Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And Tonight, Set Your Satellite Radio

Yes.. a mini blob Announcement:
Tonight (Wednesday 30 april.. or if you are in France.. 30 Avril).. Iris (and Clay via phone link..) will be on the Wise Guys Radio show on Sirius Radio to (horrors!) speak about the new book "So You Think You Can Be President"... at 7pm eastern (5 pm in Montana, and New Mexico... go ahead, do the math!) The WISE Guys include an all Italian-American cast of former Sopranos actors (Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastora, Steven Van Zandt) and some other "wise guys" from Jersey... and who actually, blessem, play Jerry Vale songs from time to time. Sounds like way too much fun.. so if you are blessed with a Satellite Radio, be sure and flick it on at 6:59 tonight... Channel 104.

We're just sayin'.... David

Saturday, April 26, 2008

It's Viral TIme in America..

Yes, faithful readers.. it's time for a major Viral Marketing Hit! The good news is, you won't have to get a shot of Penicillin, or promise to send $5 to the person at the top of the Chain Letter list. Just send this little paragraph to everyone you know, who is on your email list, and let's get the word out about the OFFICIAL Publication Date of So You Think You Can Be President, the hilarious Test, written by Chief Blobber Iris Burnett and her madcap writing cohort Clay Greager.

Clay and Iris, in "author" mode
The book is officially OUT, now, available on Barnes & and and maybe even a swell independent book store near you. We're starting the big surge this weekend... so.. don't be afraid to pass on the word. The book is 200 Questions, designed to a) be amusing b) determine if you should run for President and c)clear the air about what governance is really about. (Well, "c", not so much.) But it is very funny, and who, in the middle of a madcap set of Primaries, doesn't need a little boost these days.

Check out the website here, and let us know what you think. "See you at the Polls!" We're just Sayin'.... David

And He Can

What happened to “Yes We Can”? I mean other than Hillary stealing a version-which is benign at best. I loved when Obama asked a question and everyone yelled, “yes we can”. That was the kind of enthusiasm and hopeful rhetoric that resonated with a discouraged and sometimes disenfranchised public, and with cynics such as myself.

If you saw the ad for the Governor’s race in North Carolina, you know what the Republican’s are planning for the fall. This ad was about Reverend Wright and the candidate. Obama has his arm around Reverend, then Obama has his arm around Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, and the voice over connects the dots. I don’t think it’s necessary to tell you much more. You can write the script. Hillary should denounce it - but she won’t because it works for her - only right now.

There isn’t a person who watches TV, reads the newspaper, or listens to the radio, who doesn’t know what the Republicans are going to do an Obama candidacy. So do we think he should throw in the towel, take his bowling ball and go home, or simply disappear into the morass of a do nothing senate. Which by the way reminds me of a Clinton speech I heard a few days ago. Hillary said if she’s elected President she will investigate the oil companies for gouging. I may be wrong, but can’t a sitting Senator call for a hearing? What’s she waiting for?

Anyway, I don’t want him to go anywhere. I like primaries. As I have said many times, I do think they tell you a great deal about the candidates, the campaign, and the staff people who might be running the government next January. But more than primaries I like a good, clean, feisty contest. So how does Barack get back in the game-if you hadn’t noticed he’s been treading water rather swimming strokes since the last debate. It is clear that people want to believe he understands the problems they face daily. He needs to address those issues of concern to the public (as well the media) and there can be no secrets. He can do this by getting back to what has worked repeatedly…. Yes he can!

Suppose he took a list of those issues, (the flag/lapel pin, misspeaking ‘bitter’, the real estate scandal, the Reverend Wright nonsense, etc.) and designed a vocal riff that ended up with, “Yes We Can” , or a version like the ones he used to get to the political place he is now. Suppose he cut off all this noise at the knees with his incredible ability to articulate the passion people feel. I’m not very good at this and I changed the riff a little, but here’s an example of what I mean:

“They are trying to tell you that I don’t love this country. But you know that’s not true, and together we need to make it clear that this is a lie. Yes We Can. They say that Michelle isn’t proud of her country. This is also a lie, so we need to talk louder and clearer. And We Can. They say I sat in church and listened to the minister preach hate. So we talked about it as a nation, and still the lies continue, the hate mongering has become sport. But we need to bind together and get beyond the hateful rhetoric. And We Can. They tried to connect me with thieves, and terrorists and who know what else. They know it’s not true but they think if they say it enough times in enough ways, people will believe it. And maybe they’re right about some people. But not the people who want real change. We need to win this election because the world is in trouble, people are suffering. And We Can. They take a word like bitter and twist it and maybe I misspoke but people are angry about paying high health costs, high food costs, high oil costs, high costs of education. We need to tell the people who have friends making money from all the high costs we pay, that it has to stop. And We Can.”

OK, These examples may seem a little lame, more like the "Daiyanu" chant at Passover than a preacher at a sermon, but I’m not writing speeches anymore. My point is that the high road was working for Obama. Over the last six weeks he has allowed his opponent to define the terms of the debate. You can never win when you are fighting with someone else’s definitions. Further, he needs to have surrogates do the mud slinging. He should never do more than say he is angry, outraged, indignant, about something terrible that’s been done or said about him by an opponent. A Bill Richardson or a Lanny Davis- like colleague needs to do this. He cannot in any way afford to appear smug, elite, or unfeeling. The campaign should determine what their definition of a leader is and every time he appears he needs to talk about what that means. Consequently, it will define what he can be as a leader and what his opponents are not. I wish I was getting paid for this incredibly good advice. But, as they say, you get what you pay for. Who says that? Anyway I am happy to offer suggestions. And I hope what I think, makes everyone feel better about going forward with a candidate about whom they still have concerns. But if he does a few simple things it will answer the questions that Super Delegates are asking, he will be the nominee and he just might be the next President. And He Can.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Major Blobbing Event

“a thing that happens, especially one of importance”

That is how the dictionary defines “event.” I suppose, as someone who minored in History (or at least thinks he did), I could assign that term to something very memorable, important, and that ultimate definition: one that keeps on giving.

In broad terms of course, World War I was an Event (as were the many key moments which became the war... the battle of the Somme – hardly a moment – the fight in Belleau Wood, the signing of the peace treaty in the rail road car.) The assassination of Lincoln was surely an event. And there are those amazing improvised ones, where total surprise and unlikely outcomes create a sense of drama and lingering excitation which are palpable. Bobby Thompson's Home Run in the 1951 Pennant race (if you are younger than 55 this will probably sound like Teddy Roosevelt racing up San Juan Hill, but trust me on this one, it's tear wrenching everytime you hear it. That was an event. You could mark the time, the second, the moment that ball cracked on the bat, and in the hearts and minds of millions of New Yorkers, and even people from Utah, as it turned out, their lives could be said to drive a tent stake into the ground of Time, something to forever mark it in their own memories.

We have no doubt lived in times which had Events, both positive and terribly negative in nature. They are the kind of things that can often be described in conversation as “where were You when....?” Kennedy was shot. The Marine Barracks in Beirut were bombed. Martin Luther King was shot. You first heard about the Tet Offensive. Nixon fired the Attorney General in the Saturday Night Massacre. The Chilean Generals killed Allende in a coup d'etat. 9/11: the Second plane, the one that confirmed it wasn't an accident. The first Cruise missiles launched (and which missed) to try and nail Saddam at the beginning of the war (you know which war, I'm sure.) Philippe Petit walking between the two World Trade Towers 30 years ago, on a tight rope. The naming of a Polish Pope (even in Brasil that was big news in '78.) These are Events. These are the linchpins of the history we live in. In the 1950s, CBS had a wonderful series on Sunday called You Are There, one of the first of the programs which took news footage and tried to make some 'current history' sense of it. Walter Cronkite hosted it, and led with “June 6th, 1944: What kind of a day was it? A Day like all days, filled with those events which alter and illuminate our time.. and YOU ARE THERE...”

So you'll pardon me if in this age of overly consuming consumers, and overly marketing marketeers, that I stand up for just a minute and say, “Give Us the Hell BACK our Events.”

