Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is It Just About Boobs?

Is it just about boobs? I’m beginning to think it may be -- which leaves those of us who have some piece of our boobs missing, feeling a little second class. However, the question of the day, asked by mostly men is; “do you think the people who were supporting Hillary will vote for McCain because of his Vice-Presidential choice?” I find that this or any question that implies women will not think about the issues and the consequences of their vote, insulting. After a lifetime of commitment to providing more opportunities for women, I am insulted that John McCain thinks anyone who supported the Clinton candidacy will vote for him because he put a woman, (who has a little over a year of national governing, was a professional fisherman, is not only anti-choice but anti-contraceptives, and is a role model for the Phyllis Schlafly constituents), on the ticket. Does the Senator think we don’t care about the health care, the economy, or the war. Clearly he thinks we don’t care about the environment or the effects of drill, drill, drill – because she is all about oil dependency.

A heartbeat away. A heartbeat away. A heartbeat away, from a 72 year old guy who has fought two bouts of cancer. McCain has made a big deal about how Obama is inexperienced. And maybe he does not have a resume that reads 30 years in the Senate or 12 years as Governor, but he has traveled, served his community, proven himself intellectually, has a vision for the future of this country, and he has shown good judgment about issues that will impact on the future. I’m not sure what Governor Palin has other than boobs, and, as a consequence of the last eight years, it’s too late for breastfeeding the nation.

The first thing I thought when I heard about the selection was, McCain doesn’t want to be President. He and Cindy have decided that they don’t want to change their lives and this was the easiest path to an honorable defeat. You know, like he made a courageous gender selection for a party which has no respect or understanding for the problems or magnitude of the issues which confront women every day of their lives. But when you turn on TV and listen to the crap that is spewing forth declaring the Palin decision a fabulous choice because she is a Conservative and Conservatives are good for women, these people have not spent the last eight years dealing with any reality I know. John McCain voted against support for insurance companies paying for contraceptives – so she’s right there. Oh, but he did vote to have them pay for Viagra. John McCain voted No on a bill which would have provided support for children who suffered the consequences of family abuse. And I guess there is no abuse in Conservative families so why provide any support for that. There are many more examples of the lack of any concern for women and what they call women’s issues. I have breaking news, there are no women’s issues. There are issues that affect women and families and those impact on men and on how we want our future to look.

Then there are the pundits that say; “she a good choice because her kid is going to Iraq or she is a good choice because she has five kids or she is a good choice because her husband loves her and all this demonstrates her commitment to family values. What a load. Michelle Obama said it best in a speech I heard her give at the women’s caucus, when she said “we had to stop talking about family values and valuing families”.

But on a lighter note, what does any of this have to do with understanding how to actually Govern this United States. Do you think she even knows how many Independent agencies exist? How many boards and commissions need to be filled? Do you think she has ever looked at a Plum Book. Do you think she has ever looked at the Pentagon budget and understands the level of spending and corruption, and cronyism. How does she feel about separation of church and state? What does she want to do about “no child left behind”— and you know there are so many. I guess she might know about Fisheries – because that’s on her resume, but what about the FDA, the FCC, the FEC? Can she even keep track of the acronyms? Has she traveled abroad? Which countries does she want to befriend, and how will she deal with immigration. Has she read “So You Think You Can Be President?”

I feel confident you know where I’m going with this. A heartbeat away is not a joke. Joe Biden was a thoughtful, respectful selection. Sarah Palin is just about boobs. We're just sayin'... Iris

It's A Wrap

To wrap up the highlights of the week I thought I would start with the bad news and move to the good. You may have read about the ABC producer who was arrested because, when the police asked him to move, he didn’t move quickly enough. Denver, or 'Fort Denver' as we came to call it, did a pretty good imitation of what it would be like to live in a police state. If Martin Luther King had been in Denver in 1968, he would never have given the “I have a dream” speech. But almost as bad as the security was the incompetence of the “volunteer effort”—notice I say the effort, not the actual people. They had no information about anything. No one knew what was supposed to happen with regard to anything—from transportation to credentials to security. This creates a situation where everyone says “no” or “I don’t know” to any questions for which you might need an answer. At the end of the convention there were 75,000 people looking for a way to leave the stadium and what they found was chaos. The buses couldn’t move, the traffic was at a dead stop, and the security continued to be excessive. But let’s move on... please.

People who were waiting for Bill Clinton to be mediocre on Wednesday night had to be disappointed. He was brilliant. He said everything he needed to say about the Obama candidacy and what he needed to say about McCain. It was a speech that, combined with what Obama said, should be used as a model for the rest of the campaign. And on the subject of speeches. All the speakers were good, if not great – except Mark Warner who is usually extraordinary and lacked a little luster. But Durbin was wonderful, as was Kerry, Richardson, Gore, and of course Barack Obama.

Let’s talk about the night – which was extraordinary. We left for the stadium at about 2pm because everyone said they were going to close the doors at 5 and it would take hours to get through security, I don’t do well in lines, so we cut around the crowd and it took no time to find seats. And there we were sitting in seats within the Club area. But they were still football stadium seats – not good for the tush. We were there for about three hours when I realized that, because we were not on the field, it was easier to watch the giant TV monitors than it was to see the stage. From our seats, which were right across from the podium, the people were just a little too itty bitty. And I realized that I wanted to be in a place that was a bit more intimate with people who were not predictable. Just a note—the 75,000 people at the stadium did not appear to be your usual Democrats – they were conservative, liberal, old, young, different colors and sizes.


Anyway, we left. It was not easy because again, no one knew how we were supposed to do that—there were no provisions for leaving before the speech ended—and as it happened none for afterward either. We wandered into the parking area where we were directed by at least three people to find a bus. There were hundreds of buses but none going into Denver. And the distance to the entrance, in order to exit, was a mile. So I commandeered a golf cart and the single only person to say “Yes, I can” outside of the hall, drove us to the light rail, which was luckily still running. When we got back to Denver (a whole two miles away) we found a small, trendy, almost empty bar, where there was a very nice Republican bartender, who was going to vote for Obama. When Al Gore spoke, there were a few more people, and by the time Durbin introduced the video, the bar was packed inside -- and outside people had gathered on the street to watch through the windows. When Obama walked out on the stage, the bartenders turned the TV volume up as high as possible, and they stopped serving. It was like nothing I had ever seen. The bar crowd participated just like they did at the stadium only on a smaller scale. There was cheering and yelling and many tears. There was the kind of excitement I haven’t seen for too many years. The Obama speech was thrilling. It wasn’t just a laundry list of what he was going to do. He painted a picture of the future he wanted to see for all Americans. And most of all he put McCain on notice about what kind of campaign he was going to run. He said would not tolerate any accusations of a lack of patriotism or experience. He said this election was about judgment, vision and a positive change in attitude. Then, when the speech was over they turned down the volume, turned up the music, and started to serve drinks.

The decision we made not to be a part of history (at the stadium) was difficult, (emotionally and physically) but we did give our credentials to some young people who would never have had the opportunity to be a part of what happened at that stadium. I guess we passed the torch and it felt terrific. We’re just sayin...Iris

as always, double click on an image to see full size

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Judgement

At political conventions there are always people who have short term power because they get to make decisions about access. There is nothing more important in politics than access to some venue or a person. It’s how lobbyists make their living and how political staff people keep their candidates in the dark. But that’s another blob. Anyway, some of these people issue credentials, some (in the name of security) decide if your credential matches an area where you may want to sit or pass through and some are assigned to the ‘door’ outside at VIP clubs in the hall or outside at parties celebrating some person or organization. There are those people (usually volunteers) who use good judgment in their decision making and those who wouldn’t know a decision from an incision and isn’t it good that they are not doctors.

Yesterday I had two experiences that were perfect examples of good and bad political judgment. They were so distinctly different (and kind of inside politics) that I thought I would share them.

