The biggest challenge in writing a blog this election season is finding topics no one else has written about or discussed on TV. So…

You can imagine the thrill when I had an epiphany in the middle of the night recently. Like a thunderbolt between the eyes, it hit me: I should undertake an analysis of something others had mentioned but no one else had dared explore in as much depth as I was planning, nor with such laser focus.

Donald Trump’s genitals.

Not just any essay, but a satire, the way vintage radio’s absurdity maestros Bob and Ray had once meticulously dissected the evolution, the very essence of the bologna sandwich (and you thought the bread had always been placed on the outside).

Why not Trump’s genitals? Were they not in the public domain? Hadn’t Little Marco had his own brush with them when still a candidate?

Surging with energy, I sprang from bed, charged to my laptop, hit Google and began taking careful notes.

First the externals: the penis, the urethra and, of course, the scrotum. Plus internally, I could choose among Trump’s seminal vesicle, testes, vas deferens, epididymis, prostate, bulbourethral gland and ejaculatory duct—components we all take for granted as they perform their essential tasks unnoticed and unheralded.

But there was no need to choose. I wanted them all in my blog.

I’d rarely been this turned on. Pulse pounding, I was as wild-eyed and pumped as a mad scientist in his laboratory, excitement building as his adrenalin overflowed along with his beakers. I could see it in front me, the blog of the century, all glory to me.


I decided to stress Trump’s two scrotal pouches—for their visual potential, naturally. Yet this presented a problem. In my brief blogging experience, I’ve learned that blogs have to have photos to hold readers’ interest.

Uh-huh, exactly. Where in hell could I obtain a photo of Trump’s balls? Not from him.

Dear Donald, please send me an autographed photo of your balls.

Wait…wait. They didn’t have to be his balls. They could be random balls, anyone’s balls—that I would then label Trump’s balls. And there were balls photos galore online.Penis picture - Copy

But wouldn’t that be deceptive, unethical? Didn’t make a difference. This is the Internet, I told myself, where there are no ethics. And besides, who would know the difference?

Who? What was I thinking? Trump would know the difference immediately. His balls would be huge, of course, far larger than ordinary balls. Maybe like medicine balls.

He could sue. Count on it, he would sue, charging that the misidentified balls in my blog’s photo were inferior to his, costing him delegates by creating the impression he didn’t have what it took to be President.

Even if he didn’t sue, I knew how much he loved playing dirty. He would surely counter attack in typical fashion, stopping at nothing in a ferocious, multi-media assault on my genitals which, my God, could show up on the front page of The Enquirer. What’s more, with his money he could finance a reenactment purporting to show my epididymis storing, maturing and transporting sperm between my testes and vas deferens and sending it to my urethra.

This could be disastrous, for I’d always guarded the privacy of my reproductive organs. Yes, I could reply the obvious way by ridiculing his wife’s genitals, but that, too, would have consequences. I could predict with certainty, given Trump’s taste for vulgarity, how he would answer.

Unsure of a course, I decided to put my blog aside, return to bed and rethink the matter with a clearer head when I awoke. Which I did, concluding later that my Trump blog was doomed to fail because it was impossible to satirize someone who satirized himself every time he opened his mouth.

That’s what I told myself. But I knew the real reason I caved. I didn’t have the balls.



Garry ShandlingGarry Shandling died today at age 66.

I knew him well. Very well. Very, very well. In other words, extremely well.  Intimately well. Incredibly well. Exceedingly well. Profoundly well. Vibrantly well. On-a-first-name-basis well. Like-the-back-of-my-hand well. The front, too.


No, his alter ego, Larry Sanders: the Shandling-created headliner in the greatest show about show business in the history of show business or any other business. Avoiding oxymorons, I rarely unite brilliant and TV or movies in the same sentence.  But HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” was brilliant!!!! The exclamation points were earned.

I knew Shandling himself only slightly. We spoke a few times on the phone, and I was flattered when he asked me to write an essay for the most recent release of “The Larry Sanders Show” on DVD, surely because I’d endorsed his series so emphatically in my column. I said I’d take the gig if he would visit my TV symposium at the University of Southern California. He came, and we had fun that night. At least I did because Shandling—patiently, benevolently—didn’t step on my cheap jokes, even though he, not I, was the funnyman. And let me tell you, he was funny.

