Thursday, September 9, 2010


for November 24, 2009

Here're my reviews of a few recent movies:

Nora Ephron's "Julie & Julia"

Meryl Streep continues her fairly amazing late

career resurgence with "Julie & Julia," though

this one ranks considerably beneath "The Devil

Wears Prada" and "Doubt." Here she disappears

masterfully into the role of Julia Child -- and that's

the best aspect of this film by many miles.

But the movie is fatally flawed at the conceptual level,

as it tries for a multi-generational split screen by pairing

Child's story with that of a blogger who is much younger

and much less interesting. ("Prada" came at its multi-generational

structure in a far more natural way.)

An infinitely greater film could have been made by

jettisoning the blogger half of the story and focusing

solely on Child's life -- on both her later career as a

star chef and on her earlier work as a spy for the

CIA (the OSS, as it was called then) during World

War II, a fascinating aspect of her life (involving

sharks and submarines!) that has never been fully

told on the big or small screen.

Instead, Ephron serves up a weak-minded

chick flick, Maureen Dowdism writ large

on a forty mil budget, a work that makes me

think I was wrong to have called her (in the

Eighties) the best female auteur since


In the universe of "Julie & Julia," women are

sainted and de-eroticized; men are throw pillows, cushions

to cry on, lean on, come on or punch.

The most inspired part of the movie is the

clip of Dan Aykroyd's devastatingly funny

"Saturday Night Live" impersonation of

Child from 1978. Which left me wondering

whether a far more interesting film could have

been made by casting Aykroyd in the lead role.

* * *

Robert Zemeckis's "A Christmas Carol"

There are a few moments here of Disney/Zemeckis/Spielberg

level cinematic stardust and magic, but not nearly enough.

Simultaneously overdone and underdone, it's both skimpy

(at 90 minutes) while including every bell and whistle

in the CGI stockhouse in Novato.

The last third of the movie -- after the Ghost of Christmas

Yet-to-Come shows Ebenezer his grave and how badly he's

regarded after his death -- is substantially better than

the sometimes tedious first part. And the ending does

give you a happy-to-be-alive kick, though it also left

me with an appetite for "It's a Wonderful Life"

more than for a re-watching of this film.

Not sure that this picture will do well at the

box office in relation to its production costs

(it's already in decline, having been released way

too early). Problem is it has limited use as a

family movie, its primary value, because of a couple

scary scenes that could give the kiddies nightmares.

Admittedly, seeing it on a bootleg DVD is not the

ideal way to view a movie in 3-D and performance

capture, so I may be wrong at the margins on this

one, but not by much, I bet.

* * *

F. Gary Gray's"Law Abiding Citizen"

This film is not as awful as many critics have made

it out to be, though it is awful in some ways. But it's

also interesting for what its popularity says about

the public's genuine anger and anxiety about the

shortcomings of the American justice system.

It's yet another picture in a long line, beginning (most

memorably) with "Dirty Harry" in 1971, that stokes anger

about criminals being acquitted or treated leniently

due to what are called "technicalities,"

which usually boil down to guilty people being set free

because of the exclusionary rule or Miranda

rights violations.

Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood have done this sort of

thing much better (the gold standard of cinematic outrage

over "technicalities" is the sequence in

"Dirty Harry" when Eastwood's character is told

that evidence he obtained by torture and without a

search warrant is inadmissible). Such issues are

as relevant today as ever before, what with the

case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the renewed

debates about evidentiary standards and the use

of (ahem) "enhanced interrogation techniques."

But those who cheer the sadistic protagonist of this

film -- and who condemn acquittals because of

disqualified evidence -- miss the fact that vigilantes

would have also killed Richard Jewel, an innocent

man -- a hero, actually -- who (in the spirit of

this movie) might have been lynched by the victims

of the Olympic Park bombing. (This "wrong man"

syndrome is addressed on screen by an oppositional

cinematic subgenre (see: "The Ox Bow Incident,"

"The Wrong Man," "Mystic River," etc.)

As it stands, the role of the protagonist here appears

to have been written for Mel Gibson, circa 1998,

and the script and plot have a similar lack of

complexity. Remember: while some of Eastwood's films

expressed outrage about killers going free, he also

made movies about vigilantes jumping to the

wrong conclusions.

* * * * * *

Why The Trial of Khalid Will Damage the Reputation of Our Civilian Courts

Problem with the idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in

a U.S. civilian court is this:

On the one hand, the Justice Department is saying,

"We're going to give Khalid the full benefits of

the American justice system." But on the other hand,

it's saying: "Don't worry, he won't be acquitted.

And in the highly unlikely event that he is acquitted,

we assure you we'll nail him for something else. "

So the Justice Dept. is being disingenuous. It's

pretending to give Khalid the full measure of due

process but is not going to allow him to be acquitted

if that's the verdict the system arrives at.

Well, that's a show trial, which is, frankly, all

Khalid deserves. And by putting such a show trial

into our civilian justice system, we're showing the

whole world that sometimes the verdicts

of our trials are determined in advance.

If we're going to have a rigged trial in which the

defendant has zero chance of being acquitted, then

let's not be disingenuous; let's move the case to

a military tribunal, where there are never any

false pretenses about a defendant being given due process

beyond a reasonable doubt.

By trying him in a civilian venue, we also risk

setting precedent that could threaten the

exclusionary rule and Miranda rights.

What I mean is that if a civilian judge allows evidence

that was illegally obtained, and Khalid appeals that

ruling, and his appeal is denied in higher courts, then

you have set a precedent that says that illegally obtained

evidence is sometimes admissible and that the Miranda

warnings are not sacrosanct. In the future,

attorneys can cite the precedent of "The U.S. v. Khalid

Sheikh Mohammed" as the basis for claiming that a search

warrant is not legally required in order to collect

evidence in a case.

So the net result of trying Khalid in a civilian court

may well be, ironically, the weakening of the

exclusionary rule and of Miranda.

There have always been circumstances in which a

defendant deserves only military justice and its

lower standard of proof, and Khalid's is surely one

of those cases. By trying him in federal court, we

risk the spectacle of a bureaucratic or biased judge

tossing out evidence against Khalid because of

the exclusionary rule or Miranda rights violations and

letting a clearly guilty mass murderer go free.

And we risk the further spectacle of the Justice

Dept. putting him in chains after an acquittal

and trying him again, as if to say, "Khalid loses

if he wins, Khalid loses if he loses."

Rather than besmirch the reputation of our civilian

courts with a trial that might make us look a bit

like North Korea, let's turn the case over to

the military, whose reputation cannot be damaged

by a trial whose verdict is a fait accompli.

* * * *

I Spoke With Fela Kuti One-on-One in 1986

A whole new generation is now re-discovering

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, thanks to Bill T. Jones's

new Broadway show "Fela!"

Fela, of course, is the late Nigerian pop star and

political activist, probably best-known

today as the singer, saxophonist and composer

who created Afropop, which mixed jazz, rock,

funk and politics. Fela was also famous

for having fought against oppression in Nigeria;

in the early Eighties, he was imprisoned by

his country’s military regime for three

years for what was what later proved

to be a politically motivated charge.

After he was released from prison

in April 1986, he visited New York City,

appearing at a press conference

on June 13, 1986, in Manhattan before

performing on June 15th for Amnesty

International at Giants Stadium in New


On June 17, 1986, I conducted an exclusive one-on-one

interview with Fela, and a few lines from that talk

were published in the weekly magazine Cash Box,

in the issue that hit newsstands on June 21, 1986.

But most of the interview I conducted

for Cash Box has never been

published in the decades since. Here is

an edited version of that

conversation I had with Fela,

seven weeks after his release from prison in '86.


FELA: Yeah, it's a big change for me. It's a good change.


FELA: No. I just kept my brain blank. I left my mind blank in prison.


FELA: Kirikiri is one of the toughest prisons but it was not tough on me. I lived through it. It was tough on the body.


FELA: Much more stronger.


FELA: They just took me to the prison...And it was very very uncomfrotable, very far away from everybody. And visitors weren't allowed for me for about five months.


FELA: No, no, no. I was never afraid for my life....We just try to face the government...


FELA: No, I'm not going to back down. I still intend to [protest the government]. I'm not
backing down...


FELA: Yes, definitely.


FELA: Oh, yes. Everybody in Nigeria likes my records.


FELA: Not much. They tried to make people aware of it. But there's not much they could do...


FELA: The worst thing that happened to me [while I was in prison] was that my record was produced by somebody else -- Bill Laswell. And that really fucked me up in prison.


FELA: No, "Army Arrangement." Destroyed me completely. F----- my mind up...When
you're in prison, you can’t do anything about what’s happening outside.


FELA: Oh, yes.




FELA: Yes, exactly.


FELA: Yes, Bill Laswell’s production. I had a production before I went to prison. So they abandoned my production and put in a new one. They knew that [I’d given] instructions that it not be produced by anyone. They knew how I felt about it.


FELA: EMI did so many bad things. They didn’t look out for my interest at all. They just wanted to rush something out....”Live in Amsterdam” wasn’t a good recording. I only [made] it happen because the system wanted it, because the comapny complained...and demanded a live album.


FELA: No, I don’t.


FELA: I could never leave my home....It inspires me a lot.

But I digress. Paul



for November 21, 2009

I went down to the demonstration
to get my fair share of abuse...
Police in riot gear stand in front of Wheeler Hall on the campus
of the University of California at Berkeley at around 5pm yesterday, just as cops began the process of clearing the building of protesters who were occupying it.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

The occupation of a building on the campus of the

University of California at Berkeley came to an end last

night, following a few hours of tense confrontation

between police and protesters.

The 41 people who had seized a room in the building were

arrested, charged with misdemeanors and not jailed. Bathed

in blue light, they were led out of the west side of Wheeler

to wild cheers from the crowd after 7:30 pm.

Though there were reports of sporadic violence, and though

the stand-off between demonstrators and police was quite

edgy in the six o'clock hour, the occupation was resolved

without major incident. At various times, however, it seemed

as if violence was imminent. It was not known why police

chose to evict the protesters during dinner hour on a

Friday night, when one would expect the greatest

number of demonstrators, rather than wait until, say, 3am,

when few would be around.

The activists were protesting a 32% tuition increase

and layoffs throughout the UC system.

But I digress. Paul



for November 20, 2009

Welcome to the Occupation!
Protesters took and occupied a room in Wheeler Hall on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley this morning. Here's how the occupation looked at around eight o'clock this morning. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Here's a tight shot of the protesters, shown here on the second floor of Wheeler. They're protesting an unusually steep tuition increase for students at the University of California. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Two protesters at a second floor window of Wheeler Hall in the 8am hour today. [photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for November 18, 2009

I was in Chinatown in San Francisco yesterday and

saw a new form of enthusiasm for President

Obama on store shelves in that neighborhood (perhaps

because of his recent visit to China).

Anyway, on sale in Chinatown, just in time for

Christmas: a Barack Obama action figure -- dubbed

"an action figure we can believe in" -- on sale for

the low, low price of only $14.95!

It also offers this caveat: "Warning: Choking Hazard"

(though I don't think they're referring to what some

perceive as his hesitation in putting forward an Afghanistan


The ObamaDoll: now on sale in Chinatown!
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Detail of the ObamaDoll ("choking hazard," it says).
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

As the Golden State Goes Broke,
California Campuses Erupt in Protest Over Tuition Hikes

How the protests looked this afternoon at
the University of California, Berkeley.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Here's how the angry protests looked this afternoon

at the University of California at Berkeley, where

student fees are about to be hiked 32%.

Another shot of this afternoon's rally in Berkeley.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul


for November 17, 2009

Many thanks to Marshall and the NBT for playing

my new song "Tweet Number One" last night.

If I'm not mistaken, it may well be the very

first Tweeter-themed pop song aired on the radio

anywhere. (Is it? ) But I betcha it won't be

the last!

Anyway, you can hear "Tweet Number One" -- which I

wrote, performed and produced last month -- right here

for free. Enjoy!
Click here:

But I digress. Paul



for November 13, 2009

Heirs to the Warhol Legacy: Keats, Marcopoulos

Ari Marcopoulos's "White Room, Dizin, Iran,"
now on display at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum.

The last time I saw Andy Warhol in person was on a boat

in New York Harbor in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty,

July 4, 1986. Just before ZZ Top performed a private

concert for the small crowd on the boat, Warhol

emerged from the upper deck and walked down the stairs,

causing almost everyone onboard to stop and stare.

Warhol, accustomed to that sort of attention, had a characteristically

novel response: he pulled out a camera and started taking

pictures of partygoers as if they were the celebrities and

main attractions. Very, uh, Warholesque.

Sadly, around seven months later, Warhol was dead at age 58,

the victim (as some see it) of a botched gallbladder

operation that he should have survived by a mile. If he

were still around today, he'd be 81, with perhaps

several more years to live.

I must admit I never got to know him (I was a full-time

magazine writer at the time), but he was an

ubiquitous presence at the parties I attended in

New York in the 1980s, ranging from a bash

for the rock band Ratt to an MTV party.

Since his death, no one in the art world has

yet attained the nearly unanimous level of stature

and respect that Warhol had and still has.

Among the post-Warhol artists who might one day develop

into true heirs to Warhol are two whose art has his

same spirit of audacious and effective originality:

Jonathon Keats, a conceptual artist; and Ari Marcopoulus,

a photographer and former Warhol assistant.

Keats -- who unveiled his new conceptual art

work last night at the Modernism Gallery in

San Francisco -- is (as I put it in a previous

Digression) sort of a 21st century combination of

Wittgenstein and Warhol, specializing in "thought

experiments," as he calls them, that dwell at the

intersection of art, philosophy and humor. (For

example, he once sold his thoughts to

museum patrons and has literally copyrighted his

own mind.)

Marcopoulos -- whose work is currently on display

at the Berkeley Art Museum in Berkeley, Calif. --

shoots photos that are as fascinating and

original and striking as those by any other photographer

of his generation. As I wrote in a previous Digression,

I was so taken by his pictures that I went through

the collection once and then walked through a second

time just for the enjoyment; there are dreamers in

bedrooms, surreal ice, complexity in simplicity,

Alaska and Iran as you've never seen them and, everywhere,

people, characters you care about, as close as you can come

to photographing a pysche, in some cases.

Google both of them up and enjoy their works in

Google Images and elsewhere (and check them out when

their works come to a museum near you).

Jonathon Keats talking to his fans last night about
his latest work, "The First Bank Of Anti-Matter," at
the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco. [photo by
Paul Iorio]

* * *

A previous work by Keats: the OuijaVote balloting
system. [photo by Paul Iorio

* * *

A Marcopoulos photo currently on display at BAM.
(I think it's called "Juneau, AK.")
[photo of photo by Paul Iorio.]

* * *

Warhol's "Race Riot," an adaptation of a
photo of a 1963 riot in Birmingham, recently
at BAM. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

The Obama Administration's First Huge Mistake

Look, I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. And I'm very high

on his administration right now.

But let me state unequivocally: if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

walks and is acquitted at his upcoming trial, I will not vote for Obama

for president again. Under any circumstances. Period.

Why? Because his administration could have easily

put Khalid's case into the military courts, where it

belongs and where "preponderance of evidence" is the

standard of proof. The much-respected Nuremberg Military

Tribunals worked just fine in bringing German fascists

to justice in the 1940s; a similar (domestic) military tribunal

would surely work just as well in bringing Khalid and other

Islamic fascists to justice today. (And remember:

Khalid was collared by the military, not by civilian cops, as

some have noted.)

Instead, a civilian judge might well throw out Khalid's

case because of technicalities related to the harsh interrogation

techniques used on him years ago. If that were to happen, a truly

evil and dangerous guy, who committed one of the worst

acts of unprovoked warfare against U.S. civilians since the

Second World War, and who has confessed to those war

crimes, would be set free -- free to commit similar atrocities

in the future. And if that happens, I will be casting my vote in

2012 for someone other than Obama.

* * * *

Khalid, Who Rose From a 2-Bit Mass Murderer to Become a 3-Bit Mass Murderer
Khalid sez: "your pizza delivered in 30 minutes or your jihad is free!"

But I digress. Paul



for November 10, 2009


New York Times Praised al-Awlaki in 2001 Article

So how did The New York Times size up Anwar al-Awlaki in print back in

2001? No media outlet (except this website) has yet written about

a report about al-Awlaki that the Times published eight years ago.

Al-Awlaki, of course, is the imam who, on Monday, emphatically praised

gunman Nidal Hasan for killing 13 people and injuring another 42 last week

at the Fort Hood military base in Texas.

By the time The New York Times interviewed him in 2001, al-Awlaki

had already been under investigation for a couple years by the

F.B.I. for suspected al Qaeda ties, according to

the Times of London, and had admitted meeting with one of

the 9/11 hijackers, Hawaf al-Hizmi, several times.

The idea that he was somehow a moderate then and has only

recently turned radical appears to be a myth.

When he was praised by the Times in '01, al-Awlaki had also admitted

meeting Al-Hizmi's roommate and fellow hijacker Khalid al-Mihdar, who

was part of the team with Hani Hanjour (another attendee at al-Awlaki's

mosque) that crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the

Pentagon. In fact, the three hijackers and Hasan were all

attendees at the mosque where Al-Awlaki was an imam in 2001 -- the

Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.

Even though al-Awlaki had such a history, New York Times reporter Laurie

Millstein characterized al-Awlaki as "a new generation of Muslim

leader capable of merging East and West."

Here's what she wrote in an article that ran in The Times on

October 19, 2001:

"Mr. Al-Awlaki, who at 30 is held up as a new generation of Muslim leader
capable of merging East and West: born in New Mexico to parents from
Yemen, who studied Islam in Yemen and civil engineering at Colorado State

A close read of the article and al-Awlaki's quotes in it reveal

a sneaky ambiguity in al-Awlaki's words, a kind of plausible

deniability -- or perhaps, al-Awlaki was playing Millstein for a fool,

feeding her quotes that she thought meant one thing and he

intended as something else.

In the article, Millstein first summarizes, in her own words, the criticism aimed

at America by Muslim hardliners:

"Their most frequent grievances were sexual promiscuity, movies and media perceived
as anti-Muslim, racial prejudice and American foreign policy of supporting Israel,
blockading Iraq and bolstering what they perceived as corrupt Middle Eastern regimes
in Saudi Arabia and Egypt."

Then she quotes al-Awlaki's very ambiguous remarks, which I'm presenting here with

my own annotations in capital letters:

''In the past we were oblivious. [NOTE THAT AL-AWLAKI DOESN'T SAY
TO ALL THE BLASPHEMY OUT THERE."] We didn't really care
much because we never expected things to happen. [NOTE HE
Now I think things are different. What we might have tolerated in
the past, we won't tolerate any more." [HIGHLY AMBIGUOUS.

Millstein quotes al-Awlaki again in her story (and I've added

annotations in caps once more):

''There were some statements that were inflammatory [STATEMENTS
MUSLIM RADICALS?], and were considered just talk, but now we
realize that talk can be taken seriously and acted upon in a violent

After his time as imam at the Dar al-Hijrah, Al-Awlaki left the

U.S. in 2002 and moved to Yemen, his parents's birthplace.

He currently runs a popular jihadist website, Anwar al-Awlaki On-line

(at, where he writes the blog that, today (11/9),

praised Nidal Hasan, saying:

“Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to
Iraq and Afghanistan. How can there be any dispute about the virtue of
what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically
justify serving as a soldier in the US army is if his intention is to
follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.”

“The heroic act of brother Nidal also shows the dilemma of the Muslim American
community. Increasingly they are being cornered into taking stances that would
either make them betray Islam or betray their nation. Many amongst them are
choosing the former. The Muslim organizations in America came out in a pitiful
chorus condemning Nidal’s operation.”

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- It continues to amaze me that my song

"Kim Jong-il" is creating a bit of a buzz among

bloggers I've never met and among people emailing me.

Listeners seem to really enjoy that one!

Yesterday one blogger corrected my

pronunication of "Juche" -- and I stand

corrected. For those who haven't heard the

song yet, listen here for free:

[P.S. -- Inevitable. A jealous irrelevant friend

from my long-ago high school years had his

suggestions about my music rejected by me

a few years ago and so now is trying to interfere

with my music activities. What he doesn't

understand is this (and let me explain by

analogy): if I were to say to, say, Eric

Clapton, that he should do "Layla" as a reggae

song, and Clapton doesn't use my suggestion,

that doesn't make me a co-writer of "Layla."

Get the picture?)

If I had used Bill Epps's suggestions in

my music, I would have fully credited him.

But I did not use any of his suggestions at all,

not one of them, so I'm not going to credit

him for things he didn't do. It's that simple.

* * * *

P.S. -- Unsolicited advice for President Obama:

What's the best way to get the public option health

care plan through the U.S. Senate with a healthy


Find and kill Osama bin Laden.

After that, you could probably get single payer

passed in a landslide.



for November 9, 2009

I've just seen a couple more recent movies and here are

my reviews:

Kenny Ortega's "This Is It"

At least as electric as "Shine a Light," almost

as revealing as "Gimme Shelter," "This is It" is

as great as some of the best reviews make it out to be.

It's more akin to a rock musical like "Rent" (the play,

not the film) than to a concert film or docu,

what with the dancing and choreography and

sets and pyrotechnics counting for almost as much

as the music at times.

If this footage is any indication, Jackson was

preparing for what would have been a pop cultural

behemoth, the O2 concert series in London. And he was

readying all the good stuff, too, with opening night

a mere couple weeks away.

Highlights here include...almost every song:

the showstopping opener, "Wanna Be Startin'

Somethin'"; "Billie Jean," with its extended

percussion coda so Jackson could work his

magic on the dance floor; the unexpectedly

haunting "Earth Song"; the glimpse of him refining

his sound to perfection in "The Way You Make Me Feel."

At some points his dancing is fluid like water, like

Jagger; he had the moves and energy and grace of

someone half his age.

And then there are the personally revealing

behind-the-scenes bits, particularly during rehearsals

for the Jackson Five mini-set. As the reunited

brothers launch into a seismic "I Want You

Back," Jackson effortlessly falls into his old


But watch carefully; he seems emotionally

uncomfortable, uncharacteristically so, during the

Jackson Five segment, as if he's been exposed to

kryptonite, and afterwards complains

about an earpiece that "seems like somebody's fist is

pushing in my ear."

Pause that for a moment. Interesting that when he has

to get back into his Jackson Five persona, he's

suddenly talking images of being assaulted ("Like

somebody's fist is pushing in my ear"). And then he

repeats the "fist in the ear" image. (I know, he was

referring to something that was making him physically

uncomfortable, but he also appeared to be, unconsciously,

referring to something else entirely.)

No doubt about it, Jackson's memories of the

Jackson Five period were associated with being

physically abused and assaulted by his father.

In order to perform Jackson Five material,

Jackson had to work through some deeply unpleasant

and traumatic memories and links.

Hence, at the end of "I Want You Back" he

seems distraught and is talking about being hit

with a fist. Sad.

All told, this is a movie you can dance to, that's

for sure. But, as always, the fun was on Michael

Jackson's dime.

* * * * *

Kevin Greutert's "Saw VI"

Sadism that connects to no plot, characters or wisdom

worth watching. This sixth installment is a recession-era

artifact (health insurance execs get, uh, skewered),

though the franchise itself could only have come

into being in the years after 9/11 (the nightmarish

reality of people in the twin towers who had to

choose between burning to death or jumping to

their deaths seems to have created the climate

for "Saw"). The best I can say is it's not boring.

* * * * *

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, whose ideas never

cease to be fresh and amazing, has a new work he's

unveiling in San Francisco on November 12th at the

Modernism Gallery (685 Market St.). It's called

"The First Bank of Antimatter," his plan to restore

the global economy with antimatter! His work is always

worth checking out.

But I digress. Paul



for November 5 - 6, 2009

Here are my reviews of a couple movies currently in theaters:

Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity"

In the movies-made-with-a-credit-card subgenre, this one ranks

a couple notches below "The Blair Witch Project," "Tarnation" and

"Open Water." But it shares with "Blair Witch" the same somewhat

deceptive appeal of a faux documentary that doesn't draw

too much attention to the faux part. I bet a good portion of its

(and "Blair Witch"'s) success is due to some moviegoers

initially thinking they were seeing real docu footage

of a rare mystery.

The obscure mystery in this case is that a house, and the

twentysomething couple who live in it, seem to be haunted

by some sort of invisible paranormal spirit. But within

ten minutes, as soon as we see the couple consult a psychic

about their problem, we realize the film makers are playing

this premise straight and unironically, thereby missing a

major opportunity to create a smart campy horror film

that works on both a meta and literal level.

That said, the thrills and chills do kick in at around the

70-minute mark, and the finale is a skillful bit of film making that

recalls the end of Antonioni's "The Passenger" (in which

we see a tragedy unfold from a fixed point of view that creates

uncertainty about what is actually happening in unseen parts

of the house).

"Paranormal" is also the first example (that I can

recall) of a hit film that seems to have been

heavily influenced by reality TV shows, which it

resembles even though it's a scripted thriller. (Then

again, much reality TV is partially scripted, too.)

Instead of making a sequel, which is reportedly already in

the works, the film makers should spin it into a

reality TV series about several couples living in an

old abandoned villa they think is haunted. They can

call it "Micah and Kate Plus Eight."

* * * * *

Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!"

Without its upbeat Marvin Hamlisch score --

which gives the film the feel of an antic, zany

early Woody Allen comedy -- Steven Soderbergh's

"The Informant!" would be as sober and

earnest as "The Insider" or "Silkwood," for the

mosr part. To be sure, superimposing music on

a picture is a chintzy way to establish a

tone that is mostly unearned, as this is

largely serious material about a case of

real-life corporate malfeasance, its dark comedic

undercurrent not as sustained or consistent as

it should be. Hence, the Hamlisch, which tries to

give the film what isn't already there organically.

If Soderbergh had sustained the tension and inspired

brilliance of the first forty minutes, "The Informant!"

would be the best American film released so far this year.

Its first half is minutely-observed, very knowing about

the psychology of some corporate executives, subtly funny (a lonely

whistleblower who is being wiretapped says he enjoys

talking to the F.B.I. because "they're good listeners"),

marvelously acted by Matt Damon and others, and

wonderfully aphoristic ("Paranoid is what people who try

to take advantage call you when they're trying to get

you to drop your guard").

But unfortunately, the last half has no fizz, no

electricity, little focus, slack tension. Too bad.

Soderbergh almost created a classic.

* * * * *

[above, graphic by Paul Iorio.]
* * * * * *

Do You Need Any More Evidence That Religion Does NOT
Guide People to Moral Behavior?

"Allahu Akbar!," shouted Nidal Hasan as he shot dozens
of innocent people yesterday. He did this after saying his prayers, of course.
[photo of Hasan/Ft. Hood carnage by The Telegraph.]

Am I the only one getting mighty sick of the endless

parade of devoutly religious people committing

unspeakable crimes? Just in the last several months

the religulous Hall of Shame and Evil has included: Sunday school

teacher Melissa Huckabee, who apparently raped and

murdered a little girl earlier this year in California;

holy roller rapist and kidnapper Phil Garrido, who

followed in the footsteps of religious fanatic kidnapper

Brian David Mitchell; and, of course, Najibullah Zazi,

the Muslim fundamentalist who was plotting to bomb

New York City with a peroxide explosive a couple

months ago.

I'll tell ya, religion really guides people to the path

of righteousness, doesn't it?

The latest religious nut to surface from the

fundamentalist sewers (a world where people have to

actually consult a book before they know whether it's

right or wrong to kill an innocent person) is Nidal Hasan,

a devout Muslim who prayed many times a day and even

shouted "God is great!" as he murdered innocent people.

The truth about the killings -- that it was fueled

by religion to a significant degree -- was downplayed by some

reporters even after that fact had become obvious.

As late as seven this morning Pacific Time, a few journalists

were still saying Hasan had committed mass murder

primarily because he was [pick the characterization

that flatters yourself and denigrates your adversary]

mad about the war, mad about not getting a raise, mad from PTSD,

blah blah blah, (add your own motivation that dovetails

with your personal pet peeve or cause)!

Truth is, when someone bases his life on an

irrational belief system (i.e., religion), irrational

acts are likely to follow (with "God told me to do it"

always the justification).

But I digress. Paul



for November 4, 2009

New on DVD: "Whatever Works"

I was going to call "Whatever Works" Woody Allen's

worst movie ever, but then images from the

film hit me and stuck the next day, much like the

aftertaste of a distinctive but ultimately unsatisfying

and unpleasant meal. Even so, I still had the feeling

that, forty years after his directiorial debut, he had

finally invented a new brand of Woody Allen film:

a comedy that's 100% laugh-free!

But is it really his worst? Might there

be another that has slipped my mind that truly takes

the cake? The candidates for worst Allen movie, of

course, were all released in succession between

"Hollywood Ending" and "Whatever Works," between 2002

and 2007, with the one shining exception being "Match

Point" ('05), which is actually a plot-driven Hitchcock

film in spirit, very uncharacteristic for Allen and

thin in retrospect (do we remember the main character

Wilton for anything but his crime?). And Allen

has always called Hitchcock "second drawer," and for

good reason: Hitchcock is a "conscious" director, more

craft than art, and those are the same reasons "Match

Point" is the least of Woody's top tier works.

Then again, "Match Point" did have that

very, very clever moment when the murderer, planning his

crime meticulously, decides to kill someone in the most

discreet way possible: by talking his way into his target's

apartment in broad daylight, clumsily assembling a shotgun

in that person's living room and then shooting his

victim with the shotgun in the middle of

downtown London, where, of course, nobody would hear it.