The Florida Delegation (Floor)
At the Pepsi Center, once you get through the overkill yet inadequately prepared security checkpoints, you are credentialed for different areas. The most important area is Podium. This credential allows you to actually get up on the podium and if you should so choose, wave to the crowd. You can’t do it when there is an important speaker but you can visit when some lesser VIP is blabbing about life, liberty, and their pursuit of some payoff. The next level is Backstage. This means you can be behind the podium (usually some team dressing area, but you can’t leap on to the stage.) The third level is a Floor pass. The floor is right in front of the podium and once you get there you can’t move. But it’s an important credential so you want everyone in the hall to see that you have it. From there, the delineations are guest passes, honored guest passes, press passes, camera platform and a whole range of other identifications. The important thing is the color of the pass – because again, that permits access to different areas.

Caroline Kennedy introduces Teddy (Podium)
Along with these credentials, there are tickets which get you into VIP areas where there is usually some kind of food, and the wine flows. Some of these suites have a view of the hall and some just have TV’s. The beauty of these suites is that you don’t have to mingle with the ordinary run of the mill delegate or guest. Which brings us to the point of my blob.

Iris on the "delegate bus"
I had a ticket for one of these areas and a very dear friend did not. So when we got to the door the person who was authorized to make the decision about who could come and go was fine with me, but not with him. We explained that we were old friends and wanted to spend some time together and after just a few minutes, she said, “sure come on in.” She used good reasonable judgment.

Much later in the evening, we decided to hit the party circuit and after a few rather disappointing efforts we went to the Mayor’s party. Another friend said to ask for his son because he was some humma in the Mayor’s office. Actually, we went because David wanted to tell the Mayor how screwed up everything was in Fort Denver. When we got to the door there were two young women who investigated the list of attendees and found we weren’t there. “Yes I know”, I told her but call Nathaniel and he’ll say it’s OK to let us in. Well, they couldn’t do that, but they called Bree. Another woman then appeared and announced that Bree was not to be called—but Bree showed up and they all chatted about when to call Bree, if they should call Bree, and like that. Finally, I interrupted and introduced myself and again said that they should call Nathaniel because we wanted to say hello. She refused to do this (she probably didn’t have access to Nathaniel) and began to lecture me on the rules of going to a party. Her lecture was nasty but not particularly interesting and it was so late that everyone was leaving and they were no longer serving, so we left. That was bad judgment. First, because I was going to tell Nathaniel—not only that she wouldn’t let us in but that she was nasty. And second, because the party was pretty much over and it was a no brainer. We would have said our hellos and goodbyes within minutes of one another. At some point she will say a foolish “no” to someone who cares or can impact on her career or life, and then she will understand about reasoned judgment.

By the way, last night the security people first tied the delegate buses up for hours and then, after the convention, stopped the buses from running. We opted for a bicycle rickshaw with a most entertaining and reasonable driver – who despite many requests had the good judgment to select us as his passengers. We’re just sayin...Iris

as always, double click a picture to see full size

Greetings from Fort Denver



Sunday August 24, 2008

“Stand in back of the white line”. He didn’t say it in a nice or courteous way, it was an order and we were surprised because there was no reason why he couldn’t have been polite. We were on line waiting to get into the Pepsi Center in Denver. The convention had not started, there were no VIP’s in the area, and there was no visible threat—except the Denver Police swat teams riding around on tanks.

David just got back from the Olympics and he said he was embarrassed about the Denver “police state” mentality. He said he would have not been surprised if it happened in China—which it did not. In fact, when they took his watch, cameras and other metals that might set off the security machine, they placed all his belongings on a red velvet tray. Pretty nice huh. Such is not the case in this beautiful, peaceful city.

Patrolling the dangers of 16th St., downtown
My cousin Miki, who was with us while we proceeded slowly, very slowly, through the line, insisted the security personnel were not from Denver. Maybe they’re not but they are taking orders from someone and it ultimately reflects on the city, (Don’t tell Miki but I think they were from Denver and probably had just gotten off the tanks). Anyway, there was lots of “walk over there, you can’t walk over there, you need a star on your credential to walk over there.” It does not bode well for the rest of the week. Let’s hope yesterday was just a practice and instead of Swat teams with machine guns we will see some buses transporting delegates.

Monday August 25

The good news is that it’s much easier to get into the Convention Center—which is not the actual convention center – that’s the Pepsi Center. (Isn’t it wonderful that every building is named after a product. And for a mere $4 you can buy a Pepsi or a Diet Pepsi or any Pepsi product. The Secret Service Agent who was most reasonable about letting the young women who were with the Lifetime TV group stand in the shade instead of the sun, told me that security was tight because of the information they had about threats. The bad news is that the police remain in overkill. For example, we walked past a protest 15 blocks away from the Convention where there were no less than eighty five police in riot gear and no more than 5 protestors, yelling at one another. One of the protestors carried a sign that said “Homo sex is a sin”. This clearly threw the police for a loop because they, like me, probably didn’t know what a homo was.

On another note, David came home from China sick as a moose—dogs don’t always have to take the heat. Our wonderful doctor called in a prescription, and while we waited we sat outside a Starbucks that happened to be around the corner from the Credentials Center. It’s the place to sit if you want to see everyone you have ever known in your entire political life. Of course it is. Everyone has to get a credential. It was such fun catching up with the people I wrote about last week—the people you see (at the most), only every four years, and often for many more. You see young adults who were babies when you met and grown ups with children who were still in college when they worked with you on their first campaign. You exchange gossip, information about politics and of course, what parties you think are a must on the list.

This ongoing four day reunion is the only reason to be in the middle of such chaos. Sure there are some interesting politics, like someone is spreading rumors about Hillary giving up her delegates, and Hillary people protesting in the street. The Hillary people think the Obama confidantes are spreading them. The Obama people deny that they are involved. And that’s probably true. So who do we think would benefit from rumors of divisiveness? Maybe the Republicans? Rumors, gossip and misinformation are unfortunate realities in Karl Rove run campaigns. And the media are so easy they will write or broadcast anything they think might be controversial. I wonder what the Democrats will do next week? I truly hope it’s entertaining. We’re just sayin... Iris

With Kate Shaffer, on the floor of the Pepsi Center, Monday night

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Take Home


I’m back on the jumbo jet, flying eastward across the Pacific, back to California, and later this afternoon to Denver, where I am quite sure my re-baptism into American politics, and culture, will be more of a shock than I suspect. I had a lovely room at my ‘hotel’ in Beijing. A pair of extremely comfy beds in which I spent far and away too little time, a proper desk and chair, a very modern bathroom with a shower head which I tried finding a manufacturers name one – couldn’t – which would happily find a home in our bath in Virginia. There was a forty-something inch flat screen TV with 45 channels in Chinese, and one, Ch. 9, who did some broadcasting in English, but whose content was invariably que’d to the Party line, and made watching a trying experience. Mind you, I’m not unacquainted with VOA, if you want to talk about Party lines, but whilc they can give you insight into the motivations and positions of the host country, it’s not always the most agreeable viewing. The room was in a complex of buildings called the Beijing Conference Center, and if you were trying to set up gathering of engineers to respond, let’s say, to the sudden increase in business from outsourcing American companies, and need a retreat to get away from the hubbub of the city, this would have been great. Hundreds of acres of quietude. A big lake surrounded by croaking bullfrogs (served with braised duck blood and celery) and cicadas, a veritable fountain of white noise to contrast with the solemnity of the view. That was my experience in the Hotel Bubble. Completely and absolutely free of anything Chinese. Having boarded one of the special media buses in the morning (security check done AT the hotel) you could then spend the rest of your day in the Olympic bubble, free not only from the annoyances of constant security checks, but – again - of anything Chinese, as well. So there we were, floating inside the bubble, though perhaps the biggest joy of this past week was the walk from the Watercube to the Bird’s Nest stadium, where for the first time, you were surrounded by thousands of Chinese who were totally caught up in the community of the moment. Perhaps I was wrong; was “this” the “New China?” Thousands of families with children in tow (rarely more than 1) racing in and out of the water park, taking literally millions of pictures of each other.