Just in the last few days – while you might have thought the Events of import were the Primary in Pennsylvania, the Surge/nonSurge in Iraq, the Love Life of the newly wedded French President, the nearly dangerous landing of the Soyuz Spacecraft after undocking from the Space Station, the Capitols being eliminated from the NHL playoffs. Whew, there are actual Events, arent there. But here are a couple that you have probably been bombarded with the ones that are so starting to tick me off:

The Mercedes Benz Pre-Owned Event. Unlike the bombing of the Nairobi Embassy, this one lets you purchase a used Mercedes automobile and get up to 36 months warranty. Or the ongoing Fox Television Event, wherein some incredibly lousy movie (i.e of the “straight to DVD” quality) is billed as “a major television event.” I thought major television events were things like the Shuttle launch, the swearing in of a President, or maybe even a Congressional hearing with Ollie North. What an idiot I must be not to comprehend that real events are the kinds of things which lead to the sale of something important, like 'air time' or used cars.

Six years ago when Jordan's high school chorus went to Orlando for what was billed as a Choral Festival, we had one of those Event moments. (First of all, since our kids were seen only by one set of judges and at a time when no other visiting schools were around, it wasn't much of a festival. I'm just old hat enough to imagine that “festival” usually has something festive associated with it.) Our second night, we were all taken by bus to a horrible few hundred acres adjacent to the Disney parks (full disclosure, we own a few shares of Disney stock, but they don't actually care what we think about these things) called “Downtown Disney.” Filled with stores such as ESPN's sports bar, Emeril's Take Out, a few crummy t-shirt shops, the official program called for:
“6pm-9pm: Visit Downtown Disney and partake of Marketing Opportunities.”

I kid you not. Someone is selling the idea of 'Marketing Opportunities' to high school kids. Not that they need them. But it was for me one of those watershed moments, where I realized that Selling is all that matters anymore. Doesn't really matter to whom, or how; just Sell, please. It kind of creates its own nauseating sort of 'Event.' Not the kind I'd like to capture and replay on my iPod on the train to New York. I wish they'd just leave “Events” alone, and let the “Events” happen of their own accord. They can do all they want with Marketing Opportunities – somehow it fits both TV and used cars just right. We're just sayin'.... David

Running Away? Oh, Spare Me

For the next two weeks we are going to hear every Clinton surrogate say that Obama is ‘running away’. He’s running away from the debate, the vote in Michigan and the vote in Florida. It started today with Carville and Begala—people I always liked and respected. The next thing you are bound to see is a chicken popping up at Obama events. You may recall there were chickens used quite effectively when Bush tried to avoid debate with Bill Clinton (who was at that time an inexperienced Governor from Arkansas, a year younger than Obama is now.)

The appearance of chickens at times such as these is something with which I am quite familiar. You see, (and this may be my first public confession), I hatched the chickens in 1992. We worked independent of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. And we presented to the nation, in a very funny way, the reasons why George Bush shouldn’t be the President. We delivered a serious message in the most amusing ways possible. When President Bush refused to debate we commented on courage with chicken appearances at all his events. After he agreed to debate we transitioned into Pinocchio—and talked about his ability to tell the truth. Then there was the ‘Harry Truman truth squad’ and on Halloween we asked ‘witch’ George Bush. My own personal favorite was a 20 foot banner that simply said “Hey, George, your lie is open”. I believe we marched that past the White House about a year ago and didn’t get arrested.

To his credit, President Bush the senior wrote a note to one of the Pennsylvania chickens that said, “What you are doing is in the best spirit of American politics. Keep up the good work”. Despite everything we did, he remained a classy guy. And although every message we delivered was serious, we were never disruptive and we were always funny. Humor is often the best way to make a point. But Senator Clinton and her minions are neither good spirited or amusing. They want this win so much that they are willing to sacrifice the election to have their way.

So what does Obama do to get through what will be an onslaught of ugly? First of all, he shouldn’t have to do it alone. But where are the Obama surrogates? Bill Richardson was on Larry King tonight going toe to toe with James Carville. Richardson was terrific, but it’s hard to get beyond “Obama’s running away” because that resonates while reasoned argument does not. On another show, an Obama spokesperson (not a surrogate – and there’s a big difference) was double teamed by Begala and Carville (I wish he were more of an ice cream). The Obama people need to identify ten surrogates who appear everywhere and take the Clinton surrogates to task. The argument about Michigan and Florida is easily argued by the Clintons as “people voted and their votes should count”. The right to vote is important. But the other candidates agreed not to campaign. The people voted without getting to hear or know the other candidates. Of course they voted for Hillary—at that point she was the only name they knew. And name recognition is no small matter in a political campaign. But Hillary, who has a record of problems with the truth, also seems to have a problem honoring a commitment. In this case the one she made, not only to Obama (who they never expected to be viable), but to all the candidates and the Party.

Don’t you think that works better as an argument than ‘you can’t change the rules.’ One appears to be whining and the other presents questions of character.

As voters (and women are voters, not a constituency group) we have to decide what it is we want in a President. Is Obama running away. I think not. There have been at least 21 debates. Should he agree to another debate? I think so. But he needs to insist they address issues that impact on the future of this country. And that is not a lapel pin. Should the votes from Michigan and Florida count? Not unless there is another voting opportunity—one in which both candidates participate. That’s probably not going to happen. But given the party rules, I doubt it would make much difference.

If the Obama campaign allows the Clinton campaign to define the argument i.e. “he’s an elitist who is both unpatriotic and has no courage (he’s running away),” then they may not be able to convince the super delegates to get on board the Obama ship. (I ordinarily despise seafaring analogies. I must be desperate.) But if they use the tools that have been most effective – such as ridiculing the Clinton ‘noise’ without being either nasty or ugly, they stand a terrific chance of being the nominee. Let’s get back to ‘hopeful’. It worked on me, and I have tried never to run away. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And From Guest Blobber Dick Swanson... another submission

Rites, Ceremonies, & Customs

While sitting at one of 20 round tables in a hotel banquet room over the weekend, I realized I was the only round-eye in room of 200 Asians celebrating the engagement of my niece (my brother-in-law’s daughter).
One thought led to many others: how comfortable I am with cultural rites, celebrations and customs that are mine only by association…the only gentile at a Seder; the only Caucasian at a black church; the only male in a girl’s locker-room (more comfortable, in fact, than in the Wizards’ locker-room where I was at eyelevel with “you know what” of naked 7 foot basketball players…I am 5’ 9”); the only septuagenarian at an elementary school surrounded by inquisitive 9 year olds; living with Karen guerillas in the Golden Triangle in the ‘60s.

33 years ago this week, I rescued my brother-in-law and eleven other of his family members during the fall of Saigon. (Online here) As I looked around at the engagement party, I realized that I was directly responsible for the presence of at least 25 family members directly associated with the original 12 family members fleeing Vietnam. In a real sense the presence of the other 150 or so celebrants were also connected to that rescue many years ago.
It made me weak at the knees.
It has turned out that the rescue was mutual. My life, in a real way, was saved by the exposure to my wife’s family members. I am an only child raised in poverty in rural Illinois but I was never exposed in any meaningful way to the importance of family, especially uncles, aunts and cousins. The exposure to an extended family, in many ways, is more fruitful than parental input.
On some level I knew this but it was confirmed a couple of years ago when I edited a documentary, “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles.” ( During the weeks of editing, it became evident to me the importance of growing up with your relatives, not just your parents.
As more and more family members revealed themselves to me via video tape it became apparent that although my own family didn’t come out of Egypt, we are part of the human Diaspora and I will always be grateful to the gods of my life, whose ever they are.
And, appropriately enough, Passover week, the engagement party and the 33rd anniversary of my family’s rescue have converged to present me with the affirmation that, from time to time, life works as it’s supposed to.
Or in other words, the meaning of Pesach: sacrifice, freedom and acceptance of our families.
I’m just sayin'…Dick

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A New Disease

There are new statistics that reveal women are not living as long as their mothers. Is it any wonder with all the tumult in our daily lives. Along with breast cancer, heart problems, obesity and strokes, we suffer from a disease I like to call ‘I’mperfection’. You may think you’ve never heard of it, but that’s because it is often so deeply ingrained in our whole person, that it should be considered a ‘hidden killer’.