In "Whatever," there are no such diabolically plotted

murders, though he does come down hard on all that loud

yeah-yeah-yeah moptop "music" the kids listen to nowadays.

I soon began to draw a blank when thinking about

"Cassandra's Dream" (was that the one where a woman

tries to replace a valuable piece of jewelry with a fake

but then loses track of which is which?) and

"Anything Else" (that was Biggs doing the Allen-like role,

right? Or was it Ferrell?). Lately, there always seems to be some younger

actor, or more marketable older actor (Larry David, say),

doing what would have been the Woody role in an earlier

era -- and sometimes, embarrassingly, doing the Allen

accent, too. (Who can forget Kenneth Branagh speaking

Allenesque in whatever that film was?)

So, is "Whatever Worse" appreciably worse than

"Hollywood Ending"/"Anything Else"/"Melinda and

Melinda"/"Scoop"/"Cassandra's Dream," the other

five contenders for worst Allen flick? It may well be.

It certainly proves that you can put two of the funniest

guys on the planet together in a movie and create

nothing worth laughing at.

* * * *

Muhammad and Man at Yale -- and in Hollywood

Funniest joke I've heard out of Hollywood this week is this:

some movie mogul is making a picture about the

Muslim Prophet Muhammad that will not actually show

Muhammad on the screen!

Hilarious, huh? The stuff of parody, right? 'Cept it's true.

And to add to the outrageousness, a few journalists, evidently

biased in favor of deism, are writing about it by going on at

length about peripheral issues without even noting the main

fact: you can't make a biopic without showing the subject of

the biopic. Never been done. Shouldn't be tried.

I mean, you'd have to stretch yourself out of shape to find

a precedent for this. Let's see: there's that Humphrey Bogart

film where we don't see the main character's face (played by

Bogart, in bandages after plastic surgery) for the first hour or

so. And then there's "Jaws," where we don't see the shark

until the middle of the film.

But in those cases, the film makers make the absence of the

central character work. And we do see the two protagonists -- the

shark and Bogart -- later in those movies. In any event, neither

flick is a non-fiction biopic.

Barrie Osborne ("Matrix," "Lord of the Rings") is the cowardly guy

behind this ridiculous idea, and a coward he truly is.

Cowed by militants, bowing to religious totalitarians, Osborne

is basically saying to the absolutists: "You've won, we'll adopt

your own right-wing suppression of free speech as our own

standard because, frankly, we're a-scared of you militants."

There's a wicked lack of reciprocity in the U.S. between western

liberals and Muslim reactionaries. We say to the religious, with

bottomless respect: "Come to America, build your mosques and

temples here, pray ten times a day if you wish -- and you

can also forbid any pictures of deities within your mosque. In

fact, if someone shows up at your mosque with a picture of

Muhammad or Khadya, you can have your own security guards

escort him or her from the premises."

So we allow them that freedom and then they turn around and

say: "The rules of our mosque must apply to the secular world

outside, too. Our religious rules say, no pictures of deities

can be shown in our mosque and we want that rule to apply

outside our mosque and to your secular newspapers and to

your Hollywood films, too."

And too many editors and movie people say, "Fine, we'll

surrender without a shot and agree to your censorship."

And that's precisely what religious totalitarianism is:

someone applying the parochial rules of the church to the

greater world.

The absolutists show no respect for the great diversity out

there, for those who believe, for example, that we should

be free to portray figures from history as we see fit. And

by bowing to their standards, we are reducing ourselves to

the ignorant, profoundly uneducated level of the madrassas and the


History will not look generously or kindly on guys like

Barrie Osborne or John Donatich, the similarly cowardly

editor of Yale University Press, who has published a book

about the so-called Muhammad cartoons that doesn't show the

cartoons themselves. History will look on them as reactionaries

motivated by cowardice.

The case of Donatich at Yale is even more dangerous than

Osborne's film, because the adverse implications for intellectual

inquiry and academic freedom are staggering.

Suppose a contemporaneous drawing of Muhammad

was unearthed by archaeologists and turned over to Islamic scholars.

Should the drawing be suppressed, censored, not taught in

classes on Islam at Yale and elsewhere, not included

in scholarly and other journals?

In college classes on Islamic civilization, should students

not be allowed to discuss the fact that Muhammad

had around a dozen wives -- and what that implies about him? Is it

out of bounds in an academic setting to discuss the

morality of someone who has had an unusually large number

of wives? Was Muhammad sexually aberrant? He's called

a "prophet," but was he really one? Didn't a lot of people and

pundits at the time predict the same obvious things about the

Battle of Badr and the Battle of the Confederates that

Muhammad did?

Can students even ask such question in a classroom, or must

they just accept the myths-as-written? Have the rules of the

madrassas now become the rules of the Ivy League, to some


Isn't the core reality this: we suppress such questions

and analysis about Muhammad because we're afraid

such ideas might offend people who like the guy. Should

we expand that over-cautiousness to the study of other

public and historical figures, too?

Should scholars and students be forbidden from asking whether

the translators of the Old Testament might have been incompetent

translators? Can we not ask whether Governor Pontius Pilate of

Judea might have had reasonable justification for giving

Jesus [The?] Christ the death penalty -- justification that we're

unaware of because we've never fully heard Pilate's side of the

story? Are these questions off-limits because they might be

offensive to people who admire Jesus?

Should we extend that excessively deferential approach to other academic

disciplines as well? When studying, say, Frank Sinatra in a course on

popular culture, should professors and students not bring up certain

criminal aspects of his life and career because that might

upset violent people? Should we use that same cowardly guide

when studying and teaching the mafia, "The Satanic Verses"

and Scientology?

Osborne's upcoming film is only the latest bit of proof that Muslim extremists,

using asymmetrical means, are enforcing the same sort of censorship that

used to be imposed only by governments and kings. Academia, and now Hollywood,

have embraced the new tyrant without even putting up a fight.

But I digress. Paul



for November 3, 2009

Election Day 2009 Predictions:
Who Will Win Today

Obama has energized the Palin wing of the GOP, which is purging moderates at its peril.

First, let it be known that a day before last year's

elections, I correctly predicted the outcome of all

eleven competitive U.S. Senate races (see my election

day 2008 Digression).

Which, of course, qualifies me to put forward predictions about

today's election contests!

Here's what I think might happen later today:


Corzine will win, but barely and only because

Daggett is draining votes from Christie.


McDonnell, by a mile.


Hoffman over Owens. (If Scozzafava had really wanted
to help Owens, she should have stayed in the race
to siphon votes from Hoffman.)
This pattern might
well play out in next year's races, particularly
in the GOP primary for the US Sen in FL.


I can't imagine that Maine will be more
liberal than California was last year when
the Golden State passed Prop 8, a similar


Bloomberg over Thompson, easily.


Menino, by a healthy margin.


Norwood will lead but fall short of
50%, will face Reed in a run-off.

ON NOVEMBER 3, 2009]

But I digress.



for November 3, 2009

Now that Jerry Brown has become the front-runner in

the race for California governor, a job he held in

the 1970s, and Roman Polanski appears to be on his

way back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1978,

I couldn't help but think that the Golden State, circa

2011, might end up looking a lot like the California

of thirty-plus years ago. And so I came up with this


[graphic by Paul Iorio; photo of highway by unknown photographer]

But I digress. Paul



for November 2, 2009

From "Paranormal Activity" to Jason Mraz's tour to the balloon boy
to the Afghanistan War,

The National Zeitgeist of the Fall of 2009 is:
No One is in Charge.
"Paranormal Activity": Searching for an adversary they can't catch
or find (just like in Afghanistan).

The widespread anxiety in this part of 2009 seems to be about nobody

being in charge, about a lack of center in American life.

In the film phenomenon of the season, "Paranormal Activity," the

main characters try to find and capture an adversary they

cannot see or catch. For much of the movie, the camera focuses

on subjective shots of...nothing. Empty rooms with nobody

in them. The camera is pointed at a subject that is not there.

Similarly, in America's current real-life war, we're pursuing a

vicious enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan that doesn't

have a fixed location and could be anywhere, including in

America, right now.

In television news, one of the highest rated -- if not the highest

rated -- news event of the year was the phony

drama of a boy flying in a balloon without a pilot. For hours,

the whole nation was transfixed, watching an imperiled little boy

who was not there. There was literally nothing at the center of

that drama. In essence, we all shared a national fantasy that

seemed to be rooted in a national anxiety that nobody is

at the wheel in America.

Likewise, another huge recent story that caught the public's attention

was the saga of the commercial airliner that, for around ninety

minutes, flew with nearly 150 passengers without a pilot at the controls.

And in Washington, there is criticism in some quarters that

no one is at the steering wheel in the White House when it comes to

the Afghanistan war, and that everybody is trying to grab the steering

wheel when it comes to health care reform policy. (I don't happen

to agree with people who think that; I think Obama's drone strategy

in Afghanistan and public option health care plan are exactly

the way to proceed; but many are starting to believe nothing's

getting done in D.C., which is probably the fault of a system

that has served a plutocracy for too long. But I digress.)

No one person seems to be in charge anymore anywhere. Or

at least that's the way a lot of people seem to feel. And that zeitgeist

appears to be creating nervous fascination with pilotless balloons

and pilotless airplanes, both fictional and non-fictional, and fear of an

all-too-real enemy that is not based in any one place.

The center is gone. Centralized control is dead. Nobody is

in charge. On the Internet, we buy from stores that have

no physical location and chat with people who

are based nowhere but in cyberspace. We get our news

(in this very un-Cronkite age) from an uncountable

number of Internet, cable, broadcast and print

outlets. In top videogames like Guitar Hero, no one

is in charge of the music -- because everybody is

and anyone can be.

The trend toward decentralization can also be seen in

big rock concert tours of 2009. The Counting Crows

tour of this year was structured as a sort of variety

show -- dubbed The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers

Traveling Circus & Medicine Show. -- in which the headliner

was de-emphasized and two other acts gave performances

interspersed throughout the concert. Likewise, Jason Mraz's

concerts of '09 also had a de-centralized

structure that featured a host -- the lively Bushwalla -- who

not only introduced the opening acts and Mraz, but

became something of a central presence of the show

with his humorous patter and his own musical

performances, sprinkled throughout the concert.

And another top tour of the year, the Chicago

and Earth, Wind & Fire double bill, had a

different focal point almost every night, as

the two bands regularly swapped headlining spots

and played together at the beginning and ending

(while sometimes covering the songs of the

other group).

Apparently the trend in rock concerts is toward

presenting an evening of entertainment without a clear


This is, of course, an era in which we've had to readjust

our minds to thinking of America's biggest city, New

York City, without its symbol and visual center, the

twin towers.

William Butler Yeats was more prescient than he knew

when he wrote, in 1919, in "The Second Coming":

"The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."

Ninety years later, the center not only doesn't hold, it seems

to have been completely eliminated. And the falcon

still cannot hear the falconer (and I'm not talking about

Falcon Heene, though maybe I am).

The Symbol of this Era-Without-a-Pilot:
"The falcon cannot hear the falconer..."



* * * *

Blogger (and former S.F. Chron editor) Phil Bronstein accused

The New York Times of plagiarism

the other day, and that doesn't surprise me at all.

When I was a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle

years ago, many of the editors there didn't seem to know

when something was plagiarism and (just as important)

when something was not plagiarism. In the case of the

New York Times, it's obvious the Times reporter hadn't

plagiarized (he merely interviewed a source, and that

source used the same words in a subsequent interview).

No wonder the Chronicle almost went out of business

earlier this year (and probably will be reduced to an

online publication in the very near future). And

frankly, that's not necessarily a bad thing for the world.

Because though there are some talented journalists there,

and though I'm very pro-union, there are also some

dishonest, even fraudulent editors at the top ranks (see:

David Wiegand, for example) who remain in their jobs despite

legit complaints about them over the years.

To all you bright college grads looking to get a start

in journalism: don't take a job at the Chronicle. Try

another publication. And not just because the paper

won't be lasting very long (it's losing something like

a million bucks a week), but because some of the editors

there are not honest or ethical.

Further, if you expose the unethical behavior of an editor

there, Hearst/Chronicle has a lot of money with which they

can try to turn that accusation against you. (And don't listen to

anyone who says "Paul's just disgruntled, blah blah."

Anyone who says the "disgruntled" line is doing so

because they either know, or work with, or think they will

work with the editor I'm referring to, or they think said editor knows too

much about them. Or they're uninformed about the situation.)

Do you think I'd be talking this way -- accusing people of

"fraud" and malfeasance in print -- if I didn't have the primary

documents to prove it in a court of law tomorrow if I had to?

But I digress. Paul



for October 30, 2009

OK, folks, I've just written and recorded some brand

new songs for you to listen to, all penned, performed

and produced by Paul Iorio (yours truly!).

I wrote all four tracks between August and September 2009

and recorded them a couple days ago at my home

studio in lovely Berkeley, Calif.

Just click here to listen to and enjoy the tunes for free!

But I digress. Paul



for October 26 - 27, 2009

The So-Called Afghanistan War

(Shouldn't We Re-Name It the Al Qaeda War?)

First, some clarity.

War is the practice by which the teenagers of one nation

shoot, kill and maim the teenagers of another nation

on a battlefield at the behest of a government. (At least

most of the soldiers are teenagers in most wars.)

The goal, at least at the ground level, is to

intentionally inflict health problems (or death) on

opposing soldiers who don't retreat or surrender.

When you're on a battlefield, and aiming your rifle at a

person from the opposing side, you're killing or wounding

that person without assembling a jury, summoning a judge

or providing the target with legal counsel. The soldier

is summarily, almost unilaterally, making a decision

to kill or wound (or not kill or wound) another combatant.

Further, the soldier's bullet might well miss its target

or ricochet and kill a completely innocent person.

And a soldier's training in killing usually amounts to

around three months of basic training, not even the

equivalent of a single semester at a university. Combat

is, to some extent, such a semi-unskilled task that we

put it in the hands of uneducated privates who aren't old

enough to legally buy a beer.

I bring all this up because Jane Mayer's piece in The New

Yorker on America's covert drone war in the FATAs questions

whether the CIA has the training to do the killing that

the armed forces usually do. And she also questions whether

the targets of the missiles deserve to be targets, whether

they have gotten adequate due process before being bombed.

To which I say, when has that ever been the case in war?

When has the enemy, in the midst of combat, ever had the

benefit of due process?

Further, a missile attack can be more surgically precise

than a machine gun barrage. True, missiles, like bullets,

occasionally miss their targets and hit innocents, and

that's tragic, but, unfortunately, unavoidable in some

circumstances. C'est la guerre.

As for the CIA not having the training to kill, I say: in a

high-tech war, the real skill required is expertise

in missile guiding and targeting systems. Sure, I, too,

see the dangerous possibilities of a war waged

by an agency that cannot always be held publicly

accountable for its actions, but sometimes covert

operations are the only way to accomplish a necessary maneuver.

The existence of the CIA itself is an implicit admission

that there are some foreign policy actions that cannot be

executed explicitly. (And I don't hear anybody in the

mainstream calling for the abolition of the CIA.)

More and more, I think people are coming around to the position

that the enemy that we once fought in Afghanistan has now moved

shop to the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan, where they

remain as deadly and adversarial as ever. Our logic must follow

the enemy. We cannot fight a war in the Tens based on the

reality of the Oughties. Rather than re-fight the previous war in

Afghanistan, we should shift combat to where the war has shifted: to

the FATAs. And the most efficient, effective, and least bloody

way to do that is with the missile strategy currently underway.

With bin Laden and his comrades probably in the Bajaur Agency,

and the worst of the Taliban around South Waziristan, the U.S. would

be wasting resources and time focusing on Afghanistan as the

central front. In fact, the "Afghanistan War" is now a bit of a misnomer

and probably should be re-named the Al Qaeda War.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- When John Paul Stevens retires next year,

Obama should nominate Hillary Clinton for the Court.

And tap John Kerry to head State. Both would be

better suited to those jobs.

* * *

P.S. -- Lesson from the Heene balloon episode: whenever

someome sets up a camera to take footage of himself, be very,

very wary of the footage, because it's often intended to

manipulate or deceive. Look at how everybody was fooled

by Richard Heene "losing his temper" on camera -- a camera

shot he set up -- when his balloon flew away. What a two shot,

as they say.




for October 24, 2009

International Response to My Research on bin Laden's Whereabouts

I've received email from Pakistan and elsewhere on my article

(see, below, "Where bin Laden is Hiding," Daily Digression,

Oct. 20),
and let me share some of it.

Today I received an email from Zafar Hijazi, the main editor at

the Pakistani daily newspaper the Daily Mahasib. The Mahasib

is an Urdu-language paper that became a bit of a cause celebre in

certain circles several years ago when it was shut down by

the government for around six weeks, four of its editors

charged with blasphemy, jailed and threatened with the death


Their crime? Publishing a story that questioned whether

a beardless man can become a good Muslim.

The newspaper was eventually exonerated and continues to

operate today, publishing out of Gilgit/Baltistan (though

Hijazi lists a Rawalpindi address).

Anyway, Hijazi sent me an email that provides a fascinating

perspective on bin Laden as seen from inside a particular

faction of Pakistan.

I don't agree with some of what he says, but...let's hear him out.

First, Hijazi's desire to capture and kill bin Laden is as intense

as most Americans's.

"We wish we could trace Bin Laden and hang him," Hijazi wrote

in his email to me.

Second, he believes the U.S. is not really sincere about finding

bin Laden. In fact, incredibly, he seems to think America is

somehow in cahoots with bin Laden.

"If u americans know about his exact hide outs pl do tell us," Hijazi wrote

in his email to me (which I'm presenting here exactly as he wrote it).

"It appears america is itself sposoring/protecting Bin Laden

and his cronies. Recently when our forces entered Waziristan,

why from other side nato forces wre withdran allowing terrorist flee

and re emerge. This big question before us and u should carry

out research on this too."

So there you have it, straight from a respected editor in Rawalpindi

who actually thinks America is somehow protecting bin Laden.

Never mind the covert drone war we're conducting in the FATAs

against al Qaeda. Never mind the lives we're putting on the line

on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Somehow this Pakistani editor,

who leads a paper with a courageous reputation, thinks the American

government doesn't want bin Laden dead.

And, to support his theory, he cites an incident that I'm admittedly

unaware of: a recent military skirmish in Waziristan in which NATO

forces supposedly retreated, allowing al Qaeda forces to flee.

I wrote back to Hijazi, thanking him for his email, and saying:

"Though I am a mere journalist and do not speak for the

U.S. government, I must say that the U.S. government -- at

least under President Obama -- is absolutely determined

to capture or kill bin Laden. It has been a national goal

since 9/11."

Anyone who would like to respond to any of this can write to me

at, and I'll try to include your comments in

an upcoming Digression.

But I digress. Paul



for October 23, 2009

Of all the many songs I've written this

year, there have been a few that people seem

to like more than others, obviously. But

the big surprise, for me, is how much some

listeners are genuinely enjoying my song

"Kim Jong-il," which I self-released last

July and is still going strong since it was

first aired (by KALX) on July 13.

A couple days ago, a blogger who I've never met

posted this flattering comment about my song:

"Y'all gotta get over here and listen to
the parody propaganda song "Kim Jong Il"
by songwriter Paul Iorio.

You'll be singing it to yourself all day and
getting strange looks from other people on
the bus when you do."

Thanks to the VM blog for your kind words! Glad you enjoy

the tune. For those who haven't heard "Kim Jong-il" yet,

click here and have some fun:

* * * *

The Most Intelligent, Most Surgically Precise War
in American History?

Have you been reading David Rohde's report in the New

York Times about his seven months as a captive of the

Taliban in Pakistan? Absolutely riveting. I bet it'll

first win a Pulitzer and then an Oscar, once it's made

into a feature film, which I hope happens (Kathryn Bigelow

could create a classic).

Rohde's account of being caught in an American drone missile

attack nearly ranks with Kurt Vonnegut's story of being a

POW in Dresden when Allied planes bombed the city (a less

justifiable bombing than the one in North Waziristan,

by the way). His story of his escape is an outright thriller.

And his tale of singing the Beatles's "She Loves

You" with his Taliban captors is both hilarious and sad,

surreal while ringing absolutely true.

Rhode's story also, inadvertently, reveals rare valuable

info about the Taliban. Telling that they had Nestle

bottled water and other western products, which implies

they're able to afford premium brands and clearly

not hurting for money in parts of opium poppy country.

And his report on the drone attack reveals how smart the

American tactics against al Qaeda and the Taliban are. It's

interesting that only Taliban leaders and soldiers (and no

innocent civilians) were killed in that bombing of Miram

Shah, which contributes to the impression that President

Obama is handling this war as intelligently

and surgically as any war in American history.

I then read Jane Mayer's piece in The New Yorker about

America's covert drone war in the FATAs. Though I don't

think she intended to have this effect, her piece left me

feeling almost exhilarated that Obama was pursuing such

a course. It's what I've been advocating in this column

and elsewhere for some time -- an emphasis on covert

warfare against al Qaeda in the tribal border region -- and

I think it's brilliant, effective strategy.

And the strategy is soo Obama, too: smart,

effective, necessary.

What I didn't read in Mayer's piece was a source putting

forward another alternative plan against the Taliban that

would work nearly as well. (Perhaps because there isn't one.)

Commanders and leaders like the Mehsud brothers and

Osama bin Laden cannot be easily replaced

or replaced at all. When such leaders are gone, so

goes the efficacy of the murderous movements they lead,

in most cases (as history teaches us time and again).

Killing the leadership of al Qaeda and of the extreme

elements of the Taliban is essential to eliminating

people like Najibullah Zazi, who was evidently planning

another 9/11-style attack last month at the behest of his

al Qaeda trainers in the North-West Frontier Province,

where our drones are rightly aimed.

But I digress. Paul



for October 21, 2009

Thanks to everyone who has sent email to me about

my feature film screenplay "The Buzz." Last week,

I finally posted the definitive online version of the

script and have been heartened by the response. I must

say that I gave it a re-read the other day, after not

having read it for around six years, and found myself

getting caught up in the story all over again.

You might enjoy it, too. Read it here at:

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- "The Buzz" is a fictionalized story of a real-life

murder case that I solved in 1990 as an investigative

reporter, thirteen years before law enforcement solved it.

But it's also about a set of characters who I think would

be interesting even if they weren't caught up in such

a plot. (I wrote it in 1994 and 1995, and revised the

ending in 2003.)



for October 20, 2009

online exclusive

Where bin Laden is Hiding.
What My Own Research Shows.

In all likelihood, Osama bin Laden is hiding in
the Bajour border area of Pakistan (above),
around 50 miles from Peshawar. [map from the
government of Pakistan; not available online,
except here.]

According to my own independent research and reporting,

Osama bin Laden is probably currently around fifty

miles north of the Khyber Pass near the Afghanistan

border in Pakistan. The best evidence places him near

the Bajaur River in the Bajaur Agency section, one of

the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the

North-West Frontier Province.

It makes more sense than all other theories. The best

information says bin Laden was -- was -- living

in South Waziristan until recently. But a couple

years ago he was seen with bodyguards in

a single truck (not a convoy) traveling north to the Bajaur

region, according to the Asia Times Online.

Which also makes sense. That's where many of his comrades and

buddies from the Soviet-Afghanistan war are -- and they (more

than any group on the planet) regard him as a near deity who

they'll protect to the death. That's also the area from which

bin Laden and his soldiers staged many of their most brazen

and effective military maneuvers into Afghanistan against the

Soviets in the 1980s.

Bin Laden knows that turf very, very well, knows how to

fight (and to hide) in those mountains and passes and

valleys -- and he can use that knowledge and

experience to aid Taliban soldiers on both sides of the

border. (Being in Bajaur would also explain why

bin Laden's videos and audiotapes are always

promptly delivered -- by breathless courier! -- to

the Islamabad bureau of al Jazeera, a mere 90 miles

to the east. Bajaur would also give bin Laden

proximity, via Islamabad, to the medication and medical

equipment required to treat his kidney ailment.)

Further, Bajaur -- opium poppy country -- is one of seven

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan,

which grants the region a good deal of autonomy from

the Zardari government in Islamabad. And that means

Zardari can't get at bin Laden the way he could if he were

hiding in, say, Karachi.

That's because the leaders in the Bajaur Agency -- it's not a

province, not a district -- technically report to the Governor

(or the Chief Minister) of the North-West Frontier

Province (NWFP), one of the four provinces in Pakistan,

not to the president of the country. (Hence the term

"agency," as the governor is the president's agent

in the region.)

According to the loose rules of the game in the

FATA -- how much "autonomy" is granted to the

tribal areas is always a matter of dispute -- President

Obama should (arguably) be negotiating with the

governor of the NWFP, not with Zardari, to have

bin Laden arrested or killed.

Other theories about bin Laden's hiding place (put forward

by the CIA, academics and journalists) aren't quite

as convincing.

Intelligence experts and newspapers have recently

speculated that bin Laden is in Chitral. Not likely.

Chitral -- in Pakistan's far north, nestled in mountains

almost as tall as Mt. Everest -- is too far from bin

Laden's support network and has a population not nearly

as loyal to him as the mujahideen in Bajaur.

And for all its remoteness, Chitral still answers directly

to the Zardari government and its legal system, unlike

Bajaur. The roads and passes to Chitral may be closed

(by snow) for seven months of the year, and it may be

a long fifteen hour drive from Peshawar under good

conditions, but it's still closer to the long arm of the

federal government than is Bajaur.

There's another interesting theory, this one from two UCLA

geography profs -- Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew -- who

published their findings in an MIT journal; they try

to find quantifiable criteria by which to pin down bin Laden's

location (e.g., Osama's 6' 4", so he he'd need a building with high

ceilings; how many tall buildings in such and such tribal area

are there?; etc.).

Unfortunately, that analysis ignores, among other

things, the fact that he could well be hiding in an

underground bunker, a la Saddam Hussein. And the

UCLA/MIT study also leaves out the human element: bin

Laden, first and foremost, would want to be among

people who are fiercely loyal and will protect him; he certainly

wants close proximity to his support network; and,

psychologically, he's likely attracted to the area where

he achieved his greatest triumphs in the

Soviet-Afghan war. That place is Bajaur.

The UCLA team pins bin Laden's location to

Parachinar in the Kurram agency area, southwest

of Peshawar, another FATA. But in my view,

that's likely where bin Laden was, not is.

Why? First, there's too much internecine fighting in that

area for bin Laden to be as safe as he would be in Bajaur.

Second, as I mentioned above, bin Laden was seen leaving

that area a few years ago -- in a single vehicle, not in a

convoy -- and that might well have been when he relocated from

there to Bajaur. (Using a single truck, instead of

a more conspicuous multiple-vehicle caravan, suggests he's

risk averse and doesn't travel often; the witness

who supposedly saw him traveling probably saw him


One of the problems with capturing bin Laden is the nature

of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas themselves. They're

sort of mini-states, rogues that are not really answerable to

a central government anywhere. How long will it be before

one of them decides to secede from Pakistan altogether?

With plenty of poppy money in areas like Bajaur, secession might

be an easy move.

Zardari should move the trendline the other way and begin

the process of integrating the FATA regions into the NWFP, so

that there is greater federal control and accountability

in those areas -- and greater federal control of outlaws

like bin Laden who hide there.

It's not likely, as one theory speculates, that
bin Laden is hiding in Chitral, Pakistan (above).
His main support network is to the south. And medication
and medical equipment to treat his kidney disease
are not as accessible there.

* * *

The Olde Days of "West Pakistan," when
it was a 19-year-old nation (and 9-year old
bin Laden lived elsewhere). [Esso map from 1966]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- This column involves original research and

fresh thinking about where bin Laden is hiding. If

you are going to echo some of my ideas in print or

on television, please credit "freelance writer/reporter

Paul Iorio." Thank you



for October 15 - 18, 2009

Someone recently asked why I shelved by 2005 album

"About Myself."

Easy. It was recorded way too quickly. I learned

real fast that I can't record 52 songs in ten hours

and get the level of quality that I want.

Nowadays, I spend around a week on a single track!

Anyway, most of the songs I wrote for that album

I've since re-recorded for my "75 Songs" triple-CD (2008).

And since "75 Songs," I've released, in 2009, three

albums of brand new material: "The Riot Noise (Off

Avalon Green)," "Banned Music" and "Sittin' Around."

So 2005 is really ancient history for me, musically.

Still, if you're interested in the origins of the discontinued

"About Myself" album (and its quickie follow-up "Make a

Noise," aka, "Lime Green Celery"), here's the 411.

In 2005, an old pal from my high school days Bill Epps, who I

hadn't seen for 30 years, came to visit me -- and I played him

the cassette tape version of the "About Myself"

album, which included 52 of my own songs and which

I'd released in late '03 and early '04.

Well, he was knocked out and offered to finance a recording

session so that I could release my album on CD, and those

two sessions happened in Sept. 2005. In anticipation of

those sessions, I sent him tapes and lyric sheets of the

songs I'd written, and here're those letters (the first letter

was written to Bill in July '05, the second in August '05):

So there's the info (for anyone curious!). The lesson? Don't

try to record 52 songs in two short recording sessions! And

hope against hope that the guy who says he'll finance

your recording sessions isn't actually a swindler! (If Epps

is claiming (behind my back) that he wrote one note or

one word of any of my songs, he's a swindler.)