Another thing I am incapable of doing
As you walked through this enormous public place, you ended up posing involuntarily with thousands of family scrapbook pictures. Everyone has a camera or a fone. If only a fone, they are not put off by the lesser quality of their fonecam – they are of the new century, and embrace the fact that they can send a picture with that fone. In many ways you would be hard pressed to have found a more modern scene like this anywhere in the world. This, is the new China. The aunties and uncles, yes they remember the Cultural Revolution, they remember the end of the Mao era, they remember the overtures of Deng Xiao Peng in the 70s and 80s. And now, standing with their point n shoot cameras at the ready, they are here to remember the arrival of China in its grown up state. Like any entrenched bureaucracy (the Politburo remains committed to its own survival, above all) going forward there will be ongoing questions of human rights, free speech, and repressive governmental measures. But it is impossible to dismiss what the Chinese have done here. One of the projects I could never find time for (and now, in retrospect is it more or less important than a handball game?) was to wander the Olympic Green area (the giant fenced in Maze which contained numerous stadia, media centers, and sponsor tents.. several square miles) an d photograph the green uniformed police who stood perched at nearly every corner under red umbrellas. They were ubiquitous. They had a way of swinging their extended arms right or left, a gesture which meant “don’t stop here, you need to go at least another 600 meters.. maybe even more to do what you want to do…” The one bromide repeated about China non stop is that ‘they have the bodies to make things work…’ and indeed there is always a ready army of people to throw at a problem, it seems.

Badminton: a new favorite sport
But the level of competence was rather high, and in the more public situations – Opening Ceremonies, Medal Ceremonies, there was a crispness and professional quality to the spectacle which made me wonder if this could have been pulled off anywhere else. Even the teams of white suited flag bearers at the Medal Ceremonies – obviously well trained military—had a way of goose stepping, and unfurling a flag that I have never seen anywhere else. There was a crisp theatrical quality to it which turned heads every time.

As the Chinese have ascended, it might be worth noting that the US had a somewhat disappointing production of medals.. It is always difficult to maintain high standards, to train athletes to be the best in the world -- and this year was no exception. The loss of both 4x100 meter teams (dropped batons), the 100m sprints, the baseball and softball teams, and other traditionally strong American endeavors was perhaps to be expected as the rest of the world emerges (does Jamaica come to mind) with quality training programs. I can’t mimic the sound, but I can tell you that in nearly every venue, the old chants of “USA, USA…” which used to annoy me (Did you see pesky Soviets, or Russians cheering their teams? No, you just saw them go out and win!) have been replaced by the generic version of “Go China, Go China!” The exceedingly polite crowds, always happy to applaud a good effort by any team, would save their feetstompingwhistleblowingscreaming for the Chinese contestants.

Both softball and baseball are exiting the Olympic stage this year, and it’s doubly ironic than, that these two traditional US powerhouses ended up with Silver Medals. Somehow, the visions I have of kids a generation ago who lived in their local parks playing baseball till they were called home for dinner, has been replaced by the Gameboy addicted youngster of today who only goes to Little League to play the same way he or she goes to any other playdate: with too many adults present carrying clip boards and trying to be in charge. The kids no longer just show up and play because they love it. Baseball has become just another scheduled activity. And scheduled activities are not how Olympic champion teams are made. It all signals to me that going forward the Asian powerhouses (Korea, Japan, and eventually China) and those hungry to succeed kids in the Caribbean, will be providing the grist for the new stars of the Major leagues.

The Brits did well again this year, surprising many with their victories and placing high on the list of the Medal count. The Russians, if taken together with the teams from their former Republics (Ukraine, Latvia, etc. ) would have the same kind of dominance we remember a generation ago.

The point is that in the end, endeavor pays off. Whether it be the kids in those Chinese youth camps which try and discern at an early age which kids have talent, or Michael Phelps’ mom, who understood that making sure her son could practice as long as he needed to in order to reach his potential. There is no substitute for hard work and preparation. I suspect the Chinese have found a new self confidence in these games. That much was evident in the outward displays of support at nearly every venue. It remains a wake up call to the US in particular. Whatever we have felt was our due over the years, can only be held and maintained by a recommitment and dedication to excellence. Our soup bowls will go empty if we think we can cruise on the success of the past. The Olympics are one of those indulgent stories which we cover every couple of years in order to see the implication of sport in the rest of society.

Security Check at the Beijing Airport Departure
Often, a great performance is just the coming together of a string of dedication to training and preparation. Yet, there are trends, and while some may crow that the great TV coverage gained millions for the Universal coffers ( I have no idea how great it was.. what I saw was on the Chinese/Int’l feed to the press center), the Games have to be more than a televised marketing ploy. Can inspiration come from them? Surely. Who wants to be the next Usain Bolt, the next high flying Gold Medal gymnast? Some kid out there in a village, perhaps where they just recently got a television. A kid who runs to school. Who tumbles. Who can climb a tree in mere seconds, and leap down in a double somersault. That’s the kid who I hope to be able to see in Chicago in 2016, maybe not as a subject for my photography (do 70 year olds still take great pictures, why yes they do!) but as someone who showed that in 2008, there is still a chance to be inspired by the greatness of others. We’re just sayin…David
as always, double click on a picture to see it BIG

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Too Little Too Late?

August 22, 2008, 9:00 pm. Earlier this evening I called a friend of mine at a news network to see if she had heard anything about the Vice Presidential choice, and alas she had not. “We’re not going to know until after they tell their supporters on line. They are very big about using new technologies. If you’re registered you will know before I do.” The Obama campaign is very good at crafting political games and this one is to announce the choice for Vice President in a way it has never been done before—by e-mail not through the media.. So now I am prepared to stay up all night so I can be the first person to know who will be second on the ticket.

It’s 1:00am and I am still waiting. I think I fell asleep and heard something about Joe Biden. It must be a dream. I think I’ll log on to the web site and see if they inadvertently forgot to notify everyone on the list. 1:30am. I logged on to the website but all I got was Barack giving a speech and a financial pitch. I better go to some traditional news services and see if I was dreaming.

2:00am It wasn’t a dream Biden is the guy. I’ll try to get back on the website and see what the campaign has to say. See if I can get any insider stuff. I lopve to think of myself as an insider. I’m one of those people who knows so much inside stuff I find it hard to like anyone but...

2:15am I finally figured out how to get past the pitch. Here’s what the offical word is:

“Barack has chosen Joe Biden to be his running mate.

Joe Biden brings extensive foreign policy experience, an impressive record of collaborating across party lines, and a direct approach to getting the job done.

We have our team, but we also have our work cut out for us.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden are the leaders who will bring the change our country needs. But they can't do it alone.

Show your support for the Obama-Biden ticket by making a donation today.”

See there’s the pitch again. There is nothing they do that doesn’t include an ask for money. That’s why their fundraising is so successful. And by the way, you may think that I spelled official wrong. The misspelling was intentional in honor of Beijing and another big event they sponsored – the Women’s Conference. As the head of communications for the ‘official’ delegation I thought it would be nice to give everyone t-shirts. So I printed t-shirts that were supposed to say, “US Official Delegate” with lot’s of graphics. Well, the State Department went nuts because not everyone who got t-shirts was an ‘official’ delegate – some were mere staff. Talk about dumbing down international policy issues. Anyway, there was an enormous uproar until I noticed that the printer had inadvertently screwed up and instead of it saying official delegate it said offical delegate. None of us were Offical, so that made it OK to distribute the fine wearable to anyone who was there. I could tell you many ‘stupid State’ stories but you get the idea and it’s really TMI.

So what do I think about Biden. It's OK. I would have liked the selection to have been a bit more creative and someone with some management experience -- a woman, a governor, a military person. But that’s a blob for later. For the next few days I will be blobbing from the Democratic Convention in Denver. It is my intention to prioritize the events -- with parties way ahead of information gathering or politics. But isn’t that the way it should be when we all no there will be no surprises—except maybe by the Hillary delegates. They must be livid about the release of information that she was not even in consideration. Ir’s 4am. Too late and maybe too little. We’re just sayin...

