Monday, September 29, 2008

Closing Mom's House

Politics took a backseat to more important subjects today. My priority was attacking fifty five years of clutter in Mom's house withm thanks God, my sister-in-law Els, and David. It was not a job I could ever had done alone-and it's not over yet. We have just begun to fight with some closets which are fighting back. They don't want to be empty. They were perfectly happy being full of crap. And when I say crap, I am not saying it in the nicest possible way.

Over the last few months I have attempted to clean out the house little by little. I started with Mom's clothing, scarves, and jewelry. First I took things I thought sh'e like to have in Seattle, and sent them out to her. Then I looked at things that she couldn't or wouldn't wear. She had some pretty colorful pieces, which I put aside for Jordan and my niece, Devin - both of whom are as colorful as the costumes. Then I went through the not so colorful stuff - there were (and I am not exaggerating) 60 shirts, 95 pairs of pants, (all different sizes) 30 skirts, 35 dresses -fancy and plain) , 75 sweaters and sweatshirts, and 50 coats and jackets. Then I moved to shoes and purses. If I tell you she had 90 pairs of shoes and 20 pairs of boots, I am probably underestimating. But the wondrous thing was that so much of the aforementioned items still had the price tags still on them. She loved to shop and she loved to return. She was one of those people who never tried on so if she liked it she bought it and then when she got it home, she would either try it on or just hang it in the closet - hoping that at some time it might be something she would want to wear. If, by the time she got something home and didn't like it, she would return it the next day. Shopping, like cooking and freezing (we call her Delores Defrost), was her job. Her day went something like this; up by 8, make something for breakfast. Then make something for dinner - freeze it. Off to the mall (most days with Aunt Sophie). Lunch out or in, depending on the Mall and what Aunt Sophie had on her schedule. Home by 4, defrost whatever she had cooked for dinner. Dinner by 5 and then an evening of TV. When Aunt Sophie's husband was alive they aften had dinner out-or they ate whatever Delores defrosted. After he died, Mom and Aunt Sophie spent more time together so there was TV and card playing in the evening. But whatever else they did, shopping was right up there as a priority.

It was difficult to face what I was going to do with all the stuff but luckily, the Super at our NY apartment said that people in his church needed everything and anything I could give. So I packed up 12 big black garbage bags full of everything and drove them into the city. Geez, I felt great, until I returned to the house and realized that I had not even touched the basement or the attic. “OK” I thought, “I can do this.”. So I started by walking downstairs, making my way around my brother's bicycle clutter and cleaning out the freezer in the basement. There were things in that freezer that my mother bought because my father wanted them-he's been dead for twenty-one years.

Once I had tossed all the food and hauled it outside - frozen food is really heavy -- I looked at the closets. More clothes-but this stuff has been there for years and years. They have been there for so long that the hangers were stuck to the poles. It was too dusty for me to spend much time there, so decided to come back to it on a day when I could breathe without effort. Enough with the basement, I decided, and made my way back two flight of stairs to the attic.
There were no more clothes but there were pots and pans, dishes, glasses, furniture, games, old books (from my high school days), toys, and a plethora of old pictures and movies. I started to work my way through the pictures of my parents as teenagers-they were high school sweethearts and of all my loving aunts and uncles so long gone. The I couldn't do it anymore because I couldn't imagine keeping all this stuff and I couldn't imagine throwing it aways. Too much past to toss without no more than a quick goodbye.

Richard Avedon turned up in the den
The books, games, pots and pans were easier but I knew it would take me months of short visits and many tears. I decided the best thing t0o do was wait for my brother or sister-in-law to give me a hand. Els is much better about ridding us of all the junk than either my brother or I.

When we started to clean this morning we were able to work our way through almost all the rest of the closets, the attic and some of the basement. We did it with great precision and many laughs-you can't imagine the things my mother collect. She could not read a catalogue without finding something she absolutely had to have- like 10 pairs of magnifying glasses, a whack the stress away contraption, knives, grinders, and fancy frames, are only the beginning.

We did find the dress and veil from my first wedding as well as 9 fur coats-yes nine and none of them we bought by my mother-but that's another blob. The good news is we have a week to do it. The bad news is that once it's done the house will be gone and all those memories probably soon forgotten. But it's a New Year for the Jews, and a new life for this house we love so well. We're just sayin....Iris

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hey Jacobson, What's Doin

The phone rang and I hesitated to answer it because it was usually a press person wanting me to do them a favor. “I’m just going to let it ring”, I said, trying to avoid the inevitable—more press aggravation. And then I heard someone yelling, “Jacobson, for God’s sake pick up the phone – you’re not going to believe who wants to talk to you.” We were in Philadelphia for the Udall Presidential campaign and it seemed no one of any importance wanted to talk to us—everyone wanted to talk to Jimmy Carter or Scoop Jackson.

“OK, I’ll answer it but it better be good or you’re a dead man”. It’s so long ago I don’t remember who I was talking to but I remember what I said because I was not happy about having to talk to anyone. The campaign was out of money and I was trying to put together a press schedule (a day of activities) which cost us nothing. It was not pretty.

“What?”, I said in my most unpleasant highly trained voice. “Who is this and what do you want?”

“Well, I was thinking I’d like to do some events with the Congressman. I like him a great deal and if I can be of any help, I’m happy to do whatever I can.”

The voice sounded vaguely familiar, and I figured it was yet another one of a hundred Congressional people who loved Mo and were willing to travel anywhere to do whatever they could to save the campaign. In fact, I had just been to talking to Shirley Chisholm who had promised us a whole day.

“That’s fine”, I said but what what’s your expertise. What kind of event do you want to do?” My tone was a little lighter because all of these people were friends of the candidates and I didn’t want anyone to tell him that I was either difficult or rude.
“I thought he might like to play pool with me”. The voice was becoming more familiar. “Gee” I said—because I thought 'golly gee' sounded infantile, “I don’t know if the Congressman plays pool. Is there anything else the two of you could do?”

“I don’t know”, he answered. “I’m here shooting a movie about pool, so I thought that might be interesting”. And then I realized who was on the other end of the phone.
“Oh, Mr. Newman, I’m sure Mo would be happy to do whatever works for you.”

