Senators John Edwards and John


McCain are generating little heat on the website.


And Sen. Chris Dodd's YouTube ratings are


abysmal, while former vice president

Al Gore's are encouraging.


The value of YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/)

as a poll lies in the fact that it shows how many times people

have viewed a particular video that is offered through its site.


So if you were to put, say, Hillary Clinton's name in YouTube's

search engine, you'd see not only a list

of Hillary-related videos but information about the

number of times each has been watched. It measures

the passion and obsessiveness (or lack thereof) of

political supporters in their private Internet interactions

in a way that polls by Gallup and Roper and Quinnipiac don't

(though, to be sure, the YouTube audience probably skews

younger than the overall voting population).



And that's also what seems to make YouTube a better

measure of buzz than, say, Google, because YouTube's

gauge is more particularized. In other words, if you were

to type "Hillary Clinton" into the Google search engine,

you'd get nearly four million undifferentiated hits -- but not

all of those search results would be about Sen. Clinton.

Google, as indispensable as it is, doesn't note how

many times a specific site has been viewed.



YouTube does. We can see that more than a million people

have watched Sen. Clinton sing "The Star-Spangled Banner"

off-key on the main website featuring that clip. And almost

three million have viewed the "Vote Different" video, a mash-up

of the famous Apple Computer ad of the 1980s that now

shows Hillary as Goliath. (That video, as is the case with

most YouTube clips, is posted in several places on the website,

making it difficult to determine its exact total viewership.

For the purposes of this Daily Digression, I'm citing only the most

viewed posting of a specific video.)



But the million-plus views of her national anthem clip don't

really speak to her popularity, since there's a tendency for

YouTube ratings to be the highest for videos that are either humorous

or embarrassing to a candidate.



Hence, the clip of Donald Trump fondling the breasts of former

New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is dressed in drag, is the

highest-rated Giuliani-related site (over 221,000 hits). And

Al Gore's biggest video is also a funny one, a humorous cartoon

from the makers of "Furturama" called "A Terrifying Message From

Al Gore" (over a million and a half hits, almost as many as the

Michael Richards-at-the-Laugh-Factory clip).



Common sense suggests that those watching the funny clips or the

gotcha-videos about a candidate are not necessarily fans of that

politician. Rather, a politician's real supporters probably tend

toward authorized videos or policy speeches -- clips that are of

interest to the true believers only, for the most part, and are

pretty much a bore to the general public.



For example, Obama's leading authorized campaign clips,

"Meet Barack Obama" and "My Plans for 2008," have a

relatively large audience (109,170 and 175,113 hits,

respectively), as do some of Clinton's ( "Hillary on Oil Profits"

has had 269,689 viewers, though "Hillary Clinton Announces Run for

President" gets a paltry 23,709 hits).



Al Gore, who has said he is not running for president, also has

high ratings for authorized campaign and wonk videos; his recent

testimony before Congress has received 58,257 hits in its first week,

though his other clips don't have as many viewers.



Edwards's ratings are variable, as are former Gov. Mitt

Romney's; an Edwards "exclusive to YouTube" has had over

118,000 hits, though his press conference about his wife's

cancer has had only 13,093 views (and his speech for a

local politician in North Carolina has had only 368 views).



Meanwhile, a Romney for President ad has had just 29,059 hits,

though a clip from his debate in the 1994 Massachusetts U.S.

Senate race, in which he takes liberal stands on abortion and

gay rights, has been watched 94,613 times.


McCain's most-watched video is one in which he appears to

nod off during a State of the Union speech by President Bush

(235,123 hits); but ratings for his policy speeches are in the

cellar (1,980 hits for McCain speaking about Gitmo; 1,835 viewers

for McCain talking about war veterans; and a dreadful 795

hits for McCain's ad for Congressional candidate Martha Rainville).


Sen. Joe Biden seems to generate hits only when he messes up; his

controversial comments about Indians have had over 24,000 viewers

and his infamous remarks about Obama have had over 15,000 hits.


But viewership of his policy videos is shockingly low; Biden's

speech on global warming had 506 viewers and his comments on Iraq

drew 2,190 hits, which is almost at Mike Gravel-level lows (Gravel's

speech on Iraq has had 2,113 hits, while a video piece about the

"censorship" of Mike Gravel had only 920 views).


Former Sen. Fred Thompson, increasingly mentioned as a possible

candidate, could use some help with his YouTube numbers; though

one of his appearances on Fox News drew 18,672 views, his video on

campaign reform had exactly zero hits.



Candidates Chris Dodd, Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter

had viewership that was mostly in the low hundreds, though there are

notable exceptions like Brownback's speech on stem cell research

(over 9,000 hits), Hunter's talk on the so-called Border Fence with

Mexico (over 6,000 views) and Dodd's appearance on Don

Imus's show about the steamy novel written by Sen. Jim

Webb (over 343,000 hits).



Only a few of these videos approach the status of such

YouTube blockbusters as OK Go's "Here It Goes Again" music video, which

has had a phenomenal 14 million hits on just one website (an estimated 21

million views in all).


But I digress. Paul



[above photos of Edwards and Obama by Paul Iorio, 2007.]

____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 7, 2007

The Muslim rednecks burning books and music and movies in

Islamabad remind me of the sunbelt rednecks in America who burned all those

Beatles albums in the mid-sixties. No difference. Though most

American progressives see the resemblance, I wonder why the rest don't

(or won't).


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 4, 2007


Imagine if there had been a Correspondents' dinner in 1954 at

which Edward R. Murrow was swing dancing with Sen. Joseph McCarthy,

while jokingly pointing his finger at McCarthy and saying, "You witch

hunter, you!"


Or a dinner in early 1974 in which Dan Rather did the bump

with H.R. Haldeman.


Well, that's sorta what it looked like at the recent

event where NBC Entertainment's David Gregory was part of MC Rove's

performance in Washington.


To be sure, Rove is no McCarthy or Haldeman(and Gregory

is no Murrow) -- but the principle is the same. You watch the performance

and wonder: is he the same NBC reporter who asks (supposedly) aggressive

questions to administration officials? Isn't he the same guy who always

seems to be sparring like a petulant adolescent with one Bushie or

another? Or is all that just an act to bolster his standing?


It's interesting that when he subs for Matt Lauer on

"Today," you really notice the absence of Lauer, whose star power is

underrated. I remember covering the Oscar parties one year for a

newspaper and seeing each movie star and film maker enter the party in

front of fans across the street. As each would enter, fans would shriek to

varying degrees. One of the biggest screams of the night from the

crowd was not for a film star but for Lauer, when he made his entrance.

* * *

NEW CIRQUE SHOW A-COMIN'


I've only attended one Cirque de Soleil performance in my life,

on the afternoon of January 9, 2000, in Irvine, California, which I saw

because I was writing about the troupe for the San Francisco Chronicle.


Anyway, I have to say I wasn't overly wowed by

Cirque at the time. After the show, I sat down under the Irvine big top

with Cirque's Roch Jertis and others, but still came away feeling that

the performance was like too much ice cream, losing its pleasure after

the 32nd amazing feat or so. (I also remember the performers appeared to

be flinging objects into the audience from the aisles -- there was a

hostile vibe to "Dralion.")


But the premiere last year of their blockbuster "Love,"

structured around the music of the Beatles, won over even Cirque

detractors, who were glad the troupe finally seemed to be abandoning

some of its pretentious obscurantism.


Well, guess what? The 'ol pretentious obscurantism is

baaaaccck! It's been announced that this holiday season, in New York,

Cirque will present what it calls "a new creation" titled "A Winter Tale"

or "Winter's Tale" -- it's hard to tell what the title is from their website,

which also offers this description of the so-called plot:


"...When the snow doesn't arrive, [a boy] embarks on a quest with three companions...to find the snow and bring it back where it belongs. The adventurers journey to an imaginary Arctic...When at last the sun returns, they fly home on the wings of a giant crane and unleash an epic snowstorm."


So lemme get this straight: it ain't snowing in a boy's

hometown, so the kid takes off to the Arctic to find some of the white

stuff. (Couldn't he have just gone to Buffalo? Am I not supposed to ask

such questions?) Then the sun comes out, so he boards a crane (a crane?)

to bring snow to his town.


Cirque really oughta stick with The Beatles.