Friday, August 22, 2008

No Good Deed

For whatever reason, I got it in my head that no good deed goes unpunished. There are always consequences, regardless of intentions. (Ok, that is really a pithy thought – I am so deep).

In the category of never mind about me, let’s talk about me; a note of passing. When I was pregnant with Jordan I refused to wear dowdy maternity clothes and unless you are a celebrity and you don’t care what hangs out, most maternity clothes are unattractive. I was going to say unseemly but then I would have to be specific in definition – in this case “contrary to accepted standards of good taste.” Anyway, David was shooting a story about Gene Upshaw the famous football player turned NFL players union representative. Gene was wearing his official number 63 black and silver football shirt. He was a big guy and the shirt was enormous. David explained how whacky I was about maternity clothes and in joking, commented that the football shirt was probably something that would fit me and I would even wear it. After the shoot finished, Gene took off the shirt and made it a present to me. Twenty two years have passed but I still have the shirt. Last night when I heard that Gene died, I put the shirt on, said a prayer and sad goodbye to this generous guy who I never met, but wanted a poor pregnant lass to have something to wear.

As long as we’re on the subject of kids, over the last fifty or hundred years (maybe a little exaggeration) I have spent a great deal of time hanging out with people in their twenties. It has kept me pretty young and I think sensitive to the issues they often suffer. Some were my students, some Jordan’s friends and some friends of friends. It has, for the most part, been a joy. I truly love these kids and if there was a profession called “Kid Hanger Outer” which would pay you for hanging out with (housing, feeding, talking to and loving) young people, I would be an expert in my field. But it unfortunately costs rather than pays. In all the years I have been a participant in young lives, I have had only one disappointment. There is a young Iraqi scholarship student presently living with us. I will not go into detail about how unpleasant he has been (He’s a Christian whose first comment about Jordan’s room—which I cleaned out for him, was that her Jewish star freaked him out). His family has always been safe and ffor the most part, not endangered by the war, but suffice to say, we are not parting as friends.

Anyway, I began to think about how so many of us do what we can to make children feel wanted and supported and yes, loved. The Olympics is coming to an end but is there any better example then Michael Phelps’ mother. A single parent who found a way to encourage a child everyone believed was beyond help. She heard “He’s a problem” and "He’ll never be successful” so many times, it would have been easy to say, “oh well”. But she made a decision to find a way for him to win “the gold” – in life as well as sports. Then I watch “The Nanny” (there is no reasonable explanation for this action but I am fascinated by the total inability of people to cope even when there are no financial problems) and I see people who abuse their kids or are at a loss to deal with or provide discipline guidelines. I sit there and think, there should be a test for people to take before they make a lifetime commitment to caring for a child. Now don’t get excited, this is not a test that the government gives and ultimately makes a decision about whether anyone can have a child. This is a self help test, which might have a question like:
1. If your child throws a tantrum in a supermarket because you won’t purchase some crap candy would you;
a. Flee
b. Scream
c. Hit
d. Ignore it
e. Talk them through it
f. None or All of the above.

I’m not going to answer the question because I don’t know what you would do and my kids have made it through the tantrum stage. Jordan sulked and Seth did the “no bones” thing. That’s when they fall to the ground—totally limp—like they have no bones and scream. Sometimes yelling “she hates me” or stuff that adds to the humiliation, but we got past it. You’ll have to ask Seth how I handled it, but he is a perfect adult so whatever I did didn’t cause any real trauma.

There are parents who try to be friends with their kids and parents who are afraid that if they discipline a child, the child will hate them. Kids need parameters and they need their own friends. They want you to guide them through difficult, challenging, or sorrowful experiences, and in order to do that you have to be a parent not a pal. I could go on about what terrific parents we were but that would be boring and repetitious. I would rather leave you with this incredibly insightful piece of advice, (relevant whether you do or don't have kids), we can have disappointed expectations about how children behave (ours or other peoples’), but when we're dealing with them, it is a mistake let them have disappointed expectations about us. We’re just sayin...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

About Those Volunteers


Midnight at the Transport hub: the MA05 Driver and me
Amongst the most capitvating things you see in Beijing this week are what seem to be a wholly new attitude in how the Chinese see the world.Admittedly, the people directly involved in the Games are not exactly your average man'woman in the street, but as the Chinese middle class grows into the hundreds of millions, the demographics change with them. Hundreds of Red Flag decals adorn the cheeks and shoulders of people both in the sporting venues, and the streets outside. There is a definate festive atmosphere, though Im sure if you are a member of Falun Gong or a severe critic of the regime's Human Rights policy you would hardly agree. Yet, beyond the grand and many faults which the country counts on its debit list, there are some surprizing elements of change, none of which would have been obvious 8 or 10 years ago, my last time here. On a 1999 trip with Intel Corporation's Andy Grove, there was concern about the tech bubble, and more amazingly, about the implications of Y2K. For those of you with short memories, Y2K was the assumed trouble which would ensue 12/31/1999 when none of the inplace mainframe computers would be able to make the leap of faith to the year 2000. We did stumble through without any major problems, but it has always served for me, as a cautionary tale. On that trip, to Shanghai and Beijing the main purpose of which was to make the face of Intel a little more user (and investor ) friendly, we felt still as if we were in the end of20the immediate post Mao era. He'd only been dead twenty years or so, and much of the governemtal and social structures had changed but a little in that time. Gray was still the overriding color not only of the air, but of much of the mood. Legions of bicycles still plied the streets, far outnumbering automobiles. The bike lanes were bigger than those for cars; that has evaporated since, cars remain not only a symbol of prestige, but the key to private motoring (i.e. go when YOU want, where YOU want) though the numbers and their presence in large, often snail's crawl pace masses, reminds you there really is a reason Petrol prices have sky rocketed. I dare say, in my little mini adventures, too few, out of the bubble, I have seen that the city has evolved in ways I wouldn't have imagined. That said, even if you only stayed IN the bubble you could find some interesting surprizes. First and foremost, as a journo, we are surrounded by a large and generally speaking, very competant group of young volunteers. They speak varying degrees of English and other tongues, and there is often a mentality a little too geared to enforce rules rather than help smooth things out. But nonetheless, it is astonishing to see these thousands of kids and their dedication to making it all work.

At every Games there is a simple yet key piece of paper that we work on getting in hand at the outset. It quotes from a rule in the IOC handbook which states that a Photographer may sit in any unoccupied Spectator seat so long as he/she does not impede the view of those around them. It means, in short, that you can shoot from anywhere there is a space and often it is those 'alternative' positions which give you the best shot. However, I have never attended an Olympics where that little catch was made clear to the enforcers, and at each Games, each venue you have to do a little educating. The great thing here is that once you showed them the piece of paper, then you were no longer just a photog to be tolerated, you became, officially, a sanctiioned and groovy person whose aid and comfort was then foremost. At swimming, I spent two hours at the underwater window in the company of a young volunteer named Zhu Tian Qian. She was unfailingly helpful, constantly watching to make sure the leaky water (38472939 gallons, ready to burst through a seam at any minute, engulfing photographer and escort) didn't get to the cameras, and my leaky shoes. Conversation was limited but her unfailing warm smile seemed to mirror that of her colleagues for most of the games. Maybe I have been drinking the Kool Aid, but I have to say these kids are great, and when you needed a hand (recharging your mobile fone... buy card, scratch off numbers, call mobile automated central, click 1 for recharge, then dial your new credit into fone.. but in Mandarin? nope.. not me!) they were always there to lend a hand. And only rarely did they outright laugh at me.