“You can call me Paul”, he said. “And what should I call you?”
I couldn’t remember my name. I stuttered and then blurted—“Jacobson. You can call me Iris or Jacobson or whichever you prefer”. He laughed and said, “Hey Jacobson, what’s doin...?”

It was 1976 and Paul Newman was in Philadelphia shooting “The Hustler”. He had decided that Mo Udall was his candidate of choice and he was going to help us by doing an event with the candidate. For a campaign out of money, short on staff, and without much of a following, it was a blessing.

“Here’s the thing” he said, “I don’t want to have to talk to a lot of people and I don’t want this to be complicated. So I’m only going to talk to you about any arrangements and we’ll figure out how this is going to work. Does that work for you?”

“Sure thing”, I said still recovering from not remembering my name. And for the next week, Paul Newman called the campaign headquarters everyday—sometimes more than once and asked for me. When I got on the phone he’d say, “Hey Jacobson what’s doin...?” and my heart would stop. Actually it stopped when whoever told me he was on the phone and it would start again about an hour after we concluded our business. We became best phone friends but much to my disappointment, we never met in person.

We worked out all the details and Mo and Paul finally did a shoot pool event. We got some attention and raised a few dollars and it was over much to soon for my liking. But the campaign went on and when we were in New York for the convention and final concession speech, we went to an event where I finally met Paul Newman. “Mr. Newman”, I said looking into his incredible blue eyes, “I wanted to introduce myself, I’m Iris Jacobson.” He looked at me, smiled, shook my hand, said it was nice to meet me, turned his back and walked over to meet someone else. I was devastated. Surely I couldn’t have been that easily forgettable, I thought. I sulked around the room until I finally realized what the problem was. I walked back over to him. “Paul”, I said, “I wanted to introduce myself in a different way. I’m hey Jacobson what’s doing from Philadelphia.”

“Hey Jacobson, what’s doin...?” he shouted. And he picked me up, gave me a big hug and we spent a whole bunch of time talking about politics and nothing. What a joy.
Over the years I would run into my phone friend at political events and reintroduce myself as Hey Jacobson what’s doin...?” and he always pretended to remember who I was. I like to think that maybe he actually did. Paul Newman died yesterday and I, like so many other fans mourn the loss. It is with sadness and gratitude that “Hey Jacobson what’s doin...? bids you a fond and loving goodbye. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, September 27, 2008

That Fall(ing) Time of Year

So many things happening now of great import. The financial meltdown, the one of “I sure would like to live in a house that I can't afford” and “hey, take this money.. the rates will never be better.” Reminds me of the perfect storm of the early 80s when, with rates in the high teens, avaricious bankers in the midwest sold loans to one farmer after another on the pretense that “money will never be this cheap again...” -- 16, sometimes 18% -- and as over the course of a very short time, hundreds of family farms went down the drain, one after the other on the auction block, as the farmers couldn't keep up with the payments . I guess it was like the early version of Pay Day Loans who manage to strip the value of a paycheck faster than a Vegas showgirl loses her sequins.

Art Schweers, on the frame of the bed he slept in for three decades, in the farm house he raised his kids, after his farm went into foreclosure (1982) - Gravity, Iowa
The farmers got pissed, though unfortunately they did it in that nice farmer way they usually have. They didn't just stop growing food and wait for the public to go batty over no food in the stores. That would have been the “real politik” thing to do. They instead tried playing nice, seeing if they could 'work things out..' and of course what happened in the end is that large corporate farms came in and bought the family farms for a fire sale price. There was a wonderful bumper sticker which I remember from the time: “Don't Complain About Food Prices With Your Mouth Full!” Kind of sums it up. There are, after all, no lazy farmers, just some who are a little more astute than others at business. But I'll bet there isn't one person reading this (Walt, you don't count!) who would happily get up at 4am every single day of the year to milk a hundred head of cattle. And then do it again in the afternoon. No vacations. The cows don't take vacations, and neither would you. Well there are such things as hired hands, and they help, but the farmers themselves don't really like to miss much. It's how they keep an eye on what's doing out there. The biggest surprize of the era to me was that Ronald Reagan, you know, the guy who opened that airport near Washington DC, didn't lift a finger to save a single family farm. No, that bastion of American values, the guy who actually played a bomber pilot in a movie in WWII, just let the family farms die a slow death. There was no intervention, no convening of a late night Congressional session, no emergency meeting in the Cabinet Room, to save the family farms. And throughout, amazingly many of the farmers just kept voting for the Republicans, and in particular for the movie bomber pilot, since he embodied all those great American values, of which “tough toenails” might have been the most obvious.

Last week and next, we will see some kind of transformational act in Congress which will lay a lot of bread down in an attempt to try and get the credit markets flowing again. Apparently that is the key to avoiding, for this week, at least, another Great Depression. If it happens, and it eventually will, sometime, for sure, I wonder if we'll call it GeeDeeTwo, or will there be some other catchy phrase which will become the popular moniker. I went to Wall St. ten days ago, in that first week of 'wake up calls' which began with a 500+ point drop in the Dow. That is a real attention getter. The last time the market dropped 500 points, in October 1987, there was a very clear and obvious culprit. My brother Tom was then working at Merrill, and had invited my dad, Ted, who was visiting New York with mom that week, to pay a visit to the Merrill trading desk. If you don't spend much time on trading floors, and only see trades as a phonecall with a broker, or, nowdays, something online, you don't really know what kind of controlled madness goes on there. The traders never say 'please,' and they never say anything in a calm voice: Yelling is the key, and it is truly something to see. All that yelling and scribbling, and the markets actually adjust the nunbers to some nature-state financial law, and voila, you have a stock market. That day Tom took dad for a looksee, and by the time the markets had closed that afternoon, the Dow was down over 500 points. It was truly a Black Monday. And curiously, in the manner befitting a car wreck caused by the short-sighted vision of Mr. Magoo, the market saw dad come to the floor, decided that had to do something to get his attention, and ours, a BOOM, a 500+ point drop. I'm told that the floor was rather restrained afterwards, from the shock of such a huge move. But at least they had Ted Burnett to blame for the calamity. For the next 7 years of his life, pop was not invited to put his tootsies on any trading floor; people were just too afraid of what might break out.