Regardless of age, race, size or education, it is impossible to have a conversation with any woman without discussing how to be ‘better’ or how to be ‘perfect’. Women all over the country are struggling to look like Gwyneth Paltrow or Halli Berry, aspiring to make a bed like Martha Stewart, have a career like Oprah Winfrey, and magically acquire the insights of a Dr. Phil. It seems that everything we do needs to be immediate, accelerated, and perfect. Our history, circumstances, genetics, the TV shows we watch, the magazines we read and the people who have become our role models, have led a new women’s movement based on an endless search for perfection. Ironically, we want a shortcut to the road of perfection despite the fact that, almost without exception, we agree that perfection doesn’t exist. So how do you cure something that doesn’t exist? Aye, there’s the rub (I agree, most pirates do not suffer from this affliction, they have other problems).

As if this is not bad enough, in my family we have an additional condition. It’s called, “nothing is too much for me.” This disease is a combination of, ‘I can never say no’ and ‘no one will be able to do what I can do.’ In other words, we have expectations of what we can physically and emotionally achieve, that may be impossible but are certainly exhausting. And we are not always wrong about our capabilities. I remember when I was in India producing the world premieres of the film ‘Gandhi.’ Included in my responsibilities was to coordinate all the invitations, design the look of two theaters (from lighting to tea at intermission), be the press secretary, (coordinate press parties and two press premieres, handle VIP’s, work on visas for the cast, provide logistics for all the celebrities and guests including cars and hotel accommodations, throw an after-party, deal with the diplomatic community and Prime Minister Gandhi’s needs, work with the director... you get the picture. We were a staff of four. I was in charge of the other three inexperienced people. There was a 12 hour time difference to NY so any Columbia Pictures decision making was impossible. I worked 24/7 non stop for three weeks. When my boss arrived (we were subcontracted to Columbia Pictures) he never said a nice word about anything I had accomplished, but rather complained about the fact that I was not nice to some little twit who we were paying, but she never even came to New Delhi to work—that’s where the premiere was. He was an absolute ass, but still he took me to task. In his rant he said “you think you can’t be replaced. You think you’re one of a kind.” He was right. I did think that ... and I was right. Oh maybe someone could have completed the tasks but the only people who could have done what I did with the limitations we had, were my cousins. The disease we have is genetic—passed down from generation to generation of zany women. Hopefully, some brilliant therapist will find a cure before our daughters are equally debillitated by it.

This week, as we celebrated Passover and watched “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” in real life... I don’t mean to be cute here, we hocked and shopped and chopped and baked and set the tables, and did whatever needed to be done in order to host over seventy people the first night and over twenty the second. You don’t get much realer than that.

Rosalie and the Pesach 'spread'
Anyway, my incredible cousins, Rosalie (she hosts the events with her adorable husband Dick) and Honey, completed the Herculean task of getting everything done. I participated, but not like they did. (Which my aunt Peppy mentioned any number of times—she had to, my mother wasn’t there.) It was while watching the dynamic duo that I realized they we were suffering from the “nothing’s too much for me” syndrome. And nothing is too much for them or for me, so we continue to do stuff for friends, kids, parents, family members, whomever asks, until we are ready to drop.

Dickie, leads the service
Is it possible to get beyond wanting (not having) to be a super everything? I guess when you’re dead. (Yech!! I didn’t mean to be unpleasant.) But up until that point a change in the way one operates, is not likely to happen. However, we do not have to despair. Being I’mperfect is a bit tedious, but not a life threatening ailment. You just have to take a breath, separate the word, and acknowledge that although “I’m perfect” most of the time, it is just as OK to be imperfect the rest of the time. We’re just sayin...Iris

Spinning Til We're Dizzy

What’s going to happen in Pennsylvania? Will Hillary win by double digits? Will Barack come from behind and surprise the media and the pollsters? What’s it all about? Did you expect an answer to that question? It’s all about the candidates—it always is.
There’s not a great deal of difference between the candidates in terms of policy. They both say they want to address the important issues—of course there’s been so much noise that you can’t hear how they want to address those issues, but at least they know there are problems – unlike the President of the United States whose most memorable response this week was that the Pope’s speech was “awesome”. I still can’t get over the fact that he doesn’t know that gas prices are high – but he doesn’t fill his own tank, and he probably doesn’t look out the window when he’s driving past a gas station.

However, the real question is: the candidates. Do people want another four years of Clinton drama – because that’s not going to stop. And do people believe that Obama is an elitist who doesn’t understand what real people are suffering. Is this election about Reverend Wright, Hillary’s inability to remember whether she was in a dangerous war zone or McCain’s decision to embrace, actually seek the endorsement of a hateful Reverend Hagee, and explain that he loved the guy but didn’t embrace what Hagee says about Catholics.

This was an extraordinary political week for any number of reasons. The Pope talked openly about sexual abuse. He refused to discuss women as priests or priests as women, but he did talk about sex. I guess that’s taking a real step forward if you are mired in 18th century thinking. OK, now you’re thinking, the Pope is not about politics, he’s about religion. Really?, I retort. Well what do you call the decisions about who gets a ticket to the Mass and receives communion? How was it decided that Rudy Giuliani, (divorced twice) not only can receive communion but gets it from the Pope. Everything is political about the church, or the synagogue or the mosque or any ‘organized’ religion. Religion is why we fight wars, it’s why we hate our neighbors, and it’s why we don’t want our children to intermarry. Whew!

Anyway, back to Presidential politics. Hillary did a few shooters, Barack dusted off his shoulder and off they went to find ways to decimate the other. I have said before that I have no problem with the Primary season lasting until June. I think the longer it goes on the more opportunity we have to get to know the future Commander-in-Chief; additionally, it gives them the chance to grow and to mature as candidates. Unfortunately, they appear to be shrinking instead of growing. Take their performance at the controversial ABC debate. Sure, I thought the questions were foolish and certainly not what I expected of Charlie. And sure, it did appear that George was ragging on Obama— and some would say that was because he worked for the Clintons – which I think is just not true. But here’s the bottom line. They are TV people. Right or wrong, ratings (and entertaining), are important to them. They clearly thought those were the questions the public wanted answered and that would keep the audience interested and tintillated. However, there is no law that says the candidates have to answer those questions. It would have been so much better if Obama had said, “you know people want to hear what we think about the war, the economy, foreclosures, and health care. We should not be wasting our time on the word 'bitter,' and how I feel about a lapel pin.” If you are running for the highest office in the land you need to be able to either answer any question, or explain why you shouldn’t have to. I think it was more a missed opportunity than a bad performance.

And, although she finally admitted that he could win the election, Hillary was still talking about Barack’s character. There is a prayer Jews say at their Passover Seder called “Daiyanu”. It means 'enough.' Everytime I hear her talk about what Obama doesn’t understand or what kind of person he is, I just want to shout “Daiyanu”. I want to say, “tell us something about you. Don’t give us a list of what the problems are, we know them only too well. Tell us how you are going to solve them. On day One, what will you do that’s going to make any difference in my life?” There are so many people with Clinton fatigue that it may start to rank right up there with the flu as equally debilitating.

The pundits are all using analogies to describe the difference in candidates. He’s a cell phone. She’s a hard line. He’s the internet. She’s a fax machine. Is that a way to say he’s young and hopeful, she’s old think? I’m tired of technical analogies but seriously grateful that they are not using sports analogies—he’s a bowling pin and she’s the ball.

The truth is, most of the pundits are old think and those young pundits don’t know much about national politics or campaigns. Combined, the two groups may actually be able to make some reasoned predictions, but they will have to really listen and learn. Never mind. They won’t. They are in it for the attention and money and it only matters if you care what these people have to say. What’s important is that younger voters seem more concerned about hope and change, than about race or gender. The TV pundits are still talking about these two factors as if this election was being held in 1960. Things have changed. Attitudes have changed. First time voters, and they are certainly not all Democrats, understand that they can make a difference. The candidates better watch out. There is more to this voter than an appearance on “Colbert” or “SNL.” But they do get that they have had enough of an impact that the next President feels it is important to do ‘shtick’ on shows that they watch.

This whole thing reminds me of what Moses said to the Pharoah. He said, “Look Pharoah, if you don’t let my people go there’s going to be some hell to pay. I’m sending locusts, plagues and boils. If that doesn’t convince you, I’m taking all the first born sons.” You are probably saying, “What is she talking about?” Indirectly -- you may say circuitously, I am talking about spin. The Clinton people say, 'if Obama can’t win after all the money he has spent in Pennsylvania, then he’s not going to be able to win a general election.' The Obama people say, “We were twenty points behind. We came from nowhere. We can certainly win a general election.” I say, “The Obama campaign raised and spent it’s money wisely. Clinton was so sure that the election would be over in February, she did not make any long range plans.” Although governing and campaigning are different, running a good campaign is a sign that candidate, as well as the staff, know what it takes to affect change. I just hope we’re all smart enough to know that boils, plagues, and locusts are not the route we want to take to make that change. We're just sayin...