BMX biking a new sport (trying to emulate the X Games?..a 70 picture mosaic: proof that more & bigger is NOT always better..
To wander between the Watercube and the Bird's Nest last night, as I did, and see the thousands of milling, excited throngs of Chinese was to see the tip of a new country emerging from and often difficult past. Everyone had a digital camera, and people were taking pictures as fast as they could line up a viewfinder. Wet kids ran in the water park (we saw this for the first time in Atlanta in 1996, but the execution has become much more fun, much more sophisticated), chased by wet parents, who bore smiles of discovery. These folks were not going inside to see Usain Bolt blast through 200 meters. They were more than content to just wander through the Olympic Green space, and enjoy the sites. There was a reflection of joy on their faces which, in my description, probably sounds like a press release from the Olympic Organizing Committee. But I can only tell you what I saw. Compared with China in the 70s, this was a different place, altogether. Read a fascinating memoir - Powerful People - by former Life/Fortune reporter Roy Rowan, whose detailed and insightful descriptions of China in civil war after World War II are startlingly fresh and compelling. Roy was a young writer, just out of the Army and spent several years bouncing around as a front line reporter for TIME, in the company of one war lord after another. If you want to see how far China has really come, read Power People and what you see today will seem like a fairy tale. Last night I saw no war lords, except perhaps for the humma hummas from the Olympic Committee. But, make no mistake about it, there will be nothing but going forward from this point in time. The Chinese have seemed to put the 1988-89 events of Tienamen behind them. They have their challenges: energy, environmental standards, what will constitute true freedom (don't we all have that issue these days? I'd say so..) for the populace. But as limited as what one sees around the Olympic zone might be, I only wonder what will happen if the enthusiasm and energy of her people let this country start to hit its stride. It will be a most interesting ride for all of us. They've had the Coming Out Party. Now it's time to see what happens tomorrow, when Real Life sets back in. We're Just Sayin'... David video

Save Just Save

Last night,I forgot to Save my blob as I was writing and I lost it. It is somewhere in this computer but I will never find it because my IT guy is in China taking pictures of some sports event. These technicians seem never to have their priorities in order and so I was left with nothing but the first three words of what had been a brilliant commentary on security at a National Political Convention. I am going to try to remember some of what I wrote but it’s a crap shoot... so bare with me. And yes, I do mean read this while you are naked. It will have greater impact. Save

It’s hard to imagine how the enormous advancements in technology have changed the way security is conducted (like an orchestra) at a Political Convention. Sure, there are some things that have been improved but are ever present, like the magnetometers and dynaflors which you are required to walk through or on which you must put your bags. (You can ride on the dynaflor and make an absolute fool of yourself but it’s probably not a good idea with all those “oh so serious” security people watching.) And, yes the inflexibility of the Secret Service, convention site guards and Police remains without change. They are all still screwing up traffic patterns wherever possible. But the impact of 9/11, Homeland security, and just plain terrorism in general, has made any last minute or creative decision making almost impossible – and long with it eliminated so much of the fun . Save

There was a time when you needed to be spontaneous in your decision making and that was not only part of the challenge, but much of the joy of working on political events or in mega crowds. I remember at one convention, the credentials for the VIP area were compromised. (I have oft wondered how you compromise a credential – do you turn the lights on while it’s making love? The word never made much sense in the context of an inanimate object but...) Anyway, that’s what we heard. My guess is that some vandals stole them, (They were merely pieces of paper you used along with your regular credential), thinking they could sell them for big bucks to unsuspecting delegates. Save

What to do? What to do? We had only about an hour before the doors to the VIP area were supposed to open. Whatever the solution it needed to be quick and simple. So I sent a volunteer (There is nothing more wonderful than a competent volunteer and nothing more frightening than a dopey one), out to buy bunny stickers – which we pasted on the VIP credential as they entered the site. As I recall the next night we used duckies and then froggies followed by gold stars. Of course, we had to buy all the stickers in the store but our success had to be based on the element of surprise and in this case, silliness. Save

When I was the director of Security for the first Democratic convention a Madison Square Garden, I had some serious space problems because my office was so small you had to walk on chairs to get in and out of the area. There was however, a non working bathroom with a bathtub that proved not only invaluable but a source of our “close to convention” comic relief. In order to give VIP’s access to the Convention hotel as well as the special elevators in the hotel and the Garden, we decided a picture id was necessary. The problem was there was no secure place in the hotel where we could create a credential on the spot. Remember, not so long ago (Save) there was limited technology and every piece of equipment was big. I decided that we should put the camera equipment and a chair in the bathtub and the VIP would just get into the bathtub to take the picture. There was a little bit of an outcry from some VIP staffers (the diplomats, celebrities and elected officials didn’t care), about putting their Principle in a tub. But Bill Dixon, the Convention Manager said that as long as I didn’t turn the water on, it didn’t matter and to ignore any protests from these disgruntled humorless political laborers. Anyway, when Chris Matthews (then working for Tip O’Neil, the Speaker of the House), arrived to make sure the Speaker would get his photo id, he was not happy didn’t begin to describe how he felt. He did not think the Speaker would get into the tub, nor did he want to ask the Speaker to do it. There was some loud, extended, nose to nose discussion (everyone wants to protect their job), but when the Speaker arrived he was more than amused by the requirement. When he was leaving Congressman Murtha and his wife were just arriving and Tip took great pleasure in explaining what they were about to encounter. Anyway, the security tub was the highlight of the convention and people talked about the tub for years.

Unfortunately, you couldn’t do that today. And you don’t need to because the cameras are miniscule and there are bar codes and all kinds of fancy improvements that eliminate the need for any unusual thinking. What a shame that we have invented ourselves to a place where anything spontaneous is the enemy and anything impulsive is forbidden. I can hardly wait to see what will happen when the Hillary delegates protest and don’t let anyone else speak. I’m happy it’s not my problem. You can get dressed now. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, August 18, 2008

Every Four Years

When you work in Presidential politics there are people who work with you every four years but it is likely you will never see them in between campaigns. Relationships with these people are as simple as they are complicated. For example, the only baggage they bring to the political game is how they operated in the last campaign—which was four years before. Were they generous, loving, and sympathetic (none of these matter), or were they efficient, have good gut, and make difficult but productive decisions – these could get you a job in a new Administration.

At the same time that you are inseparable 24/7, you don’t necessarily know anything about their real lives. You may know if someone has a spouse and children, but that’s not a given because it’s not important within the context of the campaign, (unless there is something that impacts on the day to day political operation, like a kid has a birthday or a wife has a baby and the player needs to be away from HQ) Anyway, a strange thing happens and you start to live like the only people in your life are the campaign people—you don’t have much time for anything else. You can guess what that means. Yes, they live like the only people who are important in their day to day, are the campaign folks. And they often have affairs, (which are not catered). And we are now finding that some Candidates have also gone astray. (Campaigns are not a healthy place for people who want to stay nice).

Today I was wondering what the political players must be thinking about the Candidate Forum last Saturday. I wonder if, when the Reverend asked the question about morals and what the Candidates had done in their lives that they felt was just not up to what they would consider acceptable moral standards, the staff took a deep breath and prayed the answers would be more acceptable than some candidate actions Barack Obama talked about trying drugs when he was young and John McCain talked about his choices in Viet Nam. Neither mentioned any marital infidelity.

My guess is that Obama has not cheated on his wife (she would have killed him and we would not have a candidate), where we know John McCain certainly did. Is fidelity important for a nations leader. In France the citizens don’t care. In Italy there is only trouble if the wife finds out—the voter is irrelevant. I’m not sure what the standards are in Africa, and in the Middle East they just keep marrying everyone – or is that Utah? Anyway, it’s supposed to be different here. (This is not a judgment I'm merely the blobber).