I had a French photojournalist friend years ago, Henri Bureau, whose stock in trade was to hop on a Lear jet (usually splitting the travel expenses with a non-competitive TV crew) when calamity would strike and fly off to the place where things had gone bad. A coup in Portugal, an earthquake of enormous proportions in Turkey, the last public appearance of Lech Walensa before being arrested by the Polish Junta. Henri was always there. Usually first, and most importantly the first to return with his film to Paris. Often he would literally have the Lear jet just keep the engines running a few hours, and be ready to back, film in hand. He understood that it was a time when exclusivity, the most importaquality, and speed of delivery were the key elements, the latter being paramount. His film headed back to Paris for development, his office would start phoning clients for guarantees, and he always made it work out extremely well for him. But he began to get the reputation that if he was headed your way, you just might be in deep doodoo. “When the leaders of a country see me coming, they Tremble,” he once joked to me, though I think Henri might have gotten a bigger laugh than the Prime Minister of country X, who knew the only time Henri would pay a visit, a cataclysm of some sort was just around the corner. Now, in the digital age, with good photographers having been trained, and living virtually everywhere, and each in possession of a laptop, we have all become part of one big, enormous POOL. We don't always get to avail ourselves of the POOL material, but it's out there. Good people everywhere, shooting digitally, and diffusing their material before the ink is dry on their caption envelopes.

This was one of those kind of weeks where the story outraced the pictures telling it. Yes, there were huddled groups of important people, huddling importantly. Yet, the real sense that anything was being done remained a difficult challenge for the stills people. I shot a few pictures near the NY Stock Exchange which showed me a new way of looking at “Wall Street.” Since the blocking off of most vehicular traffic after 9/11, the streets around the Exchange have become something of a little theater unto themselves. Hundreds of strolling tourists, taking pictures of each other, the Exchange (the big American flag) and the Federal Hall just across Wall St. where Washington took his very first oath of office. It's like a mini version of St. Mark's in Venice, without the smelly lagoon, pooping pidgeons, and rasty beaches. Here, in stead, just hundreds of curious onlookers, nosing up to the buildings, taking pictures of each other embracing the heroic George Washington statue; it's that kind of warm fuzzy feeling you wish all tourists got, not just the ones who arrive with big pockets stuffed full of Euros and who drive to the theater in stretch limos. It was a very welcoming plaza, and while the value of the diving securities was well into the billions inside, outside it was just another time to see if you frame that big American flag with your two best friends. It can be done.

As for the big bail out of the week, maybe it will bring a little bit of reality to executive compensation. There are still too many non-arms length discussions between boards and CEOs, etc. and this leads to a situation where the money flows far too freely, especially when the company has had tough times, and just wants to be in business, and make some shekels. Somehow the Golden Parachute is still revered instead of reviled. To cash in big when you have failed at your job isn't really the American way, is it? With all these MBA refugees running the economy, well, maybe that IS the New American Way, afterall.

In the end, unlike President Ford's challenge to help out Chrysler and New York during its 1970s crisis (“Ford to New York: Drop Dead”) it seems even the House Republicans want to see some kind of bailout pass. So we'll keep our fingers crossed and spend the rest of the weekend reading the Lonely Planet Guide to Alaska: The Russian Frontier. I heard they were opening Borscht cafe (all you can sip for one low price) in Wassilla as a “thank you” for all the vigilance of the Wassillans when it comes to preventing another Cold War with Russia. Thank god we have those trade missions.

But of course what I really wanted to blob about was the beauty of Gotham city when the fog rolls in. You remember the New York fog (as opposed to Mel Tormé, the Velvet Fog), its that ethereal stuff which wraps itself around unsuspecting buildings and edifices, in an attempt to ward of evil spirits. Seems to work. Things were, literally, very chill in NY yesterday, and quite beautiful. When the rest of the city looks like it's goin' to Hell, the fog rolls in, you put on a Tony Bennett tune (or Mel Tormé himself...) and rush up to the roof with a bourbon on the rocks, you somehow know that even another 500 point drop in the Dow isn't going to permanently muck everything up. I'm sorry Ted Burnett isn't here this week to see the city in the fog. In his neo-Pollyana view of the world, he would have certainly pronounced it “just gorgeous!” and might have even been glad that after 22 years, they found someone else to blame for that market crash. It's about time. We're just sayin' ... David

as always, click on a picture to see it full-size

I'm Not Laughing

When David Gergen and I sat at the adult end of the Situation Room table (this is how the younger, or at least, less experienced folk who worked in the White House, talked about our end of the table), we often had a chance to talk about the politics of the White House and politics in general. Since David had been in three White Houses—Republican and Democratic, and I had only served Democratic Presidents, I listened intently to cross political party rhetoric and agreed with him on most points. The first of which was about the “pig with lipstick” because politics—no matter party—is still politics no matter if you try to dress it up (a pig) and call it politics or leadership. Anyway, David and I had lots of opportunity to talk about how we were going to deal (from a communication perspective) with the domestic and international crises that the Clinton administration faced. So last night, when I heard David talking about the McCain ploy of suspending his campaign to lead his party into the White House and solve the financial crisis, I agreed that David was right when he indicated it was all yet another political ploy – the proverbial pig in lipstick –or if you are appalled by porcine analogies, just window dressing to try and parlay the McCain campaign into a better place.

It backfired because McCain doesn’t have the support of people in his own party. It backfired because he had no place trying to step on Chris Dodd and John Boehner. He had no role, so in desperation he asked the President to call yet another meeting – or what turned out be a photo op – to showcase his importance. He said the problem was so serious he was suspending campaign operations to rush back to Washington – but he’s not on the Banking Committee and all he did was interfere with the on going negotiations that were apparently on their way to working. Shame on him and woe is us.