Friday, April 18, 2008


There were a number of things I considered blobbing about today. Like, I miss shopping with my mother—the discount queen, otherwise fondly referred to as Delores Defrost. We called her that because she would freeze everything. In fact, she often cooked in the morning, froze it and defrosted it for dinner. Who knows why, or even wants to guess. For years I discouraged her from buying me anything (unless we were together), because we didn’t have the same taste in most clothing—although admittedly I did love her stuff with sequins and feathers. But if we went shopping together we would both try on stuff and, even if we didn’t buy anything it was always hilarious to see what she would pick out – for both of us.

Then I thought I might blob about the arrogance of the next generation of Clintons. I guess if you grew up never living anywhere but a Governor’s Mansion or the White House and now you are 27 and making a six figure income at a hedge fund in NY, you might have an aggrandized opinion of just who you are and what you can do. But every time I see her or read about her, her behavior seems arrogant. It may be that she is painfully shy, or even afraid of campaigning for her mother – but I don’t think it humanizes her mother, I think it shows that Hillary will do anything to get elected, including putting her kid in very uncomfortable situations.

Then I was going to blob about the moron who put pornographic comments on the “Gefilte Fish Chronicles” web site. My guess (based on the lack of sophistication –OK stupidity—of what he left), is that it was some fifteen year old kid who is so desperate for attention, or to find someone to talk with, that he looked for a loving, meaningful place, and decided to do something ugly. It took us a while to get it down and now we have to rethink the comment section so that David can edit it and people will feel protected.

I even considered writing about the fact that I worry all the time about everything. Soozie calls it glass half full, and maybe it is, but I can’t seem to just let things happen without fretting. This, however is a book, not a blob so I moved on.

Karen and Iris with the perfectly shaped GFs
When I started to write about each of these things, there really wasn’t more than what you just read to complete the thoughts. I felt like Bill Finn, a wonderfully talented musical theater writer, producer, director, who said there was a show he wanted to write based on a song he had written. No matter how hard he tried, there was never more than just a song he could think of – so he stopped trying to make it more than it was. Unlike Bill Finn, there have been too many times when I continued to do something even though I knew it was a bad idea. But not his time. I’m just going to write about something that can be more than a paragraph.

We “hocked” gefilte fish yesterday. It wasn’t exactly like it used to be because the “Aunt’s” always seemed to know what they were doing. And we had, (after a million years of watching and assisting), only some idea. Honey arrived at Solly’s Fish Market (so clean you could eat off the floor) in Poughkeepsie at 7:00 and was at Rosalie’s by nine. In the old days Solly delivered the fish to Newburgh, but since Aunt Peppy moved to Massachusetts, there seemed no point in dropping it off at someplace where no one lived. Aren’t I silly—but a little levity never hurt anyone who is going to “hock” for at least an hour. You may think an hour is not very long. But imagine what it’s like to chop 20 pounds of ground fish, onions, and eggs until they are not only mixed together but the consistency is like -- well I can’t explain it because there is nothing like it. Even a French quenelle, although sometimes compared, is different because it’s pureed – and that simply wouldn’t do. What can I say. If you look at the ingredients on a jar of the already prepared fish, you will see it has some kind of filler. Our job is to get the gelatin out of the fish meat so when mixed with the eggs, it stays together without any matzah meal (which we use instead of breadcrumbs because it’s Passover and you can’t use anything with yeast). Anyway, just imagine chopping an onion and some hamburger together for an hour—non stop. After a while your arms gets numb and your hand actually takes the shape of the chopping implement.

When we arrived at 9:05, the fish bones were already in giant pots yearning to be fish stock. But the stock isn’t stock until it cooks for at least two hours which meant the timing was perfect to grind the fish with the onions, hock, season (only salt, white and black pepper), and finally shape, before plunging the little guys into the drained, boiled stock. After all this time together the relationship between you and the gefilte becomes quite intense and it is often hard to let them go. OK, you know this is not true but my favorite question from people who don’t know is; Does a gefilte fish live in fresh or salt water?

Rosalie and Honey (it IS a serious business, this Gefilte Fish)
At 11:00 the water was boiling and we started to shape them into the perfect sized almost oval, not too flat and not too round, balls. You try not to make them too small because then people will eat more than one and not too big because then there will not be enough for two Seders. After three hours of cooking, checking, and rechecking, we took them out of the pots (which are the size of a small ship), and counted 140 pieces of gefilte fish. It might be enough.

the next generation of cousins: Alyssa, Sydney & Milan
David considers the fish merely a vehicle for the horseradish. Many people agree. For us it’s a vehicle to laugh, argue, and remember. There is nothing that’s more wonderful. We’re just sayin... Iris

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who Do We Idolize?

Wouldn’t it be great if all the people who watched ‘Idol’ had to vote not only for a contestant but for a candidate. Wait, here’s a better idea. Why don’t all the candidates compete on Idol, in addition to all the primary States. Maybe that’s the way to resolve the dilemma of Florida and Michigan. The big three made their first appearance the other night on the Idol Gives Back special. They rightfully weren’t considered as important as Terry Hatcher singing what I thought might be karaoke, or Robin Williams doing worn out shtick pretending to be the winner of Russian Idol, so they got bumped. It seems that Idol, like all the other entertainment awards show, couldn’t keep on schedule so they ran over-and someone had to go. Or three someones had to go.

Maybe that was good news for Democrats because the second night the ratings were much lower and the person who emerged as the best Idol Presidential contestant - or at least the person who seemed most authentic in his pitch for donations-was John McCain. Hillary and Barack did same old, same old- “the world would be a better place if only we all came together to make it happen,” (who didn’t know that). Why didn’t they just sing “We are The World?” I love that song. Or maybe the suggestion of “holding hands across America” would have been a nice touch. McCain said, “American Idol is a lot like the Presidential primary election except for the people who live in Michigan and Florida-their votes will actually count.” He was real and the youth of America can feel that.

Here’s what frightens me. The other day I heard a staunch Democrat say, “McCain is a nice guy and he wouldn’t be a bad choice.” What does nice guy have to do with anything? He could be the nicest guy in the world and still be inflexible, short sighted, right wing, willing to continue a senseless war despite the cost in lives and resources, (otherwise known as caught up in macho bull doody) and too old to really understand the direction in which this country needs to go. He doesn’t understand the economy, he doesn’t care about freedoms to choose, and I’m not sure he has the moral compass-and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s just that when you’ve served as much time in the Senate as he has, it impacts on what’s right and wrong. He would be a terrible choice. He is not, as is now being touted by Republicans, a moderate middle of the road kind of politician. He is not! He is not! He is not! I think I have made my point.

Speaking of more of the same. I find The new flack over the word “bitter” to be tedious but not without ramifications. It simply proves the Presidential campaign has gotten stupider. Of course the candidates are going to track everything their opponents say and try to find something negative that resonates with the public. The Reverend Wright stuff backfired because Obama used it as an opportunity to have a conversation about race. The hateful Reverend Hagee endorsement of McCain went unnoticed because the press are still enamored of this candidate. The Tuzla controversy was a big deal because Clinton repeated it even after the truth was revealed-and then Big Bill went on to repeat it after the press had already moved on. I would truly like to know what has happened to his mind. His brilliant political instincts. Maybe when he had the heart trouble he didn’t get enough oxygen to his brain for too long a time. It’s pointless trying to figure out what Bill Clinton thinks or does-like the finger pointing - which makes everyone think about his initial Bill Clinton/Monica denial. I wonder if it’s the arrogance of the Clintons or again, a severe case of stupid.