Here’s what I found so interesting. The Pastor, Rick Warren was interviewed about whether he thought that it was possible for Elizabeth Edwards to forgive John. Warren said he thought Elizabeth could forgive John— forgiving someone was Christian and important. (As a Jew I feel a little left out – what else is new). But he also said that it would take a long time for her to trust him again, if ever she could. Mr. Edwards would have to earn her trust. Forgiveness and trust were two different things. John McCain cheated on his first wife, but in answering the question he felt his Viet Nam decisions were more important and worth mentioning. But not his marital infidelity. Whew! I guess my question is, if cheating on his wife was not worth mentioning, can we trust that if he is not faithful to the American people, that will not be worth mentioning either. It’s just a question and I mean it in the nicest possible way. We're just sayin...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Half Way Through


At Track & Field (cr: Thorsten Baering) with the Speed Graphic
If you don't think that snags happen along the way, you just haven't spent quality time covering big-ass organized events. The Olympics is one of the biggest, if not the biggest that I have had the pleasure to be swept away by. The Chinese have added their own organizational flavor to the mix, like each host country does. The fear of horrible air pollution which preceded this week has largely been a non issue. Well, unless you breath for ten minutes through a Kleenex and see whats going in and out. But it has been far less odious than feared: I still have a pack of masks in my camera bag, one of the legion of goodies brought along to help us Westerners cope (pocket packs of Kleenex are worth carrying.) Trying to actually get good pictures remains a challenge. You are surrounded by a bunch of really good competitive people, most of whom you' d be happy to have a beer with (not that you have the time for a beer) but who at the same time would be pleased to just shoot your ass off, picture wise. I have been trying to continue shooting in the manner I started in 2004 in Athens.. slanting my lens focus to create a somewhat mildly surreal looking effect, to which it is my intention to help the reader to look at those elements in the picture which I think or wish my viewer to see. It began using the Speed Graphic (my old press camera) and has evolved into using some Canon lenses on a digital camera. My heart is really with the Speed.. you can't imagine how it has become the poster child of all long lost former film shooters. Like a comfy old B-17 (can that be said of a bomber?) which crew pass and slap on the nose for good luck, my Speed Graphic, nearly as old as I am, is the object of much affection here in Beijing. Much like any relic from a previous age (or the favorite uncle we all adored) it gets nods of approval from those who realize that the sudden and relentless move to digital photography has a price, and unsettling question of the finality of the images.

We shoot gigabyte after gigabyte, and every 6 months search for a new and final solution to the question of archival storage. At the Library of Congress, you can still see the Abe Lincoln at Antietam photograph by Alexander Gardner which has become part of our national history. Two years ago I photographed the original glass plate for a story on Lincoln. It is amazing to ponder: a 140 year old piece of 8x10" glass, showing the President and his aides, and still it is with us. Some digital pictures taken yesterday have already been accidently deleted.

Nixon in New York, 1968


Nixon announces his cabinet, 1968
I have pictures dating back forty years (John Kennedy 1963, RFK, 1968, Nixon 1968) and my negatives, while stored in a shoe box for all those years, still have all the information on them which went through my lens at the time. True I wish I'd been better at guiding the light of those images, but that is what growth, progress, and the ability to improve is all about. Yet, if I'm not careful. some of this morning's gigabytes of Michael Phelps winning another Gold medal could easily become toast, if the hard drives on which they are stored have even the slightest hiccup. We search as a group for proper archiving solutions to the digital wave, and so far none really works with the ease of a shoe box. The only thing we now about hard drives is that eventually everyone of them has, or will die. That is a certainty. But there is something about a shoebox which gives you a little confidence that, barring a flooded basement, those pictures will continue to be around for a while.

One of the things which plagues us, those of the cross over generation, is how to bring the old ways of working into the world of new equipment. I schlep the Speed around to the Olympic venues, trying to fake the use of my tripod as a slightly overdone monopod. Tripods are frowned upon, but try and shoot a 4x5 from a monopod: Can't do it. Now and then I am actually able to score an image which just wouldn't look the same, even in digital. There is something about the physics of the big camera that make things just have a different look and a different Bokeh (the "look" of the out of focus elements of the picture... we adore soft and sweet!) Frankly the hardest thing this year is to try and get beyond 2004, and not just mimic it, and it has been a real challenge. Working both systems means you are carrying way too much gear, and that wear-down element starts to slow you down after a while. Last night at the Mens 100m final, I shot with the 4x5 unaware that I hadn't loaded the frickin' film pack. I use 5 Grafmatics, ingenious 1940s design packs which hold six shots, but here is the key news: they only hold six shots IF YOU LOAD THE DAMN FILM! Trusting my lousy intuition is no longer good enough. When in doubt, open up the changing bag and make sure the film is where it's supposed to be. It's the only way to be sure, do it yourself.

On other notes, the logistics are not bad here. The buses run on time and that's the rub. They ONLY run on time. So if there are additional needs (after Track lets out at 11pm) there are still only the same one bus per half hour, instead of a dozen or so to take care of the extra rampaging pressies. As one wag (dont you love that term?) put it.. "The Chinese are pretty good at hitting a fast ball, but if you throw them a curve or a change up.. they have no idea what to do..." I keep thinking, all the 20 something volunteers are doing a pretty fair job: Imagine working this gig in New York, and being able to tell Chinese visitors that the bus will leave in ten minutes, please have a seat while you wait. Wouldn't happen, would it. So cut em a break, and keep on moving. As long as you remain a moving target, you have a chance. I keep looking at the good work done by my colleagues, and it seems like youre in a casino here in the giant Kodak workroom. Dozens of great photographers, all gunning to get THE image. There is always someone winning, somewhere. You hear the noise of the winners slot machine (here, the sounds of cell fones take that role) and you can't imagine not being a part of it. In the end, you feel like everyone around you is a winner, and you are a slacker. That's when you head to the cafe stand, grab a latte, and chill long enough to realize that most of the folks in the room missed that picture, too.

Gymnast Shawn Johnson
I have been growing a beard the last two weeks. It's always an Olympic beard for me since it is the only time I'm gone over two weeks and the beard has a chance to get really scratchy. Iris hates the beard, so its usually shorn within minutes of getting home. But it's almost like little memory of the Olympics, this scratching salt and pepper thing I wear. Mostly salt now. So I make a few pictures with my Ricoh R8 (great little point n shoot camera) just to see how I'm morphing in the three weeks Im here. There are moments I'm happy, some where I'm a bit blue and the little camera is a perfect way to self document oneself without having to actually expose your navel. I have become the master of the one-handed self portrait. It has lead to a frightening self-appraisal: that the shorts I brought (typical, I forgot the others, and have subsisted on one pair for ten days) with great pockets, have that mid calf look which is absolutely appalling. Yet, comfort wins the day since we know that no one really cares, but it can throw you for a loop if you're not careful.

Field Hockey
The fashion cops will definately nominate you for a turn on Fashion 911. In fact if any talent scouts are reading this, I think I'm ready for my cameo. We're just sayin...

Ricoh R8, on the bus...
as always, click on a picture to see it full size

Friday, August 15, 2008

Please be my Friend on the Face Book...


After years of avoiding a relationship with the Face Book, my cousin was pretty insistent that I had to get with it and make it a part of my life, so my daughter helped me to sign on. I may now be the loneliest person on the Face Book. Sure I have friends on the Face Book. I reached out to everyone whose names I recognized. And thank God none of those people rejected my appeals to “be my friend”, but no one actually chats with me. Maybe it’s the picture. The picture might be a little depressing because it has a “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” theme. Or maybe it’s my profile which talks about my love of acrobatics. Acrobatics is a little like gymnastics, but it’s a different version. For example, it does not include anything rhythmic (like when they use the silly ribbons in a synchronized effort). Nor does it include anything synchronized like diving or swimming or trampolining. But should that impact on my face book popularity. I am in such turmoil. Should I change to accommodate what attracts other people? That would be politic but so not me.
I’m trying not to take it personally. But how else can I take it… it is personal. I mean I see people who are on the Face Book talking to 10 or 20 other people at a time. But not me. I think I’ll just go sit in the dark. And speaking of sitting in the dark, that’s where I am again about John Edwards. So now we learn in the “NY Daily News” that Elizabeth forgave him because it was really she who wanted to be in the White House. It was the way she wanted to live out her life. No one who has ever been in the White House thinks it’s a stress free environment but to “each his own” as my mother would say. The “News” went on to talk about the videographer – I can’t bring myself to call her by name, maybe (as another friend refers to her) “Webikins” is more fitting, and Edwards good friend Young, who says that it is his baby. He has a wife and three kids with no visible means of support. Supposedly, when the story broke, the gruesome twosome (Hunter and Young) fled to the west coast where, unencumbered by actual work, they lived in a multimillion dollar dwellings. It does go on and on. And the more I hear the angrier I get with all of these political, irresponsible, egomaniacal, idiots. (Am I being too harsh? Because I mean this in the nicest possible way.)