What a surprise, John McCain has decided to go to the debate. It was really never a question. In the old days we would have had chickens out wherever McCain happened to be but everyone knew McCain would never allow Obama to appear as a solo speaker. Which brings us to the debate: McCain says our best days are ahead of us. Well that's easy to say if you have seven homes and a wife with a multi million dollar a year income. But what if you don’t. What if you’re a single mother or a working parent trying to pay college tuition or an elderly person with no health insurance or no way to pay for a place to live. McCain is still talking about a 300 billion dollar tax cut for people who also have seven homes. What about the rest of us? I’m listening to the blah blah blah of the debate and I’m hearing that Obama wants to make sure people have health care, can afford education and wants taxes on corporations who are already making millions of dollars. John McCain wants to give more money to his friends and tax health care benefits. Oh My.

I just don’t know who is telling the truth. McCain says look at the record and so I did. MCain has never voted for any taxes incentives for alternative energy sources. McCain has given tax breaks for oil companies, the drill, drill drill – much like the blah blah blah – I can’t understand the foggy explanations.

On a more humorous note... Wait, I’ll find one. OK, John McCain voted 90% of the time with George Bush, but now he says, “I’m a maverick and people know it”. Is that a good thing—well whatever, it’s pretty funny. “We are winning the war, we love the surge”, that’s pretty funny. “We can fight more wars and we can win them.” I’m doubled over.
“War is good—let’s have more.” He says,” there is a difference between tactics and strategy”. Why am I not laughing?

Oye. Obama says it’s not funny, 4000 lost lives, a resurgence of Al Qaeda, billions of dollars in foolish and wasteful spending and a war we should never have been in. The core issue is a Surge that (might be working) but it covered up years of loss and waste.
We need to end the war in a responsible way.

I have had to fast forward through some of the things on the debate that really piss me off – because, to be honest I know nothing about war and I’m looking for humor. Here’s the bottom line, as they say. McCain is 'old think'—traditional war, fight to the death, we won’t come home in defeat, don’t tell any secrets, let the military guys make political decisions. Obama is the 'future'—let’s make our decisions based on the reality of today, let’s fight with the people who are really a danger, let’s not just keep sending our young people to places where they don’t need to die, how do we make good judgments to prevent war. And neither of them knew the difference between the Iranian Republican guard (the Shah's armed force) and the Revolutionary guard (the Mullahs')– so let’s move on.

It’s getting harder to have a sense of humor about this candidate confrontation so lets turn look at something more amusing, the financial crisis—no agreement, no guarantee that any of us will have a home tomorrow, no way the Republican house is ever going to like John McCain. This is not funny so I guess I’ll have to write on another day—maybe tomorrow if the rain stops and the leaves change color. After all, whatever else happens we will always have change in the seasons. We're just sayin'.... Iris

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Song That Doesn't End

Are you tired of the government making personal decisions for you? When I was watching the news and trying to figure out what it meant to have the government bailout those large incompetent greedy companies, I thought about how I would spend the 700 billion dollars. I know how I would spend 80 million dollars because I have felt the need to make plans in case I win the lottery. I figure I’ll have about 40 million after taxes because I’m not able to spend taxpayer money in any Willy Nilly way. (What did Willy and Nilly do to deserve such a negative legacy?) Anyway, I plan to pay my taxes so that leaves me with about 40 million. The first thing I would do is buy a place for all my friends' mothers to live. It would be like an assisted living facility only there would be wonderful food and entertainment. The staff would treat the moms and dads (if they lived as long as the moms) with respect and courtesy. There would be no talking to them like they were children and they would be able to put salt on their food. There would be a bus to take them to the theater, movies and out to eat—even if they had to go in a hospital gurney. And there would be full time competent nursing care for those who could no longer be independent. We could probably get a genius grant from the some company because this would be an innovative experiment – if we needed additional funding. Oh, and yes eventually the children would occupy the house – that is just the reality. But aging might as well be luxurious and entertaining instead of bleak and humiliating.

That is the public service piece of how I would spend the money. Moving on to the fun part. I would buy a house in Italy—I am especially fond of Umbria and Verona but it’s a country where you can’t get a bad meal (except in a few tourist places near the Mediterranean). It has to be a villa big enough to house at least ten couples, (with everyone having their own bath – and although I would never invite ten at a time you never know what kind of entertaining you might want to do that would require overnight accommodations.) The kitchen would have a pizza oven as well as the kind of equipment that, God forbid, you couldn’t go out for dinner, you could still have a great meal. Of course there would be a pool as well as a mineral bath fed by natural warm springs, tennis courts, a pitch and putt course, movie theater, bowling alley (for friends from New Jersey) and a massage therapist on duty 24/7. There would have to be a private plane for travel to and from anywhere in the world but I think leasing per trip makes much more sense. I don’t need to have a car with a driver on staff but it would be nice to have someone available for trips to the city – any city. I would spend like the CEO of some big corporation .

It would be awfully nice to have someone to do my laundry, clean my house, fudge my taxes and take my car to be inspected. but those are things I don’t have to have won the lottery to do. I need to learn to think bigger. OK I’ve got it. Since there will be no money left in the US treasury to fix education, implement an adequate health care plan, help single mothers—who decided to have their kid -- (Palin line item vetoed that in Alaska so I don’t think we can count on much assistance from that side of the aisle), work on programs which create opportunity for women or continue to fight many more wars (that’s a good thing), I could use my lotto winnings to create a national Lotto where the winner would be a social program rather than a person. It would be like what they do on American Idol only different. Here people could buy a ticket for $1 and if they won, they would donate that money to the government program of their choice. Yes, I agree that if some people would be reluctant to just turn that money over to the government ... maybe it’s not such a great idea. How about if we look at the last ten years and pass a law that any CEO who has been compensated well above what they deserved (I’m happy to make that decision or we can all agree on a number, say 6 million—that’s pretty generous), has to give that money back to the taxpayers, or even the shareholders of the company they raided, or they can pick a social program but it can’t be their country club. Even if they started a foundation to help children—I don’t care if they help with a disease (after the bailout there won’t be any money left for research grants), or education or health issues, just as long as they invest in helping this country become a better place instead of buying extravagant houses, private planes, and absurdly opulent parties. They are not allowed to have benefited from the fact that they appointed their Board of Directors, and the Board of Directors determined that their severance would be millions of dollars in overgenerous compensation.