Does the fact that Hillary spent the evening doing shooters with the guys mean she gets what real people are suffering through? (Her drink of choice is Crown Royal - not an ordinary guys drink). Or does the fact that Barack said working class people turned to guns and prayer in their desperation, make him an elitist. It’s simply more campaign noise, about which people are getting tired - I hope. Here’s the truth, as I see it of course. People are bitter about a great many things which will impact the election. Unlike when Gary Hart said “I got stuck in New Jersey” and he lost the state. (Of course he did-too many people chose to get stuck in New Jersey). Obama is absolutely right. People are pissed off that their jobs are gone overseas or filled by cheap immigrant labor. Maybe he misspoke about the shooting and praying, but people are angry. For a guy great with words, he didn’t choose these words carefully. But so what. Should we care about this foolish screw up more than we care about his vision for where the country is going to go, the fact that he ran a terrific campaign, and found a message which resonated with old, young, black, white, rich and poor. I don’t think so but I’m only one person. And should we look at Hillary and say, “wow, she’s really one of the guys.” Or should we remember that she and Bill have, since dinosaurs were eating people and plants, never been regular people. And additionally, have made about 100 million dollars in the last few years. It’s not unlike “W” saying, “Gas prices are high?” You cannot have 24 hour security, a staff that does everything for you - including carrying your money-and be in touch with real people. Because you are no longer real people when you serve in the Senate or run for President. Obama was a real person for longer than the other two candidates as well as the President, but he still hasn’t filled his own car up with gas for the last six months.

Do we as voters have unrealistic expectations about the people who are our leaders? Not if we elect them. We are not counting celebrities and religious personalities in this discussion. We want them to make judgments based on an understanding of what we, the majority of the public are suffering. Whether it be gas prices, food costs, loss of our jobs or homes, cost of education for our children, or a war that indirectly impacts on everything we are as a country. How then do we decide who is the one person who should be in charge? It’s not an easy decision to make. But maybe we should do it like the Idol does, and vote for the person who we think can best represent us on the world stage. Maybe listening to the lyrics of their songs without the noise isn’t a bad idea. We're just sayin...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Crank Up the Gefilte Fish, Please

I’ve been in Nevada for the last week, trying to capture some of the elusive sense of what it’s like out here. Las Vegas (literally “the fertile valleys”) has erupted over the past two decades from a desert oasis where Dean Martin drove giant finned Cadillacs, to an absolutely enormous amalagam of people, stuff, and lots of money. Two million people now call the place home, more arriving every day. Until recently (like everywhere) the real estate market was doing one of those “lower left to upper right” curves.. now there is much for sale, and, also like everywhere, a question about whether those ‘good times’ will ever come back.

The startling thing about the place is how it just kind sticks up out of the sandy desert. The origins of the place go back to a natural spring which must have been quite a treat for cross country travelers two hundred years ago. But with all the building, and there is plenty of that, you almost feel like you’re never more than a three-wood from the sandy brush which typifies the desert. Down the pike about twenty easy miles if Hoover Dam and the town which housed the thousands of folks who built it in the ‘30s, Boulder City. One of the café’s there advertises itself as “best restaurant by a dam site…” Must be nice to always be able to edge out the competition.

This morning, in quest of something wonderful (inspite of it all, those amazing photo moments have been rare this trip) I headed out south, towards Needles, California, the town I remember from my youth as always being the ‘hottest in the country’ on a very regular basis. Giant power line structures criss cross the land, taking the Hoover power to ungrateful Californians. It’s always worth getting up and out early if you are a photographer. It may not mean you will always get a picture. But the whole adventure of chasing early morning light is rejuvenating, even if you don’t come back with something so wonderful that you can’t help but share it. (You won’t find THAT picture here this morning.)

Vegas continues to grow in most directions, especially south and east towards Henderson. Anything you want to know about the current state of the ‘Malling’ of America can be found out here. Whole Foods, Costco, Walgreens and Walmart, all present and accounted for in untold numbers. But the best thing is seeing that in all that influx of new blood coming in, there are Koreans, Vietnamese, Latinos, Chinese, and even Japanese. It has sprouted, happily, one set of great eatieries after the next. And in a town where chains abound (Dennys starts to look up scale), the addition of the very affordable Ichiskey “sake bar” for late nite sushi alternatives to bad burgers is quite welcome. Most of us now and then become enamoured of a dish, try and get the recipe, and may even make an attempt to try it at home. Usually it’s never as good, which is why restaurants with self confidence know that giving you a recipe won’t make you never come back, but more likely will lead you to return more often. Last night I sampled some “boiled baby bok choi” with sesame oil and very thin sliced fried garlic. Sublime. Each bite of garlic I tried to deconstruct how it got to be the way it was. “Deep fried” the waitress confessed. But it made a smashing impression. And no doubt next weekend, it would probably be a good idea to have some hanging around for.. well.. you know… since it will be Passover.. some Gefilte Fish. I walked into Whole Foods after shooting this morning, and found a phalanx of phish at the front entrance. Yes, folks, it is that time of year: Passover in a week, and already the sounds of fishing being chopped are resounding off table tops and VCRs.

Our little movie “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” which is finally being broad cast this year beyond just New York, has started another little flood of wonderful reactions. Folks who visit the website leave their impressions, and those are probably, more than any other reason, what has kept our own interest up in the film. It was on Channel 13 in New York last Monday night, and over the next two weeks will be on in the following cities: (Some stations we didn’t have the detailed information for.. but check and see if it’s on a PBS station near you..

kcpt Kansas city sunday 4/13 @ 9:30pm
ktca St Paul 4/13 5pm & 10:30pm 4/14 8pm
maine PTV Bangor (can't find a listing)
wcny Syracuse (can't find a listing)
wcve Richmond 4/20 3pm 4/22 11pm
wgbh Boston (can't find a listing)
wmht Troy ny 4/20 7pm
wmvs Milwaukee (channel 36) 4/14 8pm
wned Buffalo (can't find listing)
wpbt North Miami 4/20 6pm [Ch 2]
wpto Dayton (ch 14) 4/15 8:30pm; 4/16 2:30am; + others
vermont PTV Colchester vt 4/21 9pm; 4/27 2pm
newj Trenton 4/17 9pm
wsbe Providence 4/16 8pm
wxxi Rochester (cant find listing)

And don’t forget to think about the horse radish. All else pales in comparison to horse radish, happily. And it goes on everything! We’re just sayin’…David

Friday, April 11, 2008

Woe Is Us

Mark Penn finally got fired – almost. Beyonce got married – maybe. And Moses is dead—definitely. General Petraeus says we need to pause the withdrawal of troops—oh please. American Idol is giving back – hooray! Which of these things has the most impact on your life?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about it because some of them maybe important in the greater scheme of my life, but, as the generous philanthropist George Soros says “do they have some relevance for greater mankind.” Ah, a question to ponder. Don’t get a headache thinking too hard. They all have some significance in the world of deception, pop culture, and religion. I hope I don’t need to explain which is which.

Speaking of me, (because as in the past, it usually is all about me), I am so tired of being angry about this war that I can almost not blog about it. But I’ll try. When I watched the hearings I just wanted to scream at the good Senators, “Ask a real question. Follow up with something that requires an answer. Ask the guy to define his terms like success and goals. Ask the guy to explain why we are funding a war that has lead to us paying over $3 a gallon for gas, while the Iraqi’s are making a profit on –guess what, selling their oil. Ask the guy what will it take to bring the troops home. Ask the guy if keeping his job is more important than the loss of thousands of lives.” I mean does he think we don’t know that Generals and other people who wear military gear, want wars because it gives them something to do. If they don’t have a war to fight than they wind up tripping over each other at the Pentagon. You can only imagine what it’s like to have spent your entire life studying military maneuvers, shooting, and marching and then having no one to order to march, shoot or whatever they do to maneuver. How bored you would be. It’s like asking a Broadway producer if they want their show to be mounted on a stage with performers … or would they rather wander aimlessly and castless looking for a venue for production. You don’t ask someone with a vested interest to defend something on which they are totally dependent not only for their livelihood but for their self image. Remember the theater analogy and insert it wherever appropriate.