But I digress. Paul
__________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for April 3, 2007


ELEVEN QUESTIONS ALMOST NOBODY ASKS


If the U.S. Capitol building had been destroyed on 9/11, it would have almost certainly been rebuilt as it was. Why is the World Trade Center not being rebuilt as it was?


If the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance has no significant religious content, as its supporters claim, then why include it?


If athletes can be stripped of their records because of steroid use, should writers and artists be stripped of their awards if they are found to have created their work on drugs or booze?


If Michael Jackson's alleged crimes are serious enough to warrant a 20-year prison sentence in California, how come such creepy offenses are virtually legal in Baja California (and in many other countries)?


Why does almost nobody ask where Mullah Omar is?


Why isn't President Bush referred to as Bush, Jr., and his father as Bush, Sr.?


Why do reporters ask sources who didn't anticipate the 9/11 attacks to speculate about the probability of future terrorist attacks?


Why do American liberals seem to react more strongly against religious rightists who burn books than they do against Islamic rightists who assassinate authors?


Why have American conservatives been spending more time on providing health care for the brain damaged and the comatose than for the uninsured?


Why doesn't anyone advocate expanding Megan's Law to include dangerous recidivists like murderers, chronic DUI offenders and serious non-sexual assaulters?


Where is Osama bin Laden?


But I digress. Paul
_______________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 30, 2007


On Stanley Kubrick


A lot of people don't get the aesthetic of extreme clarity of

artists and writers like Stanley Kubrick and Donald Barthelme and

the Ramones and others who make radical use of deliberate repetition for

effect (a style that can be nicely applied to journalism, too, by

the way). I was sort of surprised when I wrote for a particular

Bay Area newspaper and found that some editors and writers there

actually thought that element was a flaw in Kubrick's films

(and they were ones to talk -- many of them wrote schlock!).

I remember one editor railing against a beautifully minimalist

and deliberately repetitive passage in one of his movies -- and I

realized that a lot of his brilliance was going way over the

heads of her and others.


Kubrick, perhaps the greatest film director America has

produced, has now been dead for eight years. That means

there are now people who not only don't get his work, but

there's a new generation that doesn't even know his work.


After all, there hasn't been a new Kubrick picture since

the director's death in March 1999, so there are now some

teenagers who have no contemporaneous memory of a first-run

Kubrick flick. It's unfortunate that, to some, the first impression

of him might come from the recently released "Color Me

Kubrick," a feature film starring John Malkovich as a

con-man who once pretended to be Kubrick.


If you've never seen a Kubrick film
-- well, it's

obvious which ones you should watch. But if you've

already seen all his films countless times and still

want a fresh experience, my suggestion is try "Barry

Lyndon" and stay with it. It seems as if so many

people have dropped out of that film mid-way because

its first forty minutes are too slow, but those who

watch it to the end are rewarded with a riveting last

half -- and a hefty dose of extreme clarity.


But I digress. Paul

_____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 29, 2007


The Death of Hip Hop


I didn't see my first rap concert until 1980, when I stopped by

the Peppermint Lounge in New York to watch the Treacherous Three,

one of the pioneers of hip hop, play to a lot of empty chairs.

I remember thinking how futuristic and fresh rap sounded, and only

then reached back to buy a copy of the Sugarhill Gang's 1979

breakthrough, "Rapper's Delight."


By 1980, hip hop was already around five years old, though

still years away from mainstream acceptance. I and my friends didn't

really fall in love with rap until 1982's "The Message" by Grandmaster

Flash and the Furious Five, which -- at least in NYC -- was massive,

even bigger than "Thriller" in some circles.


And I don't mean just the single "The Message" but the album

"The Message," particularly the deeply fun funk of "She's Fresh"

and "It's Nasty." It goes without saying that the title track is

one of rap's great achievements, sort of like hip hop's "A Hard

Rain's A-Gonna Fall" -- and the main reason for the group's

induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame several weeks ago.


It wasn't until later in the 1980s, at the Cat Club in NY, that

I finally got to see Melle Mel perform "The Message" -- backed by

the same rhythm section, Doug Wimbish and Keith Leblance, who played

on the album -- at a show that turned everybody into a dancer. Rap

was no longer playing to empty chairs.


Twenty-five years later, rap is now so ubiquitous that I wouldn't

be surprised if there are already Muzak versions of LL Cool J's

"I Need Love" playing in dentist offices. (Even the cute penguins in the

movie "Happy Feet" sing a sweet rendition of "The Message.")


Proof of its assimilation into even the most conservative

precincts of America is last night's correspondents dinner,

in which none other than Karl Rove actually performed a rap.

Dancing a bit like the Jeff Daniels character in the movie

"Something Wild" (when Daniels rocks out to the Feelies'

version of "Fame"), Rove was good-natured -- and he clearly amused

the crowd, though his performance, really, meant only one thing:


Rap is dead.


No, I don't care how much creative vitality is still left in

the genre. When something becomes that mainstream,

its dangerous pioneering spark must be gone.


So, on this day, March 29, 2007, I mourn the passing of hip hop

-- born 1975, died 2007.


But I digress. Paul

___________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 26, 2007


Whenever I visit my hometown of the 1970s, there is always someone

from the past who compares himself-as-a-middle-aged-professional-today

to me-when-I-was-a-scruffy-15-year-old, as opposed to

comparing me now to him now.


Truth is, I don't know anyone I grew up with in my general

age group -- not even those who have since become respectable and

successful in middle age -- who doesn't have a skeleton, great or small,

in the closet from his or her teenage years. (This, of course, does not

apply to any of my current old friends or any friend that was once near

and dear, who are and have always been virtuous and beyond reproach!)


In the old days, skeletons of almost any sort would derail

a political candidacy, but that era appears to be, thankfully, long gone.

One of the more refreshing aspects of the 2008 campaign is that

Barack Obama's candidacy has apparently not been hurt by his admission

that he used marijuana and cocaine in his youth.


That's a measure of how far we've evolved since 1987, when

the revelation of mere marijuana smoking ended the Supreme Court

nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Douglas Ginsburg --

or since 1984, when an extra-marital affair destroyed the

presidential aspirations of Gary Hart.


As recently as 1992, the public wasn't sure whether

Bill Clinton would overcome the "didn't inhale" controversy or the

Gennifer Flowers scandal, but he prevailed (and fabulously). And the

reason probably has less to do with the cliche of "nobody's perfect" than

with the fact that standards of behavior constantly shift; one

generation's peccadillo is another's normalcy.


By the 2000 election, candidate George W. Bush was able to

deflect questions of alcohol and substance abuse in his past with a

simple, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."


And today we have candidates -- like Rudy Giuliani -- for

whom you'd need a complicated org chart to keep track of all the

lovers and wives.


So it's no wonder Obama's confession has barely caused a ripple

among the public and the press. It's as if voters have finally accepted

the traumatic truth that they will always be forced to choose a president

from a personnel pool that includes (the horror!) only flawed human beings.


But I digress. Paul
______________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 25, 2007


Let me interrupt everything here for a moment with a bulletin,

with breaking news. You'd better sit down for this one, because

it's a shocker:


Thousands of people are going to die this year in the U.S.

because they can't afford health insurance.


And here's another bit of breaking news:


Osama bin Laden is still on the loose and almost certainly

plotting his next attack on the U.S.


OK, now everybody can get back to opposing the Iraq

war or supporting the Iraq war or supporting the troops but not the

war or supporting the authorization for the war but not the war per se

or whatever. It's obvious now that the only real solution to the Iraq

war was to not have gotten in to begin with.


And so now we're diverted, just as I thought we'd be in '03,

by a war that isn't doing anybody any good.


If it weren't for the Iraq war, the House of Represntatives

might be passing super-urgent legislation, such as:


HR 101: The health care system that works so well in Canada
-- we want the same thing here now. Period.


and


HR 102: Resolved: the U.S. will kill or capture Osama
bin Laden by the end of 2007. Military funding will be prioritized
accordingly.


What a lot of people don't realize is that 9/11 wasn't an

event from the past -- it's an event that has yet to happen. The next

9/11 promises to be a real doozy, and it's probably scheduled for

around 2009 (remember, the time between the first World Trade Center

attack in 1993 and the second one in 2001 was eight years).