Yes, as a stand-up comic and sub for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” And yes, on his innovative, much-undervalued Showtime series, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” a send-up of traditional sitcoms in which he played himself, broke the fourth wall and pulled his studio audience into the comedy.

But his masterwork was “The Larry Sanders Show,” on which he played an insecure, egoistic, neurotic, immature, two-faced TV talk show host (“There’s another kind?”) alongside Rip Torn as his nursemaid producer, Artie, and Jeffrey Tambor as his darkly self-serving sidekick, Hank.

The series ran six scintillating seasons on HBO, departing in 1998 after never averaging more than a paltry two million viewers an episode, a wee closetful even by pay-TV standards. Yet it resonated stereophonically—not only as a booming howl much of the time, but in its ability to size up and portray the nasty side of the entertainment business without losing its sense of fun.

“The Larry Sanders Show” was probably not as consistently funny as my other favorite comedy, “Seinfeld.” But it didn’t have to be; its other attributes also commanded your attention. The writing was superb, at once subtle and sharp, even brutal sometimes, with no prisoners taken.  Even when not yielding laughs, the series captivated you with its acid realism and the way it raked the raw psychoses of its muddied characters.

Well before Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” did it, “The Larry Sanders Show” was able to entice celebrities to mock and ridicule themselves, from David Spade (labeled a “little prick”) to David Duchovny playing himself as sexually ambiguous with eyes for Larry. And the thinness of Larry’s interviews was matched only by the anorexia of actual talk-show interviews in front of audiences primed to laugh at anything, however unfunny.

If you haven’t seen “The Larry Sanders Show,” find it somewhere, anywhere. Consider it Garry Shandling’s parting gift.


Urlaub in Brügge 22. bis 25. Mai 2008After college, my wife, Carol, and I spent several backpacking, backbreaking months hitchhiking through Europe.

We began in Scotland, then made our way from Glasgow south through England. We took the ferry to Belgium from Dover, landing in Ostend, and then caught a ride to the charming, canal-threaded city of Bruges in the north.

It was early evening when we were dropped off, tired, cold and hungry, near a youth hostel where we planned to spend the night. We crossed a small, postcard-ready stone bridge and approached the building, which appeared as old as Flanders itself and somewhat foreboding. We entered…

And heard mandolins.


A dozen or so graying seniors were seated in a half circle, plucking intensely. I don’t recall why—if these happy fingers were playing for fun or giving a concert for the community of travelers.

What I do remember is the large space swelling with their music, and the two of us being greeted warmly and served hot coffee in bowls at a long wood table. And I remember this: we were enthralled.

We didn’t stay long in Bruges, and I vaguely recall being picked up at the edge of the city and later passing through Antwerp on the way to Germany.

But our evening in Bruges, those many years ago, is my memory of Belgium. It will always be my memory of this small nation.

I mention this, of course, in connection with this week’s massively covered terrorist slaughter in Belgium.

Blog Bruge photoBelgium, you say? On what planet is Belgium?

Which is the point, for I’m fairly certain that if not for this horrific carnage the overwhelming bulk of Americans wouldn’t know Brussels and Belgium from beeswax.

On MSNBC Monday night, a seemingly troubled Chris Matthews derided the dangerous “nationalist sentiment” of Donald Trump’s relentlessly xenophobic message and the response to it from many of his red-white-and-bluer-than-thou followers.

I get it: Trumpet has emerged this election season as the nation’s bombasting big poopah of flag flaunters: American Gothic and the American Legion rolled into one. In making his point, though, Matthews ignored the culpability of Trumpet’s audience and America’s arrogant, chest-thumping culture of superiority, a trait nourished by our general ignorance of the wider world.

It’s this culture that Trumpet plays to, even though the concept of American superiority is undermined by his own presence as a viable presidential candidate.

The USA! USA! USA! USA! chants at Trump events are a metaphor for this raging ethnocentrism. Bottom line: we are full of ourselves and celebrate the U.S. as the center of the universe: a God-granted occupancy that comes with a lifetime lease.


We’ve flourished as the globe’s richest, most powerful nation for so long that Americans don’t realize how tiny a blip we are on the landscape of time. Other cultures—Greeks, Romans and so on—have had their own 15 minutes of fame, only to see fame inevitably move on.

Sharing the blame for our inflated national ego, by the way, are decades of U.S.-centric media coverage, most notably by television whose cameras—or lack of them—manufacture their own reality. Rarely do we witness global news that doesn’t center on bang-bang—violence and other mayhem. So the picture we get is mostly skewed, fostering a belief that human life beyond our borders is largely inferior, largely barbaric…

And Belgium is a place where only bad things happen.