This morning the White House Press Secretary Dana Ditzie, was being interviewed and she assured the public that the President wouldn’t enter into any agreements with the Iraqui government without Congressional involvement. But that was only because the Senate found about what may have been yet another disastrous commitment on the part of the “Bush” people. She also outlined the President’s concern about the war. “He’s going to limit deployment from 15 months to 12 months”, she said with a straight face and like it was a gift. “It would not be in the best interest of the country to pull out until the people of Iraq can govern, defend, and sustain themselves.” What then, I want to know, what would be in the best interest of the country. To have our children keep fighting in the retched war and getting killed or wounded for eternity—or until who can defend, sustain and govern themselves. What is going to happen that will make next year, the year after or five years from now any different than it is today. We are in the middle of a civil war—which if we didn’t start we certainly can’t control. We have antagonized even people who like us to the point that they are no longer standing by our side singing “We Are the World”. And where there were no terrorists before, it seems they have done what the old testament suggested — “gone out and multiplied, as a result of this administration’s desire to “save face”.

And what does it mean to save face. Saving face is a macho “boy toy”. For whatever reason, women don’t need to save face. Sure we obsess when we screw up. We blame ourselves and our own ability, we even shed tears. But the only way I know that women save face, it to do it surgically or with very good make-up.

Based on what Petraeus said, we are in a “fragile” state in this war. As opposed to what? The state of things when we invaded and we protected the oil fields instead of the museums. Or the state of things when we decimated the capital and where there was once an infrastructure—water and electricity, now simple services are only sometimes and temporary. Again, these guys just talk and no one follows up with a question that forces them to say anything specific, so there are no answers to any questions the public might ask.

We did see the next President of the United States asking the General and the Ambassador several questions. McCain might as well have been sitting at the table rather than facing it, because we know he is not going to challenge the decision of a General—it’s another military game that people who were in the service play. Obama asked good questions and showed he could be a leader—which is all he needs to do. Clinton asked substantive questions and indicated her displeasure about their lack of substance in any of their answers, but neither of them went for the jugular. I get that everyone wants to be respectful, but when there are lives on the line, the public deserves more. We want a headline beyond “It’s business as usual.”

Speaking of business as usual, my friends went to an Obama, thank you to people who have maxed out in contributions, and they couldn’t get in. (Being maxed out means you have given as much money as legally permitted). They had invitations in their hands and they couldn’t get in the door because they hadn’t maxed out enough, “and besides”, they were told, “they had given old money and now the campaign wanted new money”. Needless to say, they were insulted and angry about this ill mannered rejection, but they were more concerned about the appearance of business as usual in a campaign that is based on hope and change. I hope it changes. My guess is that in Washington this will happen with some frequency, but in more civilized society donors are donors, and they are thanked as well as welcomed. I could be wrong and if it’s true than what can we say beyond, woe is us. We're just sayin...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reality Stinks

When the elevator door of my mom’s apartment building opened, I came face to face with a hospital gurney which was blocking my exit. It was in a vertical position, but not empty. There was someone on it, in a body bag –it was a first for me. Talk about coming face to face with reality. Just FYI, Mom is Ok, but Rosemary is not.

While elder care has become an important element in so many lives, it has also become an incredibly lucrative business. The people who own and run independent or assisted living facilities, as well as the people who pack nursing homes with people who cannot care for themselves, are generally not in it to do the righteous thing. They are in it to make money. A great deal of money. And they will succeed because there are so many families that can not take care of the elderly relatives for whom they assume responsibility.

Rosemary lived in my mother’s apartment complex. It is not called an assisted living facility. It is called a retirement community. Although there may not be much of a difference in how people are cared for in assisted or retired homes, there is subtle difference between the words and an enormous difference in attitude. Just think about the words assisted and retirement. One indicates an independence and the other a frailty. Here’s a subtle difference. When Mom resided in assisted living, she noticed that there was no salt, pepper or ketchup on the table. The staff seasoned your food — if it was permitted. All the coffee was decaf. There was no discussion about the caffeine and there was no choice about what she preferred. As it happens, she likes regular coffee in the morning. In the place termed assisted, the common rooms were lovely, the staff was nice, but there was no question that the residents were treated like entities in a profit center. The retirement community is less fancy, but the residents are encouraged to make their own decisions. They are treated like adults who have simply aged.

Rosemary sat at her meal table with four other people, but had no friends. I am told she was quiet and had very few visitors. She chose not to participate in activities, they were not what she called “her cup of tea”. So no one forced her to be uncomfortable in a group situation. Unlike Rosemary, my mother is quite social, and when she was in assisted living, the staff insisted she participate in everything that was offered. So she ran from activity to activity until she was exhausted. We think she thought that since she was paying to be there, she had to join in every activity. It was like attendance was mandatory. At the Madison Avenue Retirement Center where she lives now, she sometimes goes to a sing along, a birthday party, or a movie. But she doesn’t feel compelled to do anything. She doesn’t feel the need to pass the time in group commotion. She is calm but not bored spending her time alone in her apartment, watching the Hallmark station or a game show on her cable TV. She seems more at peace. But the most important thing is that she is no longer racing around trying not to be frightened about being alone. She is happy because my brother and sister-in-law live close enough to see her almost every day.

There is hardly a person who doesn’t want to face old age. Consider the alternative. But getting old is not easy on the elderly and it is certainly not easy on the people (unpaid) who are responsible for their care—if there is a person. In too many cases there is no one. Take for example the elderly woman I saw begging on 45th street in NY. At first I passed her by, but there was such a sadness in her eyes that I went back to give her a dollar. Her voice was small and apologetic when she thanked me and she shared a little of her story. “It wasn’t always like this for me. My husband left me years ago. We had a child who was very sick. It was very expensive to care for him. Then he died and I had nothing. My government check was too small to pay for the rent, food, utilities, and medicine. I had to move out of my home and now I live in an overcrowded kind of shelter, but I still don’t have enough money to pay for my medicine. It’s so expensive you know. I hope you are blessed with someone to take care of you.” Then she walked away. The cynic in me said she was making up a story because she wanted to be begging on a NY street corner. But the political philosopher, (some might say hack), added, what does it matter, “there but for God go I.”

Everyone knows there is a health care crisis. The elderly seem especially hard hit. Maybe because they aren’t prepared. (How many of us now young and healthy, even think about buying long term care insurance.) Some of them never expected to live beyond the time they had the means to support themselves. Some just never expected to have to face all the issues of getting old in a nation that doesn’t take care of the people contained within it’s borders.

In Europe, where there is socialized medicine, people may not have a choice of doctors, but if they are sick the costs are not such they have no choice but to die. They can go to the hospital without worrying about having medical insurance and they get the medicine they need to cure them of whatever disease without skipping lunch. If they can’t be cured, the government pays for them to die with dignity. In fact, if you get sick while you are vacationing, don’t call the American Embassy, you are not in their job description. But the country where you are visiting will provide care free of charge. I’m not saying socialized medicine is the route we need to go, but certainly whomever you vote for in the next election needs to make sure something changes. There are simply too many of the aged who now have to decide if they will eat, pay rent, or be well. The nameless woman I met on the street was just a little too close to home.

The next President will need to think about the consequences, not only for the elderly, but for those of us who will be there someday, because the impact on the economy and the culture will be disastrous and unimaginable if they look away. The next election is, unfortunately, not going to matter to Rosemary. But it is going to matter to those of us who want happy and healthy lives for ourselves and our families — without it costing so much that we can’t afford to live. Right now the reality stinks, but the only way it will change it is if we demand that the new President pay attention to all the ways in which we age, and all the positive possibilities that should be made available to do it gracefully. We're just sayin...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Old Disappearing Act

Is it good news or bad that the President seems to be among the missing. Oh, we know where he is physically, but he has left the explanations of all the policy decisions up to the policy people he appointed. Maybe he doesn’t understand the policy decisions he, or someone in the White House has made, but at this point, I am not surprised about his absence and really, who cares.

Difficult as it is for me to say anything nice about the Administration, I do find it refreshing that there are people who serve “at the pleasure” of Mr. Bush, who are both articulate and intelligent. Mr. Paulson is quite impressive. Granted, I do not know or understand anything about the reorganization of economic institutions, but I do understand the importance of a rhetorical presentation and his was good. Additionally, General Hayden, the Director of the CIA makes a good case for what he has been doing at the CIA. And let me be perfectly clear about this, I do not know what they do at the CIA, because if I did they would have to kill me. But when I heard him speak last weekend I thought his approach to terrorism was, how should I say this, quite sensible. He talked about the importance of knowing what terrorists were up to in order to protect ourselves from the danger of another attack. But he did it in quite a patriotic and moving way. He did not sound like Cheney or Rumsfeld in his approach to the rest of the world. The “they are all trying to get us” approach to diplomacy. He did not lick his lips while he talked about attack, conquer, mutilate, disembowel, waterboard, or any of the good stuff. He talked about the survival of democracy, and in that context, why the tasks they performed at the CIA were important.