And what if it's a dirty bomb attack on New York or

downtown Boston or downtown San Francisco? Or on all three? Imagine

a radiation spill in North Beach in San Fran that would require the

dismantling and the disposal of such beloved buildings as City Lights

and Zoetrope (a recent issue of TNY had a riveting report on the impact

a dirty bomb might have).


After 9/11, we all decried the "poverty of imagination"

that stopped us from anticipating the attacks. We seem to be making the

same mistake again.


As for Iraq, we should handle it through either

partition or coalition. In other words, either split the place into

three autonomous republics (and prohibit an al Qaeda presidential candidate

for the Sunni third) or bring the Sunnis into a meaningful power-sharing

arrangement with al-Maliki -- an arrangement that could effectively

counter-balance the power of the Mahdi Army.


The autonomous republics (not provinces) would then operate

under the aegis of a federalized Baghdad for the purpose of equitably

distributing oil revenues nationwide.


And let's stop talking about Iraq as if we're there to

win or lose. The only U.S. ambition should be to get out of there ASAP

-- but without sparking genocide and a humanitarian catastrophe. The

factional violence will stop only when we substantially re-enfranchise the

Sunnis who we disenfranchised in 2003.

* * *

It's been over six years since the U.S. was embarrassed by the

Floridians
who denied Al Gore a proper recount in the 2000

election. And that's still on the minds of a lot of Dems as '08 approaches

and the pickings look slim in terms of candidates. As I hiked the hills

east of San Francisco the other week, I saw a bumper sticker that makes

sense the more I think of it: Gore/Obama '08.


But I digress. Paul.
____________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 22, 2007



Don't you just love these guys? They blacklist you and

then say, "Hey, he's not working, so we can't hire him!"


That's how Zero Mostel, blacklisted in Hollywood

for most of the 1950s, must have felt when he showed his

film resume to studio moguls in the early 1960s. He

probably had a tough time explaining the gap between

1951's "The Model and the Marriage Broker" and 1961's

"Waiting for Godot" (or maybe not, come to think of it).


Thankfully the involuntary lay-off didn't exclude him from

landing a starring role in 1968's "The Producers" (or "...Forum..."

before that), which I recently saw again after hearing that

the musical version of the movie will end its Broadway run

on April 22 after six years at the St. James.


As has been widely reported, taking its place at that

theater this fall will be yet another Mel Brooks project:

Brooks's musical adaptation of "Young Frankenstein," his

1974 film.


And so the trend of making Broadway musicals out of feature

films continues.


While I'm digressing, here's an idea for a musical that

producers have not yet brought to The Great White Way:

"Robert Altman's Nashville: The Musical." Perhaps

with T-Bone Burnett as musical director.


Think about it. The musical would come readymade with a

marvelous and underrated batch of songs ("It Don't Worry Me,"

"Dues," "200 Years," etc.) and lots of colorful characters.

Many of the film's memorable scenes are already performances

on stage by singer-songwriters and country musicians. And the

sprawling dramatic action between the separate sets of

characters could easily be handled onstage by spotlighting --

i.e., by having the acton between, say, Barbara Jean and her

husband take place stage left, then shifting the spotlight

to stage right, where scenes involving Haven Hamilton happen.


Anyway, I'm sort of surprised someone hasn't thought of

this yet, given the number of unlikely musical adapations that have

been staged over the years.


But I digress. Paul
__________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 18, 2007



Obamamania Arrives in Oakland -- And May Be Unstoppable


I have attended lots of presidential campaign speeches,

dating all the way back to 1964 (when my dad put me, a 7-year-old,

on his shoulders so I could glimpse Hubert Humphrey stumping for LBJ),

but I have never ever seen the level of electricity and excitement

generated by Sen. Barack Obama's speech in Oakland, California,

yesterday afternoon.


To say he was greeted like a rock star would be to

understate the case; I have to search back in memory many years to

think of a rock show that created this sort of adult intensity

(perhaps Springsteen in '78).


Almost everyone waiting to attend the rally was smiling

-- even though they had to wait for more than an hour in a line that

seemed to stretch all the way to Sacramento. The only time

I'd ever seen such mass smiling was at a Grateful Dead

concert in 1987. It was almost as if political springtime

was blooming in fast motion on this sunny

St. Patrick's Day, like that great moment in the

documentary "The War Room" when the Grateful Dead's

"Scarlet Begonias" rang out as Bill Clinton's

campaign shifted permanently into high gear.


This is, after all, the last spring before voters

go to the polls in most of the presidential

primaries (the Iowa caucus is only slightly

more than nine months away).


At the Oakland rally, a woman attached to

her oxygen tank was in the crowd. Pamphlets and

buttons and bumper stickers and ideas

were exchanged everywhere like pollen. Strangers talked

to strangers as if they were old pals. The guy in line in

front of me, Michael, on a crutch, was convinced Obama was

the new JFK. His friend, Carter, handed me an Obama

campaign button that showed the candidate looking a bit

like, well, JFK.



The crowd was around 12,000 strong
but sounded like

triple that. Once I had filed into the outdoor rally, getting a

glimpse of him reminded me of trying to get a look at

Led Zeppelin in 1973 at a stadium concert: almost impossible.

It wasn't until around 20 minutes into his speech that

I saw him for the first time. He looked dapper, trim,

youthful -- even Kennedyesque.


And when he condemned the Iraq war and mentioned the

Walter Reed scanadal, the response was almost

Beatlesque.


Seeing Obama-mania first-hand tells me he could be

unstoppable. I may be wrong, but I can't imagine that

Hillary's supporters are nearly as enthusiastic about

their own candidate.


As for John Edwards, I was at his speech in Berkeley

two weeks ago, and the crowd was exponentially

smaller and less intense; most attendees seemed

to be there to see a figure from the past, not a

current contender, and diversity was sorely missing (you

could literally count the number of African-Americans at

the Edwards rally on one hand). And the Edwards crowd

seemed more hostile, too.


The only point of comparison that comes close
to the

Obamamania at this speech was a Jesse Jackson for president rally

I attended in Manhattan in 1988 that packed the Upper West Side.

But that was not really like this. In '88, people wanted to

glimpse an historical (and an historic) icon, it seemed; yesterday,

people acted as if Obama was the future.


No other rally I've seen has been as intense: not

Bill Clinton in Jersey City in '95 (or in San Fran in '06), not

McGovern in '72 (which felt like a college lecture), not Jerry Brown

in Union Square in NY in '92, certainly not Mondale in '84. And I

betcha Hillary's seemingly ghostwritten and somehow off-key speeches

don't generate Obama's kind of steam.


A few days ago, I wrote that Obama was the Paul Tsongas

of '08. But after this rally I've changed my mind. He's more

like the Tiger Woods of the '08 campaign. And he seems to

be an unstoppable force, like Bill Clinton after he became

"the comeback kid" in the snows of New Hampsire in '92. For the

first time, I'm thinking Obama might well become the Democratic

nominee for president of the United States in 2008.


* * * *


Speaking of Obama: interesting story on him in yesterday's

New York Times by Jennifer Steinhauer. But I found it sort of

peculiar that classmates didn't consider him particularly smart

in his schooldays.


"He was clearly bright but there are people in our class that

are nuclear physicists," says one source in her story.


Hmmm. It always seems there's a source that says something

like, "he was no rocket scientist." Shouldn't that cliche be retired?

I mean, frankly, I wouldn't want want a nuclear physicist or a rocket

scientist running the U.S. (unless his name is Einstein, and there

was only one). People shouldn't confuse technical intelligence with the

sort of big picture smarts required to run a country like the U.S.


It's like that old line about Michael Dukakis; he could speak

many languages but couldn't communicate in any of them. Obama

may not be a "nuclear physicist" but he can communicate, and you can't

teach what he can do.


Also, this puzzling line from the story: "...power is asserted and

social relativity established in Los Angeles by the car you drive, and

in New York by the college you attended...."


Huh? That's a new one to me. (I wonder what

Woody Allen would think of that line.) Some of the people I knew

in the arts (when I lived in and around Manhattan for almost

two decades) never even attended college and yet were among

the most powerful and prestigious people in their fields.

Post-college accomplishment is what rules the roost in NY and LA

(remember, Robert Evans never drove a car in L.A. when he was making

all those great features). Steinhauer must be thinking of Boston.