And speaking about egomaniacal, what does Hillary think is going to happen when her name placed into nomination? Sure she came close, but that only counts in horseshoes. I always hated that game and I hate this one. This new demand does not a unified Party make. First, because it is an opportunity not only to say, “We were there and supported you”. It is also a chance to say, “If it weren’t for media bias you would be the nominee and we don’t want anyone else to be the nominee.” I trust that grown up people will act like grown ups but that hasn’t been demonstrated yet. Why is it necessary to blame everyone but the person responsible. Hillary ran a terrible campaign. She made bad choices and arrogant decisions. Is the media sexist in attitudes, yes they are. I know, I worked for a network. But that isn’t why she lost. If she wants to blame someone how about Bill – he did a great job undermining her every effort.

The Obama people made a decision to let her have her way and then they expect there will be some kind of catharsis or she will just sit down and shut up. I’m not buying it. There are too many women who have said, “I won’t vote rather than vote for Obama or McCain”. Obviously those people think Hillary is more important than appointments on the Supreme Court, the right to Choose, and a clean environment — never mind civil liberties and a war we shouldn’t be fighting. The question becomes, if Hillary thinks there is any way this nomination thing might be devisive and help the Republicans, why would she put her own self interests before the good of the nation.

When Shirley Chisholm ran for President in 1972 she did it without money or Party support. She was a Black Congressperson who had something important to say about the war, poverty, and inequity in the country. She was the first woman to gain national attention in a political race. And at the 1972 Democratic Convention she received 152 votes. But Shirley Chisholm used the forum to have a voice for a forgotten constituency. Hillary’s demanding constituency is not forgotten, they are just loud, spoiled and sore losers.

On a totally different yet equally important subject, CNN reports that today in California, “Cinderella, Snow White, Tinkerbell and other fictional fixtures of modern-day childhood were handcuffed, frisked and loaded into police vans”. Now that is something to be concerned about. What will happen if Once Upon a Time, and Happily Ever After are concepts of the past because all the characters we adore, are in jail. I don’t know how I am going to break this to my kids. Forget my kids, I don’t know how I am going to live with the idea that fairy tales have become subversive literature because the characters about which they speak are jail bait. They will be outcasts and incredibly lonely. Wait I have an idea. If no one else will talk with them, maybe they will be my friends on the Face Book. We're just sayin'... Iris

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Desperate, Moi?

There is something mildly frightening about sitting in a Francisan retreat chamber, masquerading as a conference center hotel, while listening to Chris Magette tell us how the traffic is in the Bronx 'on the 8s' on WCBS radio. We live in that kind of world. While the Chinese government did promise that there would be unfettered internet access, they.. mmm , well, they lied.

Shocked, I know to hear a government say one thing and do another. But a lot of blogs are blocked (including my colleague Ken Jarecke' “Mostly True” blog, a chatty and fun look at his view of the Olympics) and a number of other informational sites. But, so it goes. I guess they decided not to cancel the games two weeks ago over the internet issue, but there should be some kind response which lets the government know they should live up to their commitment.

Nonetheless the logistical (i.e. do the trains run on time?) job which the Chinese have done is quite amazing. A particularly noteworthy feat in the middle of an alien invasion of hundreds of thousands. Having either learned from previous Olympics or decided they would merely use their own expertise, they have created a 'bubble' much larger than any previously seen, and made it positively easy to stay within it. A 'bubble' for those of you unused to the idiocies of the Security Industry (and I mean that in the nicest possible way), is the area which is considered “clean” and “safe.” Clean in terms of the chance of bombs and other guns and explosives, and Safe in terms of once Inside the Bubble, you are considered NOT to be a threat. Photographers are the worst for those Security people: we carry bulky, heavy items, which you have to be a professional to really understand, and if you look at how we dress, well, wouldn't you be suspicious too? I look at the picture of me in those shorts in the bus station, and wonder, who was allowed to design shorts which look like that? Is that person available for grilling? I like the big pockets, the cargo pockets, the weight.. very light.. but there is something goofy about the length to which those shorts go. It is, I guess, part of the dumbing down of the way we all look, but it is so tedious to see mountains of ice loosen up and let go off the Carolina/Jersey coast. That last sentence will give you a real idea of what we 're going through. Remember, I'm not a whiner, but trying to write a blob at 2 or 3 in the morning takes its toll. You end up-- your mind just starts to shut down, like when your Battery Level starts flashing on a Canon camera. It may still be operative, but you cannot be sure the brains inside will actually do the right things. It doesn't take a genius to realize that "so tedious to see mountains of ice loosen up and go off the Carolina/Jersey coast" has Nothing, I repeat, Nothing to do with ugly shorts. But when you have been up for 20 hours this is how your brain works. If I had a black metal pan and a pair of eggs, I could show you what your brain looks like Not at the Olympics, (perfectly fried, maybe even basted).. and what they look like At the Olympics (really bad scrambled eggs, the kind they have for free at Hampton Inn breakfasts when the do the eggs at 4am on the first shift, and expect you to think "free breakfast" is a great step forward in the humanity wagon train.

the fencing bubble
I have kept feeling that I have yet to actually land in China. Yea, I made it to the airport, and yes, there are dozens, hundreds of very hospitable Chinese dressed in volunteer blue outfits, helpful at every turn. But interfacing with the real China outside the bubble? It takes real effort. I finally went with crack assistant/guide Eric (a 23 year old American who came to Beijing a year ago to study, take pictures, and live in a new place.. Bravo! I say) took me to a great little restaurant where everything but the beer had red peppers sliced into it. It's not the Chinese food we know from Marks in VA or even at the Barbeque King in Sydney (our 2000 hangout). The dishes tend to include more versions of Braised Goose Blood, for example, than you will find at Sun Luck in Manhattan. It's very 'popular' -- of the people, and the skittishness of the Chinese to eat damn near every part of every animal creates some challenging moments for the western palate.

The best part, though was just having the chance to be out of the bubble, and be the only alien in a world alien to me. I have always enjoyed the adventure of travel, and the excitement of new cuisines. But to do so, you need to escape the bubble. and when the bubble becomes so convenient that you resist the desire to set foot beyond you risk ending up having a non travelling trip. In the end, you could say the Chinese goverment is complicit with making it so easy for us, that we won't challenge what they don't want seen. But I have to say, having received a $500 parking ticket from Arlington Country, Virginia last year for accidently parking in a not well marked Handicap space, I become further convinced that all governments act like all bureaucracies for whom the first rule is: guarantee the survival of the bureaucratic entity. They all put themselves above the people they are supposed to govern. So when I see a 'bubble' like the one in Beijing now, I kind of understand that its their freaky way of trying to keep everything under control, and go with their strong suits, and de-emphasize the negatives (which Chinese society has plenty of, like all of us.) Hadnt meant for this to become a political yap ground, as we continue to be in the midst of the politics of the Games themselves (i.e. 'underage' Chinese gymnasts?, etc.) There was a moment yesterday, while leaving the big birdnest stadium (we were looking at shooting positions ahead of time for once) that I turned a corner on the way out. There, a giant poster was on the giant wall of Liu Xiang, the Chinese champion hurdler. It must have been 20' tall. Just below, with a broom in hand, was a woman cleaning up a small patch of driveway. He is the champion. And she is doing her part. Her little broom, in her hands at that moment was nearly as important. Of course, no one will acknowledge it, except maybe the few people who see my photograph. It was a wonderful little moment. And then to cap it off, some jerk, a Yank I think, came roaring by in a stretch golf cart, made the turn and said "geez, guys are you desperate?" The guy clearly has no visual sense, and is probably one of those people never far from his Blackberry, getting worthless messages on a constant basis which remind him of how important he is. Desperate? I suppose he's the desperate one. I actually saw something. I noticed. He whined. Watchers 1. Whiners Nil (overtime) We're just sayin...David