The setting was Nablus, the West Bank’s largest city. The year was 1988, during the first Palestinian Intifada or uprising against Israeli occupation.

With my Palestinian “fixer,” I sat facing six other Palestinians who looked to be in their twenties. They had agreed to meet with me and discuss media coverage of the Intifada for my TV column in The Los Angeles Times.

They were with Fatah, then the political arm of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat. They were cordial, spoke passable English and seemed to be nice guys. They ticked off their grievances with the coverage: they felt western media were mostly biased against them, just as Israelis insisted to me that the opposite was true.

I raised the question of bombings that killed innocent Israeli children and asked how they could possibly justify these acts. One referred to children as “Israeli bullets.” Another explained, “These children grow up to be Israeli soldiers.” He said this resolutely but calmly and without emotion, as if the lives of such children were abstractions. And of course, to him they were.

That was that: six nice guys who happened to endorse indiscriminate murder in service of their liberation goal.

I suppose I always knew it was impossible for the rest of us to comprehend the radical mind. But this fleeting episode pounded the point home and came to mind as I watched TV coverage of human wreckage in Belgium.

The place where only bad things happen.


donald-trump-mussolini-scowlThe Mussolini scowl, the bluster, the boasting, the BS.  Donald Trump…the nation’s anchorman? Nahhhhh!

Maybe yahhhhh!

Old Laser Eyes here.

Thank me later, but I’m on the blather beat—the great Pantheon of Bloviating—so you don’t have to be.

I’ve spent months watching camera-ready candidates (you know their names and MOs) roll out, vamp and strut across their own red carpets like preening celebrities on Oscar night.  And here I am, in front of TV on Super Tuesday, conducting my own exit poll, struck again by how much the Oval Office and  wannabes have in common with many of the media who cover them.

It’s the ultimate symbiosis, recalling the famous 1974 exchange at a Houston press conference between embattled Richard Nixon and future CBS News anchorman Dan Rather, then the network’s high-profile White House correspondent. The occasion was a meeting of broadcasters at which the President was a guest. And when Rather rose to ask a question, and introduced himself to a mixture of applause and jeers, Nixon deployed his paste-on grin and quipped:

“Are you running for something?”

Rather (after a perfectly timed pause): “No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?”

Big laugh, big metaphor.

They were both running, of course: Nixon from the Watergate debacle that was about to bring him down, and Rather for the top job at CBS News that he later would inherit from Walter Cronkite.

Nixon and Rather were adversaries. Yet on this day, in a sense, they were partners having in common this: both were hood ornaments on the chassis of their own aspirations.

Presidents don’t speak to us and announce “Breaking News!” They don’t report breathlessly “This just in!” On the other hand, aren’t they much like news anchors in other ways that we witness regularly? Not just the largely vapid news kazoos at local stations but also the gravitas-inflated royalty of ABC, CBS, NBC and those zany 24-hour news channels that many of us love to hate?

Think about it.

Don’t we ask both for steadiness and team coverage in times of crisis?

Don’t both ask us to love, trust and respect them, to believe in their infallibility and, above all, to keep them employed? That love, respect and infallibility flow from personas carefully crafted by public relations experts, the steady employment from elections for Presidents and Nielsen ratings for anchors.

Don’t both make TV their medium of choice to nourish this culture of image?

Don’t both command the camera? The Trumpet doesn’t just command it, as we know, he appropriates it, benefiting from acquiescing media that are almost begging to be manipulated.

And finally, don’t we look to both genres for accurate information and guidance?  With the election drum roll growing ever noisier, information and guidance from the candidates and their acolytes continues to be largely propaganda and spin. And anchors on Fox, CNN and MSNBC are presiding this election season over horserace reporting at a gallop. As well as that news channel phenomenon, breaking speculation.

“This is what the race has come to,” sighed an MSNBC reporter covering a morning rally at which Trump defended his hands after Marco Rubio had ridiculed Trump’s hands after Trump had relentlessly demeaned Rubio as “Little Marco” and “the little senator.” And so on and so on.

Oh, wait, something huge is happening. I’m watching TV now, and The Trumpet is being introduced in Palm Beach by his fawning new best friend, Chris Christie.

This just in!