* * *

Kudos to the Mary Brogan Museum in Tallahassee, Florida,

for displaying John Sims's artwork "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate

Flag." (There is another use for the Confederate flag, but that's only

when you run out of Charmin.) Those who like Sims' work might also like

this wonderful new song I just heard on WFMU called "Kill The Klansmen"

by the Sun City Girls. Check it out.


But I digress. Paul

________________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for The Ides of March, 2007



Bin Laden has been on the loose for 2,010 days now. That's

2,010 days he's had to plan his next act of mass murder.


If anybody is reading this in far eastern Afghanistan or

far western Pakistan, where bin Laden is presumed to be

hiding: would you please get this guy? Do the world a favor.

* * *

But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 14, 2007



Bravo to Rep. Pete Stark for his endorsement of atheism,

but frankly I think many of his colleagues share his

opinion in private. I mean, to be honest, I don't think I

know hardly anyone who believes all that religious junk anymore

(Ann Coulter and bin Laden and their kind seem to be

among the last hold-outs of fundamentalism). And the best

polls have shown that most of the people on the planet are

either atheists or virtually atheists.


And atheism has long been mainstream. The up-front atheism

or near-atheism of entertainers and artists such as

George Carlin, Woody Allen and Bill Maher

has long been embraced by mainstream audiences.


And saying that you can't reject religion without

having completely read the New Testament or the Torah or the

Koran is nonsense; almost all religions have supernatural

elements, and that alone rules out their credibility

prima facie.


It's like saying you can't dismiss voodoo

without knowing about the divine principle of Nana Buluku.



Further, anyone who has to consult page 204 of some book to

know whether something is moral or immoral has either no innate sense

of morality or a crippled innate sense of morality. I don't

need to consult a book to know that killing Adolf Hitler in 1944

would've been a highly moral and correct action that might have

saved countless lives; yet killing under most circumstances is

an immoral act. Problem with Moses is that his commandments have

no nuance and are simplistically absolutist, so they have no

practical value in complex situations.


* * *


By the way, I want to mention that I just saw a scene
from

the upcoming Sandra Bullock flick "Premonition" that

looks very much like it ripped off the idea behind my song

"Pretty Women at the Funeral." In the scene, Bullock's character

confronts an unfamiliar pretty woman (played by Amber Valleta) at

the funeral of her husband, asking her why she's there at the

funeral (implying, of course, that Valleta had had an affair

or relationship with her late husband, which turns out to be the case).


That scene is exactly what happens in the lyrics of

my song (the script even uses language from the lyric).


This apparent theft of intellectual property is not cool

and possibly actionable. Keep in mind that my song "Pretty Women

at the Funeral" was copyrighted in 2005 (see lyrics at

www.pauliorio.blogspot.com).


But I digress. Paul


___________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 9, 2007



Radiohead's Next Album


I try not to write about music anymore,

because I self-released a debut album last year that has

(to my surprise!) been added to radio playlists in three

nations, so I try to avoid any appearance of conflict of

interest in my journalism.


But last night, I relistened to my bootleg tapes of

Radiohead's two shows in Berkeley, California, last

year, in which the band debuted a dozen new songs

that have still yet to be released, and I was just too

impressed not to blog about it. Months of listening

reveals that the best of the bunch is the

sublimely resolute "Four Minute Warning," while

"Down is the New Up" is enormously catchy and

"Videotape" poignant. And "House of Cards" was

already being greeted as a favorite by the

audience last June.


(By the way, somebody should've filmed the first night

in Berkeley because, as others have noted, the vivid multi-colored

stage lighting was captured by the heavy fog in the hills and

forests outside the Greek Theater (where I was); strolling

through the dyed fog (as Greenwood played his extraterrestrial riffs

and Yorke sang his otherworldly melodies), I felt as if I'd

stepped into a sci-fi flick (when is someone going

to use "Climbing Up the Walls" in one?).


Also, the live version of "Paranoid Android" on my tape

proves beyond a doubt that that's one of the most powerful

songs of the rock era, a piece of awesome beauty. Imagine the

"rain down" part transcribed for solo cello or viola -- it would

sound like deep mourning itself.


I also couldn't help but think how absolutely awesome

it would sound if Christine Aquilera were to cover

"Paranoid Android." (How about an entire album of

Aquilera singing Radiohead?)



If Radiohead ever gets around to recording the new album,

they should consider cutting it live, because every live

version on my tape surpasses the studio version. Not since

the Beatles has dissonance been so danceable; and (to

paraphrase xgau) rarely has sadness sounded so

pretty.


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 7, 2007



Blasphemous Satire


Interviewing Osama bin Laden


Traveling through Tora Bora the other day, I decided to

stop by Osama bin Laden's cave for a quick chat on the eve of his

50th birthday. Osama welcomed me in, popped open a Red Bull and

plopped down on a bean bag chair.


I soon noticed bin Laden was not in his usual robe and

turban, but was wearing a Star of David and a yarmulke. A copy of the

Torah and Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" were on his coffee

table. I knew this would be no ordinary interview.


LOOKS LIKE YOU'VE CHANGED. ARE YOU THROUGH WITH TERRORISM?

OSAMA BIN LADEN: Yeah, the terrorism thing wasn't
panning out anymore. Everything we tried didn't work. For example,
we had a couple jihadists aboard a JetBlue flight last month, but
it was delayed for so long that even the hijackers stomped off the
plane in disgust!

WHAT CAUSED YOU TO BECOME A JEW?

BIN LADEN: It started when I was reading Rushdie's
"Satanic Verses" in my cave. Loved the story of Mahound. And Gibreel
was so sly. So that got me thinking about leaving the faith, and I
considered Hinduism and even Scientology before settling on Judaism.

YOU ACTUALLY LIKED RUSHDIE'S NOVEL?

BIN LADEN: I didn't expect to like it but it grew on me.
And I even enjoyed the bit about Mohammed's 12 wives. I, too, once had
sex with a prostitute named that way and, frankly, it
increased the eroticism. But the turning point was when I realized
those verses might be satanic after all. Sheesh!

SO YOU'RE ACTUALLY RENOUNCING ISLAM?

BIN LADEN: Yep. No turning back now. There were other issues,
too. Allah never answered my prayers. I prayed for a Kalashnikov.
Nada. I prayed for victory over the infidel. Nada.

WHY JUDAISM?

BIN LADEN: I confess I was touched by a rabbi I was
holding hostage, a cantor who sang so beautifully that I decided not to slit
his throat after a couple verses of "My Heart Will Go On." He was brought
to me by Adam Gadahn.

THAT ORANGE COUNTY GUY WITH THE FAKE ACCENT?

BIN LADEN: Yeah. We used to privately call him The High
Imam of the Great Mall of Milpitas.

WAS THERE A TIPPING POINT?

BIN LADEN: Well, I started reading the Torah -- or the
Tawrat, as I used to call it -- and realized it was a lot like the Koran.
I mean, it almost seemed like a case of copyright infringement, if you
ask me. But I was drawn to all those commandments -- they sort of gave me
structure during a mid-life crisis.

WHAT DO YOUR AL QAEDA COMRADES THINK ABOUT ALL THIS?

BIN LADEN: They're cool with it. In fact, I saw
Ayman al-Zawahiri chuckling over a copy of "Satanic Verses" I gave to him.
Ayman likes Rushdie, too! But I think the real tipping point for all of
us was the JetBlue thing. Seven hours on the tarmac. And not even a
meal -- just peanuts. It just became too hard to be a jihadist.

* * *

But I digress. Paul

____________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 5, 2007



Hillary: Conscience of a Former Conservative


Reporting on Sen. Hillary Clinton's speech in Selma on Sunday,

The New York Times's Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny noted that she

appeared to be engaging in a bit of revisionist personal history.

According to The Times:

"Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, recalled going with her church youth minister
as a teenager in 1963 to hear Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in
Chicago. Yet, in her autobiography and elsewhere, Mrs. Clinton has
described growing up Republican and being a “Goldwater Girl” in 1964
— in other words, a supporter of the presidential candidacy of Barry
Goldwater, who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act."


If Hillary did attend the speech by Rev. King in

1963, then how come she apparently had not brought up that fact until

last Sunday? Are we to believe that, for decades, she had been sitting

on a fond and valuable remembrance of seeing the Rev. King first-hand as

a teenager but had not written or spoken about it to anyone in public?