But I digress. Paul

[P.S. -- Inside baseball for a moment: the questions some smart

people are failing to ask (and the tell-tale clues, too):

"Bill, why don't you play us your own solo music? Why

isn't Bill focusing on his own stuff instead of on the

songs of others?" Hmm. I wonder why that would be. Maybe

that's because: as a writer, Bill is a terrific tech

support guy! If that's not true, then where's his own

good material? (Look, I wouldn't have to be so blunt if

he weren't being so dishonest behind my back.)]

P.S. -- I also long ago shelved my quickie follow-up to

"About Myself," 2007's "Make a Noise" (aka, "Lime Green

Celery"). Originally I released it on cassette tape

(and even in its cassette tape version, it was getting some

radio airplay!). Some of my 3-song single of '07 --

"Rich and Dumb"/"The Overwhelming Weight"/"You, Walking

Away" -- was getting radio airplay before it was even

on CD! Again, most of the songs I wrote for that album

I've since re-recorded for my "75 Songs" triple-CD (2008).

How did "The Overwhelming Weight (of the Water Blue Sky)" come

into existence? The title (and the rest of the song) came

to me on the way back from grocery shopping, and I wrote

the lyric on the back of a Safeway receipt dated October

21, 2006 (see below), the day the song was born! As I carried

home my groceries, this line went through

my head: "When the overwhelming weight of the water

blue sky comes crashing down." For months, all

I had was the chorus, and then a chord progression

emerged for the verses, and lyrics emerged from the melody.

Here is the grocery store receipt on which I wrote my

first inspiration for "The Overwhelming Weight" (below):



for October 13, 2009

As a journalist who has written and reported about

free speech and censorship issues for

newspapers and magazines since 1985, I find it

encouraging to see PEN and others join

to oppose Yale University Press's disgraceful

and cowardly censorship of Jytte Klausen's book

“The Cartoons That Shook the World" (see The Daily

Digression, August 14, 2009, below).

Now that Yale is letting religious

fundamentalists have partial editorial

control of the books the university publishes,

I've come up with a new, more appropriate

logo for Yale, which I'm presenting here (above).

* * * *

The Madrassas High School Yearbook Parody

The other day I was flipping through The National Lampoon's

landmark parody "The 1964 High School Yearbook Parody" (1974),

one of the funniest pieces of print humor published in the last 50 years.

As I re-read it, I began thinking how hilarious it would be to

create such a high school yearbook for a madrassas, showing how

various ancient deities and modern militants looked in their

teenage school years.

So here's a taste of what I came up with (using text and photos

from the '64 parody):

^ ^ ^

But I digress. Paul



for October 12, 2009

Bob Dylan: Night Two in Berkeley

Dylan's new album, "Christmas in the Heart," will be released
tomorrow. (All royalties, if there are any, will be donated to
tax deductible charity organizations!)

Bob Dylan's second consecutive show in Berkeley, Calif., last

night focused more on his latest album, "Together Through

Time," which he played half of. Unexpected stand-out was

the evocative "This Dream of You," setting the mood for

a show that was a bit more subdued and nuanced

than the previous night's gig (this was only the second

time he had ever performed that song).

Concert opened with a double blast of "Blonde on Blonde" --

an enjoyable "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat," an exciting "Stuck

Inside of Mobile" -- and then went into "Time Out of Mind"'s

"Trying to Get to Heaven," which didn't work as well as the

previous night's fabulous "Cold Irons Bound."

Also notable was an electric "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," which

had people on the stairs in the hills above the theater (where I

heard the show) dancing; that song is nearly a half-century old

yet it still sounds as modern as any new folk tune, its lyrics

about the threat of nuclear war as timely as ever.

The tour continues with three nights in Los Angeles starting

tomorrow before making its way to the east coast, with

final shows in New York next month, and it's well worth


I know people tend to take his shows for granted these

days -- he hasn't taken a full year off from touring since

1985, after all -- but they shouldn't, because he

wasn't always (and, one day, won't be) so ubiquitous.

My age group lived through a time -- let's call it The

Great Dylan Drought (oh, what youthful deprivation!) -- when,

for seven-and-a-half years (the equivalent of two

presidential terms, virtually), Dylan performed

almost no concerts. And there will surely come a

time -- certainly by the 2020s, if not before -- when he'll

simply be too old to perform. So enjoy him while you can!

But I digress. Paul



for October 11, 2009

Last Night's Bob Dylan Concert

Above, my very first Bob Dylan concert (April 1976)! Here, Dylan jams
with Roger McGuinn on the Rolling Thunder Revue.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Pop music does not get any better than the

stuff played last night at the Greek Theater in

Berkeley, Calif., by Bob Dylan and his band.

It was, without a doubt, the best concert I've heard

by anyone since Radiohead's gigs in 2006 and the Rolling

Stones' shows of '05.

I was, frankly, very pleasantly surprised. Over the decades, I've

seen my share of unremarkable Dylan shows, but this was

not one of them. At times, the music was nothing short of 100% fun.

The joys here were considerable, among them:

Dylan's first performance in over six years of "Mama, You Been

On My Mind," an outtake from "Another Side of Bob Dylan"

(though better choices from "Another Side" would have been

the unjustly forgotten "Black Crow Blues" and "Spanish Harlem

Incident," the only two I ever go back to on the 4th album).

Another highlight was "The Man in Me," which was upbeat

here, though so mournful (or at least melancholy) on "New Morning."

But this show made me re-think that 40-year-old track

and why it was mournful in the first place,

given the uplift in the part that goes,

"Oh, what a wonderful feeling..." Last night I

realized it's not a downbeat tune, after all.

Fascinating that a lot of his snarly, bitter

songs of the past are now infused with a sort of

good-timey, satisfied vibe that was notably absent

from the original recordings.

In recent years, let's face it, Dylan has

clearly discovered happiness, or at least

he gives that impression in his music.

I mean, the peak of the night was arguably

the pure fun of "Spirit on the Water," an unexpected

delight and outright triumph that had almost

everyone smiling and tapping their feet

-- and breaking into spontaneous applause

during the verse "You think, I'm over the

hill/Think, I'm past my prime." (Crowd

enthusiasm was everywhere, even in the

hills above the theater where I heard the show.)


And "Spirit" is, of course, not a Sixties classic but

from his astonishingly fertile post-1997 period,

a late career comeback that has completely

re-written the book on his oeuvre.

Almost 50 years after he arrived in the Village from

Dinkytown, we can now see the nearly final shape of Dylan's

Picasso-esque career, and there are four distinct peaks:

his first eight albums, where most of the classics are; his

1970s resurgence, from "Planet Waves" to "Street Legal,"

his second best period; his gospel and post-gospel period,

from "Slow Train Coming' to "World Gone Wrong," his least

satisfying years; and his post-'97 resurgence, from

"Time Out of Mind" to "Christmas in the Heart," a holiday

album being released this Tuesday.

Inexplicably, it's his 1970s work that is

missing-in-action on this tour. Dylan has performed

nothing from the "Planet Waves"/"Blood on

the Tracks"/"Desire"/"Street Legal" albums since

July (except for a single performance of "Forever

Young" last August). Yet that's some of his very

best work; you'd think "Forever Young" and

"Tangled Up in Blue," at the very least, would be

permanent parts of his setlist.

Meanwhile, he has re-worked some of his Sixties

classics in the style of his post-'97 material;

"Ballad of a Thin Man," for example, fits well with his

new style of creating verses by splitting simple lines in half

for maximum impact (as shown on such recent

tunes as "Highlands" and "Nettie Moore");

"Thin Man" almost sounded like a "Time Out of Mind" track,

not a bad thing.

Dylan's 2009 concerts have been structured something like a Rolling

Stones show; sets by both acts end with a fixed batch of five or six

classics ("Satisfaction"/"Jumpin' Jack Flash," etc. in the Stones's

case; "Like a Rolling Stone"/"All Along the Watchtower," etc. in


But both acts always reshuffle the deck in the first half,

adding and subtracting obscurities and surprise selections to sometimes

thrilling effect ("All Down the Line" instead of "Bitch," in the Stones's case;

"The Man in Me" instead of 'Visions of Johanna," in Dylan's).

And the structure works, with the best parts being

the less predictable ones in the first half.

All told, I came away from the show in a terrific mood,

as if I had just seen a great ball game that my

team had won. And I woke up wide awake this morning.

But I digress. Paul



for October 10, 2009

Last Night's Jason Mraz Concert

Last night's concert by Jason Mraz was his second

at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif., in a year,

and since I covered the previous one (see the Nov. 3, 2008,

Digression, below) I won't go on at length here about

last night's gig.

This show was sort of Mraz's victory lap for the

success of his latest album, "We Sing. We Dance. We

Steal Things," now a year-and-a-half old. When he was

at the Greek last November, his breakthrough hit, "I'm

Yours," was at number ten on the Billboard charts, and

the shrieks of fans were wild when he played it.

He performed that one here, too, and the fans still shrieked

a bit (even in the hills above the theater, where I heard the

gig); the tune already has the familiarity of a song that's

been around for decades.

Elsewhere, Mraz's predilection for the great pop singles

of around 40 years ago was also in evidence once more;

last year he did an exuberant cover of The Foundations' "Build

Me Up, Buttercup"; last night he performed a terrific

version of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" (a very

seductive pop song, except for those lousy religious lyrics!).

Opening for Mraz was folk-rocker Brett Dennen,

whose influences range from Paul Simon's "Graceland" period

to Dave Matthews and Counting Crows; his best song here was

"Heaven," from his "Hope for the Hopeless" album, which he

also performed on last night's David Letterman show (an

appearance he plugged from the stage last night).

Starting out the evening was the promising singer-songwriter

Robert Francis whose songs at times recalled Arcade Fire circa


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Regarding today's assault by Hakimullah Mehsud's

Taliban on Pakistan's army headquarters: I told

ya so (see: the Digression, "The Joker is Wild...and Alive,"

October 6, below). As today's attack shows, the real

threat in that region is the possibility of a coup

by Mehsud. Today's takeover was almost a rough draft

of a coup. If that were to happen, and it could,

the U.S. would be in a nuclear conflict in Pakistan within

weeks. Zardari had better examine the backgrounds of the

officers in his military and root out those with strong

Taliban loyalties (the fact that they are helping him

in Kashmir should not blind him to the reality that they

are also trying to wrest power from him). President

Obama: save your surge for the day when we will have

to use American troops to extract Mehsud from power in




for October 9, 2009

To those who say President Obama is undeserving of the Nobel

Peace Prize, I ask....compared to who? (Morgan Tsvangirai?




for October 6, 2009

The Joker is Wild -- and Still Alive!

Roll over, bin Laden, there's a new
deadly new
snake in Waziristan.

Yeah, he's as dangerous as he looks. Two years ago, he captured 300 Pakistani

soldiers (and officers) and held them hostage until his demands were met -- and

military experts are still trying to figure out how he pulled it off. He's

fond of driving to the edge of cliffs at high speeds, stopping inches before

a steep drop and then laughing like some celluloid villain

from an action movie, according to a BBC reporter who saw such

a thing happen first-hand.

Meet Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of Pakistan's Taliban.

Still in his twenties, he would be in charge of his nation's

nukes, if he ever managed to stage a coup and topple Zardari.

Last week, newspaper reports claimed he had been

killed in a military skirmish. But over the weekend, he

proved reports of his death were highly exaggerated, as he

held a sometimes jokey press conference in South Waziristan,

showing he was not only still alive but in good humor, too (one report

said he showed reporters a laptop video of a jihadist comedian

telling jokes).

South Waziristan is Mehsud's home turf. Born there (near the

hick town of Jandola). And he's a pure product of the local madrassas,

where he wasn't taught biology or algebra or Gandhi or Galileo but

was schooled in the Koran, the Koran and -- also -- the Koran.

He learned stuff like: "God's curse be upon the infidels," "God is the

enemy of the unbelievers," "Theirs shall be a woeful punishment"

and "God does not guide the unbelievers." In short, a well-rounded


One report says there are more than 12,000 Taliban jihadists, armed

like an army, in the mountains and caves of South Waziristan,

and they all report to Mehsud. Perhaps this is where the U.S.

should focus, at least covertly, while we wage explicit battle

against Mehsud's Taliban comrades on the Afghan side of the border.

The Taliban, of course, has been the traditional protector

and supporter of al Qaeda and are almost certainly

protecting and supporting bin Laden now in Pakistan.

(Remember Bob Woodward's famous 2001 report in the

Washington Post exposing the Taliban as a "wholly-owned

subsidiary of bin Laden" "owned and operated"

by al Qaeda, and noting that bin Laden helped to

prop up Mullah Omar's Taliban regime by giving it

more than a hundred million dollars.)

Right now, the U.S. seems more concerned with

Ahmadinejad developing nukes, and we shouldn't be.

Iran and North Korea are, unfortunately, the world's next

nuclear armed nations. Period. Sanctions won't

stop them. And both nations know no country would

dare use military force against them.

No, the U.S. and U.N. will have to swallow hard and

accept (either now or later) the fact that the nuclear

club has two new members. We must understand a truth:

it matters less which nations have nuclear weapons than which leaders are

running those nations. Nations are not fixed entities. They are

only as benevolent or as malevolent as their leadership.

Gemany under Merkel is a progressive ally; Germany

under Hitler was a different beast altogether. Pakistan

with nukes is not dangerous -- now. Under Zardari, the

stockpile is safe. But if Mehsud were to ascend to power

there, we would probably be seeing mushroom clouds

shortly thereafter.

The crucial question about proliferation is not whether Iran

will soon have nukes; it's whether the nukes

of Pakistan will soon be controlled by someone like Mehsud.

* * * * *

What the Zazi Plot Inadvertently Reveals About al Qaeda

The Najibullah Zazi case -- he's the militant who was

apparently planning to detonate a peroxide bomb in New York

City -- inadvertently gives us brand new information about

al Qaeda. Here are nine things Zazi's plot tells us or implies:

1. The Zazi plot tells us we were right: bin Laden is probably

in northwest Pakistan; it stands to reason that bin Laden and

his support network (the people who invited Zazi to Peshawar)

wouldn't be so far removed from one another.

2. There's a really good chance that Zazi knows damn well where

Osama bin Laden is hiding. He was at al Qaeda training camps

last Fall as a trusted recruit, talking with people who had been

in contact with bin Laden. That's why we need to be, uh, very

persuasive with this guy (though, as Jeffrey Toobin wrote in

TNY, don't go pulling out the waterboard; you'll just

jeopardize your own prosecution).

3. Al Qaeda is probably learning from the Zazi failure

right now. What must al Qaeda be thinking right now about Zazi's

arrest? Well, at first, obviously, they were surely thinking:

dammit, they caught Zazi! When that phase passed, they started

thinking: hmm, Zazi wouldn't have been arrested or even suspected

if he had been buying all those beauty supplies for the

purpose of...opening a beauty salon. Next time we do this,

if we try the same line, we'll use somebody who owns or

wants to open a beauty shop, because then he would have a

legit reason to buy gallons and gallons of explosives.

4. The Zazi plot tells us al Qaeda apparently has not been

able to bring explosives on ships into American ports (or

they would have tried it). And note that they did not

even attempt to have Zazi smuggle bomb ingredients on his

plane flight home, which suggests new airline

security measures are working, inhibiting them from trying

that route.

5. The Zazi plot suggests al Qaeda is still operating on a DIY

level. I mean, 9/11 was a really low budget affair; bin Laden

didn't have to build missiles or warheads or send boats or

troops; he simply had people cutters, available

at the local hardware store for $4.99. Al Qaeda likes

to play with commonly available materials and to find

ways to game security systems.

Such was also the case with the Zazi plot. Zazi was not

trying to assemble a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb when

he was caught. If his al Qaeda trainers in Peshawar

had access to radioactive material, can you imagine they

wouldn't have found a way to supply him with it?

6. Al Qaeda is now reduced to recruiting young,

unskilled amateurs. Clearly, they couldn't enlist a

professional chemist or engineer for the

peroxide bomb project. Zazi was sloppily going on the

Internet trying to learn how to mix peroxide with acetone.

(Keep in mind that eight years ago, the 9/11 hijackers

took time to develop a technical skill, piloting, that

enabled them to carry out their plot.)

7. Yes, unfortunately, our worst fears are true about mosques

harboring militants in America. If there is another al

Qaeda cell in the U.S. right now, it is, sad to say, probably

being protected by members of a mosque somewhere. Which

means the JTFF should probably -- sensitively -- step

up its infiltration and scrutiny of mosques in America.

8. New York City remains the main target for al

Qaeda, because they can easily rack up a large body count

with an attack on such a huge vertical city.

9. The eight years since 9/11 haven't diminished al

Qaeda's obsession with killing Americans on U.S. soil.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Almost every week, it seems, somebody asks me about

or comments on a song I've written, and I'm very glad when

my stuff connects with someone. In the last few days,

someone has been curious about "BAYONET SKY," which

I wrote in 1998 in Los Angeles, first released in 2003

on cassette tape, released on CD in 2006 (for my

now-discontinued "About Myself" album), and then

released (for good!) on my "75 Songs" album last year.

How did I come up with it? My influences were two:

the Who (that's where I got the anger!) and Lawrence

Ferlinghetti (one of his poems had the word "bayonet"

on one line and the word "concrete sky" on the next

line, I think, and so my mind suddenly created

"bayonet sky"). It has not changed a bit since I wrote

it on my couch on Detroit Street in Los Angeles in

'98, and I still enjoy playing it.

Another song of mine people have been curious about

is my more recent tune "THE DAY WHEN THE EARTHQUAKE COMES"

(and some seem to like my line "stocking up on tuna and low


How did that one come about? Since I always email my songs

to myself right after I write them, there is no mystery about

its evolution. I came up with "Earthquake" on July 24, 2009,

after having a couple beers and playing guitar alone in my

apartment. I was in a loose mood, hit a Ray Davies-ish groove,

and the song came tumbling out, almost whole. My original

line was "stocking up on tuna and more vegetation." Then,

on July 25, I changed it to "stocking up on tuna and no

vegetation," and it stayed that way until August 12, 2009, when

I finally changed the line to "stocking up on tuna and low vegetation."

And it works nicely, I think. Glad some people enjoy it.



for October 5, 2009

Photographer Marcopoulos, Ex-Warholite, is Gold at BAM

Also at BAM: Warhol's "Vote McGovern."

If you're in Berkeley, Calif., run, do not walk, to

see the exhibition of photography by Ari Marcopoulos at

the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). This former assistant to

Andy Warhol shoots photos that are as fascinating and

original and striking as those by any other photographer

of his generation. I was so taken by his pictures

that I went through the collection once and then walked

through a second time just for the enjoyment. There are

dreamers in bedrooms, surreal ice, complexity in simplicity,

Alaska and Iran as you've never seen them and, everywhere,

people, characters you care about, as close as you can come

to photographing a pysche, in some cases. Check it out

at BAM (through Feb. 7, 2010).

* * *

Speaking of Andy Warhol, BAM has a couple obscure and

unusual works by him on display: "Race Riot," an adaptation

of a photo of a 1963 riot in Birmingham, Ala.; and

"Vote McGovern" (1972) (above).

* * *

While I'm on the subject of photography, here's one of

my own that I shot a few weeks ago in San Francisco

(that's Alcatraz in the distance):

San Francisco, split by a traffic sign. [photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Just caught tonight's Next Big Thing on KALX. As

always, interesting stuff via Marshall Stax. Enjoyed

iamoneiamoneiamone. Loved the title "Swinger's Wig."

NBT is must-hear radio (particularly for A&R people -- and

for anyone else who likes to hear new and emerging

acts before everyone else hears 'em!).



for October 3 - 4, 2009

Is the Hardly Strictly Fest More Popular Than Jesus?

There were so many people at the fest that
this was the closest I came to seeing John Prine!
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Back when the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music fest in San

Francisco (which, by the way, is not a strictly bluegrass fest)

was an insider secret, it was even more fun than it is now. In

the old days -- up until last year, in fact -- you could

saunter right up to the stage in Golden Gate Park on a

lazy Friday afternoon and see and photograph folk and pop

icons like Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello,

John Mellencamp and Jeff Tweedy. As if they were playing

in your own backyard.

But then word got out. Suddenly, this Garbo of music

fests -- mostly unadvertised, the brainchild of banjo playing

entrepreneur Warren Hellman, and (best of all) free of charge

to all -- became (what's the word?) crowded. Somewhere

along the way it turned into the Can't-Hardly-See-the-Stage fest.

I mean, last year I walked right to the front of the stage and

saw every bead of sweat on Robert Plant's face. This year, from

a distance, on my toes, I saw John Prine in what I think was a

black jacket.

That said, Prine, kicking off this year's fest with Lyle Lovett,

was in fine voice yesterday, singing some of his greatest

songs ("Paradise," "Angel from Montgomery," "Picture Show,"

etc.), as some boomers in their fifties and sixties in the

crowd sang along to every single word as if they were

singing along to hymns.

Concert reminded me what a terrific writer Prine is,

his ability to cut-through-the-crap almost punkish

lyrically, though musically I sorta wish he'd consider

collaborating with a more unconventional musical

partner like, say, Jeff Tweedy, who might move him

into more formally unpredictable musical


Preceding him was Tom Morello, who performed an

interesting, partly-hip hop version of Woody Guthrie's

"This Land," calling it the alternative national anthem

(which is also what I said in my Digression of August

3, 2009 (below), and what others have noted, too). And

truly, Guthrie's tune resonates like few others. (It

seems every concert I attend these days -- from last

summer's Counting Crows's gig in Berkeley (which

closed with "This Land") to Wilco's show a couple

months ago (featuring "California Stars") -- includes

something by Woody.

By the way, what's the formal procedure for changing

the national anthem in the U.S.? Do citizens petition

the Congress or does the president introduce a bill to

change it? Whatever the route, perhaps we should seize

the national zeitgeist right now and take the opportunity

to give ourselves a first-class anthem instead

of that god-awful unsingable "Star Spangled Banner."

(But I digress.)

Anyhoo, regrettably, I couldn't stay to hear Lyle Lovett,

though I do hope to check out some of the rest of the fest,

which runs through Sunday (upcoming highlights include Marshall

Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, Dar Williams and World Party, all

on Saturday!).

Here's how big the crowd was in the hour before Lovett's set!
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Some people listened to the music from this pond near
the stage in Golden Gate Park [photo by Paul Iorio].
[By the way, I snapped this pic yesterday evening, after Prine's
set, and am presenting it here without any adjustment or
enhancement (not even contrast adjustment). The light in the
park was unusual late yesterday.]

* * * *

Re: Rio's Win

Perhaps Denmark thought America, with its strange new

priorities in extradition, might have been too dicey

a place for international athletes to congregate.

* * * *

When the Workplace Turns From a Meritocracy to a Fellatio-tocracy

Yes, it's sad and bad that David Letterman was the

victim of an extortion plot, which all

reasonable people condemn. And this distraction comes

at a time when Letterman is, frankly, funnier than

he has ever been. I watch him almost every night

and laugh and laugh.

But -- hate to bring this up -- the fact that he had

affairs with staffers who reported to him

is not an insubstantial thing. And not for the predictable

reasons either.

Have you ever worked in an office where a colleague is

sleeping with the boss? I have. Many years ago I worked

for a company (which will go unnamed) where the top person

was screwing a female staffer, and everybody knew it,

and everybody knew how unfair it was.

It wasn't unfair to her -- she was having a high ol' time

as the beneficiary of the boss's favors, in and out of

the bedroom. It was unfair to staffers like me, whose

work was bumped in favor of her substandard stuff,

who never had business trip expenses paid the way

hers were, etc. (People would look at her writing and

say, "She sucks!" And she did suck -- the boss!)

I mean how do you fairly handle issues like employee performance

evaluations if it's well known that the boss is having sex with

that employee? Imagine the manager who is charged with writing

up an evaluation on such a staffer; there would obviously be

implicit pressure to give the person an A rating when

she merits a C.

What if Birkitt came in chronically late and missed

meetings? Imagine the implicit pressure on the manager to not

report that for a performance evaluation.

Imagine the talented "Late Show" writer who has paid his

dues, worked his butt off, and wants a shot at writing

a "Top Ten" list, only to find that his funny "Top Ten"

lists get scuttled in favor of mediocre stuff by an intern

who Letterman is screwing?

That's who the victims are in this case: the staffers

whose careers were put at a disadvantage because of

advantages given to Letterman's paramours.

It creates an atmosphere of favoritism and unfairness, a

tendency to grant someone like Birkitt advantages that

others aren't getting, because there's

always the unspoken threat in an affair that the woman

will start talking. So if Letterman had angered Birkitt

by, say, rejecting one of her on-camera sketch proposals,

there would be a risk that she might be mad enough to

leak word of the affair. Hence, she almost certainly

got more airtime than worthier contenders who

weren't given such a shot onscreen.

Further, suppose Letterman had made a sexual pass to

one of the female writers, and she said, no, thank you,

Dave. In the wake of such an interaction, all decisions

regarding that employee become tainted, suspect; it

would be impossible to see pure and professional

motives when the woman's sketches and "Top Ten" lists

start getting rejected and performance evaluations

about her become transparently unfair or excessively harsh.

Such affairs transform the workplace from a meritocracy to

a fellatio-tocracy!

Most of the talk about the Letterman affair has, wrongly,

been about whether such actions violate some code of

workplace etiquette. And his supporters note, irrelevantly,

that Birkitt and the others have not filed a lawsuit or

even a complaint against Letterman. (I can imagine

that Birkitt would not see herself as a victim; she

got a lot of airtime (that she wouldn't have otherwise

had) out of the relationship.)

But that's not the point. The people who should be filing

lawsuits are the other staffers whose careers were

stunted because Letterman was giving preferential

treatment to his lovers.

That said, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure that I would

fare better than Letterman if I were in Letterman's

position. Let's face it: some women are incredibly

desirable, downright irresistible -- and nobody's

immune to desire.

* * * *

People really seem to be picking up on my song "Paradox"

lately -- thanks to all who have emailed me praising it.

(I like it, too!) It began life as an instrumental I wrote

in January 2009 (the instr is on my "Banned Music" album,

in fact). Then in the spring of '09, I wrote a melody

and lyric about various everyday paradoxes, and that's

how the song came about. I should note that in 2003, I

wrote another song with the same sort of theme called

"Backfire" and released the song on a cassette tape album

in '03. I was going to put it on my now-defunct "About Myself"

album in '05, but decided against it. Instead, I plan

to release "Backfire" on the much-delayed fourth disc

of "75 Songs," which I've been recording for awhile.

(Probably 2010 for that one; I'm too busy writing

brand new songs.)

But I digress. Paul



for September 30, 2009

Listen to Paul Iorio talking with Roman Polanski at

More on Polanski

Prosecuting the Swingin' Sixties? Not Quite, But...

Well, it's now quite obvious that Obama is not going to

grant clemency to Roman Polanski. No way, no how. And

it's also obvious that he would be a political pariah

if he did.

But that just shows what a sorry state we've come to in

the U.S.A. It's hard to believe that a president would

be less of a pariah for releasing a guilty terrorist

at Guantanamo than for releasing a world class

film director for a crime committed a third of a century ago.

The other day in this space I wrote that

Polanski should get the same level of leniency

given to released Guantanamo detainees. Another

writer, in a thoughtful but wrongheaded commentary,

subsequently offered another Polanski-Gitmo analysis,

saying the U.S. can't tell the Swiss to ignore the

law just as America is insisting on enforcing the

rule of law at Gitmo.

That analysis is off. Truth is,

the U.S. is applying excessive leniency at

Guantanamo by not applying the "preponderance of

evidence" standard of proof for the inmates there,

who are being released and are, in way too many

cases, returning to the battlefield to fight

for al Qaeda.

The law should always conform to common sense,

not vice versa. There is something wrong on a

very basic level with releasing a Gitmo inmate

like Abdullah Mehsud, who, mere months later,

returned to his job killing innocent civilians for

al Qaeda (he went on to bomb a hotel, for crissakes!).

And the legal experts who get too deep in the details and

urge the release of a Mehsud because of some

technicality -- because an affidavit wasn't signed

on time and in triplicate -- are ignoring

a central fact: the man is guilty of homicide.

And worse than that, he's a continuing threat to society.

Polanski, on the other hand, is no threat to society and

makes brilliant artworks that move culture forward. Further,

his victim insists she was more a victim of the judge

than of Polanski's actions.

What practical purpose would be served by

reconvening the tabloid circus in L.A.?

What Polanski did in the 1970s to Samantha Geimer was

indefensible, no question about that. But, truth be told,

such misbehavior was not considered nearly as serious

in 1977 as it is today. (It's almost a metaphor: in 1977,

you could smoke in your office at work; in 2009, you

can't even smoke outside your office building.)

It's almost -- almost -- like we're prosecuting an era, the

Swingin' Sixties. If one lives long enough, it seems, almost

everything one did decades ago will gradually become

illegal, even felonious. If Thomas Jefferson had lived

to 110, he might have been prosecuted (or at least persecuted)

for having had slaves in the early 19th century, even though

everybody, even progressives, were backward in that same way

in those days. If baby boomers live long enough, almost

everything they did recreationally in the Sixties and

Seventies will be bumped up to the felony level.

For a moment, let's take ourselves out of both the 1970s and

the 2000s and imagine the Polanski case as seen from the

year 2209. Let's assume that Polanski is considered, as he

is now, one of the seminal visual artists of his century, on par

with such Renaissance masters as Caravaggio and


Let's look at the case of Caravaggio. He killed and assaulted

people. He was incorrigibly violent. Nobody then or now

would seriously suggest that Caravaggio shouldn't have been

imprisoned for a long time -- whether he was an artistic genius

or not.

On the other hand, Leonard da Vinci had an affair with an

underaged model at Verrocchio's studio early in his career,

and the Florentine authorities were going to put him in

prison for sodomy, which would have ended his career early

and deprived the human race of major works of art and science.