This is not to say I agree with anything he said, because this was all with regard to spying on the American public, but he was the first person who explained his position in a way that was neither threatening nor confrontational. It was a just a simple explanation of a complicated policy. It makes you miss Colin Powell, who also seems to have disappeared. I guess the humiliation of being lied to by the President and then defending the lie was too much for him. I wonder what would have happened if Connie Rice, instead of being George Bush’s policy wife, had told her impetuous head of state husband, that the war was wrong and we didn’t need to allow the killing and maiming of the nations children to continue—just because he was wrong. Her ability to tell the truth seems to have disappeared right along with her sense of justice. She must be negotiating some whopper of a job in corporate America. Although word has it she wants to be the commissioner of baseball. Keep in mind I know nothing about a great many things but…

And speaking of disappearance—which I may not have done but I meant to—where was the animus between the candidates yesterday and the day before. Or did I miss something? You’re probably going to say, but what about Bill Clinton’s tirade over the Richardson endorsement. I know it’s hard to remember this, but Bill Clinton is not the candidate. It seems Obama has moved on to better things like bowling, a college tour of Pennsylvania — where he answered questions from the students, not about his underwear, but about issues that affect them like the economy — and tuition. In his desire to be President, the realization that his target has to be McCain, seems to have become obvious. Further, he doesn’t need to get into the mud with McCain as of yet, he needs to assure people he can be a leader.

I guess Hillary was too busy answering the phone. Since it was a 3am call, she was probably too tired (additionally, no make-up or hair), to spend quality time attacking Obama—and at this point it would have to be quality time for it to make any difference. The Hillary advisor’s think this “3am call” is working. I think it’s just another way to give late night talk show hosts more material with which to ridicule her. But maybe that’s what she wants because when it appears she’s being picked on by any of the boys – be they the media, politicians, or comedians, that’s when she wins. We’ll see if it works on April 22nd.

Not that I miss him and I still have the sense that he is lurking in a dark corner waiting to pounce on discussions about international issues, but since his incredibly pithy “So” in response to questions about the war, we haven’t heard word one from the Vice President. The bigger question for those of us who remember Dick Cheney during the Ford and first Bush Presidency is, when did that pleasant guy with what seemed like a moral core, disappear and this caricature of Darth Vadar arrive. Many people think that it was when he left his job as CEO of Haliburton . The speculation is that hanging out with all those corporate “white guys” at companies like Haliburton sucked out his humanity and maybe his soul. I’m sure you will remember how uncomfortable he was during the last election when he had to come to terms with the public outing (media inquiries) about his lesbian daughter. He insisted he loved her, which I’m sure or at least I hope he does, but he insisted that her life choices were not choices he would allow for the rest of the country. And just who is he to think he should be allowed to make choices for the rest of the country. There’s the rub, as most of my pirate friends would agree. The pirates also agree that we don’t want the government making choices about how we live our lives. Where’s the threat to humanity if people who love one another want to marry or even pick their noses.

When I met the Cheney’s in the 80’s Lynn Cheney, the now second lady (I guess that’s what you would call her if you didn’t want to say dirty words), wife was an assistant producer for the Mark Shields (a former Udall campaign manager and presently a liberal TV commentator and Washington Post columnist) at the Maryland PBS station. I was a guest on the show and afterward she asked me if she could write a piece about my adventures. The article was later published in important journals like the American Airlines magazine. But she was a warm, pleasant, smart person, who if not ever a close friend, certainly a kind of Washington buddy. Talk about disappearing. When did Frankenstein and his bride take the place of these seemingly lovely people. They are a perfect example of power corrupts or maybe money and power corrupt or maybe take care of your friends and they’ll take care of you. You, unlike the President may have noticed the price of gas and cost of the war. How much money, is enough to buy back your soul. I for one prefer the Bill Gates, Warren Buffett approach to money and power.

There is good news about disappearing. It appears, earmarks for Congressional pet projects are going to disappear for at least a year. This is bad news for lobbyists and Cong. Murtha—who has turned the district he represents in Western Pennsylvania, into a place with a plethora of government funded projects. But it’s good news for taxpayers who have built bridges to nowhere in Alaska and funded studies about the difference in wine drinking in restaurants in cold and warm weather climates. Not that wine drinking is a bad thing, but it’s not up there with cancer research, finding a cure for the common cold or the feeding children programs.

Where is the abra-cadabra in our lives? It would be great to be a magician and decide what else disappears, but I can wait until until next November.

A Sense of Being Lucky

I don’t think we have really started to understand much of what the new paradym is throwing at us. I happen to be spending this week in that Fantasy Land of America, the place where nothing happens on its own, but everything happens with intent: Las Vegas. I’m here shooting pictures for a few days, and believe me. It’s not like being assigned to Kansas City or St. Paul. Vegas does it better than anyone else, with the possible exception of Orlando. Sitting at dinner last night I was reading one of those “To Do” Magazines you find in your hotel room, trying to make mental lists of things which might be interesting enough for some kind of follow up. You never really know where you can make a good picture, and as I always remind young photographers, good pictures lurk everywhere. Sure, it’s great to have some exotic location in front of you, full of exotic people, exotic looking stuff and surroundings, as a potential visual target. But good pictures are everywhere, and you have to keep reminding yourself that the important thing is less exoticism than keeping your eye sharp and on the look out for compositions as life unfolds before you. When students complain that the reason their pictures aren’t good enough is that either they had the wrong lens, or something was quite ‘exotic’ enough… I remind them that looking at the work of Cartier-Bresson from the 30s and 40s would break that argument down. Like Seinfield, the show about ‘nothing’, good images can happen in the plainest of circumstances, as long as you don’t get lazy with your eye, your camera, and your trigger finger.

As the aphorism reminds us (was it Eddie Adams or did Eddie borrow it from someone?), when asked about how a good picture was made, the answer is usually “f/8, and be there.” And of course “be there” is really the key. Being at the place where something ‘big’ happens is a knack, a trait that some photographers just seem to carry with them, like an extra roll of film (or memory card), or a pack of chewing gum. Henri Bureau, the former Gamma (he was one of the founders in 1967) and Sygma (he was one of the founders in 1973) photographer was absolutely one of those people around whom events seemed to happen. In the days before digital, before FTP, before even being able to look at the back of your camera and see if you got the image, he was the master of the ‘coup.’ When news would break out, whether it be an earthquake in Turkey, or a coup d’etat in Portugal, Henri would be on the first charter plane out of Paris, usually the first guy ‘in’, and always, the one whose film would make it back to Paris the quickest. You may not know his name, but you know his pictures. A smoky stream of oil fires during the Iran-Iraq war, an Iraqi with an AK47 rifle slung over a shoulder, in the foreground. A picture of a former Lisbon government ‘collaborator’ being surrounded by soldiers as power changed from the old regime to a new one. One editor I knew once said of Henri, “he’s not a very good photographer, he’s just lucky.” I totally disagreed. If, as we sometimes say, we’d rather be lucky than good, Henri brought a whole new meaning to “lucky.” He was the master of the “be there” part of Eddie’s phrase. He just kept bungling into one amazing situaton after another. He just lucked out time after time after time. Luck? No, something more. That amazing fifth sense of what it means to be a photographer. In the good humor that always followed him, even into horrible places, he once joked that when government leaders see him arrive at their airports, they tremble. SOMETHING was about to happen, and not always for the best. I was with Henri in Poland when Martial Law was declared in 1981. He had been in Gdansk, and of course had made the very last pictures of Lech Walensa before his arrest and detention. They were hot pictures. And they were good pictures. And we spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to smuggle those films (and mine) out of Poland to the west. (They were stuffed into the bottoms of his fluffy winter boots, and they made it unmolested to Paris.) Just one more time that a “not very good” photographer accidentally bungled his way into a few great photographs.