I think reporters who have access to Sen. Clinton should

follow-up on Healy and Zeleny's excellent reportage and ask: Did she

really attend the speech? What did Rev. King say that day? How did

she feel as a white supporter of Barry Goldwater in an audience full

of civil rights activists? Was she pro-Goldwater in terms of foreign

policy but not on civil rights, or vice versa?


What exactly was it about Goldwater's policies that

appealed to her back then, and does she still admire him today? Was

Rev. King's speech the event that got her thinking about becoming a

Democrat? What was Rev. King like on that day? Can she corroborate

her claim that she attended the speech? Did she take photos?


On the other hand, if she wasn't at the speech, that would

not be a minor infraction in terms of personal integrity; if someone in

another profession -- say, a journalist -- publicly claimed to have

attended an event that he hadn't actually attended, he would likely

be drummed out of the business.


And it would also not be a minor point in terms of

political context, given the fact that brave people fought for civil

rights at the time, risking their lives and their bodies, while Sen.

Goldwater and his kind tried to stop their progress. Indeed, it's easy

to take a dangerous stand once the danger has abated.



Remember, a President Goldwater would almost certainly

have not provided the back-up support -- a federalized national guard and

thousands of troops -- required for the success of the subsequent civil

rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery on

March 25, 1965.



On Sunday in Selma, perhaps Sen. Clinton should have

spoken of her authentic personal journey from the wrong side of history

to the right side, how she once was lost and now she's found. Maybe she

should have admitted how wrong she was in the 1960s to have supported

Goldwater, and how right she is now.


But then that points up Sen. Clinton's fatal flaw: she

seems to have a hard time admitting when she's wrong -- and that extends

to her current failure to repudiate her 2002 vote to authorize the war

in Iraq.


Yesterday afternoon, former Sen. John Edwards,

campaigning for president in Berkeley, California, at a rally I

attended, had no such problem admitting his mistake: "I voted for

this war," Edwards said plainly. "I was wrong to vote for this war."


Sen. Clinton has not done the same. And she has

also not been very clear about which side she was really on when bones

were being broken on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.


* * *

By the way, shouldn't the Edmund Pettus Bridge be

re-named The John Lewis Bridge or The Freedom Bridge or The Martin

Luther King Jr. Bridge in honor of those who sacrificed so much on

March 7, 1965? Pettus, after all, was a Confederate brigadier general

who killed people in a war that tried to keep African-Americans

enslaved. Why implicitly honor a guy like Pettus?

* * *

Sounds like Ann Coulter is slurring her words again.

Probably drunk on religious fanaticism again. Always beware of

religious right-wingers like Coulter and bin Laden,

who I hear have had two sons together:

Mohamed Atta and Eric Rudolph.


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 3, 2007



The Powers-That-Be Say:

Plagiarism is Now OK -- If You're Rich, Famous or Well-Connected




Time was when plagiarism was said to be the

third rail of journalism: touch it and your career is dead.

The industry was always merciless and unforgiving

even to first-time offenders, shaming them in

various media columns and firing them on the

spot.



But how times have changed! It's now

2007 and the powers-that-be say that plagiarism is ok

-- if you're rich, famous or well-connected, that is.


For example: the other day, I turned on

"The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," one of

my favorite news programs. To be sure, Lehrer

is about as good as it gets when it comes

to broadcast journalism (and so are Elizabeth

Farnsworth, Judy Woodruff and most of the

the others). But what was plagiarist Doris

Kearns Goodwin doing on the show as a panelist?


Goodwin, you might remember,

was almost drummed out of the biz in 2002 after

it was revealed that she ripped off dozens of

pages from Lynne McTaggart's book "The

Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys."


She touched the third rail -- hell,

she had intimate relations with

the third rail -- and yet she still

appears on one of the best tv news

programs around.


Later that same day, I read my local

newspaper -- the San Francisco

Chronicle -- and saw a story by yet

another plagiarist who got away with it,

Edward Guthmann (who incidentally

is not famous but is well-connected at

his own paper, having been there for decades).



In a 2005 article, Guthmann plagiarized

parts of a 2003 story that appeared in

The New Yorker magazine, and his public

excuse was something like the usual

he-forgot-to-put-quotes-around-it defense.



Yet the guy still collects a weekly paycheck

from the paper (a scandal in itself, considering that far more

honest and far more brilliant freelancers can't even pay their

bills. Of course, you can expect no better from some in

the Chronicle features department, considering that one of its main

editors, David Wiegand, has engaged in provable fraud (the proof is

on this website: http://resumesidenotes.blogspot.com).



And it wouldn't exactly be accurate to say that this

was Guthmann's first offense. In 1999, he apparently

ripped off one of the key insights in my

own Los Angeles Times story on "Chinatown"

and rushed it into print in the San Francisco

Chronicle, where I was once a

staff writer, days before mine ran (my

story had been in the L.A. Times

computer for weeks, and the circumstantial

evidence shows it had been leaked to

Guthmann).


It's worth noting that in the 25 years since the

movie's release, no critic had made the insight

I made about the movie. And then in the same

week in 1999, two writers made the same point

in print, and mine was demonstrably first. The

circumstantial evidence alone is damning for Guthmann,

particularly in light of his latest transgressions.



My 1999 story on "Chinatown" was also

ripped off more extensively in a 2000 book by publisher

John Wiley & Sons, "The Film Director: Updated

for Today's Filmmaker, the Classic Practical

Reference to Motion Picture and Television

Techniques, Second Edition," by Richard L. Bare.



The book has a section on the movie "Chinatown" that includes

at least eight instances in which Bare uses material from my Los

Angeles Times story, "Sleuthing 'Chinatown'" (July 8, 1999), without

specifically citing it.


At the end of his book, Bare mentions my story in a generalized

bibliography (not in specific endnotes). He doesn't cite my piece within

the text and doesn't mention the places in his book where he used my

material.



As I mentioned, there are at least eight instances in which Bare

quotes, paraphrases or otherwise uses information from my story without

properly crediting me. (I've included eight juxtaposed examples below.)


The reader clearly gets the impression that Bare himself unearthed

the material in the "Chinatown" section of the book, when in

fact I came up with the hard-to-find information (info that was available

to me only because I had scored a rare interview with Polanski).


And you can also see how Bare cynically and slightly

modifies several of my passages, though his alterations make it no

less a case of theft, since his text closely tracks and parallels

my own while stealing my core reportage.


It's worth noting that people are fired in journalism

every year for lesser cases of plagiarism. So I can't help but

think this case was kept quiet because John Wiley & Co. has lots

of friends in the biz.


After all, why side with me? Wiley might get you a book

deal down the road.


By the way, you betcha I contacted Wiley a couple years

ago to express my displeasure and to ask them to compensate

me for their theft of my work. After all, their theft of my

work potentially cost me money, since it reduced the value

of my Polanski story in an anthology I was submitting

to publishers. As might be expected, Wiley arrogantly

defended their plagiarism, and I've long since dropped

the issue. But the record should be corrected and the

public should know what kind of company Wiley is.