Which brings us back to how I would spend the piddly little $80 thousand I didn’t win. Actually, when I was working in my first political campaign my salary was $50 a week, which they never paid me so I asked them to raise it to $100 – which they also didn’t pay me. There it is again, I wasn’t thinking big enough. I’m going to change that right now and as long as I didn’t win 80 mil, I might as well not have won 700 billion dollars – which I could also spend in much more reasonable and thoughtful ways than the people who have been in charge and are responsible for this devastation. The first thing I would do is buy a place for all our aging mothers and fathers... It’s like the “Song That Never Ends”. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, September 22, 2008

Let Me Eat Cake

Yesterday I was with a friend who works for a Democratic Senator. We were talking about the multitudes of crisis which face our country. And I was surprised when she confessed that until McCain (or whoever—probably not McCain) selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, she was not going to vote. So I guess you think that Sarah Palin being a woman made all the difference in the world and now she has had some kind of “kitbitka” (you remember that’s a word that means an old small Russian wagon but we thought it sounded like “a miraculous recovery” so we changed the definition) and she’s going to vote for the Republican ticket. Quite the contrary. She will vote for Obama because she will not vote for someone who believes in creationism, eliminating Roe vs. Wade, goes to a church where they speak in tongues, and shoots helpless animals for sport from a helicopter. She confessed, “I’m sorry to say that I don’t really like either candidate as a possible President. I simply don’t think either is prepared to be the leader we need today. But how, in this day and age can you vote for two people so out of touch with what’s going on in this country –culturally and technologically”.

Oy Vey! In Elizabeth Drew’s essay, “How John McCain lost me” she lists many reasons why she is no longer supporting her old friend. All the reasons are insightful, but I found this among the most interesting:
‘McCain's recent conduct of his campaign – his willingness to lie repeatedly (including in his acceptance speech) and to play Russian roulette with the Vice-Presidency, in order to fulfill his long-held ambition has reinforced my earlier, and growing, sense that John McCain is not a principled man. In fact, it's not clear who he is.’

When I read this kind of stuff I find it incredibly upsetting, so let’s talk about the Emmys and who was the Best and Worst Dressed. Now there’s something I can sink my teeth into. I do remember what some of them were wearing, now if only I could remember some of the names of the celebs. I'll try. I know there was a short dark haired woman who kept hiking up her dress, and I know that this same woman had to take a golf cart from the parking lot to the event because someone screwed up her limo. Can you imagine. It's your worst nightmare. And I know that sparkles, or maybe it’s sequins , no it’s metallic fabric is back in. But in my closet it never went out. Oh, and both the Daily Show and Colbert won because they are funny and in fact, they are the places where most people under thirty get their political news—papers, magazines, and TV news are just not cool, and too much work. Alex Baldwin is also Emmy award winning funny, but not in the same way. He's kind of mean funny -- but likeable. Mean appears to be the new nice. “Mad Men” was best drama, “30 Rock” was best comedy (but only on TV, in reality it’s just another GE media business.) And someone named Bryan won for something called “Breaking Bad”, which I’ve never seen. But then I’ve never seen “Lost” or “Gray’s Anatomy” or “Survivor”. I’m kind of a “Cold Case”, “Bones” and “House” girl. I wonder what that means?

That was a refreshing break from the hum drum of politics. So where were we. There is a PBS poll on the internet that asks if Sarah Palin is qualified. It will come as no surprise that the numbers suggest she is – or the Republican technology is better than the Democratic technology. But I love a good survey almost as much as a good piece of cake, or a vanilla malt, so I think I’ll spend most of my time exploring food instead of polls. John McCain has changed his mind several times about the bail out. Barack Obama has not really talked about it. Sarah Palin is cute, still has nice glasses and doesn’t ever leave the script. (Hey, Jordan is good at reading a script, so I guess she could be President). And Joe Biden is in some blue collar place probably yelling at someone with a blue collar. That pretty much brings us all up to date. Let’s talk about something far more interesting, like the wedding I went to this weekend. My niece Nora got married to a wonderful man named Brian who is a successful entrepreneur.

Thank God neither of them is employed by any stock related enterprise. She looked beautiful and they worship one another.

The wedding was in a lovely space, all redesigned to meet their needs and the food was both elegant and creative – my favorite was the NJ diner table at cocktails preceding the dinner.

The bride wore white, the groom wore a tux and the bridesmaids were in black with every dress being different --one even sparkled. It was a refreshing break from talk of the financial crisis, the gas crisis, the housing crisis, the war, and the election. As I watched these two wonderful people share their vows, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a world they will grow old in and what the lives of their children would be. Then I thought—stop that foolish troublesome thinking and go get a piece of cake. We’re just sayin, Iris

A Yankee Afternoon

New York is the kind of town that retains a number of very particular personality traits. In spite of all the ups and downs (1975- “Ford to NY: Drop Dead” 1977- “the Blackout” 1987- “the Black Monday Crash”... ) the list goes on. In fact I suppose last Monday could be considered the new Black Monday (why isn't it Mauve?) given it was the culmination of the uneasieness in the markets we 've all felt for months, and were waiting to play out. Be honest – you really didn't think the neo voodoo economics would go on forever did you? We all hoped we'd have some magical insight and dump all our investments at the top of the market. Here is a little fact: NO ONE DID THAT. All the geniuses are wrong at least half the time. I paid some money to receive the vaunted advice of Tobin (Toby) Smith.. the Changewave theory newsletter. He had some very interesting ideas in terms of how you had to look at the changes in societal habits to see what was coming (green energy, hi tech saturation.. .etc.) However, like all the others I invested time and money in along the way... Mark Skousen.. Doug Casey.. they just didn't get it nearly as right as they'd hoped, and as I'd hoped. So, you end up making something here, losing it there, and realizing that you should only invest in what you know.