But instead, in a decision that history has

applauded for centuries, the powers-that-be in Firenze

declined to press charges against him, and Leonardo

went free.

Polanski's crime was far closer to Leonardo's than to

Caravaggio's. And the people of the 2200s will probably look

back at the olde days of 2009 and at how we treated one of

our greatest artists and say, "Yes, they did the right thing in

letting him live his final years in freedom, the way the

Florentines freed Leonardo." Or they might say, "They were

way too harsh with someone who had done so much to move

culture forward."

And his contributions to society and to his profession

do matter in considering this case. (If an oncologist

on the verge of curing melanoma had an affair

with a 17-year old student, he would (and should) be

treated differently by the court than an unemployed

drunk who committed the same crime. For obvious reasons.)

If Polanski's crimes were as serious as Caravaggio's, his

artistic stature wouldn't matter a bit. He would have to

go to jail, no matter what the mitigating factors. But

his transgressions are more like Leonardo's, and

because his talent is far bigger than his crime (and for

other reasons), there should be leniency.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Today is the 2,941st day that Osama bin Laden has eluded
arrest for the mass murders of 9/11.



for September 29, 2009

My Rebuttal to Tomorrow's Editorial on Polanski in The New York Times

Here's is an editorial on the Roman Polanski case that appears

in tomorrow's edition of The New York Times; my comments on

the editorial are in red caps:

Roman Polanski was arrested on Saturday at the Zurich airport
on an American-issued warrant. But to hear the protests from the
French, the Poles and other Europeans, you might have thought the
filmmaker was seized by some totalitarian regime for speaking truth
to power.

“Judicial lynching,” said Jack Lang, the former French culture minister.
“Absolutely horrifying,” echoed the current French culture minister,
Frédéric Mitterrand. “Provocation!” shouted Andrzej Wajda and other
Polish filmmakers. From across Europe, nearly 100 representatives of
the entertainment industry, including Pedro Almodóvar and Wim
Wenders, signed a petition declaring themselves “dismayed” by the arrest,
especially since it happened at the time of the Zurich Film Festival.

But hold on a moment. After being indicted in 1977, didn’t Mr. Polanski,
now 76, confess to having sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her
with Quaaludes and Champagne? Didn’t he flee the United States when
the plea bargaining seemed to fall apart, raising the prospect of prison time?
Isn’t there a warrant for his arrest? [WARRANTS ARE NEVER

There was something strange about the Swiss deciding to arrest the
director now, after having let him freely move in and out of the country for
three decades. And a 2008 documentary by Marina Zenovich, “Roman
Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” raised some troubling questions about
the bizarre way a celebrity-hungry judge in California, Laurence Rittenband,
handled the case.

Yet where is the injustice [WHERE IS THE VICTIM?] in bringing to justice
someone who pleads guilty to statutory rape and then goes on the lam,
no matter how talented he may be? [YOU ACT LIKE THE JUSTICE

In Europe, the prevailing mood — at least among those with access to
the news media — seemed to be that Mr. Polanski has already “atoned
for the sins of his young years,” as Jacek Bromski, the chief of the Polish
Filmmakers Association, put it.

We disagree strongly, and we were glad to see other prominent Europeans
beginning to point out that this case has nothing to do with Mr. Polanski’s
about an adult preying on a child [A CHILD WHO HAS SINCE GROWN
HERE.). Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty to that crime and must

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Today is the 2,940th day that Osama bin Laden has eluded
arrest for the mass murders of 9/11.



for September 27, 2009


Why Obama Should Grant Clemency To Polanski

Why Shouldn't Polanski Receive the Same Leniency Given to
Scores of Released Gitmo Detainees?

The Swiss authorities may have overstepped in arresting

film director Roman Polanski last night on a 31-year old

warrant but that doesn't mean President Obama has to go

along with it. Obama could step in right now and grant

clemency to Polanski, ending the further

victimization of a cinematic genius who has suffered

more than enough in his lifetime, first at the hands of

the Nazis and then via the Manson gang.

Already I hear the talk, justified or not, in the Hollywood

community: shouldn't Polanski be granted

the same level of leniency that Obama is giving to the scores

of released detainees at Guantanamo (who -- and I hate to

mention this -- are returning to the al Qaeda fold

in too many cases)? [Oh, I know, I can hear it now: "there's

a huge difference yada yada yada." Yeah, there is a

huge difference: Polanski poses no threat to society,

most of the Gitmo detainees do.]

The reasons for clemency (if not an outright pardon)? The case

against Polanski is deeply flawed, and new evidence has

recently come to light about malfeasance committed by

the disqualified judge in the case. Plus, Polanski is

advanced in years and -- far from being a threat to

anyone -- is a pillar of the film community, as the

presidents of both France (his home) and Poland

(his birthplace) have noted since his arrest.

Extradition itself would be a disproportionate punishment

in this instance.

Obama can and should correct this injustice and allow

Polanski, who has contributed so much to the cultural

richness of the world, to live his final years and decades

in freedom.

* * * *

How long will it be before we start seeing these bumper stickers?

Impeach S t e v e C o o l e y
Los Angeles District Attorney
Could angry Polanski backers spark a Recall Cooley movement in L.A.?

* * *

P.S. -- By the way, since I mentioned Guantanamo: what do

I suggest we do with the detainees at Gitmo? We should close

Gitmo, transfer each detainee to either a civilian or military

court in the U.S. and try them using the "preponderance of

evidence" standard of proof we use for mililtary cases,

rather than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. Because

the alleged crimes are too serious to allow even one

guilty inmate to go free. The U.S. is currently in the absurd

position of releasing guys like Abdullah Mehsud and Mohammed

Ismail, only to find that they're now on the battlefield

near Kandahar killing our troops.

* * *

By now, everyone knows new SNLer Jenny Slate accidentally

used the word "fuck" on the air last night when talking

to Kristen Wiig (which has been my dream for a long

time -- just joking!). But seriously, folks, isn't it

time we changed the rules about late-night free speech?

This is 2009. Maybe it's time to revise the FCC rules

a bit. I mean, what would be wrong with allowing people

to say the word "fuck" on broadcast television after, say,

midnight and before 5am? Maybe Slate's slip will

spur changes in the Standards & Practices dept.

But I digress. Paul



for September 26, 2009

The Grand Central Bomber

Naji, who seems to have come real close to detonating
a bomb at Grand Central Station, lives at 22959 E. Smoky
Hill Road in Aurora, Colorado (in case someone wants to
help him move his stuff from his apartment).

Do you realize how close we came to a newspaper headline

reading: "Grand Central Station Bombed; Over 1,500 Feared

Dead, Thousands Injured; Al Qaeda Link Probed"?

Do you realize how close this came to happening on President

Obama's watch?

One of the most progressive regimes in American history

is now in power, and yet the jihadist threat to the U.S.

homeland remains undiminished, even inflamed.

It seems there is no amount of conciliation that could

possibly placate religious absolutists who think

all non-believers are infidels who must be either

converted or killed.

The latest jihadist plot rivals 9/11 -- and it almost happened.

The facts seem to point unmistakably to the following scenario:

A guy named Najibullah Zazi (nicknamed "Naji") and several of

his religulous buddies were prepariing to park a U-Haul

truck, with a peroxide bomb in it, next to Grand Central Station

in New York. And then they were going to set it off, killing

or wounding everybody at Grand Central, including (but not

limited to) mothers carrying their babies, underpaid office

workers, cripples on crutches, janitors, and probably a few

devout Muslims and pro-Palestinians, too.

Naji even traveled to the Muslim-redneck city of Peshawar

last fall for a few months, learning from al Qaeda members

how to build and detonate such a bomb. When he came back

to America last January, he moved from Parsons Blvd. in

Flushing to East Ontario Drive in Aurora, Colorado, before

finally moving to his current residence on East Smoky

Hill Road, from which he is now being evicted.

But while in Flushing, Naji made friends who helped him in his

mass murder plot. Friends like cabbie Naiz Khan (I think his

address is 3720 81st St. in Jackson Heights, Queens) who

was seen trying to rent a U-Haul truck around the time Naji

was a-drivin' into town from Aurora to spend the night

with Khan in Queens.

Another Flushing bud of Naji's was an imam at a Queens

mosque (address: 141 - 47 33rd Ave., in Flushing) named

Ahmad Wais Afzail, who tipped off Naji that the FBI was

suspicious of him. (I tried to call the president of the

mosque, Abdul Rahman Jalili, to ask him

why he hired such an imam, whether he would condemn the

actions of Afzail and of Naji if the accusations were proved

true. I also wanted to ask if he is investigating whether

others in his mosque are involved in such plots. But, alas,

the mosque's phone answering machine had reached its limit

of messages.)

More on this later.

* * *

As If Spinal Tap Never Happened

First things first: I personally like Sammy Hagar. I spoke

with him at length in the 1980s when he had just replaced

David Lee Roth in Van Halen. Very natural, amiable


But his new band Chickenfoot should really consider

changing its name to Chickenshit. Because, judging from

the part of the concert I heard last night in Berkeley, Calif.,

it's a terrible band, its music packed with the most generic

metal and hard rock cliches.

At times, it sounded like I was listening to an

industrial noise site where workers were screaming

over the din, the overamplification being as bad

as anything I've experienced. (Don't get me wrong:

I'm a fan of overamplification, but only if what is

being over-amped is good to begin with. This wasn't.)

Even outside the open-air theater in the

hills, where I heard it, you had to shout to be heard.

I mean, the deer were putting their hooves over their

ears as they galloped away to Grizzly Peak. Even the

mountain lions were traumatized. Even terrorists

were driven away by the extreme volume. Birds started

flying south for the winter early. Smart Cal students

in their dorms probably thought Spinal Tap had

touched down on campus.

But, truth be told, the fans ate it up, every bit of it.

And at least for this one night at this one venue, my

view was not shared by many others.

* * * *

New Theory About the Finale of "The Sopranos"

Re-watched the final episodes of "The Sopranos" last week

and came upon something I hadn't seen before in the

now legendary last scene of the last episode.

If you look closely, the makers of the final episode are

playing with numbers near the end. They show a picture

of a football player with a jersey that reads number 38,

and the camera lingers on it (at the fifty-four minute

mark). Then, a couple minutes later, when we see Meadow's

car, we see her license plate, cropped tightly to show

the number 39 (at the fifty-eight minute point).

As we know, David Chase doesn't use his camera shots

loosely. He obviously wanted to convey some sort of meaning

by showing the numbers 38 and 39 in sequence like that.

Could he be alluding to the 38th and 39th episodes of "The

Sopranos," in which Jackie Aprile is murdered? Could he

be implying that retribution for Jackie's killing was in

the works at that diner? (There are other echoes of

the 38th and 39th episodes in the finale, as

when Carmela discourages her son from joining the military

(in #38 they were considering putting him

in military school.) There's also the Gloria subplot

in 38/39 (in which a hitman says, the last face you'll see

is mine, not Tony's). And the last face we see is Tony's.

What does all this mean? Dunno. The finale remains a


But I digress. Paul



for September 23, 2009

OK, I've just finished compiling another batch

of interviews that I've conducted with pop culture

icons over the decades. I've posted the

Q&A excerpts here for all to hear:

In this group are my one-on-one interviews with:

1. Lawrence Ferlinghetti (in 2000, in North Beach)

2. Ray Davies (in 1986, in Manhattan)

3. David Johanson (in 1986, in NYC)

4, Frank Zappa (in 1988, talking to me about

5. Robert Goulet (in 1999, and he actually
breaks into song while talking!)

Wanna hear more of my interviews? Just go to:

On that site are my Q&As with Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks,
Woody Allen, Heath Ledger, Barry Manilow, Trey Anastasio,
Roman Polanski, Abbie Hoffman and Geena Davis.


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Of course, all interviews were on-the-record and

recorded with the permission of the interviewee.



for September 22, 2009

Many thanks to Marshall and KALX for playing

two of my brand new songs, "Hey There, Watcher"

and "Sittin' Around," last night (9/21/09). I must

admit it never ceases to be a thrill to hear my

tunes featured on The Next Big Thing!

And if you ever want to be amazed and dazzled by

great new music, just turn on KALX and the NBT. I mean,

some of the stuff I've heard on KALX over the last several

months is truly inspired: the other week, Marshall

played a guy with a song called "Rock 'n' Roll Emergency"

(great title!) and last night aired the catchy "I've Got ADHD"

by a band called Baptiste. Elsewhere on the station, I've

been knocked out by Man's "2 Ozs of Plastic With A Hole In

The Middle," a magical violin piece called "Patterns of Plants"

and Polly Scattergood's "Please Don't Touch," among many others.

Hear for yourself at 90.7 (or on the Net!).

But I digress. Paul



for September 19 - 20, 2009

Audio Excerpts of Paul Iorio's Interviews with Pop Culture Icons!

For the first time, you can hear my interviews with
Woody Allen, Heath Ledger and other pop culture icons
[photo of Woody Allen by Paul Iorio;
I happened on them by chance when I lived in that
neighborhood in '84.]

Well, I finally have gotten around to organizing scores

of audiotaped interviews with pop culture icons that I've

conducted over the decades and am starting, as of

right now, to post the conversations online for all to hear.

Here's my first group of interview snippets, featuring

(very uncensored!) audio excerpts from my Q&As with the

following people:

1. Mel Gibson (from 2000, in West Hollywood)
2. Tom Hanks (a brief funny interchange I had with Hanks, 1999)
3. Woody Allen (my one-on-one interview with Allen,
December 3, 1999, in Beverly Hills)
4. Heath Ledger (my one-on-one Q&A with Ledger, in which he loses
his temper a bit, 2000)
5. Barry Manilow (a very, very candid
Manilow, in my one-on-one
with him, Dec. 2000, in San Jose)

The second MP3 includes excerpts from these interviews:

6. Trey Anastasio (no less than the very first
audiotaped interview with Anastasio conducted by anyone anywhere, in
January 1989, when I intro'd Trey to Widespread Panic).

7. Roman Polanski (my rare one-on-one interview with
Polanski, two days before 1999, in which he talks in-depth
about "Chinatown")

8. Abbie Hoffman (I talked one-on-one and
in person several months before his suicide, and you can
actually hear him unraveling as he loses it on tape)

9. Geena Davis (a funny moment I had with
Davis in 2000).

Just click here to listen for free:

More excerpts will be coming soon!

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Of course, all interviews were on-the-record and

recorded with the permission of the interviewee.



for September 17, 2009

Impressions of Mary Travers

I met Mary Travers in 1986 for an interview for

Cash Box magazine and remember, above all else, her

genuine kindness -- or at least she was nice to me.

We talked one Fall afternoon in New York, in the

season of her 25th anniversary with Peter,

Paul and Mary, and I remember being fascinated by her

personal history, how she was a Greenwich Village

kid who grew up (at least in her high school

years) above (or was it next door?) to the Gaslight.

For her, the Wha? and Gaslight and Bitter End were

the familiar neighbors next door (in

the years after she relocated to the Village from

the heartland, that is). What a folk education

she had by just walking out the door!

After the interview, I remember my editor at Cash Box, Steve,

a terrific person and editor who died way too young,

seemed wowed that I had scored an interview with her, saying

something like, "Wow, you actually got to talk with Mary

Travers!," and he wanted to hear every detail about her.

(Let's face it: in her day, she was not just a natural

effortless singer who almost never overdid it, but was

also a sort of incredibly sexy folk goddess.)

I must confess that when I listen to "Blowin' in the

Wind," I always listen to the Bob Dylan original

on "Freewheelin'"; but most of the world only knows

the song from PP&M, who offered a sugar-coated

version of Dylan to tens of millions of people

who might not have otherwise discovered him.

I enjoyed talking with Travers and am sorry she's gone (and

I'll post my interview with her, if I'm ever able to find

the tape!).

But I digress. Paul



for September 15, 2009

Anybody know Urdu out there? Received this email

from a newspaper in Islamabad about my bin Laden

annotation article (below). It may just be some

automated email or they may be weighing in on my piece.

Would like to know what it says. Email me at if you know. Thanks! (Online Urdu

to English translation services aren't

much help.)

آپ نے اپنے قیمتی وقت سےنوازا؛ ہمیںآپ کی میل مل چکی ہے انشااللہ ہم بہت
جلد آپ سے رابطہ کریں گے

نصیر احمد ظفر
اردو پاور ڈاٹ کوم

* * *

My Annotated Transcript of bin Laden's Latest Taped Message
(my comments in red caps)

and who permitted those who have been unjustly treated to carry out similar vengeance against their oppressors…”

“O’ people of America, my speech to you is a reminder of the reasons behind [September] 11 [SOUNDS LIKE YOUR CONSCIENCE IS BOTHERING YOU, OSAMA. THIS IS -- WHAT?! -- YOUR 90TH JUSTIFICATION FOR THE 9/11 ATTACKS? AND EACH OF YOUR JUSTIFICATIONS IS DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS ONES. AT FIRST, YOUR RATIONALE WAS PURELY RELIGIOUS. THEN YOU MADE A VIDEO BLAMING EVERYTHING FROM ANTIETAM TO HIROSHIMA. HAVEN'T SETTLED ON A REAL REASON YET, HAVE YOU?] and what took place in its aftermath in the form of wars, and claims, and the path to escape from its causes. Specifically, I draw attention to the families of those who were killed during these events, and those who have recently called for open investigations to determine the causes that led to them—this is your first step in the right direction [NOBODY IS DEMANDING SUCH AN INVESTIGATION EXCEPT NUT CASES] amongst many steps that deliberately missed the path throughout eight years of little prosper that have passed you by.

And it is correct that the american people should have sympathy for them, because the longer it takes you to recognize the real causes, the higher a price you will pay, needlessly. Thus, since the administration in the White House—one of the sides in this struggle—has appealed to you for years that war is necessary to ensure your security, then, to understand the truth, a wise man would want to heed and listen to both sides of the struggle, so lend me your ears.”

“First, I say: we have shown and declared many times over more than two and a half decades that our dispute with you [is based on] your support of your allies; the Israeli occupiers of our land in Palestine. [PALESTINE HAS HARDLY BEEN YOUR LIFELONG CAUSE. IN THE EIGHTIES, THE SOVIETS WERE YOUR OBSESSION. IN THE NINETIES, INFIDELS OF ALL NATIONS WERE YOUR OBSESSION. YOU'VE ALWAYS BEEN STRETCHING TO FIND A CAUSE TO JUSTIFY YOUR RELIGIOUS-MOTIVATED HOMICIDE.] It was this stance—along with other injustices—that moved us to carry out the events of September 11.

If you realized the extent of our suffering caused by the injustices of the Jews backed by your administration [SINCE WHEN HAVE YOU BECOME A MAN OF EMPATHY AND FEELING, YOU WHO ATTACKED THOUSANDS OF NON-POLITICAL CIVILIANS ON 9/11, CAUSING HUNDREDS TO JUMP WHILE ON FIRE TO THEIR DEATHS?] , then you would understand that both of our nations are victims of the policies laid down by the White House, which in reality is nothing but a puppet in the hands of powerful interest groups, specifically big corporations and the Israel lobby.”

“And, the best voice who has tried to explain to you the reasons behind [September] 11 is one of your own citizens, the veteran former CIA agent whose conscience awoke in his eighth decade [of age] and he decided to tell the truth despite the pressure against him, and explained for you the message behind September 11. Thus, he carried out some actions for this purpose
specifically, from within that is his book titled, ‘Apology of a Mercenary.’

Similarly, with regards to the suffering of our people in Palestine, Obama recently confessed in his speech in Cairo to the suffering [AGAIN, SINCE WHEN HAVE YOU BECOME MISTER SENSITIVE WHEN IT COMES TO THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS?] of our people there [in Palestine], under occupation and sanctions. And the matter becomes even clearer if you read what your former president Jimmy Carter has written about the Israeli discrimination against our people in Palestine, or had you listened to his statement some weeks ago, while visiting besieged and ravaged Gaza, when he said, ‘the people of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings’…” “And here we should pause for a moment, for anyone with an atom’s weight of mercy is compelled to sympathize with the suffering of the elderly, women, and children under the fatal siege, while above them the Zionists pour down burning American-made white-phosphorus bombs. [AGAIN, IT'S LAUGHABLE THAT YOU'RE TRYING TO BE A MAN OF EMPATHY WHEN YOU'VE CAUSED SUCH PAIN AND MISERY YOURSELF.] Life there is miserable beyond any conception, such as the number of children who are dying in the hands of their fathers and doctors because of a lack of food, medicine, and basic electricity. [AND YET YOU SEEM TO HAVE NO SYMPATHY FOR, SAY, THE INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO WERE FORCED TO JUMP TO THEIR DEATHS ON 9/11.]

It is truthfully a stain of shame on the forehands of all world politicians who facilitate this, and the people who ally with them with prior knowledge of their intentions—along with the influence from the Israeli lobby in America. The details regarding this have been clarified by two of your citizens, they are John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt in the book ‘The Israel Lobby in the United States.’ Upon reading these various suggested works, you will discover the truth and you will be terribly shocked by the scale of the deception that has been used against you. You will also discover that, even today, those who issue statements from inside the White House and claim that your wars against us are necessary for your security are the same ones who worked under the regime of Cheney and Bush, and marketed their former policies of fear to safeguard the interests of large corporations at the expense of your blood and economy. Truthfully, those are the ones responsible for forcing war upon you, not the mujahideen—as we are [merely] defending the right to liberate our land.” [MERELY DEFENDING THE RIGHT TO LIBERATE THEIR LAND? IS THAT WHAT YOU CALL AIDING AND ENABLING THE AL QAEDA PLOTTERS OF 9/11?]

And should you consider your situation at some depth, then you will discover that the White House is actually occupied by interest groups, and that it [the White House] should have been liberated, instead of fighting to liberate Iraq as Bush claimed. The role of a White House leader in today's atmosphere, regardless of his name, is like a train conductor who has no choice but to move forward on the rails laid down by interest groups—or else its path will be obstructed—and who lives in fear that his fate will be that of the former president [John F.] Kennedy and his brother.” [SHOULDN'T YOU BE THE ONE WORRIED ABOUT YOUR OWN MORTALITY? ARE YOU AWARE THAT THE AMERICAN MILITARY WILL SURELY SHOOT YOU DEAD AS SOON AS THEY FIND YOU?]

“The conclusion of my speech: it is time to liberate yourselves from the fear and mental terrorism that the neo-conservatives and the Israeli Lobby have used to manipulate you. Put the issue of your alliance with the Israelis up for debate and ask yourselves what your stance is: is your own security, blood, children, money, jobs, homes, economy, and reputation more important to you, or do you prefer the safety of the Israelis, their children, and economy? If you choose your own security and bring the war to a halt—and this is what the opinion polls have shown is most popular—then you must work and replace the hands of those from amongst you who have endangered our safety, and we are ready to respond to this decision in accordance with sound and just principles that have been previously mentioned. And here, there is an important point that requires attention regarding the war and stopping it: when Bush took power and appointed a secretary of defense who had assisted in killing two million suffering villagers in Vietnam, intelligent people predicted on that day that Bush was preparing for new massacres during his term in office, and this is what occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, Obama took charge and kept Cheney and Bush's men [HILLARY WAS ONE OF BUSH'S MEN?! BIDEN WAS ONE OF BUSH'S MEN?! HOLDER WAS ONE OF BUSH'S MEN?! GATES WAS NOMINALLY A BUSH APPOINTEE, BUT HAS SINCE PROVED TO BE EVEN-HANDED AND FAIR-MINDED; HE WAS PART OF THE REACTION AGAINST RUMSFELD.] —those from the senior leadership in the Pentagon—like Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus. Intelligent people understand that Obama is a weak man


who cannot stop the war like he promised [OBAMA IS IN FACT WINDING DOWN THE IRAQ WAR AS HE PROMISED IN THE CAMPAIGN AND IS NOW INCREASING FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN, WHICH HE ALSO PROMISED TO DO IN THE CAMPAIGN], but instead, he will postpone it to the greatest possible degree. If he was really in control, then he would have handed over leadership to the generals who have opposed this foolish war—like the former forces commander General Sanchez and the head of Central Command who was forced by Bush to resign shortly before leaving the White House because of his opposition to the war. Instead, he [Bush] appointed someone else who would press on after him.”

“Furthermore, Obama—under the pretext of his willingness to cooperate with the Republicans—has tricked you with a big fraud, as he kept the most important and most dangerous secretary—Cheney’s man—to continue the war. [AS I SAID, GATES HAS PROVED TO BE SURPRISINGLY FAIR-MINDED AND WISE] It will become clear to you over the coming days that you have changed nothing in the White House except faces—the bitter truth is that the neo-conservatives [A MEMBER OF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT IS TALKING ABOUT "CONSERVATIVES"? THAT'S A LAFF.] are still heavily shadowing you.” “Returning back to the original point, if you stop the war, then so be it. But otherwise, it is inevitable that we will continue our war of extermination against you on all possible fronts, just as we annihilated the Soviet Union for a decade until it was dismantled, by the grace of Allah.[THE SOVIET UNION COLLAPSED BECAUSE IT RAN OUT OF MONEY. KEEP IN MIND THAT WE TOOK DOWN YOUR FORMER PUPPET MULLAH OMAR IN A MATTER OF WEEKS IN THE FALL OF 2001.] So, go ahead and prolong this war as long as you want, but you are engaged in a miserable losing war for the interests of others [WE'RE WAGING WAR FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS? NO, IT'S FOR U.S. INTERESTS THAT WE FIGHT IN AFGHANISTAN. WE DON'T WANT TALIBAN-RELATED TERRORISTS TO ATTACK US AGAIN.] that seems to have no end in sight. The Russian Generals—who were shaken by the battles in Afghanistan—warned you what the outcome of the war would be before it began [AGAIN, WE HAD A RELATIVELY EASY TIME REMOVING OMAR FROM POWER IN '01], but you refuse to listen to those who advise you. This war is being financed through ghoulish interests [THE AMERICAN TAXPAYERS ARE GHOULISH INTERESTS?], the morale of your soldiers is collapsing, and they are committing suicide on a daily basis to escape it. It is a failed war, Allah willing.” “This is has all been prescribed for you by the doctors Cheney and Bush as medicine for the events of September 11, yet, the bitterness and loss this has caused is worse than that of the events themselves. The accumulated debt alone has almost led to the collapse of the entire American economy. It has been said, some illnesses are tolerated more than their medicine. And we, by the grace of Allah, continue to carry our weapons slung over our shoulders, fighting the evil powers in the east and west for thirty years, and in all that time, we have not recorded a single incident of suicide [ARE YOU TRYING FOR COMEDY HERE, BIN LADEN? YOUR HIJACKERS ON 9/11 COMMITTED SUICIDE -- AND FOR DELUSIONAL REASONS (THE PROMISE OF VIRGINS AFTER DEATH). SUICIDE SEEMS TO BE THE JIHADISTS' MAIN TACTIC!] despite the global pursuit targeting us, praise be to Allah. This should tell you something about the righteousness of our doctrine and the justice of our cause. Allah-willing, we are moving forward on our path to liberate our land; patience is our weapon and we seek victory from Allah, and we will not abandon Al-Aqsa Mosque, as our grasp on Palestine is greater than our grasp onto our souls… Thus, you can lengthen the war as you desire, [but] by Allah, we will not compromise in the least over it.[THE U.S. IS NOT ASKING YOU AND AL QAEDA TO COMPROMISE; WE ARE ORDERING YOU TO SURRENDER AND WILL KILL YOU IF YOU DON'T.]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- As some of you know, I wrote and recorded a song

last year about bin Laden titled "I Shot Osama bin Laden,"

and I thought now would be a good time to share it again.

Here's the tune:
bin Laden."



for September 14, 2009

Remembering Jim Carroll

I liked Jim Carroll's music more than I should have,

probably. I mean, some admired "The Basketball Diaries,"

some appreciated his poems, some liked Carroll's daring,

but I confess: I loved "Catholic Boy."

I played that LP until the grooves cut through to

the other side, and then, not having the money to

buy a replacement copy, I continued playing it,

scratches and cracks and all, probably wrecking

new turntable needles everywhere I went with it.

When he played his "Catholic Boy" gig at the Bottom

Line -- December 22, 1980, a Christmas season show

that, at least for a couple hours, took everyone's

minds off the recurrent nightmare memory of John Lennon's

murder uptown a couple weeks earlier -- I was at

the concert and enjoyed it immensely.

So now comes word that Carroll died the other day,

at age 60, not quite the mythic early death expected

of him back in the 1980s, but still on the young

side of old. I've met a lot of rock stars and

musicians over the decades but never met Carroll; the

closest I got was backstage at some New York Music

Awards ceremony in the 1980s, where I saw Carroll, looking

alarmingly pale, rushing to some place with Lou Reed.

Musically, Carroll never topped "Catholic Boy," which, today,

still sounds thrilling, even if it's also flawed in obvious

ways that could've been easily corrected in the studio.

But I still listen to it every now and then, so Carroll

lives on, for me.

the season of "Catholic Boy"-mania!

* * * *

Just posted four brand new songs that I wrote over the

last couple months and recorded last week at my home

studio in Berkeley, Calif. You can listen to the tracks here

(for free) at:

Enjoy! Paul



for September 11, 2009

A day to remember a national and personal trauma
and to be reminded why we are in Afghanistan and
why a substantial covert presence in Waziristan (preferably,
though not necessarily, with Zardari's knowledge) is
equally necessary.

[photo by Paul Iorio]



for September 8, 2009

Is "District 9" the Best Picture of 2009 So Far?