Here are the eight main examples of the book’s plagiarism of my story:

EXAMPLE#1:
MY STORY: Today, Towne says "Polanski was right about the end"....Towne now says that
Polanski is "virtually...the only director I would willingly work for as a writer."
THE BARE BOOK: Today, Towne admits he was wrong about the ending and adds that he
would gladly work with Roman Polanski again."
-----------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #2:
MY STORY: "A pivotal eight-week writing session [followed] in which Polanski and
Towne dismantled Towne's script and then painstakingly rebuilt it piece by piece."
THE BARE BOOK: "During an eight-week-long session held before shooting began, the
writer and director tore apart Towne's original script and reshaped it into the final draft that
Polanski shot..."
-------------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #3:
MY STORY: The most substantial disagreement was about the ending of the film, in which Towne wanted Cross to be killed by Evelyn. Polanski insisted on a more disturbing finale....With the backing of Evans, Polanski eventually won the battle over the ending.
THE BARE BOOK: The biggest fight that the writer and the director had seemed to be over the ending. Towne wanted a happier one, while Polanski insisted on a tragic conclusion. Polanski won out, with Evans in his corner.
------------------------------------------------------

EXAMPLE #4:
MY STORY: Their writing workday would begin around 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning and
would last until around 7 or 8 in the evening -- and was usually followed by a night of hard partying.
THE BARE BOOK: Polanski and Towne would spend eight to ten hours a day writing,
rewriting and haggling. At night, they would go out and party...
------------------------------------------------------

EXAMPLE #5:
MY STORY: "'We took the script and broke it down into one-sentence summations of each
scene,'" Towne says. "Then we took a scissors and cut those little scenes...and pasted them on the door of his house where we were working. And the game was to shift those things around until we got them in an order that worked."
THE BARE BOOK: Polanski would roll up his sleeves and encapsulate each scene onto a
card, tacking them in a row on the wall. Then he would begin to shift the cards, rearranging the sequence of events until he felt he had a shootable story line.
-----------------------------------------------------

EXAMPLE #6:
MY STORY: Polanski says he never once thought during the making of the movie that it
would become a classic.
THE BARE BOOK: Neither [Polanski nor Towne] had the slightest inkling their creation
would become a classic of film noir.
----------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #7:
MY STORY: ...Most Paramount executives openly predicted the film would fail.
THE BARE BOOK: No one at Paramount was betting that the picture would earn its cost
back.
----------------------------------------------------
EXAMPLE #8:
MY STORY: Four years earlier, his wife, Sharon Tate...was sadistically murdered by
members of Charles Manson's gang. [Please note that the relation in time of the film to the Manson murders had not been brought up in print before my article, as far as I know.]
BARE'S BOOK: Roman Polanski, four years after his wife was murdered by the infamous
Manson family, was summoned by producer Robert Evans to direct "Chinatown."

* * *

One of the many problems with plagiarism,

besides the obvious ethical issues, is that it hurts

the smaller entrepreneurs of journalism. For example, if an

insight by an unknown blogger is ripped off by, say, Time

magazine, that insight forever belongs to Time magazine

in the public mind. (It doesn't work the other way around;

if an insight by Time magazine is stolen by, say, an unknown

blogger, most readers will immediately assume the blogger got

it from Time, because Time is better distributed.)


Adding insult to injury, if the unknown

journalist comes up with a scoop and is

then ripped off by Time, the blogger

can no longer try to publish his own piece

without people wrongly thinking he stole it

from the magazine.


So it was hard the other day to pick up a

newspaper and see the byline of a plagiarist

and then turn on the tv and see yet another

plagiarist. It was hard to see where fairness

is located out there.


But I digress. Paul
________________________________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for March 1, 2007



John McCain and David Letterman Talk



It was June 1975, and I was a teenager standing

with a couple friends at the end of a long,

deserted pier on Tampa Bay in Florida. In the

distance, a smiling middle-aged man started walking

the long, hot walk toward the three of us, and

as he came closer it became obvious he

was walking the span just to see us, even

though none of us knew him. When he

finally came to the far end of the pier, he

reached out his hand to me and said, "Hi,

my name is Jimmy Carter, and I'm

running for president of the United States."

And then he hung out with us and made

small talk about the boats in the bay.


True story.


It shows how Carter won in '76, even

though he was a long-shot at

the time: he probably shook every

hand in America to win the presidency,

and no voter -- not even a nobody teenager

like me (I wasn't even old enough to vote yet)

-- was unimportant to him.



It also shows how early the '76 campaign

season began (Carter had announced his

candidacy months earlier, in '74) and how a

candidate who ranked in the single-digits in

the polls came from behind to beat the favorites

of the national party.


In the polls at that time, Carter was where, say,

dark horses like Mike Gravel and Bill Richardson

are today: nowhere. At the end of a long, deserted

pier, politically speaking.



Watching Sen. John McCain on "The Late Show with

David Letternman" last night made me think that

the conventional political wisdom will surely be

upended several times before the first primary

votes are cast in 10 months or so.


Elections as unpredictable as this one recall nothing so

much as the overly familiar lyrics of a Bob Dylan

song: "Don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in

spin/And there's no tellin' who that it's

namin'/For the loser now will be later to

win."


Sen. McCain and Rudy Giuliani may be

the front-runners for the GOP nomination now,

but they may be old news by January.


Watching McCain on Letterman last night, I was surprised by

how creaky he seemed, how much slower his reaction time

was than it had been, how much he resembled a revered

former president more than a vital candidate. Against a

vigorous Rudy, he'll likely look like a retiree.



Remember, Republicans have to veer right in

the primaries and toward the center in the general (while

Dems have to veer left in the primaries and toward

the center in the general) -- and that tends to favor the

nomination of a Republican who is tight with the religious

right -- neither McCain nor Giuliani. As in '76,

maybe we should be looking at the guy polling

in the single digits


Somehow I get the feeling that a voter at the end of

a long pier somewhere is being approached by a

a man who sticks out his hand and says, "Hi, I'm

Duncan Hunter and I'm running for president of the

United States."

* * *

Well, folks, your trusty freelance writer

tried one last time yesterday to land

the ultimate "get" -- an interview with

author J.D. Salinger, who never talks to

the press. I finally reached his wife

(I had tried her number once before, a

couple years ago, but didn't know whether

I had unearthed the right number or not).


Well, yesterday afternoon, I found I did

have the right number, but she was in

no mood to talk. "I don't think I

really want to talk with you," she said.

So I said thanks for your time and

goodbye. Perhaps she and her husband

had seen my web-exclusive feature

about Salinger and not liked it.

For those who want to read the story,

it's on this website.


But I digress. Paul

_______________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Wednesday, February 28,2007



A Confederacy of Dunces?


Slavery was finally, belatedly condemned by the state of

Virginia a few days ago, though vestiges of the old

Confederacy still linger today in mainstream

American politics. Last fall's promotion to Senate

Minority Whip of Trent Lott, who resigned his

leadership role in 2002 after praising the late

Senator Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat

presidential candidacy of 1948, was yet another

reminder that there are some on Capitol Hill

who are still sympathetic to Jim Crow and the

Confederacy -- and many more who seem that way.


The alarming thing about Lott’s remarks on

Thurmond in '02 is they’re not very far from

alarming remarks by other U.S. Senators that

praise or appear to praise former segregationists

and Confederates.


In fact, the new Minority Leader of the Senate,


Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, spoke glowingly

in 1997 about Thurmond's presidential candidacy in

remarks that are quite close to those that caused

Lott to lose his post in '02 (see the

quote below).




My own search of the Congressional Record shows

that several Senators have taken the floor in recent

years to praise (or quote in a positive context)

both Thurmond and Robert E. Lee, the most famous

Confederate general of the U.S. Civil War.


In fact, the Senate can sometimes seem like a

Robert E. Lee (and Strom Thurmond) fan club. Here

are some samples from the Congressional Record:


"My dad and my granddad talked about the [1948]
election for a little while, and all I remember for sure
is that they said Strom Thurmond was a fine man,
they were going to vote for him for President of the
United States."
-- Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, on June 3, 1997, in a
Senate tribute to Thurmond


"In the end, what Douglas Southall Freeman said of
Robert Lee four decades ago might also be said of
Senator Thurmond today. ‘He [is] one of a small
company of great men in whom there is no inconsistency
to be explained, no enigma to be solved.”
-- John Ashcroft, then a Senator from Missouri,
June 3, 1997, in a Senate tribute to
former Sen. Strom Thurmond.


"My senior Senator [Thurmond] is the epitome of
Robert E. Lee's comment that the most sublime
word in the English language is duty.”
-- former Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-SC, May 21, 1997,
speaking about Thurmond becoming the
longest-serving Senator in the history of the Senate.


"The national history [educational] standards were more
interested in those who were politically correct. The
standards slighted or ignored many central figures in U.S.
history, particularly white males. To name a few,
Robert E. Lee was left out, Thomas Edison and the
Wright brothers were left out, Paul Revere was left out,
so we could have many, many references to the
Ku Klux Klan, so we could have references to
heroes from other continents."
-- Ashcroft, as Senator, November 6, 1997, speaking
about national education testing standards.


"I have thought about Senator Russell's reference to
Robert E. Lee when he quoted Lee as saying,
`Duty is the sublimest word in the English language.'
That has been my credo."
-- Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WVA, July 27, 1995, during
a tribute in which he was praised
for having cast 14,000 votes in his career.