A good friend who had come into some money – a photographer actually – decided that the uncertainty of the stock market was much riskier than the one thing he knew: photographs. So, he emptied his account, took the cash, and bought dozens, perhaps hundreds (I haven't seen the collection of prints yet...) of vintage photos from the photographers he loves – the ones who inspired him, the ones who he knows and has a vin blanc with, and the ones whose work just plain make him understand the power of the visual just a little better. That work has probably doubled in value. Maybe more. Now of course the photo market will have its cycles like everything else, but I think there probably is something very smart about investing in what you know. Alas, that includes me not, for the most part. Each time I have tried to invest in something I knew, I timed it badly, or didn't know it as well as I thought I did. Who else do you know who sold Berkshire Hathaway for a loss? There was a time when I thought if I'd just make a Burnett Session Mutual Fund, I might be better off: it was based on the idea that every interesting person or company who I photographed ... I would take the money earned on that job, and buy that stock. Over the years it would have included Microsoft, Intel, Apple, all at much lower levels than today. But you just never know unless you put your money where your mouth is.

Last Monday, I photographed down on Wall Street, and was consistently surprized by the way tourists were ambling through, taking pictures of both the Stock Exchange (with the road closed to vehicles, it's almost like a walking street now) and the Federal Hall statue of George Washington just across the small plaza. George can't be that happy with what's doing these days, and one hopes that eventually the grown ups inside the NYSE start to act with a little more sanity.

At the other end of Manhattan, today, another ritual was unwinding. After 85 years of existence, much of it of a very historic nature, Yankee Stadium saw it's last baseball game. Ruth, Mantle, Larsen, Mize, Berra, Maris, Stengel, the list is endless of the colorful and larger than life souls who ruled that grass. Even the modern day stars, Jeter, Giambi, A-Rod, and Rivera, have seen the place from the inside. Painted over the walk way to the dugouts from the locker room is a quote from Joltin' Joe Dimaggio: “I thank the Good Lord for making me a New York Yankee.” Better than any press agent could make up, isn't it. A wonderful self-written obituary, with help from Tom Verducci the writer, is in this weeks' Sports Illustrated. It's full of history, and wonderful secrets of the place; and well worth a read. Today, with friend Rick Bennion to carry the tripod (he hoped to emerge as Key Grip by day's end) we trouped on the 4 train to 161st street, just to share one of those moments which New Yorkers revel in: to display in full street threads outward love for a sports team. It was good fun, and probably would have made me cry if I'd gone inside, but I made no arrangements with the Press office, and was happy just to wander under the tracks (right field) and see the nutty citifolk who wandered in, many dressed in full Yankee regalia. None of them actually looked anything like their namesakes, but it was kind of cool to see Mantle, Ruth and Maris's names again. And just as we left the train, we arrived at the far right field (outside the stadium) area.. and there was a crowd gathered in a big circle. Rather like the old days of the Soviet Union, when you would join a line long before ever finding out what it was for.. we headed there, to find out that – surprize of all surprizes – Harlan Chamberlain, father of pitching ace Joba, was signing jerseys, programs and baseballs. Now, I may not know a whole lot about the world of paid autographs, but I have to think that Joba's dad's John Hancock probably wont' be worth a whole lot. But the idea was wonderful. To the folks IN that line, it meant a great deal, and I'm sure it falls into the category of “feels like a million bucks” even if it actually isn't. Great, as it should be. Just enjoy it. With the financial scares ongoing, we take refuge where we can, and if a signed jersey from Harlan is what you have, well, so much the better. It may not make the DoW pop back up to twelve thousand anytime soon, but if it gives seventy thousand city folks a day of breath, I'm right there. Now, if I could only find my sharpie, I'd have him sign my Speed Graphic.... we're just sayin.... David

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Talking to Ourselves

Over the last few weeks I have received, via the internet, some of the most moving, articulate, sensible, smart, clever, comprehensive, and substantive, pieces of information about the election. Most of them were about why we should vote for Obama. Some of them skewered Palin, some addressed issues of deceit in McCain advertising, and many restated the close connection between McCain and the President as well as the fact that McCain is totally out of touch.

When I read the e-mails I am heartened by the interest in the election but I am concerned about all the talk rather than action. It’s like all the Democrats are talking to themselves. And after the conversation finishes, what do they do about winning the election? I don’t have a concrete answer (except going out on the street with a Harry Truman Truth Squad) but I know it has to be more than talk.

There are three issues that I think resonate with the public – the economy, health care and the war. It’s funny to use the word resonate when what I actually mean is they make people have a range of feelings anywhere from helpless to confused to frustrated to incredibly angry. What I don’t understand is why people aren’t out on the streets screaming about the state of the nation. I get why kids aren’t protesting the war—it’s not immediate for them. I think if there were a draft, there would be serious protests. But alas, there’s no danger of that in the near future— unless McCain is elected and we use up all the people who are presently fighting somewhere. There’s nothing he wants to do more than have a war. It’s who he is. He can’t help it. He was born, grew up and lived a military existence – there is no other way for him. And Sarah Palin—his new mirror image wants to go to war with Russia and Iran and probably Aruba. But why isn’t there a mother’s march, a women’s march, a workers' march, and “I lost my home” march. Talk about a Harry Truman Truth Squad – what is more truthful than the possibility and reality of all the impending losses.

Back to talking to ourselves. We e-mail, we text, and send youTube video. It’s non stop and repetitive. It seems a waste of time because we are not reaching the undecided. But look at what’s gone on. At first Palin was a bad joke. Even I wrote that I thought it was a sign that McCain didn’t want to be President. Then the Republican machine went into action and she became a serious if not critical part of the ticket. Then her kid got pregnant (or news of it leaked out), she talked to Charlie and an investigation about improper conduct threw a big fat fly in the political ointment. So the machine worked overtime and accused the media of disrespecting her – they had the nerve to ask pertinent questions about her qualifications. Shame on them. Then there was talk that the investigation was too political and she wasn’t going to cooperate, maybe she did support the Bridge to Nowhere before she didn’t, but she sent her kid off to Iraq on 9/11 and weren’t the Towers more important more important than a silly bridge.