Moving All Over

Shame on Mary Matalin and shame on Joe Lieberman, both of whom think winning with lies and deception are more important than – well, the truth or the public trust. Mary, has a publishing imprint and she publishes right wing drivel. Which is fine as long as you understand what it is. But she has taken the next step and is publishing the same kind of attack crap that was used to defeat John Kerry. It has no basis in truth and there are no parameters for the lies. But they’ll make a great deal of money and isn’t that what she has always been about. For those of us who are struggling writers we yearn to have the kind of success Jerome Corsi will have with his book. He’s already on the NYTimes best seller list and it isn’t even in stores. But it’s not literature. It’s campaign misinformation. Mary is a political whore so it is not unexpected (And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Joe Lieberman is also a whore but he is also a US senator, an orthodox Jew and an Obama colleague. All of which have boundaries of decency.) What could he possibly be thinking when he says that Obama is a candidate who does not put his country first, who is a talker not a leader, and who has not crossed party lines to get anything done. I guess he like Corsi thinks that there are no limits to the level at which they will sink, “the point is to defeat Obama”.
Whew, I did a little name calling in the preceding paragraph but at least I didn’t attack anyone who has a moral core. Moving on...
Today, for the very first time, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. My cousin Sheila and I decided we wanted to spend the day walking around NY. And so we met in Chelsea on the West side and ventured across town to the East side. And there it was, the magnificent construction miracle. And we walked from Manhattan to Brooklyn—just like that. It was wondrous. I was exhausted from our adventure so I took the subway home. There is no where better to see how amazingly diverse this country is than when you are walking down the street or riding on the NYC subway system.

When I got on the train I was entertained by a mariachi band—and one of them was actually schlepping a cello. They were so terrible it was hard to deal with them in a confined space but they were working so hard I gave them a dollar. It is not my practice to encourage subway entertainment – because it is a confined space and always invasive—but these guys were all dressed up and I liked their cowboy boots. When I got off the train I had a race up the subway escalator with an older Indian gentleman who acknowledged that I had won the race but was sure it was because I was much younger—I didn’t argue. Then I went around the corner to my local Tasti D-lite. Tasti is like soft ice cream or yogurt but it has no calories, no fat, is kosher and it is probably just chemicals with flavor—but good flavor. I was eating my Tasti and a man sitting next to me thought I wanted to make conversation. He was wrong but I am never rude. He told me he was an Evangelist Pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. For whatever reason he confessed that he was going to vote for Obama. And further, (and he believed in separation of church and state) he was advocating for everyone he knew to do the same. I thought that was somewhat surprising, but I guess people are not as shortsighted or stupid as Mary Matalin and Jerome Corsi think they are. Moving on...
In the “Love song of J Alfred Prufrock," there is a line that always resonates with me and I’m not sure why. It reads “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”
Today when I was at Starbucks this line came back to me. But it wasn’t because I was in a coffee place—or even because I sit around counting how many coffee spoons it takes to measure my life. It was because when I said “thank you” after the barista handed my my iced decaf tripio (whatever that means), he said “no problem” instead of you’re welcome. I guess it happens a lot because when I conducted one of my anecdotal surveys, most of the people I asked said that their response to “thank you” is usually “you’re welcome” but they have also noticed that lately people are responding with “no problem”. So what the heck does that mean? There was no problem making a coffee. There was no problem taking your money. I just don’t know how “no problem” in response to “ thank you” makes any sense. But what makes any sense anymore? Political lies, the Brooklyn Bridge still standing, coffee spoons, a race on an escalator, “no Problem”, or an Evangelist voting for a liberal Democrat? I guess the only thing that makes sense is to just keep moving on. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Give Me My Stephano

After the rain stopped I decided it was time to get out of bed and go out do some errands. I pulled myself away from Olympic bliss, put myself together and went down to the lobby. There were still more than a few clouds, and the doorman warned that it might storm again. It made me nervous enough to hike back to the apartment to get an umbrella. By the time I got back downstairs it was raining again. The kind of hard where the umbrellas turn inside out and you just get soaked. Discouraged yet hopeful, I went back upstairs hoping for synchronized swim but alas, all I found was “Day of Our Lives”. Breaking news! NBC does not preempt the soaps for the Olympics. Of course they don’t. What would the fans do if they couldn’t get a healthy dose of Stephano Demara.

When we started our business (which we called an access service --it was really a pr firm but we wanted to distinguish ourselves from everyone else), we worked out of my Dupont Circle townhouse. It was a great space. Four floors, 1200 square feet a floor and we used the first floor as the office. Clients loved the uniqueness of the office and we were most comfortable. It was our habit, however, to close the office between 1 and 2 pm, watch “Days of Our Lives”, eat tuna salad on triscuts and talk about the business, social and economic opportunities of the day, – in that order. Watch, eat, chat—sounds like I might have another book. Anyway, we were avid “Days” fans. We would discuss the plot, characters, and developments like we were talking about friends and family. We were obsessed—like all the old ladies we had so often laughed about. And not only were we consumed with every aspect of the story, David would often ask me to bring him up to date on the terrible things Stephano had done. It was pervasive in the days of our own lives.

Imagine my surprise when I thought I would find someone swimming, running, jumping, hitting or twisting in the air, and there he was, Stephano Demara in the hospital, apparently no longer a villain. I dared not watch for very long because I knew I could catch up on the events of the last twenty years and I didn’t want to get hooked – which would happen after just a twenty minutes. And speaking of soap operas. I have changed my mind about John Edwards.

After hours and hours of nauseating reports about the Edwards’ affair, I have to admit I was sick of it. Originally, I did think it was just between husband, wife, and people close to them. But upon reflection, (Isn’t reflection amazing) I have decided that his admission was shameful. If he had the affair in 2006, when did he tell Elizabeth? Did he rush to her side right after he got out of bed with the videographer? Or was it sometime in 2007 after he decided to run for President or after he bought the girlfriend a house. (Yes I know he denied knowing anything about this – and there is a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.) He clearly knew that he had an affair (he’s not suffering from memory loss), and it might come out. No one, not even a politician is stupid enough to think anything can be kept a secret. Here’s another newsflash, nothing is off the record and there are no secrets anymore. In “So You Think You Can Be President” we advise whomever takes the test that “The repercussions for even a little bitty lie (there will always be someone who knows that you fibbed) will forbid you from even discussing running for any office; including, but not limited to, President, Mayor, a Congressional Seat, any School Boards, or even Green Grocer (no sneers or snickers please, it’s an important place for community interaction).”

Surely this advice is applicable far beyond our humorous incredibly insightful test. How could Edwards have run, knowing how critical this election is, and he would put in jeopardy the possibility of a Democratic win. I am not one of those people who think Hillary would be the nominee if only Edwards had been absent from Iowa. Hillary ran a terrible campaign, used bad judgment, and irritated too many independent voters. But she wasn’t duplicitous in her relationship with the public. And now who knows if any of what he said was really how he felt. If he was willing to perpetrate the hoax of morality, what else did he do or say that was equally dishonest.

So I take it back. I don’t think his confession was unimportant or irrelevant (because he has no political career). He is a selfish, self -serving, son of a bitch, (and I mean this is the nicest possible way) who clearly never cared about the American public or the damage he might have caused. It’s raining again in NY and thankfully, it’s time for Olympic coverage – maybe synchronized diving, no synchronized swim, but no soap operas—except in real life. We’re just sayin...