Thursday this past week, at the newly finished Newseum in downtown DC (it had been in Arlington, VA for the past two decades) there was a ceremony to honor a small group of photographers, who also could be described as something more than lucky. In 1971, there was a major operation, a giant, helicopter supported invasion of southern Laos, by South Vietnamese forces (with U.S. air support) to try and sever the Ho Chi Minh trail supply lines. The idea was to pinch off supplies to North Vietnamese fighters in the South, and strategically help slow the war down. I had been in Vietnam about 3 months, and was as green as they come. I’d been on a few maneuvers in the South with U.S. forces, but this was the first major operation I would see. Dozens and dozens of helicopters, thousands of troops. And because the military was trying to keep it quiet (let me just say, the people who were under attack had absolutely no sense of surprise – they saw it coming) no journalists were permitted to ride in with the ground troops, though many of us had made it on Route 9 to the Laos border. Two days later, when it was clear that we would have a better chance by helicopter, we again gathered at a jump-off base, hoping for a ride. I arrived at few minutes after the others, and the seats for the one allotted press helicopter had already been given to the representatives of LIFE, AP, UPI, and Newsweek. They were some of the best: Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Kent Potter and Keisaburo Shimamoto. As the TIME photographer, I saw myself being left out of the action, and began to berate the Vietnamese Major with the clip board who was in charge of the chopper. He didn’t really care who I was, nor who I worked for, but I kept grating him, demanding to be allowed to go. Jon Larsen, the TIME bureau chief, came up to me and said “if you ever want to make it to Laos, you should just walk away from here, and cool off….” Which I did, looking back to see the press chopper start to churn up its rotors for take off.

An hour later, while walking by the operations center, an officer came out and with that sense of unease that is sometimes interpreted as ill-timed laughter, the Vietnamese Major said to me “I think maybe your friends shoot down Laos…” then turned around and went back inside. I didn’t know what to think or what to do. But moments later met John Saar, a reporter friend from LIFE who worked with Larry Burrows. I shared the startling news with John, and then was relieved, minutes later to see Hal Ellithorpe walking our way. Hal, a LIFE stringer, had also been on the chopper with Larry, and seeing him seemed to prove that it wasn’t THAT helicopter.

John Saar and guest blobber Dick Swanson (LIFE Magazine)
“Boy, am I glad to see you,” I said. “They just told us a press helicopter was maybe shot down, but as you are here… “

“Oh, I didn’t go. The helicopter was too heavy, and someone had to get off. Larry said ‘Hal, it’s a picture magazine, you’re off.’” And with that, we realized that it was our friends, indeed, whose bird had gone down. The shock of that moment, that day, and knowing that fate might have dealt another hand, has never left me. With a kind of unspoken sense of remembrance, those there that day share the moment of recognition, of loss, even today, 37 years later. Mike Putzel, the AP reporter who was on the scene, and who might have been a whole year or two older than I was, put his arm around me at just the right moment when I started to break down at the Quang Tri press center. Like everyone else there who was shocked at the loss of our four colleagues, there was just no way to make any real sense of it. But when I saw Mike this Thursday at the memorial service, it was like those 37 years had barely passed. And there is a sense that for each of us, having been spared, and allowed to carry on, there is an obligation to stay on the ‘story.’

After literally decades of attempting to reach the crash site, AP writer Dick Pyle and photographer Horst Faas, finally made it there in the early 90s. With help from the U.S. specialist recovery teams in Hawaii, they were able to comb the crash site, and actually found a few remnants which, including a piece of a Leica camera which Larry had bought the previous year, proved it was the site. Pyle and Faas brought back a few of the bits recovered, and this week, with dozens of former Vietnam reporters present, placed those momentos in a small time-capsule like box in the Memorial wing to Journalists killed in conflict around the world.

It was a touching moment, all those once young and vibrant journalists and photographers now sporting grey locks, if any, but most still clear of eye, and purpose. For myself, it was another reminder that everyday you have is one to be treasured and not taken for granted.

A gathering of Reporters (photo: Tom Herman)
In a sense, everyday of our lives we try and get on that helicopter, we try to get to the story, we try to get a little closer to what’s going on and tell that story to the world. There are no guarantees, though we place so much of our confidence in the hands of others. But the commitment to telling the story, with words or pictures is what drives all of us. And whether you’re damned good, super talented or, like most of us, just lucky now and then, the story is what keeps us coming back for more. We’re just sayin…David

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Prayer for Joey

Often when I’m out and about-- which sounds more romantic than walking down the street, I smell a smell, hear a sound or see something that takes me back to a place or time I can remember so vividly, it is almost as if I am there. It’s not exactly like déjà vu, because I don’t feel like I’ve lived the experience before. It’s just a moment during which time I actually relive something that has happened and I know what it is. Like yesterday when I was walking past the Avis car rental place on our block in NY. I looked at the woman behind the desk and I felt exactly like I did when I was working at Snelling and Snelling an employment agency where they made me change my name and then fired me because they said I was not supposed to be a social worker and it didn’t matter if the people liked the jobs I made them take. That must have been the first time I determined I would work in the public interest—or maybe not. They were just crummy people who wanted to make a lot of money at other people’s expense. But they did find jobs for the unemployed. And the employer not the employee paid—so it was not all bad.

This morning when I was driving in Boonton, NJ, the place where I grew up, I passed a park where there were young adults playing, hugging and laughing. For just a moment I felt like I did when I was in high school during recess. I actually felt like I was 16. I mean, I was back at school driving Ronnie’s Edsell (a car for those too young to remember), back to the parking lot and hoping a door wouldn’t fall off—which happened all the time. I smiled when I pictured us carrying the door into the cafeteria on more than one occasion. That took me to my house at lunch time where we (Pam and Joyce and me) went everyday to watch soaps and eat tuna fish sandwiches. And no we weren’t supposed to do that, but we scheduled study halls before and after lunch period so what else was there to do.

I was close to my high school so I pulled into the empty parking lot, turned off the car and sat for while. I was no longer experiencing “the moment”, but it was nice... just nice to reflect a bit about what was and who was...

Some of my friends were cheerleaders or athletes, some were academics, some troublemakers, and some were nuts. We were all from blue collar families, but mine owned a major factory that employed half the town— my parents were not rich, my aunts did OK. We were mostly Protestant, Polish, German or Italian. There were 50 Jewish families, no blacks and there was one Asian guy who owned a small Chinese restaurant. It was a middle class community surrounded by ‘restricted communities’ or as they were called then, Christian Communities. Some of my friends lived in those places and went to high school with us, but neither I nor any of them actually knew what that meant—except Jews and Italians couldn’t live there. Which I didn’t quite understand, because I thought Italians were Christians. It didn’t matter, we never let a gate stop us from getting together. Then we grew up and mostly disconnected.

Joey Consintino was in his late fifties and still about four feet tall. Hence he was always called, Little Joey – which was obvious to anyone with even one eye. Children can be terribly cruel about people who are different, so his life was never easy. But that didn’t stop him from having a kind word or a prayer for whoever needed one. When we were kids, and he was a little younger then we were, he liked to hang out with my friends – the supposed popular students. I earned my popularity through humor—I was never a good student, not particularly beautiful, or an athlete (we had no girls sports whatsoever. We had red gym suits and ran around the track trying not to mess our hair—that was it), but I was always funny. Funny was almost as much a plus as cute—which did I mention, I also was. And we adopted Joey like he was our mascot or worse, our puppy. This did not mean he got invited to all the parties or special exclusive events—like getting drunk in the peach orchard—but he could sit with us at the diner or a football game. We weren’t overly generous, although we could afford to be since we were popular. And it wasn’t that we were cruel, but as teenagers we didn’t have the time or desire to really know Joey. He was just there—Little Joey. Most teenagers are good at superficial and unconcerned about deep. We were just good at having fun and maybe being a little callous.

Most of us grew up and some moved away. But not Little Joey. He stayed at less than four feet and never went anywhere. Whenever I would see him, I always got a big smile and a hug. Sometimes, when I didn’t see him but he saw me, he would chase after me and give me hell for not acknowledging him. He never let anyone get away with not being nice—whether it was intentional or not. When my mom got sick, he e-mailed me every week to ask how she was and say she was in his prayers.

I hadn’t heard from Joey for a few weeks when I got a note from Tommy Mac two days ago saying that little Joey had died. He had kidney problems. His body stopped working and he was gone. Even though our meetings were infrequent, I will miss him and, of course, his prayers. So if you have just a minute when you finish this blob, put Joey in your prayers— he would have done it for you. We’re just sayin...