"It is said, in the old Confederate Army, that they
didn't give medals. So the single honor was to be
mentioned in Robert E. Lee's communiques to
Richmond. Having the distinguished Senator from
West Virginia [Byrd] say something about me and to
pronounce me a honest man I take in the same way
that any private in Hood's brigade would have taken
in the mention of their name in one of those communiques."
-- Former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex, November 15, 2002,
referring to a compliment paid to him by Sen. Byrd
during discussion of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.


"Snatching the initiative to turn the tide of battle,
Lt. Gen. James A. Longstreet, under the command of
Gen. Robert E. Lee, forced back Union forces directed
by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, in an advance known as
`Longstreet's Flank Attack.' Mr. President, this legislation
will allow the Park Service to acquire this stretch of land,
which will serve to complete Wilderness Battlefield."
-- Sen. John Warner, R-Va, May 4, 1999, speaking
admiringly of the Confederate military while arguing
for government acquisition of a Civil War battlefield.


"And here we have a man like [former Arkansas Senator]
David Pryor, who has all the qualities that Robert E. Lee
described, and more: tenacious, determined on what he
believes, intellect, the character to stick with his ideas in
a totally honest way, and vision about where the country
ought to be heading. These are remarkable traits to be
wrapped up in one man, and rare and unusual in the U.S.
Congress.”
-- Former Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-AR, September 24, 1996,
in a tribute to former Sen. David Pryor.


"When asked by a mother what advice he could give her
for the rearing of her infant son, General Robert E. Lee,
then President of Washington and Lee, replied, ‘Madam,
teach him to deny himself.’"
-- Former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, entered this eulogy
by the president of a Baptist university into the
Congressional Record, April 29, 1996.

* * *

Anyway, now that the ol' Confederacy is

in an apologizin' mood, perhaps they

can start redesignin' some of the

state flags that incorporate the

Confederate banner.

* * *

What I'm reading today: nice

editorial in today's New York

Times on issues related to the

Establishment Clause. And, on

a far different subject, check

out Frank Bruni's witty review

of Robert's, which proves that

great loins are where you find

them!


But I digress. Paul
________________________________
________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Tuesday, February 27, 2007



In a hundred years, history students

will be asked, "What U.S. president

finally became president a full eight

years after winning his first

presidential election?"


And the answer will be, of course,

the 44th president of the U.S.,

President Gore, who served from

January 2009 until January 2013.


But first Gore has to beat Rudy

Giuliani, the (at this point)

probable GOP candidate -- and

Gore may be the only Dem who

can do it. Barack

versus Rudy would be a 61%

blow-out for the GOP, a

Dukakis/Bush landslide that

would give Barack, the

Paul Tsongas of campaign '08,

10 states at best.


Hillary v. Rudy, replicating the U.S.

Senate contest that almost

happened back in 2000, would

still result in President Rudy, but by

a closer margin. Why? The anti-war Dems

would siphon off the votes required for

a Hillary win, just as they did to Hubert

Humphrey in 1968.


How soon Dems forget the main lesson

of '68: a party divided against itself

cannot stand against a united GOP.

Hillary sort of resembles the Humphrey

that was unwilling to break with LBJ

over the war until it was too late (in her

case, she inexplicably refuses to say she

blew the Iraq authorization vote).

The anti-war Dems, already turning out

to heckle her when she campaigns,

are rightly wondering why they should

vote for someone who made the same

mistake Bush made on Iraq. Voters don't

want hindsight in a leader, they want

foresight, and Gore had that in opposing

the Iraq war from the start while Hillary

didn't.


In any case, Gore appears to be running.

The latest signs, on display at the Oscars

last night, are these:

First, anticipating that he'll be running against

Italian-American Giuliani next year, he

appears with a highly respected star

who has an Italian-American last name,

Leonardo DiCaprio.

Second, Gore's public image was slyly

repaired at the Oscars by no less than

George Clooney, who publicly debunked

Gore's main perceived flaw: that he's

too stiff.


Gore, too stiff?, Clooney essentially said.

No, he's bad, he's Wildman Gore these days.

Oh yeah, he was quaffing a few with me and

Nicholson backstage, so believe me, he's

too much of a bad-ass to run for such a

goody two shoes office as prez of the USA,

know what I mean?


So, yeah, Gore may be runnin'.

(By the way, check out David Reminick's

terrific Comment on Gore in the new issue

of The New Yorker; it may be Remnick's best

editorial in years.)

Also, here are some faux

secret slogans of the current crop

of candidates:

Kucinich for President in 1968

Barack Obama at Bonnaroo in 2008

Hillary for President -- of Barnard College

Brownback for President of Oz '08

John McCain for President in 1956

Giuliani for President in '01

Dukakis '08: If Vilsack Can Try, So Can I

Bill Richardson/Wen Ho Lee '08

Dodd/Imus '08

But I digress. Paul
______________________________________________
______________________________________________


THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Monday, February 26, 2007.



Thoughts on the Oscars. Ellen DeGeneres

made the show seem like daytime tv. At

times, I thought it was 3:30 on a weekday

afternoon and that she was about to give a

Frigidaire to someone in the audience.

Yes, she is charming but she's

-- how to put this? -- not funny.


And the ratings don't lie: Ellen's

version of the Oscars "delivered the

third-lowest viewer tally in at least

15 years," according to today's Los

Angeles Times.



Bring back Jon Stewart! Even better,

bring back Steve Martin!


Like everyone else, I loved Martin Scorsese's

belated win but thought Clint Eastwood's

"Letters From Iwo Jima" was far better than

"The Departed." And who knew Eastwood knew

Italian so fluently? And Steven Spielberg was

such a winning presence last night (and a good

sport, too, taking that photo).



Other notes: Helen Mirren is overrated.

Also, anybody notice how obviously calculated

(and, frankly, phony) her "I give you the Queen"

soundbite came off, especially if you saw her entire

speech? Further, I didn't quite catch her drift: she

thrusts forward the statuette and says, "I give

you the Queen." Is the (nominally male) statuette

supposed to be the Queen? Was she introducing a clip

from the film? Is everyone too cowed by her "Dame"

status to ask such questions? One small step for man...


Kate Winslet is underrated (didn't

she look like love itself last night?). Meryl Streep

has rarely looked more attractive in recent years

(and she provided the night's funniest moment

with just one look). "Letters from Iwo Jima"

should've won best pic -- and will probably

resonate down the decades better

than "Departed."


With regard to "The Queen," I saw half of it on a red-eye

and then turned it off to listen to Bob Dylan's brilliant

"Modern Times." Frankly, I really don't care about

British royalty, unless Shakespeare is writin' about it.

What do The Royals do all day to earn their

millions, anyway? These are not really people of

accomplishment, now, are they? Diane Spencer, last

I heard, was driving drunk (or having her driver

drive drunk) through big city streets on a

Saturday night at a high speed, endangering

innocent people. (Oh, I know: her defense is

she was running from a man with a camera. Not a

man with a gun but a man with a camera. Think about

that one.)

[Note: I'm sure the previous graf will probably

offend those who admired Diana, but think of it

this way: suppose your son or daughter or mother

or father had been in Paris on the night of the

crash and had been killed by the princess's car.

How would you then feel about Diana's behavior?

Is drunken driving at high speeds

ok if it's done by someone you like?]


But the real winner of the night was Al Gore.

It's now obvious, or should be: Gore is the

only Dem who can beat Rudy next year (Hillary

comes off like a scold, alienating even her

closest supporters; Dems would be far better

off nominating Nancy Pelosi for president);

Sen. Obama would not be able to withstand GOP

attack ads -- not in swing states like Ohio

or Florida, which he'd have to win to

become president).


But I digress. Paul

_________________________________________
_________________________________________

THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Sunday, February 25, 2007



Lights Out for Network TV's Best Series?


NBC insists the show will go on, at least for now,

for "Friday Night Lights," which many consider

network TV's best dramatic series -- despite

the fact that the series has usually landed

in third or fourth place in whatever time slot it has

occupied since its debut last October.


Though the network is clearly not

talking about ending "FNL," and though the show

may yet be saved in the long run, a hard look at the

ratings suggests that only a miracle on the order

of a hail Mary pass could possibly stop its eventual

cancellation.