Last week things were terrible and the twins, McCain and Palin were riding high. Who cares if Sarah dismisses all the gains women have made over the years and who cares if McCain thinks the economy is just fine – well maybe not. Who cares if he voted for the legislation that produced this crisis. Who cares if he is out of touch. People like them. They are the new cutest couple. And Obama was virtually invisible—except for the e-mails and concerns expressed by the media and the public about why he wasn’t fighting back. So then the Obama campaign released a few commercials and Obama made some speeches and had lunch with Bill Clinton who said as soon as he finished his Foundation work (sometime in the next century) he would go out on the road for Obama. Whatever could the Obama people have done to the Clintons to cause such distain? Wish I had that to gossip about.

Moving on to this week. Things are looking less bleak. Despite the fact that McCain is up in the polls (isn’t the polling mostly by phone and isn’t it possible that people with cell phones -- all the kids -- have never been asked to participate) that people are actually starting to question what he says today, as compared with what he said yesterday or years ago and now there is some question about who this Governor from Alaska really is. Maybe the “I want to have a beer with him/her” reason to vote for the leader of the nation, is not working as well as it did in 2000. We’re still talking to one another but the tone is a little more optimistic and the questions are coming fast and furiously.

the Real First Maverick...Bret
And speaking of questions, don’t you think James Garner (use your Google) must be pretty upset about someone else being called the first Maverick. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Brown Food Groups

Somewhere between two and three years ago we produced a documentary called “The Gefilte fish Chronicles”, which you can learn about on our website whose URL is Soon after we completed the “Chronicles” video, I wrote a cookbook cleverly called “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles Companion Cookbook”. Or as I like to think of it, cooking from all the Brown food groups. So what does this have to do with the sad state of politics? Absolutely nothing—which is precisely why it’s important.

An actual meal ordered at Cracker Barrel (Sept. 2008): Fried Catfish with eggs, cheese hash browns, grits, biscuits & gravy, hush puppies, tartar sauce. We're not making this up.
What I have come to realize, in the past two days is that Obama can’t get beyond the Sarah Palin stuff because he is too self conscious about it. The truth is that when the Republicans say that asking Sarah questions, or even more importantly questioning her credentials is disrespectful, it is the most sexist action any guy can take. It’s like saying, “Don’t pick on the girl. Especially not one in glasses”. It’s so interesting to watch McCain put her out in front, like if a punch is going to get thrown, it won’t get thrown at the girl in the glasses.

Before I get back to the Brown food groups, I wanted to share a story. In 1992 we had a small but effective campaign that paralleled the official Clinton campaign. For lack of a better name we called ourselves the WAT squad—in response to Rich Bond’s speech at the Republican convention where he intimated that Democrats were not Americans. So our campaign was called ‘We’re Americans Too’. While the Clinton campaign was designed to tell the public why Clinton should be President, we concentrated on issues of character and pointed out why President Bush One, shouldn’t be President. Clinton fought back but we reinforced questions of character. I think I’ve mentioned this before. Anyway, we were quite successful and at one point President Bush (1) had conversation (on the 7pm news) with a person dressed as a very large chicken. The chicken was, at first, a comment on the President’s refusal to debate Governor Clinton— the chicken sent a message about courage. Then we transitioned to Pinocchios to send a message about the Truth, which indicated that you never knew which answer you would get from the Commander in Chief. There were also a host of other costumed characters or signs or t-shirts (like “Free Levi Johnston”) or banners (my personal favorite a 40’ banner that said “Pants on Fire”, which I still have) and much more humorous paraphernalia that sent messages about the economy, health care, education, etc. Among my favorite of all the events we coordinated was the Harry Truman Truth Squad, which usually consisted of 50-100 people simply holding a black and white mask of the former President’s face in front of their faces. Yes, it was eerie and very effective to see that many people in a silent vigil indicating that the truth was missing in whatever the President or Vice President said.

The other night I heard some pundits talking about the 1992 Clinton campaign. They were trying to figure out why that campaign was so successful. I was at home with David screaming at the TV “Because he had us!” Unfortunately, we are not part of the Obama effort. They could really us -- especially the Harry Truman Truth Squad to make a point about the lies and distortions the McCain campaign is using in commercials. I guess power does corrupt because there seems to be no limit to the level McCain will sink to win this election.

In 2004 People thought Bush should be reelected because he would be a great guy to with whom to have a beer. Kerry was much too removed -- and no one thought he even knew how to order a beer. It’s easy to forget the issues when you’re digging your way out of a campaign of character assassination. It’s easy to forget the issues when you are excited by an idea – like a woman as the Vice President. It’s not so easy to forget about the issues when you lose your house, can’t pay for gas, and have no health care. But unless the Obama campaign starts to define the terms of the election—we’ll all be wondering why were satisfied about by the idea of a beer.

Beer is one of the brown food groups. There are others, all of which can be found at the Cracker Barrel restaurants. I guess this is a day for confessions because I am about to confess yet another secret. In my car there is a national Cracker Barrel map. This means that no matter where I am, I can see if it’s possible to be anywhere near brown food group heaven, and to be sent into brown food group ecstasy. There is absolutely nothing better than fried chicken, catfish, steak with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, grits, biscuits and gravy, and eggs. Yes, all at the same time. (Oops, I left out hush puppies.) Sometimes I think that if I eat myself into a stupor, when I recover the politics won’t be as painful. Or I think I’ll just get in my car and drive to every Cracker Barrel in the country and by the time that’s completed another four years will have passed. And then I think, I can’t afford the gas—internal or external. We’re just sayin...Iris

It's All About Point of View

I'm driving into the City on the afternoon of 9/11. It’s something which makes you want to look up, and keep looking, until you see those familiar towers. There are all the docks and shipping areas of Jersey which kind of block the view, but you have this certain feeling that as soon as you clear the big Container cranes, you'll see the familiar tall thin towers looming on the edge of the city, inviting visitors as they have for almost four decades. Yet, they don't appear. I keep waiting, looking, trying to spy between the semi's and the bridges that sight which tells me my five hours from DC is almost over. It is said that the hardest thing to describe is something which isn't there. I agree. It'slike a 20 megaton version of that feeling you get when you realize you left your wallet in the phone booth, or your car keys on the MacDonald's counter. But this one is stronger, deeper, more frightening in its absence.