Finally got around to seeing "District 9." Very

impressive. An instant midnight movie cult classic

and one of the freshest sci-fi films in many years.

Instead of following the path of most flicks about

extra-terrestrials that predictably show the

breathless moment when aliens first make

their appearance on Earth, "District 9" takes a

much more novel approach, starting its narrative

in mid-stream, at a point when humans have

already become acclimated to the presence of

extraterrestrials and are working out the

everyday practical problems of providing them

with civil rights, legal aid and housing. Issues

here also involve inter-species prostitution and alien

diseases transmitted to humans (causing black fluid

to stream from a guy's nose, for starters!).

And the main character, Wikus (Sharlto Copley), is

a unique cinematic creation, a skittish protagonist

who responds to crises with a mix of manic bemusement

and amused panic. Also love the fact that humans

can't budge the massive alien spacecraft from the

sky (it hovers over Johannesburg like a mini-city,

even after the extraterrestrials have disembarked).

South African director Neill Blomkamp has made one

of '09's best films and is reportedly already

working on a sequel ("District 10," perhaps?).

* * * *

Sunday Night's John Legend/India.Arie Concert

"I was still struggling to pay my rent," John Legend

said at his show last Sunday night in Berkeley, Calif.,

talking about his early career. "But I had a vision

that one day I'd be in a place just like this [the

Greek Theater]...And I'm gonna celebrate

tonight, Berkeley! I feel good tonight! I'm gonna

live it up tonight!"

And then he launched into the last and best part of

his show, which included the unexpectedly seductive

"Save Room"; the Beatles' "I Want You (She's

So Heavy)," a surprising choice; encore "Ordinary

People"; and "Good Morning," for which he was joined

by India.Arie.

Inda.Arie opened the show with an hour of her own material;

it was her last night as part of Legend's tour, and she

saved the high note for her finale, a knock-out version of

"Ready for Love," from her '01 debut album (everybody

in the area where I heard the show, in the hills above

the Greek, listened to that one as if entranced).

All told, it was a night of 21st century r&b (neither

singer released any material in the 20th century), post-rap

that looked back to pre-rap styles (e.g., the more mild

formal elements of Al Green and Earth Wind & Fire, mixed

with a piano style not unlike very early Elton John -- in

Legend's case).

On this night, a mere few months before the start of

a new decade, with ten percent of the 21st century

already gone, the music wasn't pre-9/11 so much as

pre-World Trade Center.

* * * *

Looks like some Muslim extremists are finally coming

around to the view that irreverence about sacred

things and other forms of free expression should be

tolerated. Evidence of that comes in a thoroughly

tasteless (and unfunny) editorial cartoon by one Abdoul

Mouthalib Bouzerda on the Arab-European League website

that has the insensitivity to poke fun at

the Holocaust. (Here's a link to the offensive 'toon:

Sure, the cartoon is disgusting. But censoring it would be

even more disgusting. My feeling is this: let them publish

the cartoon -- it only shows how completely uneducated and

callous they are. Nobody serious would take such a person


Unfortunately, the government and judicial system in the

Netherlands has unwisely decided to prosecute the cartoonist

for insulting and disrespecting an ethnic or religious

group. The Netherlands is foolishly playing into the hands

of Muslim militants who are trying to show that the West

is hypocritical when it comes to free speech.

The way I see it, if the Arab-European League website

can joke about the genocidal murder of six million people,

then surely that frees me to joke about, say,

the dozen or so wives of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad,

a far less sensitive topic.

So, in this new spirit of irreverence, here's my own

parody of the Arab-European League cartoon (the words

are mine, the drawing by Bouzerda):

But I digress. Paul

[Sept. 8 column updated.]



for September 3, 2009

The Untold Story of How Levi Johnston Wound
Up in the Pages of Vanity Fair

VANITY FAIR EDITOR: Hi, Levi. You know, we're really interested
in talking with you about your life, you know, your observations
about Governor Palin. I'd love to get a few things down about that.
Uh, when did you meet the Governor for the first time?

LEVI JOHNSTON: Uh, let me stop you right there. 'Cause I'm sort of
shoppin' it around myself.

VANITY FAIR EDITOR: Ohhh, you're shoppin' it around.

LEVI: Yeah, I'd sorta like to tell it myself, in my own words -- in
your esteemed pages, maybe. That'd be, like, a real feather in my tractor.

VANITY FAIR: Feather in your tractor. Cool. Cool. Thing is about
VF is we sorta like to use writers who have, like, a track record

LEVI: Track record.

VANITY FAIR: We tend to use people who've done this sort of thing before.

LEVI: I know what ya mean. I mean, VF is, like, up there. But I did do
some stories for the Wasilla High School Eagle, before I dropped out --


LEVI: The school paper, before I dropped out. In fact, I think I
might've had two articles in the Wasilla paper. And then when I was
working in the North Slope fields I was always coming up with
ideas -- they didn't get published but I'd write 'em on napkins and stuff.

VANITY FAIR: I've got an idea. How about we collaborate? Maybe
you can sort of tell me the story and we can hash out the wording.

LEVI: Hash out. Might be right.

VANITY FAIR: Did you know Maureen Dowd is interested in
interviewing you?

LEVI: Was she, like, that woman on "CSI"?

VANITY FAIR: She's a writer. And we can get Annie Leibovitz for the shoot.

LEVI: No, no, I usually hunt alone or with my own partners.

VANITY FAIR: No, we mean photo shoot. To take pictures of you.
You know, we can even get you an invite plus one to the Oscar party
next year.

LEVI: Cool. I bet "G.I. Joe" takes Best Picture. I just saw
"Rise of Cobra." Awesome.
VANITY FAIR: Haven't seen it yet.
LEVI: Can I, like, call you tomorrow?

VANITY FAIR: Sure. Lemme give ya my cell.

LEVI: Might work out.

Levi then calls his agent.

AGENT: Look, Levi, the book idea isn't selling. You really have
to buck it down to the magazine level. And then from there it might
turn into a book. And -- who knows? -- maybe a motion picture after that.

LEVI: That's what I'm shooting for.

AGENT: But for now, even HarperCollins isn't going for it.

LEVI: Even HarperCollins. Sheesh! That means no one'll take it.

AGENT: Don't know if you're interested, but I was talking with an
editor at the New York Daily News and they're very hot on it.
They'll even give you a staff spot, a monthly column, a sort of Jenna
Bush thing. But the money is low.

LEVI: I'll think about it.

AGENT: But I think your best offer is Vanity Fair, though they really
wanna use their own writers.

LEVI: OK, I'll go with VF. I wanna talk with 'em directly tomorrow.

The next day, Levi calls Vanity Fair.

LEVI: I talked with my agent and we're gonna guy with you guys.

VANITY FAIR: Welcome aboard. Look forward to working with you.

VANITY FAIR ASSISTANT (heard in the background): You've got a call
on the other line. It's that poet who survived the Holocaust. He wants
to know the status of his article.

VANITY FAIR: Oh, that guy. [rolls his eyes] Uh, tell him I'll call him
next month.

LEVI: So you'll work out the paycheck details with my agent and all?

VANITY FAIR: Yeah, we'll handle that. I think we're goin' more
toward the six figure thing than the seven figure thing, but we'll work it out.

LEVI: 'Cause we were shootin' for seven figures and all, but that's cool.

VANITY FAIR: Cool. Let's get to work.
But I digress. Paul



for September 2, 2009

Time for a Surge in Afghanistan

Don't be fooled by George Will's faux peacenik column in

The Washington Post calling for a U.S. withdrawal from

Afghanistan. Will and other conservatives just want President Obama

to fail and so are giving him advice that will cause him to

to do so. In 2012, they want to be able to say that

America is less safe because of Obama's policies. They want

to be able to point to a brand new terrorist attack that

emanated from Afghanistan and say, "Time to bring in

a President Gingrich to clean out the Taliban once and for

all." They know full well that a surge would probably work

in Afghanistan, which is why they are advising against it.

And don't listen to the critics of the Afghanistan war

on the far left, either. After all, most of them weren't for

the original Afghanistan War in '01, which almost everyone

now agrees was necessary. They were the same ones who

were angrily protesting in the streets against war in

Afghanistan weeks before the war actually began, before

the blood had even dried in the rubble of the World Trade

Center (and they didn't even have the sensitivity to hold

a single placard condemning Osama bin Laden or hold a

candle for the victims of his murders). Their judgment has

always been profoundly unwise on foreign policy.

How soon we forget how radically wrong some

pundits -- on the left and on the right -- were about

the Afghanistan War in 2001. It seems like every

time I turned on "The NewsHour" on PBS back

in late September 2001 (and I'm a big fan of "The

NewsHour"), there was somebody from the Nepotism

Research Center or the Institute for Overthinking

Central South Asian and South Asian Policy repeatedly

saying the following: We'll never be able to topple

Mullah Omar's government, bin Laden is

setting a trap and luring us in, there will be

violent backlash throughout Islam if we wage war

there, Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires,

it will be our next Vietnam, etc.

Well, those career pros were wrong on every count

in '01. Turns out Mullah Omar was a pushover, his

right-wing regime easily toppled. There were no

major riots in Islam over our involvement in Afghanistan,

because most Muslims understood we were the aggrieved party

after 9/11. The Taliban has no homegrown Ho Chi Minh who

serves as a rallying point. And if those overthink-tankers had

prevailed, Mullah Omar would still be running things from Kabul

and making new attacks on the U.S. possible (while oppressing

Afghan women and continuing to force Hindus to wear yellow

stars on the streets of Kabul).

If Bush had kept his eye on the ball, and not been diverted

by his personal animus toward Saddam Hussein, we wouldn't have

to go back there now to clean up his unfinished business.

The flaws of Bush's Afghanistan war were these: we didn't

get in soon enough and didn't stay long enough.

Now Obama has to wash out the infection that Bush

allowed to fester while he was waging an unnecessary

war in Iraq.

With a surge to 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley

McChrystal has an excellent chance of wiping out

rogue power centers of the Taliban and disrupting any

new plots against America by jihadists there.

The Taliban and Mullah Omar, as you might recall, were

the main allies of bin Laden, who was protected and supported

by Omar's government as bin Laden organized his

intricate attacks on the U.S. in '01.

Bin Laden, need I remind you, is still at large, as

are his lieutenants and Mullah Omar himself. In other

words, the top plotters of the 9/11 attacks are still

free and able to plan brand new mass murders, which they're

highly motivated to do. (Imagine if Charles Manson

and his gang were still living free in the mountains

around L.A. Do you think for a moment they

wouldn't be planning new atrocities?)

And bin Laden and his cohorts are still fully

functional enough to film videos every

several months and distribute them to

Al-Jazeera and other broadcast outlets, which then air them.

In other words, they ain't eatin' berries in the wild,

struggling for survival; they're even makin' movies.

The main allies of bin Laden in the region are

the Taliban, and that's why we're waging war

against them in Afghanistan. On ABC's "This Week," George

Will said that we would be as justified in attacking

Somalia as we are to be in Afghanistan -- a comment

that is so easy to rebut that you wonder whether

Will is dangling that comment in order to provoke

a response for which he has a ready-made retort. Or

maybe he was just being thoughtless. Do we actually

need to explain to Will that Somalia wasn't the host

country of the terrorists who attacked the U.S.

on 9/11?

But I digress. Paul



for September 1, 2009

Appreciating the Oeuvre of Muammar el-Qaddafi

It was 40 years ago today...

Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi is making his

very first visit to the United States in a few weeks, so what

a better time to bone up on the oeuvre of Col. Qaddafi!

Many of Qaddafi's writings are available in his

three-volume "Green Book," sort of his answer to

Mao's "Little Red Book," and on his official website

(, which

includes fresh material along with excerpts from the

"Green Book."

Turns out the really interesting and edgy Qaddafi

writings are actually on previous editions of his

site that are now no longer online -- though they

are available via The Wayback Machine search engine,

which manages to find and resurrect long lost

web pages.

Here are excerpts from some of Qadaffi's vanished

writings, posted on his website in 2006 and 2007,

but gone now. In these passages, he writes about

Jesus Christ (March 30, 2007) and rants angrily

against soccer and the World Cup (March 6, 2006):


beware the deadly diseases caused by The World Cup. Medical

research has proven, and will prove further in

the future, that those who have [soccer] mania, and

those addicted to the game are most at risk of

psychological and nervous disorders. Those disorders in

turn are the leading causes of heart attacks, strokes,

diabetes, hyper-tension and premature aging. Human

physical activity has diminished due to the overuse of

technology. People have become more lethargic, lazy and

obese. At the same time, sport which should be an

individual activity that cannot be delegated to

others just like prayers, or a collective one

exercised by the all the masses has been

transformed into an exploitative activity

monopolized by the rich dominant elite like the

World Cup. The masses are reduced to playing the role

of the idiotic spectator.

Second, beware the hatred, enmity and racism generated by

[soccer]...The games in 1970 led to war between El Salvador

and Honduras that left more than 30,000 people either dead

or wounded. It also left a wound that will never heal....[The

World Cup] leads to problems, difficulties, disorders,

hatred and enmity. It causes the spread of degenerate

behavior and collective recklessness and irresponsibility.

Socio-psychological studies have proven that the manic,

fanatical addicts of the World Cup are below normal

in intellectual capacity and psychological


ON JESUS CHRIST: "...Why does the calendar

start with the birth of Jesus and not the

death of Muhammad? The reason is that Muslims are weak and

defeated....It is indeed a miracle that Jesus was

born without a father....[An] error that has long

misled the uninitiated is that Jesus allowed himself

to be crucified to atone for the sins of his followers.

Jesus was neither crucified nor killed...The person

crucified 2,000 years ago was a man who resembled Jesus,

not Jesus himself. Jesus was not crucified....[The

Bible] states that Mary, Mary Magdalene,

Joseph the Carpenter and maybe some Apostles were

present at the Crucifixion. They all knew that

the crucified was not Jesus but pretended otherwise

to allow the real Jesus to escape."

But I digress. Paul



for August 31, 2009

The Truth About the War Movies of 2009

"Inglourious Basterds" continues to open at number one in

country after country during its international roll-out. "The

Hurt Locker" still has critics raving more than a month

after its domestic release. And the much-panned "G.I. Joe:

Rise of Cobra" is one of the top dozen grossers of '09

so far, and has already spawned a sequel-in-the-works.

War is very hot on the big screen right now.

But how good are these films? Here's my own look at the

three biggest war movies of the summer '09 season:

"The Hurt Locker'

I really do admire many of the critics who admire

Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," but I have to

disagree with them -- and I think critical consensus

is more mistaken on this one than it has been on

any other film since the unjustly overlooked

Rodrigo García picture "Nine Lives" (2005).

"The Hurt Locker" has everything a great movie should have --

except one thing: well developed characters, the

essential ingredient. Characters here are typical,

generic, unmemorable; we know very little about them

and so care very little when they're, inevitably,

blown to bits in some Iraqi wasteland.

For a movie dealing with lots of high tension

bomb-defusing situations, the flick has very

little tension or suspense. Very often, when

a character is disabling a bomb, all we see are tight

shots of fingers on wires -- we don't see the

face of the person doing the dangerous work, which

is telling; this movie is situation-driven, not


Oh, sure, Bigelow tacks on a ten-minute

segment around an hour into the picture

in which the characters horse around and

talk about themselves, but it feels tacked

on and, further, they reveal mostly

unremarkable things about themselves (one

guy is separated from his wife, another

has a wife who wants more kids, etc., yawn).

And in the midst of danger, the squad members

don't distinguish themselves; there's one guy

who's just bossy and bureaucratic, another

who's a sort of good ol' boy, etc. And the

enemy often appears as nothing more than a smudge

or spot in the far distance.

Contrast this with the unforgettable people in

some of the great war movies of the past. Remember

the vivid capsule descriptions of the characters in

"Apocalypse Now"? Each one was thoroughly drawn

before they ended up dead or wounded. Ditto with

"Platoon." And in "Born on the 4th of July," you knew

Ron Kovic intimately before he took his first bullet.

"Hurt Locker" is also too repetitive, with one scene

after another in which we see someone fiddling with

red wires and orange wires and yellow wires, plus

a lot of "Danger at two o'clock," "roger that," and

bossiness substituting for leadership.

And let's face it: it's not very easy to care about

soldiers fighting a war as pointless as the Iraq War.

I mean, if you're watching a film about the Second

World War, you know that taking, say, Iwo Jima will

change the world for the better. But it's hard to

cheer the taking of, say, Nablus, when you don't

really care about the overarching objective of the

conflict. If you win Nablus, or a block in

downtown Baghdad, you win virtually nothing (and

you come no closer to capturing Osama bin Laden,

either). [I know, I know: "Locker" is about

a bomb defusing squad. But the squad does engage

in open combat in the film.]

Has there ever been a great war movie about an inconsequential

or minor war? I don't think so. Look at all the major war films:

"Platoon" (about Vietnam), "All Quiet on the Western Front" (World

War One), "Paths of Glory" (World War One), "Saving Private

Ryan" (World War Two), "The Longest Day" (World War Two),

"Letters From Iwo Jima" (World War Two).

All the top-tier war films are about the Big Wars, not "off" wars

like, say, the Falklands conflict or Grenada or even the Korean War.

And Iraq falls into that sort of minor, useless-conflict category.

If you don't care about the real Iraq war, it's even harder

to care about a fictionalized account of it.

And it's no mystery why the film is a commercial failure

and why the industry isn't getting behind it: we see

the real Iraq war in all its gruesome glory on CNN and

"Nightline" and CBS every night, and embedded reporters

telling tales are not very rare.

* * * *

More Notes on "Inglourious Basterds"

I wrote at length on "Inglourious Basterds" in my

previous column (below), so I'm not going to

reiterate what I said before. But after seeing

"Basterds" a second time, I noticed new things about


First, let's hope closet Hitler-ites aren't seeing some

sort of justification of genocide in the Nazi SS officer's spurious

logic in this opening sequence dialogue:

SS OFFICER: If a rat were to scamper through your front
door right now, would you greet it with hostility?

FARMER: I suppose I would.

SS OFFICER: Has a rat ever done anything to you to
create this animosity of you toward him?

FARMER: Rats spread disease.

SS OFFICER: Rats were the cause of the bubonic plague,
but that was some time ago. I propose to you
any disease a rat could spread, a squirrel could equally
carry. Wouldn't you agree?

FARMER: Right.

SS OFFICER: But I assume you don't have the same
animosity you have with squirrels you do
with rats, do you?


SS OFFICER:...They even rather look alike, don't they?

FARMER: That's as interesting thought.

OK, now the rebuttal (that is not in the film), from a

guy with a philosophy degree (me): squirrels don't

infest households, rats do. If squirrels burrowed into

interior walls in your home and started multiplying inside

your house, you would have the same animosity and

repulsion toward squirrels that you have with rats, and

you would set squirrel traps instead

of rat traps.

Also, the plotters in the film want to use a

highly-flammable substance to burn down a movie

theater, and decide to use nitrate film because

(as Samuel L. Jackson says in a VO): "Nitrate film

burns three times faster than paper." Well, guess

what? Gasoline is even more flammable than either!

Why didn't they simply put a match to a gas can?

* * *

"G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra"

I'm still trying to figure out what a moviegoer

might see in this tedious, predictable, cliche-packed

crappy film. I mean, I watched it all the way through

and still couldn't begin to give you a coherent plot

synopsis. This picture isn't for movie fans but for

video game fans. And the 9/11ish destruction of the

Eiffel Tower suggests, on a pop culture level,

there still is considerable 9/11-anxiety in the

mainstream, eight years later.

But I digress. Paul



for August 27, 2009

Paul Iorio on "Inglourious Basterds"

The twenty minute sequence that opens "Inglourious Basterds"

features some of the very best film making Quentin Tarantino

has ever done -- and it's probably the best movie sequence

of the year so far by anyone. From the moment the SS soldier

enters the French farmhouse, the tension is nearly

unbearable, though no gun is drawn, no threat is made. And

when the camera pans downward, beneath the floorboards, for a

breathtaking POV shot, the sense of impending tragedy and

violence has a depth of both feeling and craft Tarantino

hadn't shown before.

And the scene also has all the elements of a great thriller,

as we watch Melanie Laurent's character run away (and escape)

from the Nazi gunman (though it's too bad Laurent didn't have

a gun of her own; imagine the SS bullets through the floor

being answered by return fire from below).

If Tarantino had sustained the tension of the first 20 minutes,

"Inglorious Basterds" would be his crowning masterwork. But,

alas, he doesn't, and the opener is, by far, the best part of

the flick, which sags and becomes astonishingly ineffective in

the long middle part, before turning into a sort of "Carrie"

of The Third Reich.

Part of the problem is lack of focus and inconsistent tone;

what starts poignantly is later played for cheap laffs;

the middle of the film, which resembles outtakes, could've

easily been set in a Los Angeles frat house without

missing much.

If you were to put "Basterds" on a double bill with

Polanski's "The Pianist," "Basterds" would float away

like a silly helium balloon. If you were to put "Basterds"

on a double bill with Pasolini's "Salo," Tarantino's SS would

look like nice cops in a bad mood. ("Nice?!," you say. To

which I retort, "Have you seen 'Salo'?" I'd describe the

sadistic things the Nazis did to prisoners in "Salo" but I don't

want to spoil the shock for those who haven't seen it yet.

Suffice it to say that Lando is a sweet boy, by contrast.)

"Salo," by the way, is where Nazi scalping was first seen on

the big screen and is the film that probably comes closest

to capturing the almost unwatchable nightmare of being

tortured by Hitler's thugs. ("Salo" is not a depiction of

trauma, but an infliction of trauma.) If Pasolini

or Polanski, who experienced the hell of the Third Reich

first-hand, had created "Basterd"'s opening scene,

we would have seen the full measure of cruelty on earth (the

farmer would have looked out the window and found his daughters

missing, for starters).

In "Basterds," Brad Pitt is back to fulfilling his promise as

this generation's Steve McQueen, after misstepping a bit

last year with the conceptually confused "Benjamin Button" (the

reverse aging idea only works at the beginning and

ending, because in the rest of the picture Button is the

same age as he would have been if he had aged normally). Here,

Pitt acts sort of like Kris Kristofferson's sumbitch

in "Lone Star," or like a more brutal version of Tommy Lee

Jones's character in "The Fugitive").

Lately, Tarantino seems attracted to projects in which the

moral lines are big and broad and unambiguous (he has

talked frequently of developing a picture about John Brown,

for example). I mean, who (besides a ridiculous pacifist)

would see a moral problem with the killing of a Nazi in

the thick of World War II?

But the greatest films ever made are almost always those

in which there is enormous moral ambiguity and

complexity, where the enemy is sometimes in the mirror

(e.g., "Platoon," where U.S. soldiers are fighting themselves

as much as they're fighting the enemy; "Letters From Iwo

Jima," a kind of sympathy for the devil).

And, of course, that goes for non-war movies, too: the

greatest film of all time -- the first two "Godfather"

films -- causes us to empathize with and cheer and love some

really evil folks. And "Chinatown" shows us, as Noah Cross

so memorably put it: "Most people never have to face the fact

that, at the right time and the right place, they're

capable of...anything!"

If the Basterds had been developed beyond the cartoon

sketch level, we would have had a movie in which they

were truly the white hot focus from start to finish;

we would have seen the Basterds fighting amongst themselves

in a significant way, we would have seen some Basterds

memorably arguing for leniency -- and some for

execution -- when it came time to kill the Nazis

they had captured. Instead, the individual Basterds

(other than Pitt's character) don't make the sort of

indelible impression that, say, the gang members in

"Reservoir Dogs" make.

Still, the audience in the theater where I saw the film

had a rollicking good time watching it, so I bet "Basterds"

has legs. My advice to moviegoers on a budget is this;

by all means, go see the first 20 minutes of the film;

but then quickly leave the theater, go to the

box office and get your money back.

But I digress. Paul



for August 26, 2009

It's sad that he's gone but there is one saving
grace in that he lived long enough to see his
dream come true: the election of Barack Obama,
who carries with him the best ideals and
instincts of the Kennedy brothers. He made it
to the mountaintop, a sort of terrestrial
heaven (the only kind there is).



for August 21, 2009

I just found out about producer Jim Dickinson's death and am

sad to hear he's gone. I was fortunate enough to have interviewed

him one-on-one back in 1987, when he had just finished

producing what some consider to be the best album released

that year: The Replacement's "Pleased to Meet Me."

Of course, by the time I'd met him, he had already

had a significant impact on pop music, shaping the so-called

Memphis sound, collaborating with the likes of

Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones, producing

the legendary Big Star (idols of the Mats's Paul

Westerberg), and recording his own substantial solo


Dickinson struck me as a natural born artist, sort of

like Sam Phillips, who I also interviewed and who also

said things that have stuck with me for decades.

In this era of auto-tuners and drum machines that

never miss a beat, Dickinson was a reminder that

music is stuff made by human beings -- with flaws

being (to some extent) part of the point.

Somewhere in a box in my closet is a cassette of

my interview with Dickinson, but I can't find it

right now. Instead, let me remember Dickinson by

posting an article I wrote -- and for which Dickinson was

one of my quoted (and unquoted) sources -- about the making of

"Pleased to Meet Me." It appeared in the May 2, 1987,

issue of Cash Box magazine and was published just before

the album's release.

Too bad I can't print some of the off the record material

but I will say that he liked to dish about musicians,

talk about them, and he had an instinct for sizing people up

exactly, with 20:20 vision. He knew who the genuine artists

were and who the merely artsy or merely competent were

(for the record, he considered Paul Westerberg an artist of real

substance, and he sure didn't say that about everyone

he worked with).

Anyway, here's the article I wrote about the making

of the "Pleased to Meet Me" album:

[page one of article; click to enlarge]

[page two of article; click to enlarge]


[page three of article; click to enlarge]

But I digress. Paul



for August 20 - 21, 2009

Boycott Scotch Whiskey,

a huge generator of income for the
Scottish government, which,
unforgivably, released
the Lockerbie bomber today.

You know, Americans are so angry over the release of

the Lockerbie bomber that I wouldn't be surprised if

the manifests on shipments of Scotch Whiskey

to U.S. ports start mysteriously disappearing

or suddenly get changed to private front residences.

I wouldn't be surprised if shipments of Scotch Whiskey

in U.S. warehouses ended up unexplainably smashed (as

security cameras inexplicably slept). I wouldn't be

surprised if there were big Boston tea parties,

featuring -- you guessed it -- Scotch Whiskey,

at major domestic ports. And I wouldn't be surprised

if police across America assigned a very low priority

to solving all those crimes against Scotch Whiskey.

* * * *

* * * *

Rush Can't Get It Up

For Health Reform

If Rush had grown up under the Obama health plan, he
might not have become impotent (or at least in need of
Viagra), thanks to free doctor's visits that would have
kept him healthy.

Sarah Palin sez: "Put health care in the hands of the
same private sector that has given us AIG and Bernie

In the health care debate, it's easy to get

too mired in the details of co-pays and deductibles and

premiums and lose sight of the big picture, which is this:

Britain and Canada, two non-Socialist countries very much

like our own, provide health care free of charge for its

people, and they're not going broke doing it!

It really is no more complicated than this: if you break your

knee in America, it costs around $75,000 to fix it. If you

break your knee in the U.K. or Canada, it costs zero dollars

to fix it.

I mean, c'mon: what's not to like?

Yet rich right-wingers, many associated with Big Pharma and

insurance companies, show up at town hall meetings screaming,

"Please charge me $75,000, not zero dollars, to fix a broken


And conservatives also shout about how they think the

public option will run private insurance companies out of

business. (The hecklers, by the way, resemble nothing so

much as the "Brooks Brothers rioters" who helped rob Al Gore of

the presidency in '00.)

To which I say: have public schools run private schools out of

business? Has the postal service run Fed Ex and UPS out of


And it is analogous. The affluent, if they feel they can

get a better level of health care from a private insurance company,

can choose the private option, just as the rich can now choose

to by-pass the free education available to them through the

public school system. Under the Obama plan, private insurers

will surely be kept profitable by affluent folks who think

their insurance is superior to what the government is offering.

Also, the hecklers always say the government isn't good at

running things and will screw it up, if given a chance. To

which I say: do you really think the private sector is

preferable? Do you you want the same private sector that

has given us AIG and Bernie Madoff to handle health care?

At least the government (unlike the private sector) is

accountable to the people -- and anyone who screws up

can be voted out of office.

Truth is, if there is no public option, health care will remain

unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. The

idea of establishing non-profit health cooperatives

wouldn't work -- unless they were at least partially funded

by the government (and then that would be a reinvention of the

public option).

Under the co-op plan, the non-profits would get their

start-up money from the government; and once they

started failing financially, as they probably would, they

would be backed by government bail-outs (in which

case, again, you've re-introduced the public option through the

back door).

If the non-profit co-ops did start failing, do you

think for a moment the government would (or should)

deny them a bail-out? After all, it bails

out banks and car companies, so why wouldn't it

save non-profit health care co-ops?

Maybe that is the solution, in a roundabout way. Pass a

plan that says: the government will provide seed money

for non-profits that will then try to make it on their

own, but will be bailed out by the taxpayers if they

fail. From that base, the Democrats can later build a less

disingenuous, more robust and explicit public option.

Death panels are alive and well and working
for Blue Cross and other private insurers who make
it too expensive for the sick to get the medical care they
need to save their own lives.

* * * *

* * * *

Don't Wanna Be a French Idiot!

Jean-Marie Bigard: Life ain't easy for a boy named Marie.