Despite its recent relocation to a less

competitive time slot, Wednesdays at 8pm, the

program continues to tank. In its previous time,

Tuesdays at 8pm, its failure was partly blamed on

the fact that it was up against ABC's runaway hit

"Dancing with the Stars." Now there is no such

competitor, which makes it all the more likely the

show might not enjoy another full season on the air.


So why aren't viewers watching "Friday

Night Lights"?


A few theories. "FNL" is one of those artful

depictions of the red state quotidian (created

by sophisticated blue state producers) that

seems to play better in blue states than

in red ones.


Hardcore red staters -- say,

churchgoing NASCAR Republicans -- apparently

don't want artful when it comes to

television viewing. They seem to want shows

like "WWE Friday Night SmackDown!" wrestling.

And they don't want to come home from a hard

day shoveling this or loading that to watch

a subtle drama about teenagers.


It's like a cat looking in

the mirror: it doesn't recognize

itself no matter how clear the image. Likewise,

red-staters probably don't see themselves

in "Friday Nights Lights." After all, this

is a program in which the quarterback for the Dillon

Panthers, Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), actually

talks to a classmate about Jackson Pollock in one

episode. Such atypicality is admirable -- but

is a TV viewer in a Don Garlits t-shirt going

to get it?


The show seems to be caught between demographics:

it's too smart for most mainstream red state

sports fans, but the football theme is not

exactly smart enough for the blue staters (even

though the show is about a lot more than football).


And it also seems to fall between

audiences in terms of age, as it's a show

mostly about teenagers, but its sensibility

is very adult,


It's sort of like the plight of a

critically acclaimed show of the mid-1990s,

"My So-Called Life," starring Claire Danes,

which was canceled after a short run. The

ratings problem with that series about teenagers

(also created by smart adults) appeared to be

that grown ups didn't want to see a

drama about teens, and teens didn't want to see

a drama that was so adult (again, the cat didn't

recognize itself in the mirror).


And for all its artfulness, the series

isn't perfect in the way, say, most episodes

of "The Sopranos" are. Promising plotlines

are not always pursued (whatever happened

to the scandal about Ray "Voodoo" Tatom's

eligibility, for example? Or what about the

fallout from Tyra Collette's affair with

that Los Angeles businessman?).


The show is also not quite as subversive or

edgy as it could be if it were on, say, HBO, and

it occasionally succumbs to cliches of the mainstream.

Wouldn't it have been adventurous to paint

Voodoo as somewhat insubordinate (instead of

over-the-top insubordinate) but also so

indispensable on the gridiron that Coach

Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler)couldn't manage

without him on the team? And wouldn't

it have been refreshingly unpredicatble if

Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles)

actually saw his fortunes soar because

of his steroid use while suffering no major

health problems from the 'roids?


But this being network TV -- where

happy endings rule, teamwork is always a

good thing and (unlike in real life)

bad deeds bring bad consequences -- those

plotlines probably won't happen. As James

Gandolfini once remarked, if "The Sopranos"

had been produced for network TV instead

of for HBO, his mobster character would

likely have been helping law enforcement

on the sly.


But that said, most critics have

rightly noticed that the show is exceptional

from intro to outro, and the examples of

its high quality are numerous (e.g.,

the way Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) grows

with almost each episode as her previous

identity gradually falls away; the way

Saracen is being robbed of his youth

by too many grown-up responsibilities;

how the bitterness of the father of the

recently crippled Jason Street eerily

resembles the bitterness of Jason

himself; how Billy Riggins's attempts

to become a better person are thwarted

at almost every turn; the way Lyla's

car-dealing dad, Buddy Garrity

(Brad Leland), has such an appetite and

taste for the small-time (and also seems

to genuinely believe all that dealership

jargon with gusto!).


But all that light may well

be extinguished this year. If so, the

cancellation of the series may teach us

new traumatic truths, such as:

talent does not always out and endings

are not always happy.

* * *

By the way, the most perceptive writing about

"FNL" has come from Virginia Heffernan in

The New York Times. She really does have

an impressive sense of what it's

about.

But I digress. Paul
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THE DAILY DIGRESSION

for Saturday, February 24, 2007



Katie, Meredith and Bob: Get Back to

Where You Once Belonged!


Katie Couric should return to the "Today" show,

Meredith Vieira should go back

to "The View" and Bob Schieffer should get back

to the "CBS Evening News." Immediately.

Before any further damage is done.


Of the four, Couric should go first and fast,

if she wants to avoid becoming Connie

Chunged, a real risk. In her new job as anchor

of "The CBS Evening News," Couric

seems to have shrunk, literally and figuratively --

along with the ratings for the program,

now at third place (and counting).


Remember that just months or ago Couric filled

the screen like a commander on "Today." But at CBS,

she seems too small for the screen, almost a pip-squeak

and (particularly when she appears as the low person on

the totem pole in the "60 Minutes"

intro) like the eager junior partner all ready to serve

coffee to Leslie Stahl. CBS has succeeded in

turning an empress into an office temp.


Katie used to be hard at 7AM but is now

the softest thing at 7PM, and that's not

good. After work, at 6:30, we want to hear

the tough stuff undiluted because we're fresh

off the subway or the freeway, we've argued

over a train seat or a parking spot, we're

hot and we want our schadenfreude up straight,

which is what ABC's Charles Gibson and NBC's

Brian Williams give us, and what Bob Schieffer

used to provide. Which probably

explains why, despite all the hype and promotion

of Couric, she's essentially doing no

better than Schieffer did in the ratings -- and

a lot worse, relative to expectations.


Meanwhile, Meredith Vieira, who

used to be sort of irresistible, is a bit more

resistible in her tense new partnership with Matt

Lauer on "Today." And Lauer seems to

treat her like the new girl in class, the

one with knee-high socks who transferred from

some Country Day School, and he's always

high-fiving old pal Al Roker and giving off the

vibe that he's not the least bit interested

in that snooty new girl in his homeroom class

because he's seen plenty better, he's seen

paradise in Katie, and there'll never ever

ever be another Katie.


If Couric returns to "Today," Vieira

should return to save increasingly

chaotic "The View."


Problem is, you can't go home

again (to coin a phrase). Or as the Greek

philosopher Heraclitis put it, you can't

step in the same river twice (because it keeps

moving forward into a new form). In the very

unlikely event that Couric, Vieira or Fey ever

decide to return to their previous shows, they'd

come back as demoted losers, which is

different from who they were when they left.

So the fantasy wouldn't work. Only Schieffer

would be credible returning to his old role,

on "The CBS Evening News," without losing a

bit of stature. Ironic that the only one who

had the word "interim" in his title turns out to

be the most durable.


By the way, tv viewers in every local market

have their own favorite tv newsperson who

they think should ascend to the national level.

When I lived in New York in the 1990s,

there was lots of buzz about New York 1's Annika

Pergament, who had such onscreen appeal that

she was even singled out to appear in several

episodes of HBO's "The Sopranos."


Out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, there's

plenty of tv talent, but in my opinion the

person with the charisma and the brains and the

screen presence of a national star anchor is Carolyn

Johnson of the ABC affiliate KGO in S.F., who

commands attention quietly but unmistakably, even

for viewers who couldn't care less about the

rockslide in Orinda or the flood in Noe

Valley. Sort of like a young Beth Nissen

(circa "World News Now") with a slight touch

of Jessica Savitch. Worth checking out

on the KGO website.


The NBC and CBS affiliates in SF also have

their bright lights, though I know for

a fact that at least one top manager at

PIX is not always an honest man, and that

diminishes the station's news credibility.

(To expand on that: in October 2000, the KPIX mgr,

Dan Rosenheim, wrote a detailed letter to my editor

about his "discussion" with me about a minor story I'd

written. Only problem is, we had never spoken to each

other in our lives -- ever -- and he knew that. We

had never spoken one-on-one or in a group or on

the telephone or at a meeting or via email or via

snail mail or in any other context, and yet he wrote

a detailed letter to my editor about my "conversation" with

him. And I'm not leaving anything out of this anecdote,

either. (For more on the Rosenheim fabrication,

go to www.resumesidenotes.blogspot.com.)

* * *

Personal Note To You-Know-Who: My piece on Woody Allen

in the early 1990s was in the issue of New York Newsday with Sol Wachler

on the cover. Hope that makes looking for it easier.


But I digress. Paul.
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