France may have been the birthplace of the brilliant "Being and

Nothingness," but the current French president is not nearly as

rational or wise as Jean-Paul Sartre. Otherwise Sarkozy

wouldn't be pal-ing around with a comedian, Jean-Marie Bigard,

who openly claims that 9/11 was an inside job.

And their relationship goes beyond just pal-ing around.

In fact, when Sarkozy visited the Pope a few years ago,

who did he bring with him? A Kierkegaard scholar? A

Catholic philosopher? No, he brought the crass and boorish

Bigard, essentially saying to the Pope, "Honey, let me

introduce you to my redneck friend."

Of course, Bigard, a devout Catholic, still

believes all the religious tall tales of the Bible,

including the howlers about Jonah living in a whale,

dead peeps coming back to life, etc.

A person raised on such tall tales probably finds it easy later

in life to believe in other supernatural things -- like the

idea that 9/11 was an inside job -- which partially explains

Bigard's "thinking."

It's a bit unsettling to know that the best bud of president

Sarkozy is a nut who thinks the 9/11 attacks

were planned by the U.S. government. (Sarkozy's housing minister

up until very recently, Christine Boutin, also said she

thinks Bush might have been behind the World Trade Center

and Pentagon murders.)

Who exactly is this Bigard? A corny comedian who packs 'em in

at Paris theaters but probably couldn't half-fill the

Fillmore in America. Bigard looks and acts something

like a stroke victim with a bad hangover, or like someone

who has been driven clinically insane by decades in prison.

On YouTube, you can hear him joke coarsely about the

Congressional 9/11 report (a real laff riot, that!) and

about how it's suspicious that U.S. fighter pilots weren't

in the air after the first plane crashed into the

World Trade center (which ignores such common sense

questions as: how could we have known the first crash

wasn't an accident before the second plane crashed? To what

specific target would fighter planes have flown?). All

that, he says to his many French fans, is proof

that the U.S. government was in on the 9/11 plot.

Let me put this nicely: It's hard to imagine how

imbecilic you have to be about evidence

evaluation in order to think what Bigard thinks. I mean,

you might be a genius in mathematics or a musical

savant, but if you believe 9/11 was an inside job, then

you quite literally have an idiot's aptitude when it

comes to evaluating evidence.

Even the most extreme jihadist newspapers don't deny 9/11

was a bin Laden plot. And bin Laden himself openly claims

credit for the attacks.

What's disturbing is that I can't find any record of Sarkozy

condemning or renouncing Bigard or Bigard's remarks. (The

comedian himself backed off his kooky theory for

a time, but has recently publicly reiterated his belief

in the conspiracy theory.)

Has Sarkozy made it clear that he accepts

the factual record of the 9/11 attacks, that he fully

understands that bin Laden's al Qaeda gang hatched the

mass murder plot? Has he separated himself from Bigard on

this issue?

If he thinks there's some sense to what Bigard says, that

would put Sarkozy in league with Ahmedinejad in terms of

ignorance and defective thinking.

No wonder France hasn't deployed any combat troops for

the Afghanistan war; why fight people who you don't

believe carried out the crimes of 9/11?

But I digress. Paul



for August 16, 2009

Phish Resurgent!

Also, How I Was Able to Be the First Journalist Anywhere to Interview Trey Anastasio on Tape (Oh, yes I was!)

Photo of Phish that the band sent to me in 1988.

As a pop culture phenomenon, Phish is one of the

most inextinguishable. Every time the band disbands,

fan demand is so great that it has had to come back just

one more time

Remember Phish's final break-up of 2004? Its Great

Hiatus of 2000? All history. As everyone knows,

the band has reunited again, at least for now, with

a new studio album, "Joy," due on Sept. 8, and

concerts at Festival 8 in Indio, Calif.,

scheduled on and around Halloween.

I must say that the Phish I remember, however,

is not the Phish almost everyone else knows,

because I was the first journalist to have

conducted a taped interview with bandleader

Trey Anastasio.

Of course, that claim is sometimes met with

jealous skepticism by one or two rivalrous

colleagues every time I bring it up, but

that's the nature of competition.

Fact is, I have the proof: my audiotape of the

Q&A. And on the tape, Anastasio clearly refers

to concerts that are coming up in the first

week of February 1989, so there is absolutely

no doubt about the date of the interview.

Still, if anyone can find a taped interview with

Anastasio that pre-dates January 1989, when I

conducted my Q&A, then please let me know at

I've researched it: there is no taped interview with

Anastasio that happened before mine, so mine is the first,

and I'm very happy to take credit for what is called

in the journalism business "a scoop." (While it's true

that Trey does mention having talked with a reporter from

the Boston University newspaper prior to my Q&A,

that BU conversation was not audiotaped or published.)

Plus, my tape captures the moment when I first

introduced Anastasio to the band Widespread Panic,

who (with Phish) would soon go on to form the core

of the "jam band" movement of the 1990s.

And the tape of my interview couldn't possibly be

clearer about my having introduced Anastasio to

Widespread Panic; here is the verbatim exchange:


ANASTASIO: No, I'm not


So, yes, I can actually take credit for having

first told Trey about WP!

Actually, my connection to Phish goes back even

further than that, to early 1988 and late 1987. (For

the record, I've had no contact with any Phish

member since 1990; I don't claim to know the band,

I just claim to have been there first as a reporter.)

A few months after I left my staff writer position at

Cash Box magazine in New York in '87 -- where, by

the way, I was the first trade journalist to have

written about They Might Be Giants, the first

person anywhere to have written about the

Smithereens's "Especially for You," etc. -- I had an idea

to do a story on the pop music community in Burlington,

Vermont, for the East Coast Rocker, a New Jersey-based

music newspaper. And I asked dozens of unsigned Vermont

bands to send me tapes.

Among those who sent in tapes was Phish, which mailed

a 1987 demo featuring four originals ("Golgi Apparatus,"

"Fee," "David Bowie," and "Fluffhead," all of which

later appeared on "Junta") and two covers.

My first interviews with Phish's Mike Gordon date back

to an astonishingly early January 1988. Back then, we

talked on a fairly regular basis, and here is a letter he

sent to me in 1988:

I interviewed Mike Gordon a full year before I spoke with Trey,
though I didn't record those conversations; however, Gordon
did send me this handwritten letter, dated March 8, 1988 (above).

I eventually wrote about the group for the newspaper's July 19,

1989, issue, calling Phish "an unlikely combination of the

Grateful Dead and Steely Dan" in a story that stands as the

first to mention the band in a publication outside the

Burlington area (besides concert listings in newspapers).

Meanwhile, my Anastasio interview of '89 stayed in a drawer

in my desk for years; nobody wanted the interview at the time

because the band was almost completely unknown (and would

remain that way for some time to come).

My '89 interview with Trey was finally published

many years later, on December 24, 2003, in New Times,

after it had become something of a pop culture artifact

of significance to Phishheads. (Click this link to read

the New Times piece:

Here's an edited version of my '89 Q&A with Trey

(one day I'll get around to posting the entire



TREY ANASTASIO: Now we've pretty much got an album. We've got almost two albums' worth of material recorded. We've only got one day left of recording. What it includes is more originals. All fairly new songs, newer than stuff on the old [six-song] tape [from 1987]. Two of them are very new; we just finished them. Two of them are things we've been playing for a while but haven't gotten around to recording. We're a lot happier with it than with the demo. When we choose stuff for the album, I think the only thing on the demo that'll make it onto the album is "Fee."


ANASTASIO: Yeah, pretty much. Mike [Gordon] writes songs as well. One of Mike's songs that's going to be on the album is called "Contact." Actually it might not be on the album. See, we're having a hard time deciding what to put on the album. And I think that's the first thing we're going to do is talk with record companies and tell them we have all these songs.


Yeah, we've only just started talking to people [at record companies]. And we haven't really sent it out yet. We wanted to finish this last song. We [are performing on] three nights -- tonight, tomorrow, the next night -- in Vermont. And then we're going to Boston. And we're doing a mixdown on "Let's Go Out to Dinner and See a Movie," another Mike song. We talked to a guy at Rounder Records, we have a connection there, and they seemed pretty interested. [The band would eventually be signed by Elektra Records, not Rounder, in late 1991, after a short time with Absolute A-Go-Go in 1990.]


People are definitely starting to make the [Grateful Dead] comparisons less. But as far as those comparisons, there's nothing really wrong with it, considering that they're one of the most successful bands anywhere now. But the thing that's different about it is the kind of music we're writing now, the newer stuff is sounding less and less like that. No one in the band listens to the Grateful Dead very much.


I had a phase where I listened to them. I was more into Led Zeppelin in high school. I was a Led Zeppelin fanatic and so was the drummer [Jon Fishman]; he went to see them all the time and followed them around. When I got to college -- the last year of high school and into college -- I got into a little bit of a Grateful Dead phase but [grew] out of that and went into a sort of jazz phase. I mean I've seen Pat Metheny as many times as I've seen the Grateful Dead.


Yeah, we've kind of been cutting [the jams] down to like one per set, two per set. But we do do that. That's definitely where the Grateful Dead connection comes in. As well as the fact that a lot of the people that come down to see us are hippie types.


Umm ... young hippies. More like college -type hippies. You know what I mean? But actually when we play in Boston -- this is one of the great things that's happening to us in Boston right now -- it's not really that way. We're getting a different type of crowd. When we first started, we had much more of a Dead sound, even through that demo with "David Bowie," that song. So our following up here [in Boston and in Burlington] was definitely a "Deadhead" type following. And it still kind of is.


Word of mouth.


Oh, yes. Definitely.


No, I'm not


It's a great thing. I was talking to some girl from the BU [Boston University] paper [in a non-taped conversation], and she said the closest she had seen in crowds was actually the Radiators. I've never seen the Radiators. The word of mouth thing is working out real well. I think there's also a lot of people who like us because we do -- have you heard "Fluffhead" on the demo? -- a lot of stuff that's pretty different. [But] that's where the Dead connection really ends. A large bulk of what we do ... we don't play the same three chords over and over again. We do a lot of variety. Like last night, we did a couple jazz songs, "Take the A Train," "Satin Doll." Things like that. And then we'll do in the same set maybe a Led Zeppelin song.


But almost all originals. Usually not more than three or four covers.


We did "Good Times, Bad Times."


We're definitely going to keep playing live. But the album thing is important for a lot of reasons. We're pretty much done recording it. Like I said, we've got so much material recorded we could put out a double album. So I guess the next step is to try to get signed to a label, even if it's an indie. I think we'll do all right. Because if the distribution isn't that great, we've got such a big following -- we've got a mailing list now, we've got a hotline, and I think we'll be able to sell it ourselves.

My description of Phish for a newspaper in 1989,
the first mention of the band in print outside
of Burlington -- besides concert listings (above). Also,
a couple other scoops I was responsible for in the 1980s.
(Of course, I'm leaving several scoops out; was I the first to write
about guitar wiz Gary Lucas? Was I the first to write about
Matthew Sweet's debut? I probably was, but haven't yet
researched that enough to know.)

But I digress. Paul



for August 15, 2009


What Really Happened at Woodstock,
From a Member of Sly and the Family Stone

Sly came thisclose to getting food poisoning from
spoiled bologna
before his set.

Back in 2003, as a writer/reporter for the Reuters news

service, I reported a story about a reunion of The Family

Stone, the band that, with Sly Stone, formed Sly and the

Family Stone. I interviewed members of the Family

Stone, including trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, Sly's

one-time significant other. (She's the one who

plays, among other things, that magnificent horn riff

on "Hot Fun in the Summertime.")

Robinson spoke to me a bit about performing with Sly and the

Family Stone at Woodstock, a set that was supposed to

have taken place on Saturday night (August 16, 1969) but

was delayed until 3am on the rainy Sunday morning that


Though some sources say that much of the audience was

asleep during some of the explosive 3am set, Robinson paints a

different picture in this interview, in which

she provides a revealing look at what it was like -- really like --

for those who were actually there at the fest as performers

forty years ago this weekend.

Here is Cynthia Robinson, from my exclusive interview, in remarks

not published until now.

Cynthia Robinson, back in the day!


[to Woodstock] way before we got on [stage]. And we were sitting

in the back of the trailer. When we [arrived], it was


It was so hot that the news on the radio

said, "Do not eat any packaged meats, because

the refrigeration cannot handle this heat." And we went

into the store to grab -- you know, get baloney and

crackers and canned stuff. And Sly grabbed some baloney.

We got in the car, and [Sly] spread some mayonnaise

on some bread, and put the baloney between. And he got

ready to bite into it, and I was sitting in the back seat

and I go, "SLY, NOOO!" And he pulled [the sandwich]

back out [of his mouth], and he looked at it and the meat

was just bubbly. So just from walking out of the store

[in Woodstock] and getting into the car and making the sandwich,

[the lunchmeat] just started bubbling. It was poison, you


We got over there and waited a long time. 'Cause we didn't

play till night, we didn't play till Janis Joplin -- I think

we came on after her. By then it was cold and raining, it was

pouring rain and there was no place to get under

because there was just land, open space, no trees, and

the people sat there. And I thought that was awesome. And

they got into it. It was awesome. They didn't even try to

get up and run away from the rain because there

was no place to go."

* * *

But I digress. Paul



for August 14, 2009

Yale Bans Dante, Obeys Jihadist Stylebook

Imagine if Galileo had said: "I'll suppress
my scientific findings because they are
highly offensive to the Church and might
cause violence (and I wouldn't want blood on
my hands)." That's essentially what Yale
is saying in its appeasement of the religious right
of Islam.

Bowing to the interests of jihadist censors, the director

of Yale University Press has given Muslim militants

what they want: partial editorial control of an

upcoming book that Yale is publishing.

The book -- “The Cartoons That Shook the World," by Brandeis

prof Jytte Klausen -- is about the so-called Muhammad

cartoons published by a Danish newspaper in '05. One

would expect, of course, that a book about the cartoons would

include the cartoons that are the subject of the book.

But, no. The head of Yale University Press, John Donatich,

consulted government officials and Islamic scholars who

advised him against publishing both the cartoons and

other images of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, including a

depiction of a passage from Dante's "Inferno" by 19th

century French artist Gustave Dore. (As The New York Times

noted, that scene from "The "Inferno," in which Muhammad is

tortured in hell, has also been portrayed in art

by Sandro Botticelli and William Blake.)

Now the hard questions. Did Donatich ask experts on

free speech and censorship what they thought about

including the pictures in the book? Did Donatich consult

the top editors of the numerous international newspapers

that reprinted the cartoons?

Did it occur to Donatich that radical Islamists

might well object to the very fact of the

publication of a book about the Muhammad

cartoons (whether the drawings are included

or not)? (After all, militants rioted and

killed people over the publication of Salman

Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," which had no

pictures in it.) If there are riots about

the picture-less edition of the book, will

Donatich withdraw it?

Taking this further down the slippery slope:

If there is violence in Islam over Dante's

descriptions of Muhammad being tortured

in hell, should "The Inferno" be banned from


If radical Islamists say that paintings in the Uffizi Gallery are

highly offensive works by infidels, should the paintings

be removed from the Uffizi? If the militants

start setting off bombs to demand the removal

of paintings by Botticelli and Michelangelo

from the Gallery, should the Uffizi bow to

their demands?

One has to ask at what point a guy like Donatich

would actually fight for freedom of expression and

academic freedom. Donatich is quoted in The New

York Times saying that one of the reasons

he won't publish the cartoons is because he

doesn't want "blood on my hands."

Let's savor that statement for a moment. He doesn't

want blood on his hands in the course of protecting

a level of freedom of expression that Americans have

died for centuries to protect.

Using his own logic, Donatich would have withdrawn

"The Satanic Verses" to avoid getting blood on his bands.

Maybe Galileo and Copernicus should have

suppressed their scientific findings

because they were highly offensive to

the Church and might have caused violence (and

they wouldn't want blood on their hands,

after all).

Maybe Viking should have said,

"We're withdrawing 'The Satanic

Verses' because we don't want blood

on our hands."

Ah, remember how the French in

the 1940s so memorably said,

"We're going to allow the Nazis to take

France without firing a shot, because

we don't want blood on our hands."

Well, I'll clue you in: having blood on

your hands can be an honorable thing if you're, say,

killing Hitler or Osama bin Laden. Having blood on

your hands can be an honorable thing if you're

fighting the Ku Klux Klan. And having blood on

your hands has, unfortunately, been

necessary throughout history to protect

freedom of speech and religion.

At some point you have to realize that you're complicit

in tyranny when you accede to the demands of tyrants. And

the religious totalitarians of Islam are nothing short

of stateless tyrants who are trying to impose, through

violence and threats, their values on everyone else. And

they're finding that their tactics work (even at Yale);

all they have to do is throw a violent tantrum

and -- voila! -- they can scuttle a book (or part of a

book, or a news story).

As Norman Mailer put it, referring to the Rushdie

affair: "We can now envision a fearful time in

the future when fundamentalist groups in America,

stealing their page from this international episode,

will know how to apply the same methods to American

writers and bookstores." Very true. Anybody -- from

the KKK to Scientologists to those offended by

the Muhammad cartoons -- can use the same temper tantrum

tactics (e.g., riots, bombings, murders, etc.) to control

the content of books and journalism.

As I've said before: whether censorship comes from the

king of your country or from a stateless militant group

outside your nation, it's still censorship. And the

religious totalitarians's use of asymmetrical

warfare makes them as intimidating (and as effective) as

a government with an army and a police force. All the

more reason to stand up to them.

Yale University Press has made a cowardly

decision; free speech advocates should

make sure Yale understands there is a very

unpleasant downside to siding with religious

totalitarians in the publishing world. While

Donatich is still editor, authors should go

to competing university and independent presses to

publish their works.

The university that evaluated George W. Bush

in the 1960s and famously declared him

smart enough to earn a B.A. from Yale -- even

though Bush's verbs and nouns didn't agree, Yale's

profs did -- has made yet another very stupid


But I digress. Paul



for August 11, 2009

Fresh Reflections on Woodstock, 40 Years On

The Woodstock fest, four (not three) days of music,
happened less than five years before the dawn of
the Ramones (you'd think there was a 30-year gap).

I was all of 12-years old when the Woodstock festival

happened, 40-years ago this week, which means Woodstock

was, for me and my friends, a 1970 first-run movie, not a 1969

concert. And my pals and I loved the flick, discussed

it endlessly in between talking about the "Let it

Be" movie and whether the Beatles/Cream/Yardbirds

would ever reunite.

Being 12-years old, I had long outgrown the Monkees

(and so had you, if you're my age) and was now into new

bands like GFR, Steppenwolf (oh, how people ten years older

than me hated those groups!) and (especially) Led Zeppelin, in

addition to my regular diet of the Beatles and the Stones,

none of whom played the Bethel fest.

In fact, for such a signal moment in pop history, it's

surprising that the very biggest and best bands of the

era (The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, the Supremes,

the Kinks, Simon & Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton's

Blind Faith, etc.) did not play Woodstock. (Dylan even

lived up the street from the concert and could have easily

joined The Band for its Sunday night gig, which featured

around a half dozen tunes from "The Basement Tapes.") And

pioneering 1950s rockers like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis,

Carl Perkins and Little Richard also weren't there.

What's more, because of scheduling delays, Woodstock's

primetime spot -- Saturday night at around 9pm -- went to

Mountain, a very underrated band, to be sure, but not the star of

the show or a group popularly associated with the festival. (Though

they did come prepared, performing the very first major

meta-Woodstock song, the tuneful "For Yasgur's Farm.")

Most of the major bands -- the Who, Janis Joplin, Sly and the

Family Stone, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young -- played in the

very wee hours, between 3 and 5 am, give or take, when most

of the audience was fast asleep. (I interviewed members of

Sly and the Family Stone a few years ago who told me they played

their show -- a brilliant, inspired set -- to hundreds of thousands

of sleeping people.) So the fest's best music went mostly

unheard -- until the release of the Woodstock film.

And even then it went unheard, because the movie didn't

include the top songs played by the acts featured

onscreen. I mean, Creedence Clearwater Revival performed

"Proud Mary" and many other hits, Sly and the Family

Stone did "Stand!" and "Everyday People," The

Dead played "St. Stephen," Jefferson Airplane performed

"White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love," Santana played

"Evil Ways," and The Band did "This Wheel's On Fire" and

other Dylan collaborations, yet, inexplicably, none of

that stuff ended up in the movie.

Instead, the flick was padded with a few too many aimless

hard rock jams that were decidedly post-Beatle-esque

(sort of like the 27-minute versions of "Spoonful" and

"Morning Dew" that used to fill out lazy albums

back then).

Today, as an adult, I can see that the Woodstock docu is

flawed and flabby and ultimately unsatisfying; it used

distracting split screens when a more straightforward

approach would've sufficed, was structurally misshapen,

and featured more than a few unremarkable musical moments.

In terms of shape, the film would have done better to have

followed the chronological arc of the festival itself, starting

with the Friday night folkies that kicked things off, peaking

with the very early morning Sunday superstars and ending

with Jimi Hendrix's Monday morning rock, not a bad frame.

In other words, they should have told the story of Woodstock

as it naturally unfolded.

Remember: it was a four-day (not a three-day) gathering,

with more music spilling over into Monday than was

played on the opening Friday. The musical climax arguably

came in the middle of the weekend with a span of

consecutive performances that started with Mountain on

Saturday night and continued with the Grateful Dead,

CCR, Janis Joplin, Sly, the Who and the Airplane, who

all played on early Sunday morning.

The legendary mud came after a rainstorm on the downside

of the weekend, after Joe Cocker's set on Sunday afternoon,

and the rain was no momentary sunshower; the precip lasted

for hours and virtually doused the flame of the whole

gathering. Still, Woodstock managed to reignite after

Country Joe and the Fish took the stage with its

lively anti-war sing-along (brought to life vividly in

the film by that bouncing ball). And Hendrix's set was both

coda and climax; playing for a couple hours to

an audience that had dwindled radically, his final song was

also the last song performed that weekend: "Hey, Joe,"

whose violence pointed to the spirit of the

upcoming Altamont fest, where Joni Mitchell's

beautiful butterflies turned back into bombers.

The primetime spot at Woodstock -- around 9pm on
Saturday night -- went to Mountain, thanks to delays.

Interesting to note that the next major pop music revolution,

led by the Ramones, who tried (with some success) to

overthrow the fat hippie emperors of the Woodstock nation, occurred

less than five years later (though the Ramones seem

around 25 or 30 years removed from the "three days of

peace and music"). The two eras were so different that it

would be impossible to imagine the Ramones playing,

say, "Beat on the Brat" at Woodstock in '69 without

causing a tie-dye riot (though Pete Townshend probably

would've appreciated them).

Back then, pop culture was changing at the pace of

youth itself; it's telling that the distance between

Woodstock and the Ramones -- which seems like eons -- is

the same span between the release of, say, Green Day's

"American Idiot" and today, which seems like a blip

in time.

"We are stardust, we are golden, we don't wanna go down to
the basement..."

But I digress. Paul



for August 7, 2009

As might be expected, the North Korean government's version

of Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang differs somewhat from

the U.S. government's account of the meeting.

Here's how the DPRK's main official English-language website

described the Clinton visit:

"Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest
request of the US government to leniently pardon [Euna
Lee and Laura Ling] and send them back home from a
humanitarian point of view. The meetings had candid
and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the
DPRK and the US in a sincere atmosphere and reached a
consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them."

"....Clinton courteously conveyed a verbal message of US President

Barack Obama expressing profound thanks for [releasing the
journalists] and reflecting views on ways of improving the
relations between the two countries."

Contrast that with how the United States government, via the N.Y. Times,
described the Bill Clinton-Kim Jong-il meeting:

"[Obama] Administration officials said Mr. Clinton went to
North Korea as a private citizen, did not carry a message from
Mr. Obama for Mr. Kim and had the authority to negotiate only
for the women’s release."

* * * *

Of course, everyone is relieved that Lee and Ling

have been spared the horrors of the DPRK's slave labor

camps, in which prisoners are forced to work

to exhaustion on alarmingly small amounts

of food.

While researching conditions in the labor camps,

I read stories of former inmates describing what they

had eaten behind bars. Based (loosely!) on that info,

I've written this menu of ten dishes the DPRK

serves in its labor camps:

Mastering the Art of North Korean Prison Cuisine

Ten Recipes from the DPRK

1. Leather shoelace consomme

2. Raw water soup with a side of ice

3. Teaspoon of Rice, with gravel and assorted rocks

4. Tree Bark (w/fresh worm)

5. Surprise Vegetable Potpourri (a variety of leaves, grass, twigs)

6. Three kernels of corn in sauteed water

7. Organic dirt with a side of mud

8. Grass soup (served with the aroma of pine)

9. Pine cone fiesta! (all the cones you can eat!)

10. Fresh raw mouse (catch it yourself!)

But I digress. Paul



for August 4 - 5, 2009


Bill Clinton: President Obama's most powerful foreign policy tool.

[photo of Clinton by Paul Iorio]

Clinton's successful negotiation of the release of Laura Ling

and Euna Lee reminds us that he is still the most repsected and

effective American foreign policy player on the world stage.

My guess is that if a Cuban missile crisis were to occur, it

would be Obama's judgment plus the former president's negotiating

skill that would solve it. Biden may have extraordinary foresight,

Hillary might have a mastery of issues, but it's Bill Clinton who

has the ability to -- what's the word for it? -- get it done.

* * * * *

So great to see Laura Ling and Euna Lee walking to

freedom in Burbank this morning. I've been

fascinated by this case for months, and have even

written about it as a journalist (click here:,

and I think part of my fascination with it has to do with

the fact that when I was much younger -- barely 19 --

I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron

Curtain during the Cold War and was even briefly detained by

the Yugoslav authorities in Zagreb before traveling on into the

most Soviet of Iron Curtain countries, Bulgaria.

So I definitely understand what it's like

to cross a tough Communist border and to be detained

in a country at odds with the U.S. You can read

my account of the journey (based on my own

contemporaneous journals) at:

But I digress. Paul



for August 4, 2009

Palin's New Life: Divorcee, Crusader Against 1st Amendment?

Sarah Palin's attorney emailed this pdf (above) to
a small-fry blogger/kindergarten employee a couple days ago,
threatening legal action if he didn't remove
info about her from his blog.
[click it to
enlarge it]

To hear the blogs tell it, and the reports are astonishingly

widespread, Sarah Palin is about to divorce husband Todd

and move to Montana, where she will probably spend a lot of

time denying stories that both she and Todd had extramarital

affairs that led to the breakup.

At this early stage -- the reports started emerging just

last Saturday -- it's hard to confirm much of this stuff.

But it should be noted that some of the blogs reporting

the info have been highly credible and ahead of the curve

in the past (for example, the Alaska Report was the first

media outlet to have reported that McCain had chosen

Palin as his running-mate).

Whatever the veracity of the claims, one thing is certain:

since resigning as Governor, she has become a dedicated

crusader against the First Amendment, seemingly picking

on every podunk blogger in cyberspace in trying to suppress


Like most right-wingers, Palin doesn't understand a core

truth about free speech: when one tries to suppress

information, that information becomes even more public

than it would have been if you hadn't tried to quash it.

In fact, this column would not be covering the situation

had Palin not used a sledgehammer against an Alaska preschool

employee who runs a blog -- -- that

cited sources saying Palin's marriage was on the rocks.

Believe it or not, Palin actually had her attorney send the

blogger (he writes under the name Gryphon) an email pdf threatening

legal action if he didn't take down the report from his

website (letter is posted above).

Picture that for a moment: she's threatening to have a

high-powered law firm serve legal papers to some guy in

front of five-year old kindergarten students for

writing a blog that has miniscule circulation.

Can you imagine what this sort of behavior would have

translated into if she had become vice president of the

United States? Palin's orientation is so small-scale

and petty, her mind-set so censorious, that she would have

probably tried to suppress almost every story written

about her by media outlets of all sizes -- and

would have been able to use the apparatus of the federal

government to do it.

Incidentally, if the rumors are true, they would sure go

a long way toward explaining why Palin made the alarmingly

unusual decision to step down as Governor.

As we all know, the best way to show your law firm
has stature is to have your attorneys pose with dead fish.
(Above, lawyers with the firm that reps Palin (Clapp, Peterson,
Van Flein, Tiemessen and Thorsness), as shown
on its own website!).

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, wanna know who Sarah Palin

is said to have had an affair with? Dude's name,

according to numerous blog and media reports,

is Brad Hanson, snowmobile dealer and former business

associate of Todd's. (Word is he can get you an

Airwave Rear Shock for a deep discount!) Again,

impossible to confirm at this point. Here's his pic:

Is this the goatee that caused Sarah Barracuda to abandon
that pesky 7th Commandment?



for August 3, 2009

Counting Crows Plays a Hometown Show in Berkeley

After a rousing encore of "Mr. Jones," still the

most irresistible song in the Counting Crows catalog,

Adam Duritz went to the mic to talk about politics and

his former hometown, Berkeley, Calif., where he had

just finished a generous set with numerous collaborators

at the Greek Theater (7/26).

Referring to Berkeley, Duritz said: "This city

was founded on the idea that we believe in things.

Well, you can protest all you want, but the way

to make it happen is to show up and vote. Believe

me when I tell you I don't give a fuck who

you vote for."

Then Duritz closed the show with Woody Guthrie's

"This Land," a song that seems to be gradually

evolving into the U.S.'s de facto national anthem.

"This is a very old song written about our country,"

Duritz said, intro'ing the tune. "At the time it was

written, if you sang it, you were thought to be a

Communist. The truth of the matter is, it's the most

American of all songs."

Musically, however, the highlight of the night came

with the surprise appearance of trumpeter Chris Bogios

of the San Francisco Symphony, who performed with the

Crows on "Carriage," a truly sublime and bootlegable

moment. (His son Jim Borgios is the Crows's drummer.)

* * * *

Last Friday's Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago Show

Several nights after the Crows's show, Earth, Wind & Fire

and Chicago took the stage at the same venue (7/31).

I was skeptical at first. After all, Chicago without

Peter Cetera is not really Chicago; and Earth,

Wind & Fire without Maurice White is not truly EW&F.

And I'm always a bit wary of oldies bands on package

tours that include, say, The Grassroots (featuring the

original bassist and all new members!) plus the Dave

Clark Five (with the founding drummer and a bunch of

session guys).

Still, the configuration of Chicago that played here did

include vocalist/keyboardist Robert Lamm and the group's

original horn section, an essential element, so they did sound

very much like Chicago. And this version of Earth, Wind

& Fire featured Philip Bailey, whose falsetto is the

trademark of many of their classics, so EW&F also

sounded very much like EW&F.

And as the show progressed, one tended to forget

about the absence of Cetera and White, if only because

most of the music was so enjoyable, as number one hits

from the 1970s flew through the air like arrows, one

after another, with half-forgotten zingers always

aiming for the heart, and sometimes hitting it,

inciting widespread dancing and smooching.

Of course, the bands's two separate catalogs feature

very different material, though one of the high points

came when EW&F performed its own quite amazing

arrangement of Chicago's "Wishing You Were Here."

The magic of EW&F has always been its cool hot flame,

on display here in vintage form, and never hotter than

when it played encore "Shining Star," which turned the

place into a dance floor (for the record, I heard the

show from the hill above the theater, where everyone

was dancing at the end).

Meanwhile, Chicago played top ten hits like it was

giving out candy, always aiming to please, from the

show's opening salvo -- "Saturday in the Park" and

"Make Me Smile" -- to the concert finale, "25 or

6 to 4."

All told, a surprisingly satisfying double bill.

But I digress. Paul



for July 31, 2009


Exclusive Transcript of the Meeting Between Crowley, Gates and Obama
(with apologies to Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo!)

A waiter brings bottles of beer to guests seated
at a table on the White House lawn.

: How's the beer here?

Blue Stripe. It's the best in the city.

CROWLEY: I'll have it.

GATES (to the waiter): Capiche?

The waiter nods, opens the bottle and pours the beer.

GATES (to Crowley): I'm gonna speak Harvard
to Barack.

CROWLEY: Go ahead...

GATES: Mi dispiace...

: Forget about it.

GATES: What happened -- the interruption of your
health care plan -- was just business, not intended. I have much
respect for your public option plan -- but you must understand
why I blew my top.

OBAMA: I understand, but let's work through
where we go from here.

The waiter brings another beer to the table.

OBAMA: Come si dice? What I want -- what's most
important to me -- is that I have a guarantee: No more
distractions from my health care plan.

GATES: What guarantees can I give you, Barack?
I am the hunted one! You think too much of me, kid -- I'm not
that clever. All I want is a truce.

: I have to go to the bathroom. Is that all right?

CROWLEY: You gotta go, you gotta go...

* * *

After the get-together, Obama visits Gates at his hotel room:

GATES: Barack, I wish you would have let me
know you were coming; I could have prepared something for you.

OBAMA: I didn't want you to know I was coming.

Obama shuts the door.

OBAMA: You heard what happened to my health care plan?

GATES: Barack, I almost died myself.

OBAMA (shouting): To my health care
plan! To the central issue of my presidency. One of the
reasons I ran for office.

A long pause.

OBAMA: I want you to help me take my revenge.

GATES: Barack, anything -- what can I do?

OBAMA: Settle these troubles with the Cambridge
police department. They're a distraction.

GATES: Barack, I don't understand. Look, I
don't have your brain for big deals -- but this is a street thing.
Why do you ask me to lay down for them, Barack?

OBAMA: [a long pause] You know,
my father taught me: keep your friends close but your
enemies closer. Now, if Crowley sees that I interceded
in this thing on his behalf, he's going to think his
relationship with me is still good. Capiche?

Gates nods head.

OBAMA: That's what I want him to think. I want
him completely relaxed, and confident, in our friendship. Then
I'll be able to shift my focus to health care and find out who
the Blue Dog traitors in my party are who are stopping the health
care plan.

CUT TO: The bedroom of Bill and Hillary
Clinton's house, late at night. Bill and Hillary are sleeping.
The telephone rings, Bill picks it up.


Mitch, Mitch McConnell. We need some more help.

BILL: Mitch, Jesus Christ, what the hell time
is it?

HILLARY CLINTON (groggy):Who's that, honey?


VOICE OF MCCONNELL: Listen good, Bill.

BILL CLINTON: What are you calling me
here for? I don't want to talk to you.

: We're setting up a meeting
with the Blue Dogs -- they say they're gonna go for our deal.

: Oh, God --

VOICE OF MITCH MCCONNELL: Are they on the level?

BILL CLINTON: I don't know anything -- you got
me in deep enough already.

everything will be all right. Mike Ross and the Blue Dogs
say they're willing to make the deal. All we want
to know is if they're on the level.

BILL CLINTON: You guys lied to me -- I don't
want you to call me anymore.

to find out we talked.

BILL CLINTON: I don't know what you're talking about.

Bill hangs up the phone and sits up in bed.

HILLARY: Who was that?

BILL: Ahh -- wrong number.

But I digress. Paul



for July 29, 2009

One very smart local TV news anchor in San Francisco

came up with the best question that anybody has yet

asked about yesterday's international swimming

competition: Why didn't Michael Phelps wear the

superior swimsuit?

And the question is really quite bright. In yesterday's

200-meter freestyle race in Rome, Phelps was

wearing last year's hot innovation, the Speedo LZR, not

this year's, the Arena X-Glide. All the other swimmers

had the option of wearing the Arena but Phelps and others

chose the inferior Speedo (and it now emerges that Phelps

was offered the polyurethane suit but didn't wear it

because he had signed a contract with Speedo).

Let's be real. Phelps didn't wake up yesterday

morning saying, "Gee, let me wear something

bulky that creates a lot of hydrodynamic resistance

so that I can be fair to those who aren't clever

enough to wear something better." No, Phelps

wanted to wear what he felt would reduce

drag and resistance as much as possible.

Only problem (for Phelps) is that -- guess what? -- somebody

invented something better. And it doesn't use a motor or a

propeller and doesn't administer steroids like a patch,

so it's completely legit.

Some say the polyurethane Arena should be prohibited

because it's too close to a floatation device. But every

swimsuit is, to some degree, a floatation device, and the

superior ones have greater buoyancy and less drag. Buoyancy

is the point, or part of it, after all.

As Phelps well knows, if you build a better bong,

the world will beat a path to your doorstep!

And equating the Arena to an aluminum bat in baseball

is a false comparison. Aluminum bats, which hit balls

with far greater force than wooden ones, are not used in the

major leagues, largely because of safety issues

related to pitchers being hit with baseballs speeding

at 100-miles an hour. There is no such safety issue

involved with a polyurethane suit being worn by a swimmer

swimming in his own lane in a pool.

There is, however, a dangerous tendency among some to

criticize almost any new innovation (in any field)

because that person didn't come up with it or use it

first. In many cases, envious people say there is an

unfair advantage merely because they weren't smart enough

to have taken advantage of a legitimate advance in technology

or approach. Losing competitors in every profession

have a habit of saying, "Hey,that's a clever and fresh

way of doing things -- no fair!"

The polyurethane suit does pretty much what the Speedo

does -- except it does it better. And that's why Phelps (and

his allies in the sports media and those associated with

Speedo) are acting like a bunch of sore losers, because

they know Phelps could've used the better brand if he

hadn't been locked into a contract with Speedo.

Fact is, all suits have inherent advantages and disadvantages.

The only way competitive swimmers could truly be on

an equal footing with one another is if everybody

swam nude (which might be great for TV ratings but a nightmare

for Standards & Practices). Even then, of course, there would

still be, uh, other elements of the bodies of (unequally endowed)

swimmers that could create drag.

Germany's Paul Biederman, using the best technology legitimately

available to him, as any other swimmer could have, won fair

and square and should be duly congratulated by all.

But I digress. Paul



for July 24, 2009

He's Saad, I'm Glaad

Osama bin Laden's son Saad bin Laden, 27, is saaid to have
died (27 years too late, I might aadd) in an American bombing
raid earlier this year.

To celebrate the fact of Saad's death, a good thing for

the world, like the death of a tumor, here's a song I

wrote and recorded last year called "I Shot Osama

bin Laden."


[cvr art for "I Shot Osama bin Laden."]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Someone asked me whether I'm also the producer

of my own music. Yes. I write everything, perform

everything, produce everything that appears on my

albums. Literally everything -- from the initial

songwriting idea to the finished track to everything

in between -- is solely my work. Only in 2005

did I use an outside producer for an album, and

that album didn't work out and has since been

withdrawn from circulation. But even in that one

instance, way back in '05, the outside producer was

essentially just a tech support person (and we

haven't spoken to each other in years).



for July 23, 2009

Anyone who has lived in Hoboken , New Jersey, for any

length of time knows its city government has always been

incorrigibly corrupt. For honest everyday people, living

there can be a fright if you're at odds with someone at

City Hall (or with a businessperson associated with

City Hall).

So it was heartening to see the FBI put the handcuffs on

the newly elected mayor of Hoboken, the mayor of

Secaucus and others in the venal infrastructure out there

this morning.

To note the housecleaning, I'm posting a song I wrote

while living in Hoboken and recorded last year in

California: "Old Fashioned Mafia Town." Here's an

audio link:

But I digress. Paul



for July 18 - 22, 2009

On the 40th Anniversary of the First Moonwalk, My
Conversation with a Moonwalker

I've interviewed many stars and celebrities over the

decades, from Woody Allen to Richard Pryor

to Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Frank Zappa, and one

that I'm particularly proud of is my Q&A with Alan Bean,

the fourth person to walk on the moon, one of only

12 human beings who can truthfully put "moonwalker"

on a resume.

In this one-on-one, I wanted Bean to describe

exactly what it was like, on an experiential level,

to walk on the moon. And Bean (who also has a thriving

second career as a visual artist) talked about

it in vivid, painterly detail. (For the record,

Bean went to the moon in November 1969, as part of

the crew of Apollo 12, which included the late

Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr., and Richard F. Gordon.)

I conducted this interview on October 13, 1998, but

got around to publishing it in 2004, when I

sold it to the Austin American-Statesman, which

ran it on July 18, 2004. Here, on the 40th

anniversary of the first lunar landing by astronauts,

is the (mostly) uncut interview with Bean. Fasten your seatbelts!


BEAN: It looks bright outside but you're fairly dim inside...It's
like coming out of the house at night onto a
patio that's super brightly lit...You're saying, "Look at this!
This looks so different than when I was inside.'"
It looks scarier. You're saying, "Look at this place, it's
not like any place on Earth. And I hope my suit
doesn't leak because if it does, I'm dead. And look at
those rocks. And look, there's Pete [Conrad,
Commander of Apollo 12] over there, jumping up and
down -- that looks like fun." And then you let go of
the ladder to start to move and you start to wobble around,
and you think, "I'm going to fall down and I don't
want to; I might cut my suit."

...If you've looked at TV [footage] of Apollo'll
see they're bouncing around continually at first. It's
easier to stand up when you're bouncing around....If you try
to stand still in a spot, it's much more difficult
than just kind of moving around a little bit, because
naturally you'll move in the direction you're leaning, and
that'll keep you from leaning farther.


BEAN: We worried about it, we worried you could. You've got
a cover layer over it but we said, "Those
rocks are sharp." It's funny: you know things and yet you
don't know them until they really happen...I fell
down a couple of times on the moon -- most people did -- because
there are dust layers there, and under the
dust are rocks, and it's like you’re running through snow,
and there are rocks under the snow that you don't
see. You trip every once in a while.

But with light gravity, things fall much more slowly, so
when you trip you start to fall down much more
slowly. Sometimes you can run under your body and catch
yourself, where on Earth you would've really
fallen down. Nothing happens real fast like on Earth.

,,,To get up, just give it a little push with your hands
and you'll stand right back up again. The first time I
tried to stand, I gave a push with my hands and nearly
went over backwards I pushed so hard...

Someday, when they have the Olympics up there in a big dome,
it'll be fun. It'll be fun to watch the high
jump, because they're going to jump fifteen feet or
something, and they're going up very slowly and keep
going up and up, almost like a football. Then they're
going to come down very slow....No telling what pole
vaulting would be like up there!


BEAN: We did that, but don't forget we were in these
bulky suits, so even though you could jump and go
up a long ways, it was so slowly that you went up and
were pulled back.

What I found was the problem was not jumping up high
but...the minute you jumped off the ground, you
never pushed through your center of gravity really
perfectly. On Earth, you jump up and land right down
again, so it's no problem. But [on the moon], you're
going up, and all of a sudden you see you didn't push
through your center of gravity, and you see you're
starting to lean to the left.

When I was running [on the moon], I always felt that
I was over-rotating forwards, backwards, left or right,
and each time I landed I would think, I've got to hurry
up and land, I'll never make it." And then when I
would touch down, I would push off and try to make a
correction in the other direction. Then I would
overcorrect. [laughs] So it was like I was reeling
across the moon....It was a constant balancing act almost.
You had to look where your foot was going to land every
time. You couldn't run and look ahead, because
you'd go into a crater. You had to make sure you didn't
step on rocks or twist your ankle...It would be fun to
do it in a bubble without the suit on.


BEAN: It looked like volcanic fields that we had practiced
on in Hawaii and Oregon and Ireland and
Mexico and some in the southwest [U.S.]...except there's
a lot more dirt around [on the moon]. With the
dirt on Earth, the rain washes most of it away, particularly
the fine stuff, so usually the volcanic fields...have
more rock exposed. Up there, the rocks are around but
all the little chips that have been knocked off the
rocks are still there.

So I thought, initially, it looks sort of looks like
volcanic fields....However, it never looked like any place on
Earth because of the incredible sun, because the sky is a patent
leather black instead of a nice blue and because nothing
moves up there. The only things that moved when we were
up there were the two of us and our shadows. Nothing
else moves. We'd never been to places like that on
Earth. Even in the desert you can look up and see maybe a
wisp of a cloud go by....It's so still, so dead. I never
for one second felt like this could ever be a place on
Earth, even though parts of it looked like other places
we'd been. It's an unearthly place, an out-of-this-world


BEAN: You're on this [moon] that's black and white and the
whole universe is black and white, except on
Earth. And there is this blue and white marble. And
also, it changes. You do some work and look at the
Earth an hour later, and it has moved 15 degrees. So some
clouds have moved to the right, the part that was
in the shadow 15 degrees has come out.


BEAN: We weren't cramped -- we had a big Skylab. I've never
heard anybody come back from space for no
matter how long and say, "Well, we didn't have enough room."
Because when you can float
always seems like you have enough room. I've never heard an
astronaut say the spacecraft was too little, but
I've heard lots of astronauts say, "We need better food" or
"We've got to invent a better sleeping bag" or
"We've got to get bigger windows because we can't see out."
As [lunar module pilot] Bill Anders on Apollo
8 said, "It's like going through Yellowstone Park in a tank
and looking out the little window."

...People complain about the fact that it's kind of
messy up there for pooping and urinating. It's like
camping out [but] not as much fun as on Earth.


BEAN: "Apollo 13," easily. "Apollo 13" was as good a movie
as could be made about space flight as I knew it.

* * * *

* * * *

The best line about remembering the events of 1969 came

from Meredith Vieira on today's "Today" show: "Forty

years ago I was alive -- that's depressing."

But I digress. Paul



for July 17, 2009

Remembering Walter Cronikite

The only time I ever saw Walter Cronkite in person

was in the early-1980s at the Black Rock building in

Manhattan. He was alone in the elevator lobby on an

upper floor as I walked by behind him. I remember he had

a terrific red tan, and when I passed, he turned his

head all the way around to look at who was walking by.

And I was about to stop and introduce myself and say a

few words, but his elevator arrived and he got inside.

That backwards glance will stick with me forever; you

could sense he was genuinely curious about whatever

entered (or didn't enter) his field of vision.

Cronkite died today, and it's almost impossible to

overstate his influence, especially on the boomers

that came of age in the Sixties and Seventies. To me,

his finest hour on TV -- and he had many fine ones -- was

the one I saw as a politically active 11-year old in 1968:

his coverage of the Democratic National Convention,

particularly the famous incident in which Dan Rather

was decked by security goons on the Convention

floor for merely asking why a Eugene McCarthy delegate

was being ejected from the hall. Cronkite, moderating the raucous

gathering from a booth, had clearly had it with cops and security

people being violent to the press and others.

"I think we've got a bunch of thugs here, Dan,” said Cronkite.

And there he was, the most trusted source of news in America,

calling the authorities "thugs." That made a big impression on

me as a kid. He wasn't mincing words or prettifying things or

doing anything but calling it as he saw it and as it was.

He died at age 92, meaning he was a year younger than JFK

(which also shows the staggering amount of time and

history that our 35th president was robbed of). Cronkite lived

exactly twice as long as JFK, despite the risks of his

profession, and maybe his longevity had something to do with

the fact that, as I saw first-hand, nothing ever got past him

unless he took an unflinching look at what it was.

But I digress. Paul



for July 16, 2009

Bruno Hoaxes Ron Paul!

U.S. Congressman in a compromising position!
[photo of "Bruno" by Paul Iorio.]

The main astonishing things about "Bruno" are 1) how

Sacha Baron Cohen, in his cinematic guises as both Bruno

and Borat, has avoided being assaulted and seriously

injured by irate prankees; 2) how he could

find celebrities who, at this late stage, were still

unfamiliar with either Bruno or the phenomenon of

Baron Cohen himself.

I mean, Paula Abdul was not aware of Bruno? And Ron

Paul hadn't heard about how Borat famously hoaxed

Bob Barr and Alan Keyes back in '06? Evidently not.

The most striking part of "Bruno" is the hoaxing of

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who is caught on film genuinely

losing his temper in a very politically

incorrect way after being pranked by Bruno.

The sequence in which Bruno tries to seduce the

Republican Congressman (imagine if this had been

the Larry Craig of a few years ago!) begins with

the Austrian fashion icon entering Rep. Paul's hotel

room and asking if he would like some Champagne.

BRUNO: Do you want some Champagne?

RON PAUL: [nervously] No Champagne, no.

BRUNO: I'm going to light some candles, if it's
OK....Has anyone ever told you you look
like Enrique Iglesias?

RON PAUL: [grunts "no"]

BRUNO: Of course not. You're much cuter.

Bruno then puts on music and dances a bit, as Ron
Paul -- his antenna finally up, albeit a bit too
late -- stands and pretends to read a newspaper.
When Bruno takes off his pants and stands at the
door, that's the last straw.

RON PAUL: [pushing the half-naked Bruno out of
the way and shouting angrily]
Get out of here!
Alright, this is ended. [to his own people, still hollering
and pissed]
That guy is queer to the blazes. He took his
clothes off. Let's get going. He's queer! He's crazy!
He put a hand on me, he took his clothes off!

(By the way, fair game. Ron Paul is a guy who wanted

to become president of the United States; well, here's

how he responds in a pressured situation. If Obama

had been pranked by Bruno, could you imagine the same

tantrum? Not a chance. Obama would've kept his cool,

smiled that smile, and said, "Sorry, guy, not into that

sort of thing," and left the room.)

Paula Abdul also gets the treatment. At first, Bruno

lures in Abdul by asking a couple softball questions

that feed into her instinct for self-promotion.

BRUNO: So tell me about your humanitarian work. How
important is it for you to help people?

PAULA ABDUL: [while sitting on a person paid to be a
] Helping other people is so vital to my
life. It's like the air that I breath and the water
that I drink. You give love to other people and you get
love back in spades.

Then Bruno rolls out a food buffet that is on top of a person's
naked body.

ABDUL: [shocked] Oh, my god!! This is really not for
me. I'm sorry this is really not right. [And then
she runs off in horror.]

As Abdul runs off, Bruno pleads, "Come back, please!"

Paula Abdul, caught in Bruno's web of lies
(and sitting atop a person paid to be a chair!).
[photo of "Bruno" by Paul Iorio.]

Another memorable bit is this one between Bruno and a

self-defense instructor:

BRUNO: How do you spot the homosexual?

INSTRUCTOR: Very hard to do. Because many look no
different than myself or you. It's kind of like

BRUNO: But obvious things to look for?

INSTRUCTOR: Obvious is a person who is being extremely
nice to start with.

BRUNO: So someone approaches you...and is very very nice
to you, you know that they are homosexual?

INSTRUCTOR: Most likely.

And what follows is a marvelous and surreal bit of

choreography in which the instructor trains Bruno in

how to defend himself against someone coming at him

with a variety of exotic dildoes (you have to

see it to believe it).

Other funny scenes include one in which Bruno tries to

negotiate peace in the Middle East with an Israeli and a


BRUNO: Could the Palestinians agree to give the Pyramids
back to the Israelis?

PALESTINIAN: This is in Egypt, not in Palestine.

BRUNO: I don't care where you put them. Give them back.

He also jets off to a Lebanese refugee camp where he

meets with a hard-line militant.

BRUNO: Can I give you guys a word of advice? Lose the
beards. Because your King Osama looks like a kind of
dirty wizard or homeless Santa.

LEBANESE MILITANT: [through a translator] Get out!
Get out now!

[Again, fair game. Bruno is interviewing a guy

whose terrorist beliefs are based on his reading

of only one book (and not a very good one, at that), The

Koran. The militant is arguably more superficial

than Bruno himself.)

All told, "Bruno" is (as everyone says) not quite as funny as

"Borat," though it still has plenty of hilarious sequences

and is funnier than some critics say it is. I've always

thought Bruno the character was incompletely

conceived in that his Nazi side should've been developed

more than his gay side (think of the possibilities if

Bruno had infiltrated and hoaxed some Aryan Nation

groups who thought he was one of them, a worshipper

of the gay Hitler).

But the Ron Paul and Paula Abdul segments are pretty

much worth the price of admission, or at

least the price of a DVD rental.

But I digress. Paul



for July 14, 2009

I know I'm a compulsive thanker, but I must say

many thanks to Marshall "Hussein" Stax for playing

my new song "Kim Jong-il" last night on KALX (along

with my own tribute to the NBT). Free stream of "Kim"

now posted at! Juche, baby, Juche!

But I digress. Paul



for July 12, 2009

Last Night: Death Cab, Andrew Bird, Ra Ra Riot -- and Sunshowers!

There was natural magic onstage and off last night in

Berkeley, Calif., as Death Cab for Cutie and two primo

indie acts performed while nature itself almost upstaged

the show with sunshowers, weird sunlight and a massive


"This is a song about a day like today and a night like

tonight," said Death Cab's Ben Gibbard, referring to the

weather. "The song is called 'No Sunlight.'"

And then the band, as confident and masterful as

ever, started into the tune: "More clouds appeared/the

sky went black/And there was no sunlight/No sunlight."

Also mentioning the rain from the stage was opening

act Andrew Bird, who lately has been the headliner at

other gigs and had most of his set here accompanied

by a steady drizzle.

"You ok?," he asked the crowd once the showers began.

"It's nothin', right?" The crowd cheered. Bird tried to

make everyone forget about the precip, building tension

from note one.

As Bird played an immensely enjoyable "Fitz and the Dizzyspells,"

from his new EP of the same name, the rain seemed to awaken

nearby exotic birds who began to chirp along with Bird's own

prodigious whistling (Bird makes novel use of whistling and

the violin, which he occasionally plucks like a mandolin,

like no one else in pop music).

After Bird finished his set, the rain stopped and sunlight

scattered through the hilly woods like an orange fire. "A

rainbow, a rainbow," a woman started shouting, pointing to

a big rainbow in the southern twilight sky. (By the way, I

heard the whole show in the hills adjacent to the Greek

Theater, an open-air venue.)

Minutes later, the real magic began, as Death Cab took

the stage with a double blast from "Plans," its 2006

breakthrough album, which comprised around a third of

its setlist. And then a taste of "Transatlanticism," the

band's most critically praised album, before playing

a couple tunes from its new CD, "The Open Door,"

the best being "My Mirror Speaks," well worth

checking out.

Tracks from '08's "Narrow Stairs" sounded weightier

than they did at first listen last year, with the high

point of the entire show being the long version of "I

Will Possess Your Heart," which worked up a groove and

momentum that was almost hypnotic.

Opening the concert for both Death Cab and Andrew Bird was

Ra Ra Riot, who've roared out of Syracuse University in

the last few years to become one of the more promising

bands in indie rock. The group is touring behind its

debut album, "The Rhumb Line" (and has already

appeared on Letterman and at top festivals); it's the

sort of stuff that kicks in after a second

or third listening, and the highlight here was the

infectious and catchy "Can You Tell," which shows why

the band is generating lots of enthusiasm, not least

of all from Death Cab's Gibbard, who dedicated a

song to the Syracuse band.

"Here's an old song...from our first record, and it goes

out to Ra Ra Riot," said Gibbard from the stage, intro'ing

"President of What?"

By the time the whole three-band shebang ended, the rain

was gone, the ground was almost dry -- and Bird had

turned 36. It was cooler, then warmer, and I felt

vaguely as if the seasons had changed, but to

what, I didn't know. Perhaps to an imaginary fifth


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, before "Death Cab took the stage,

a pre-recorded disc played a welcome surprise through

the p.a.: "You're My Favorite Thing," a 25-year-old

post-punk nugget from The Replacements, and it sounded

fantastic. So much so that I began to think of how great

it would be if the surviving Mats were to re-unite

(bringing together Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars and Tommy

Stinson, if that's even possible). People tend to forget

how great that group was, both on stage and in the

studio, until they hear a prime track. A reunion tour

would turn on a whole new generation to a massively

influential (and very, very fun) band that should be

better known than it is today.



for July 11 - 12, 2009

A 25-Year Old Recluse, and His Own Private Nukes

The rising son? Said to be the only publicly-available
photos of Kim Jong-un as an adult. [from a South
Korean newspaper, via the Daily Telegraph]

In the wake of President Obama's trip to Moscow, it's

clear the central problem with nonproliferation policy

is and has always been hypocrisy, the paternalistic

notion that one set of nations can be trusted with

nukes but another cannot. Obama has gone a long way

toward removing hypocrisy from the equation by saying,

ok, we'll reduce our nuclear arsenal, and in return

we expect you, North Korea and Iran, to take an

equivalent action, to not develop nukes at all.

(By the way: oh, how these meetings with Russian leaders

have changed; legend has it that Boris Yeltsin used to

show up at summits, saying, "Take me

to your liter!")

Jokes aside, the unfunny truth is that the DPRK

will soon become a nuclear power, if it

isn't already, and there's not much we can do about it.

Any U.N.resolution authorizing the use of force

against the DPRK will always be vetoed in

the Security Council by the PRC (and Russia), though

President Hu Jintao, who sometimes acts as if Kim is his

Agnew, can always be persuaded to vote for a

non-binding resolution that has all

the impact of an impassioned letter to the editor.

Meanwhile, six-party talks always amount to mere

two-party talks and impasse.

Frankly, the DPRK could get away with anything (short

of attacking Seoul or Tokyo) without suffering much

more than a strongly-worded condemnation.

And let's be real: Kim Jong-il is not testing nukes to get

attention. We say that he's trying to get attention

as a backhanded insult, a way to infantilize him

and his regime.

No, he's developing weapons of mass destruction for

the same reason we have them: for self-defense. Kim

doesn't send out press releases every time he

fires off a Taepodong or explodes a nuke; in fact, we learn

about it only through our own seismographic info. The DPRK is

doing this stuff in private, and we're the ones publicizing it and

saying they merely want attention.

Further, the DPRK has not put Euna Lee and Laura Ling in prison

in order to get attention or to have a bargaining chip any more than

the United States is incarcerating Charles Manson for those

reasons. North Korea has put them in prison because it believes

they broke one of its eccentric laws -- and the punishment there is

almost always universally (and absurdly and tragically) harsh.

By the way, the campaign to spring Lee and Ling might be more

effective if there was an appeal for their release by film

stars and movie moguls rather than by U.S. government officials.

You see, Kim Jong-il really does follow movies closely and

always has, and he might listen more attentively to Hilary

Swank than to Hillary Clinton.

Kim may have the ambitions of a film maker, but not the talent.

I've read many of Kim Jong-il's writings, mostly essays,

and what comes through is that he's no Robert Towne (and

certainly no Mao). I mean, he's not stupid but his writing

is shockingly lousy, plodding and autocratic, far from

the aphoristic wisdom of Mao (even when translated into English

by Kim's own editors in Pyongyang).

Kim's intellectual development might have been stunted by the fact

that his college education happened at a university named for his

dad, who was running the country at the time (what prof

would've risked flunking him?).

That lack of education may account for his persistent

delusional dream of re-unifying the Korean peninsula.

Kim and many others are evidently unaware that the division of

Korea is not a modern invention. The peninsula was

divided as far back as the Han dynasty and divided again during

the T'ang era; in the modern age, it was artificially

unified as a Japanese colony for around 30 years in

the 20th century, a colonial relationship that ended very

badly, as we all remember, with the atomic bombing

of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in '45.

The good news about North Korea is that

we might have caught a break; Kim is said to have

had a stroke last year, is in declining health and

recently sent his sons to Beijing to beg for advanced

medical equipment to treat his ailment, which

can only mean his illness is unusually serious

(word is he has pancreatic cancer).

He could have been one of those dictators who

lives and rules in good health until age 90.

Instead, we probably won't have to deal with him

much longer.

The bad news is his successor -- son Kim Jong-Un, who

is only 25 (or 26) -- might be worse. Given his age

and temperament (he's said to be a lot like his dad,

and has a taste for Claude Van Damme flicks), he's

probably prone to making rash, callow hot-headed

decisions that could be dangerous for everybody.

In terms of U.S. policy: whatever we're doing now

seems to be pushing the DPRK away from disarmament.

The key question is this: What was the international

community doing in the spring of '08 that convinced

Pyongyang to topple its own reactor tower at Yongbyon?

Whatever the world was doing then to persuade Kim to

de-nuclearize, it worked, and we should do it again.

Even during the ancient Han Dynasty, the
Korean peninsula was divided between north and south.
[from the book "Historical Atlas of Empires," by
Karen Farrington]

- - -

And in the later T'ang dynasty, Korea was
similarly splt. [from the book "Historical
Atlas of Empires," by Karen Farrington

- - -

I walked by Current TV's headquarters in San Francisco recently,
which is near the bayfront and AT&T Park, a baseball stadium
and concert venue. And I felt sad thinking that Euna Lee and
Laura Ling must have enjoyed this very fun area of town, which
is so radically different from the landscape they're in now.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Scandalous Picture of the Day!

Seeing is believing, right? Here's a shot of U.S. Senator
Mel Martinez taking indecent liberties with an 11-year-old
boy! Looks like inappropriate touching to me. Scandal!
[photo published in today's online edition
of The Washington Post.]

* * * *

I have a friend who is not very artistically

smart who visited me a few years ago and, after

hearing my latest album, pompously asked what

the "theme" of the album was.

I told him that I was no fan of the idea of

superimposing a conscious theme on a work

of music or art, that any theme (if there is one)

should emanate organically from the work itself

and not be forced upon the music. Theme, unless

it is organic, is generally a contrivance, and

I prefer to allow the unconscious

to shape a work as much as possible.

But my friend still had these high school

English teacherish ideas about writing and

music that he hadn't outgrown and

needed some convincing.

"OK, what's the theme of Rubber Soul?," I asked him. "What's

the theme of Who's Next, one of the greatest albums of

all time?"

He didn't have an answer, and I could see that I

was getting him to re-think "all the crap he learned in

high school" (to coin a phrase).

The greatest pop albums of all time were collections of

songs that fit together intuitively, for reasons that

can't be fully consciously explained -- and that's the

most genuine and authentic way of shaping a work.

What about an album like the Beatles's "Sgt. Pepper's

Lonely Hearts Club Band," which (supposedly) has a

deliberate unified structure?

Does it? Think about that for a moment. Was "Sgt. Pepper"

really a themed album? The best insight about "Sgt. Pepper"

comes from John Lennon, who once stated that the idea

that that album had a theme or concept was really false. I

don't have the exact quote in front of me, but Lennon said

that if you take away the reprise of the title

track near the end, it's just a collection of songs

that has absolutely nothing to do with the "theme" of

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." I mean,

"Within You, Without You" had zero to do with the idea

of "Sgt Pepper." And the rest of the songs didn't

go with the concept at all.

But the album fits together -- frankly, despite the

forced concept, not because of it.

So to those who ask what the themes of my albums

are, my answer is: I don't work that way and never will.

I simply write songs that feel right and put them together

on an album in a juxtaposition and sequence that works.

But I digress. Paul



for July 3, 2009

The Best American Film of 2009 (So Far)

In "Public Enemies," Johnny Depp compares
favorably to vintage Pacino.

Michael Mann's new film, "Public Enemies," is not

just the best American movie of the first half of

'09, but also the best gangster picture in around

20 years, a symphony of violent light that must

be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

The movie stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, the

bank robber who terrorized the Midwest in 1934 and gained

fame for his legendary prison escapes and chases

from police, all dramatized here as vividly as

cinematically possible. Depp is as charismatic as he's

ever been, recalling no less than Al Pacino

in the first two "Godfather" films.

Depp's Dillinger sums himself up to a gorgeous hat

check attendant (Marion Cotillard) this way: "I like

baseball, movies, and good clothes and fast cars

and whiskey -- and you. What else do you need to know?"

Also notable is Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson,

Dillinger's number two, as brutal and breathtaking as

chilled vodka; and the soundtrack, one of the best in

years, featuring vintage, dangerous-sounding Depression-era

songs that mix magically with the robbery scenes.

And the film also draws a devastating portrait of

J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), the autocratic

founder of the FBI, who obsessively pursued Dillinger

and is shown here as callow, bureaucratic and always

trying to take credit for the achievements of others,

as in this scene in which he's quizzed

by a U.S. Senator:

SENATOR: How many [felons] have you actually caught?

HOOVER: We have arrested and arraigned 213 wanted felons.

SENATOR: No, I mean you, Director Hoover. How many?

HOOVER: As Director, I administer.

SENATOR: How many have you arrested personally?

HOOVER: [pause] I haven't arrested anybody.

SENATOR: You've never arrested anybody?

HOOVER: Of course not. I'm an administrator.

SENATOR: With no field experience, you're shockingly
unqualified aren't you, sir?

Hoover's agents, after many missteps, eventually got

Dillinger, outside a movie theater in Chicago, exactly

75 years ago to the day (this July 22); Mann, as always,

finds fresh, surprising and memorable ways to show the


And the denouement might actually bring a tear to your

eye, making this a real rarity: a gangster movie that's

not just suspenseful and visually stunning but humorous

and moving, too.

But I digress. Paul



for July 2, 2009

The New Nixon Tapes, "Frost/Nixon," Title VII, etc.

Last year bumper stickers cropped up in my neighborhood

that said something like "Bush Makes Me Nostalgic For Nixon."

But I've never agreed with the stickers or the progressives

who say George W. Bush was worse than Richard Nixon as


Look, I'm no Bush fan, but he was far preferable to Nixon

in almost every significant way. Whatever else you might

think about Bush, W. was transparent, unbigoted, and

there was almost no difference between the private Bush

and the public one. W.'s sins were mostly those of omission,

Nixon's of commission.

In other words, domestically at least, Bush had a laissez-faire,

less-government approach that led to neglectful policies,

disasters like the Katrina response and the partial collapse

of the U.S. economy. Nixon, however, was more predatory,

aggressively using the apparatus of the Federal government

to ruin political opponents.

Last week a new batch of Nixon tapes was released by the

National Archives that, once again, confirm almost

every nightmare we've ever had about him, one of the most

shocking being his racism. Abortion, said our 37th

president, the product of a mixed marriage between a

Quaker and a Methodist, may be necessary when there is a

pregnancy between "a black and a white." Hard to fathom

the sort of mind that would say such a thing.

The new Nixon tapes are reminders of why progressivism,

and even its more radical variants, made a lot of sense

in that era.

Nixon's Watergate-related crimes were so egregious that I

think Congress should seriously consider passing a bill

that urges courts to reevaluate the criminal cases of

citizens convicted of crimes committed in the course

of group political action between January 1969 and

August 1974, allowing judges to give greater weight to

such mitigating factors as abuses of power by the U.S.

government and by Hoover's F.B.I.

So, for example, if, today, some sixtysomething guy

who was unfairly caught up in a group arrest during, say,

an anti-war protest in 1970 wants to get his official

rap sheet cleared, such a law would make it easier for

him to do so.

I think there has to be some sort of additional formal

acknowledgment by the government that the Nixon regime

operated outside accepted legal frameworks -- and the best

way to do that might be to allow a reassessment of

legal cases involving dissent in those years.

The tapes also spurred me to revisit last year's

"Frost/Nixon" film and the actual Frost broadcasts

that it was based on. "Frost/Nixon" is beautifully crafted

and engaging but fundamentally flawed in its elevation

of Frost to a level that is way beyond his relatively

minor cultural and journalistic significance.

And some of the most riveting parts of the real Frost

interviews with Nixon weren't dramatized in the feature

(such as the real-life part when Frost nails Nixon about

the paying of hush money to the Watergate burglars,

citing 16 audiotaped examples of Nixon directly approving

such payments).

Some say this is the closest Nixon came to being put on

trial, but if that's so, Frost was the wrong prosecutor,

because he lacked the professional finesse of, say, the

best "60 Minutes" interviewers. For example, instead

of telling Nixon, "I would say,'that is an obstruction of

justice,'" Frost should have said something like, "What would

you say to someone who calls that an outright obstruction

of justice?" Frost repeatedly assumes the posture

of an advocate or prosecutor, not of a disinterested


In the actual Frost Q&A, Nixon has the air and anger

of a generalisimo in a military coup. One gets the sense

that he saw his own vice-presidency of the 1950s as a

case of being second-in-command during America's military

regime -- Gen. Eisenhower's presidency -- even if Ike himself

never saw it that way. Elsewhere, unprompted, Nixon brings

up a characterization of H.R. Haldeman as a "Nazi storm

trooper" as though that excites him in some way. And when he

says, "I let the American people down," Nixon has a slight

smile on his face, as if he's really saying, "I finally got to

stick it to all those people who tormented me."

No wonder he got along with the despots of the

People's Republic of China, who we now see more

accurately as human rights violators and autocrats.

Nixon fit right in with the dictators who wanted

to quash peaceful dissent by shedding blood, and lots of it,

if necessary.

Sure, opening the door to China was a progressive move -- nobody

is going to deny that. But factoring in what we now know

about both Nixon and China, we can see his PRC policy as

motivated by a simpatico between a would-be dictator and the

genuine articles.

The conventional wisdom has always put Nixon in the moderate

wing of the GOP of '68, along with Nelson Rockefeller and

George "Brainwashed" Romney, but that's because the

conservative wing of the party at the time

was co-opted by George Wallace and his segregationists.

The ultra-conservatives had spun-off, and the only ones left

in the GOP (besides marginalized Goldwaterites) at the

time were so-called moderates.

Today, conservatism is rooted in supply-side Reganomics,

now discredited and really just a white-collar reformulation

of George Wallace's basic gist. What I mean is, in the

1960s, Republicans said, We don't want to use the government

as a tool to give black people equal access to institutions

and to their own rights. But after Reagan in the 1980s,

conservatives dressed up that belief in different clothing,

saying, We don't want to use the government as a tool to

give blacks fair access to the money that could

liberate them.

It's a different era in other ways, too. It would be

almost impossible to imagine America electing a president

as racist as Nixon today. And the fact of Barack Obama's

electoral triumph should spark a reevaluation of race-based

statutes and policies. For example, the assumptions

around Title VII protections appear to have been built

for a different era, a time when even the president of

the U.S. was full of irrational ideas about blacks (and

Jews and Italians and...).

In the recent Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano (aka,

the New Haven firefighters case), the disparity of the

test results at issue is perhaps more convincingly

explained by the self-fulfilling prophecy brought

about by rulings such as the one Sonia Sotomayor was a

part of on the Second Circuit. If you signal to people that

they will pass a test whether they fail it or pass it, then

you are creating a disincentive for them to study for that

test. And that dynamic may explain the disparity better

than the Title VII assumption that a group's failure is

circumstantial evidence of its victimization by


Sotomayor's decision was more correct at the time she

made it and would have been more just at any time

before the U.S. presidential election of 2008, which

proved beyond a doubt that racism and bias are not as

prevalent or as debilitating as we once thought they were.

In the wake of the Obama election, which proved

that an African-American progressive can win amongst

white voters in red states (against a strong conservative

opponent), we must rethink some of the assumptions around

Title VII, much as we would reassess the disability

status of a person who was once unable to walk

but can now run and win top track and marathon


But I digress. Paul



for June 28, 2009

Wilco (The Concert)

Wilco performed last night in Berkeley
(above, a picture of Jeff Tweedy from '07).
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Jeff Tweedy and Wilco were soaring from peak to peak

last night on stage in Berkeley, Calif., topping themselves

with almost each new song. By mid-set, Tweedy was clearly


"I have to tell you, I think this is my favorite place

in the world to play," Tweedy said, referring to the Greek

Theater, where he was playing a sold out gig in support of

his band's new album, "Wilco (The Album)," due Tuesday and

already the number one non-Michael Jackson CD on Amazon.

And then he started strumming the opening chords of

"California Stars" -- and it would be hard to imagine

louder applause if Clapton had just ignited "Layla" -- and

singing Woody Guthrie's words and his own melody:

"I'd like to rest my heavy head tonight on a bed of

California stars..."

Under the California stars on this midsummer night, almost

everyone clapped and sang along (even in the hills above

the Greek where I heard the whole show) to a tune

that has an undeniably powerful effect on audiences,

perhaps the greatest song about the Golden State since

"California Dreamin'" itself.

As the gig progressed, the peaks got higher: an irresistible

"Handshake Drugs," an unstoppable "I'm the Man Who Loves You"

and the band's new single, "You Never Know," an instant Wilco

classic that recalls CCR and the Beatles without sounding

explicitly like either. (Also, an impressive "You're My Face.")

Anyway, this tour is just getting started, so see it if it

comes to your town (unless you're averse to enjoying yourself).

But I digress. Paul



for June 27, 2009

Last Night's David Byrne Show

I went to David Byrne's concert last night in Berkeley,

Calif., wanting to hear Talking Heads's classics, but

left the show humming a few of the new ones like

"One Fine Day" and the title track of his latest

album, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," a

surprisingly strong CD that I had underrated until

several hours ago.

That said, the dozen or so Talking Heads tracks he

and his band performed were exciting, particularly

"Life During Wartime," whose main riff now sounds

like a classic rock thing; "Once in a Lifetime,"

which comes to life magically onstage (even for

people listening in the hills above the theater, as

I was); and the unexpected "Road to Nowhere," which

he hasn't played much on this tour.

It was wonderful to hear Byrne sound as fresh

and un-burned out as he did when I first heard

him perform (in 1979 in New York's Central Park,

headlining a concert that included brand new arrivals

The B52s).

Last night, Byrne was affable, loquacious and in very

good humor: "It's great to be back here at the Greek

Theater," he started, as the crowd thundered. "...Appropriately,

we'll be doing some Greek tragedies. Euripides..."

Byrne continued his droll banter. "...You are welcome to

take pictures...We ask you, politely, to delete the

pictures where we don't look so good," he joked, before

energetically launching into openers "Strange Overtones"

and "I Zimbra."

His Berkeley gig was the last U.S. date of his tour

(or at least the last announced date); next, Byrne

goes to some real Greek theaters, in Athens and

elsewhere in Greece.

But I digress. Paul



for June 25, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson

Shocked, saddened by the unexpected death of Michael

Jackson, a pop music genius if anyone is. I saw him

in person only once, in '86, at a press conference in

New York, where he stood smiling on a stage in his

neo-Sgt. Pepper outfit, letting others do the talking,

speaking maybe ten or fifteen words. I remember

thinking he seemed overly stage-managed by his handlers

and was wishing he'd loosen up a bit.

At the time of his death this afternoon, he was preparing

to re-invent himself a la Garland, but instead ended up

resembling her in another way.

Back in 2007, on the 25th anniversary of the release of

"Thriller," I wrote this about Jackson for the Digression:

Now that the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Thriller"
is being celebrated, perhaps it's time for a fresh
re-evaluation of Jackson. A good place to start is
the footage of the Jackson Five's first performance,
in 1969, on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (available on
disc three of Sullivan's "Rock 'n' Roll Classics" series).

Sullivan is not just enthusiastic but in genuine awe
after watching 10-year-old Michael and his brothers
light up the place with "I Wonder Who's Loving Her Now."
And he applauds Diana Ross, who's in the audience, for
her gargantuan A&R find. "The little fella in front is
incredible," says Sullivan of Michael, seemingly dazed by
the performance.

Michael Jackson's performance was both dazzling and sad;
dazzling because you could see what an epochal talent
Jackson was; but sad because...well, he looked and acted
more like a pressured adult than he does today. At age
10, he acted sort of like a 40-year-old, and at age 40,
he acted sort of like a 10-year-old. The anxious expression
on his face tells us everything we need to know about
the very adult pressures he was being saddled with
as a kid (show biz deadlines, contracts, complex cues,

Sure, we all danced to the sounds of Michael Jackson's
lost childhood -- sounded great, didn't it? -- but many
of us now have no sympathy for or understanding of
the all-too-human flaws that loss has produced.



for June 16, 2009

Tehran Spring

Echoes of the Green Revolution were felt as far as Berkeley,
California, on Sunday when passionate protesters (above)
rallied to condemn the results of the so-called "election"
in Iran. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Another shot of Sunday's protest. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Unfortunately, it's hard for the United States to

claim the clear moral high ground about the rigged

election and subsequent brutality toward protesters

in Tehran. After all, we denied victory to the

victor in our presidential race of 2000. We

shot unarmed student protesters at Kent State in

1970. We brutally beat dissenters in the

streets of Chicago in 1968 (while making sure

television networks couldn't cover the violence

live). And then, like a chain-smoking parent

telling his son not to smoke, we (the biggest

nuclear bomb maker of them all) forbid them

to have their own nuclear weapons.

So when we look at Tehran, we look in the mirror at

our own moments of right-wing oppression. Let's

condemn it there, but let's also stop it when it

surfaces here, too.

* * *

You know, I was not at all offended by David

Letterman's joke about Bristol Palin. And what's

with this brand new comedy rule that

you-can't-make-jokes-about-minors? "Seinfeld"

did it all the time (remember the episode about

George looking at an underage girl's cleavage?).

Jonathan Swift even joked about eating young

children (see: "A Modest Proposal") in a

satiric piece that irony-deficient people did not

understand. (For the record, Swift never

apologized for "A Modest Proposal" -- and he

shouldn't have.)

No, Letterman bowed to a cynical politician

who willfully misread his joke in order to

score points on the campaign trail.

That said, I am offended by the fact that

Letterman (or one of Letterman's writers) ripped

off one of my original ideas that I published in

my June 1, 2009, Daily Digression. I posted

a humorous bit -- "An Excerpt from Bob Woodward's

Upcoming Book on the Obama Administration" -- on

the morning of June 1. And that night (or the next

night) Letterman did his own "excerpt from Bob

Woodward's book on the Obama administration."

Does it feel right that a millionaire

comedian can rip off the ideas of a small

entrepreneur who writes an online column like this

one? Does that pass the fairness test for you?

But I digress. Paul



for June 5 - 8, 2009

A label on a U.S. government map of the Pyongyang area
stamped "Distribution Limited -- Destroy When No Longer
Needed." (I found it (and other rare maps) at a map
archive at the University of California at Berkeley.)

Just before they were busted near

the China-North Korea border last March, Current TV's

Laura Ling and Euna Lee found themselves within sight

of a North Korean winter wonderland of snow-covered

peaks, seven and eight thousand feet high, ranging

from slate gray to white. On that day, the shallow

Tumen River, the border between North Korea and

China, was looking less like a river and more like

a continuation of the ice that was already on the

ground, according to photos taken around that time.

For the crime of crossing the border without a visa

(and there is some dispute about which side of the

line they were on), Ling and Lee have been sentenced

to twelve years of hard labor (doing logging or mining,

in all likelihood).

That sentence, by the way, is effectively a death sentence

for many prisoners, who are forced to work 12-hour days

of strenuous labor on dangerously small amounts of food.

(Read about it in detail at

And this is one of the least sensitive areas

in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

(DPRK), a desolate patch in the far northeast where

almost nobody lives (the only real city in the

vicinity is Yanji, on the China side, which is

around the size of Oakland, California).

The case of Ling and Lee underlines this lesson:

the best way for any outsider -- tourist or

journalist -- to see that northern

area is from deep inside Manchuria (with binoculars),

because that border is something of a Venus


As for visiting the rest of North Korea from the

inside, forget it, if you're a U.S.citizen;

North Korea is as reclusive and secretive as

it's reputed to be. In the unlikely event that

you are allowed entry, you would almost

certainly be restricted to visiting Pyongyang,

and only certain parts of Pyongyang at that,

in a group led by a DPRK-approved tour guide.

Visitors would do well to heed the warnings and

advisories about travel to North Korea posted

on the U.S. State Dept. website, among them:

your hotel room and phone conversations may

be bugged; you can't take pictures of anything

without permission; you can't pay for anything

by credit card or personal check; you can't

bring anything resembling pornography into the

country; you can't take the subway or buy a bike;

it's illegal to dis ruler Kim Jong-il; if you

develop a medical problem, you should avoid

surgery (because "functioning x-ray

facilities are not generally available"); and if

you run afoul of the many eccentric, arbitrary

laws of the DPRK, you're on your own, as America

has no diplomatic relations with the North (you would

have to cry to the people at the Swedish Embassy in

Pyongyang, a "U.S. protecting power").

Whew! Still want to visit? If you could visit,

you might want to start with the most private

place in all of the DPRK: the Nuclear Research

Center at Yongbyon.

It would be an exaggeration, though

not much of one, to say that more Americans

have walked on the moon than have visited

the nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which

seems as sealed and insulated as the heavy lead

casks used for spent fuel rods.

Nestled in the Myohyang Mountains on the

winding Kuryong River, at the point where the

river becomes shaped like a horseshoe or a "U"

(as in Uranium), Yongbyon is the heart

of the nation's nuclear weapons development


A rare detailed map of the Yongbyon area
(U.S. Army map, 1945).

Not only is access to the center heavily restricted,

but the only major highway to Yongbyon -- the

Myohyang-Pyongyang Expressway -- is from

Pyongyang and said to be for official use only.

In other words, when Kim Jong-il wants to drive

to see his budding nukes, if he drives, he has

to take the Expressway north for around 60 miles,

traveling for around 90 minutes through plains and

mountains on a highway that is, presumably, almost

completely car-less and truck-less.

Around halfway there, he'd pass near the city

of Suchon, site of a major uranium mine, and

then veer northeast through the Myohyang

Mountains, coal mining country.

After Kim arrives at the nuclear facility

area -- he probably exits the freeway near

a town called Kaechon -- he likely continues

by local roads near the Kuryong to


The nuclear facility, which is reportedly not

linked to the rest of the DPRK's electrical grid,

includes structures for fuel fabrication,

uranium processing, assembly of fuel elements,

etc. -- in other words, everything required

to makes nukes. Photos from a tower-toppling

event at the site in 2008 make the center

look like a factory in a green river valley.

Satellite photos make it seem something

like a warehouse district or a

Burbank movie studio backlot for a nuclear

disaster flick.

But Yongbyon is the real deal. Fueled by nearby

uranium mines, with facilities for reprocessing

plutonium, Yongbyon is currently back in

operation, according to Kim Jong-il's own

recent public pronouncements. And it's widely

believed that Kim might soon have fully

functioning Taepodong 2 missiles, which could

deliver a nuke as far as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Several miles to the west are far more modest digs:

the residences of nuke plant workers (the Homer

Simpsons of the DPRK), according to online maps.

All told, there's probably a better chance that

Yongbyon will be visiting America (so to speak)

than that Americans will be visiting Yongbyon any

time soon.

Far more accessible is Pyongyang, though that's

not saying much. (For the record, I've never had the

pleasure of visiting North Korea!) But it is possible to

catch a flight into the capital from Beijing (and there

have been irregular charter flights from Vladivostok,

Russia, in the past).

Pyongyang is a big, vertical city -- slightly larger

than Chicago -- built mostly after

1953, after the Korean War destroyed much

of the previous city.

But if you're looking for bars and restaurants,

they're as scarce as street crime here, which

is to say, almost non-existent.

Built on the flatlands and low hills around the

Taedong River, Pyongyang is full of tourist sights designed

to praise and glorify the current and past

governments of the DPRK.

Remember the Pueblo? Well, the North Koreans sure do,

and they now have that U.S. Navy ship -- the U.S.S. Pueblo,

which was captured by the North Koreans in 1968 after it

allegedly strayed into its territorial waters -- on display

in the river that runs through the capital.

Then there's North Korea's Statue of Liberty -- the Tower of

the Juche Idea -- a granite, riverside tower

topped with a bulb shaped like a flame, which dominates

a good part of the Pyongyang skyline. (Juche, by

the way, is the guiding philosophy of modern North Korea,

promoting self-reliance as a universal goal in both personal

life and governmental policy.)

The city's subway, the Pyongyang Metro,

seems more like an oddly ornate bomb

shelter, around 360 feet underground,

reportedly a record depth for a major

city subway system. Even official photos reveal

an overdressed facility, what with all those

chandeliers and colonnades -- not to mention

the propagandistic mosaics and art at many

of the stations.

To the northwest, there's an attractive hilly

neighborhood called the Peony Hill (Moranbong)

District, with elevations to around 300 feet (not

quite as tall as, say, San Francisco's

city heights). Near the Peony District is North

Korea's Harvard University (such that it has

one!): Kim il-Sung University, where Kim Jong-il

studied economics in the early 1960s. Government-released

photos of the campus make it look drab, sort of like

a combination meat-packing plant and reform school.

A U.S. government map (stamped "Distribution

Limited -- Destroy When No Longer Needed") shows

that the most notable landmark in the Pyongyang area

is a large reservoir to the city's southeast that's

absent on many other maps of the region.

A confidential U.S. government map of the greater
Pyongyang area that shows details that aren't on other
maps of the area (like that huge reservoir to the
southeast of the city).

Farther north is the international airport, where

virtually all passengers are either coming from or

going to Beijing.

Much farther north is the Yalu River, which forms

most of the border with China, and it's wide and

partially clogged with islands claimed by both

Manchuria and North Korea. It's an almost entirely

mountainous region whose star attraction is Mount

Baekdu, the highest peak on the peninsula at

nearly 9,000 feet, with a lake near the top

that straddles a once-disputed border.

Other areas along the Yalu are less idyllic,

according to photos published by Reuters and

other news organizations; the landscape around

Hyesan, for example, is a forest of

factory smokestacks; some of coastal Sinuiju,

in the far northwest, looks very dilapidated.

Finally, truly adventurous travelers looking

to enter the DPRK through a relatively weak

border can try taking a train from Russia into

the first North Korean town over the line, Tumangan.

(There are recent reports of lucky westerners

making the trip successfully and safely). The

two countries share both an eleven-mile border

in the northeasternmost part of the DPRK (which

is around 90 miles west of Vladivostok) and railroad

tracks, and those who make it to the peninsula can

continue their rail journey to the nearby port city

Najin (there's great cod fishing in Najin Bay, they

say) and even farther on to Pyongyang.

Unfortunately, making the reverse trip and getting

out of the DPRK is a much harder task, as Laura

Ling and Euna Lee now understand all too well.

C.I.A. map of the Russia-North Korea border area.

* * *

Satellite photo of the Yongbyon nuclear facility
(with my own annotations). (From the site.)

* * *

Some think this is the mansion where Kim Jong-il
stays when he's visiting his nuclear center
at Yongbyon, though it's impossible to confirm if
that's really his house. (I printed this out
from the website.)

* * *

The Yalu River border, near Sinuiju, China (map shows the
numerous islands in the Yalu that make the border
ambiguous). [Army Map Service, 1945]

* * *

Map of Pyongyang, from "The Rough Guide to
North Korea" travel guidebook.

* * * *

A C.I.A. province map of North Korea (2005).

* * * *


Juche, baby, Juche!
Appreciating the Oeuvre of Kim Jong-il

Kim Il-Sung University, economics major, class of '64!
[photo from website]

If you're planning to visit North Korea anytime

soon -- and now that that naton is opening up,

this might be the time! -- the U.S. State Dept. wants

you to know that it's a criminal offense to dis

the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il while there. In fact,

as a tourist, you might be called upon by your

government guide to show some sign of respect to

the Dear Leader a few times during your stay.

So it might pay to bone up on some of the

many published writings of Kim Jong-il, who

has weighed in on a wide range of

topics over the decades, many of them far

from his collegiate major, economics.

In this 1968 essay -- "On the Direction Which Musical

Creation Should Take" -- Kim shows his own singular,

uh, taste as a music critic, as he raves against

all piano playing and praises a new song about his

dad! Here's an excerpt:

"I have called you creators here today to tell you
which direction musical creation should be developed
for it to conform with the Great Leader's revolutionary
thought on art and literature. Recently some success
has been achieved in musical creation. However, many
shortcomings are still evident and these must be remedied.

Among the songs that have been composed recently,
"General Kim Il Sung is Our Sun," "The Azaleas of our
Homeland" and "The People Sing of the Leader" are very
good....These songs are suited to the sentiments
of our people and are also easy to sing because
their melodies are elegant and yet soft and gentle.

Songs that are too jumpy with melodies that rise and
fall too sharply are both difficult to sing and unsuited
to the sentiments of Koreans...If composers are to
produce good songs, they must, above all else, have
a correct stand and attitude concerning music.
The Great Leader taught us that music, like all
other forms of art, should serve the revolution
and the people.

Listening to the song "General Kim Il Sung is Our Sun,"
I once again felt deep in my heart that the leader is
a genius of art...

From now on, woodwind instruments should be used as
little as possible in instrumental music. The use of
the piano should also be reviewed. The piano does
not stimulate the interest of people very much
because it disrupts that melody when it is played.
The frequent use of the piano, in accompaniment, is
outdated and does not suit the tastes of our people.
In the future, the piano should not be used in a
performance or accompaniment by a single person.
Songs should be accompanied mainly by a small
instrumental ensemble. An orchestra of our national
instruments should be developed."

-- essay from "Kim Jong-il: Selected Works" (1992),
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang.

A sample of The Pyongyang Times's tough, skeptical
investigative coverage of Kim Jong-Il, shown here at
the dawn of his reign in '95.

But I digress. Paul



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