It's been seven years. Hard to believe we have lived that long without the towers, or even worse, perhaps, seven years of dread waiting for the next bulletin about the 'new' attack. The bad guys are surely trying to plot something, if only to baptize the next President next year. That seems to be how they do things – the first year of the new Regime. In many ways they have caused us to do to ourselves which they, even with their mightily leveraged asymmetrical attacks couldn't have done. They have installed fear as the one constant in American life. It rules everything, every judgment, every public policy, every minor activity that any of us takes part in. Can fear have been so strong in the dark days of 1942, when we had entered a war which we had no certainty of winning, and which was constantly serving up if not defeats, at least extremely costly battles. What did our folks think about the future then? Did they just feel like turning everything over to the Feds? Yes, there was rationing, and yes, there was a certain amount of censorship in a Press corps which did actually believe that winning the war was a good thing. But was the same deep, dark fear of the unknown, the kind of fear which has let Americans completely give up any sense of self worth and self assurance, so pervasive in the early uncertain days of WWII? I just don't know the answer, but what I do know is that in 2008 we are, from every level of government (and I mean every!) down to the man in the street, convinced that the only way to move forward is to move two steps back. Police patrols at the conventions would have been a bad joke if they we're so shameful. Bin Laden sits in his cave, picking his teeth with a hunting knife, no doubt watching on sat TV the overly intrusive so-called Security presence at both conventions, and must say to himself: Gee, I got way more than I bargained for.

We are not Captain James Lawrence - during the War of 1812. We seemingly HAVE given up the ship. We gave it up to fear.

My own experience on 9/11 in 2001 was somewhat removed, but not without irony. I had flown the day before from Istanbul to Belgrade, where the newly crowned basketball champions of Europe, the Yugoslavs (i.e. the Serbs) were celebrating their win, and given what had taken place in the previous couple of years, civil strife in all the former Yugoslav republics, this was the first time the people of Belgrade had been able to enjoy a victory of some kind. At the town hall, hundreds of happy and screaming Yugoslav fans waited in the rain for the basketball champs to arrive. The fact that so many Yugoslavs were playing professional basketball, and many in the NBA, I'd gone to Europe to do a story for ESPN on the new, potential stars of the NBA, the young teenagers who were honing their skills, waiting to be called to Houston, LA, or Chicago. The night of the 10th, the writer, Ric Bucher, and I made arrangements to leave the next morning for a ski resort in on the Kosovo border where one of the main Belgrade pro basketball teams was holding pre season training camp. The word was, they had a 15 year old, 7 footer who could shoot. We wanted to see what was up with him, and if Ric thought he might have real NBA potential. So, on the morning of 9/11/01 we hopped in a taxi, gave the driver the name of the resort, and off we went. A few hours later we arrived at a mountainous, rustic area, filled with Lincoln-log style buildings, and a couple of ski lifts. It was only September, no snow yet, but a definate chill was in the air. We had lunch, and then met with the coach, who spoke very little English, about 3:30 in the afternoon. He started to tell us about his program, how he recruits younger players who show talent, and what the team does, in this case, to look after a 15 year old who was playing with 'the big boys.' Around 4:00, his mobile phone started to ring. He spoke for a quick minute, then hung up and looked at us. “I think a big market building has had accident.” His English was limiting, and it would be a while till we understood “Market building” really meant “...Trade Center..” Then the phone rang a second, third, and even fourth time in the next half hour. He remained unable to tell us what the true story was at 'home', but it did put him in a different dynamic. Finally, after the fourth call, he asked me if I wanted to use his mobile phone to call home and see what was happening. Iris answered the phone: “There is no more World Trade Center...” she said, almost matter of factly. It's hard to grasp what that means if you haven't seen the video tape of the towers collapsing. You can try and describe it, but words fall short. It was a quick call, she assured me she was OK, but had no idea about anything more than a block away. It was the day our contractors were breaking through the wall of Jordan's bedroom to open up two rooms to make a suite. That morning's air crashes had, I'm sure, been something no one could be imagining. I wandered through the resort building while Ric continued to speak with the Coach. There was a tv with rabbit ears, but all it could pick up was a soccer game somewhere in Europe.
I met the 15 year old, we did some pictures, and spent a couple of hours trying to do pictures of the team in the gym. When we made ready to head back to Belgrade, we spoke again with the coach. As it happened, he lived there, across the street from the Yugoslav Television building. The same one which had been, just a couple of years before, attacked by American Cruise missiles during the Balkan unrest of the late 1990s. The missiles, which destroyed the TV center, created we was monotonically referred to as “collateral damage.” Part of that damage was to the apartment of the coach who was telling me about the World Trade Center. He was not exactly gloating, in fact he was being, under the circumstances, quite understanding. But the irony wasn't lost that the messenger to us about the New York attacks, was a man who'd lived under the arrival of American bombs. Yet, I think even he felt a certain sympathy for us, and though it would be several hours of driving until I saw on the hotel TV exactly what had happened, there was a feeling of dread which accompanied the recounting of the story to that point.
Looking back these seven years, and how a combination of government ineptitude and willful misleading we are looking at a very different country from that morning. We've sold off the government to the highest, or at least the nearest bidders, in dozens of places; unqualified people have been appointed to look after and shepherd public trust. Looting? Yeah, in many cases it sounds like looting, though in this case it's been sanctioned. We're in a couple of wars which have to be seen as the least likely way to have conquered this new kind of enemy. We celebrate the Generals who led our amazing forces across Iraq, and found, basically, no resistance. Then, with the populace acting like villagers in Viet Nam, we have had to deal with an insurrection which all the genius planners said could never happen. I have to say, all the geniuses who have been in charge seem to be a lot less genius that they seemed (at least to themselves) five years ago. And what are we left with? We live in a country in which “every changed at 9/11.” That means there is no end to police powers. No end to intrusive security. And no end to actually finding the source of what put us where we are today. On 9/12 we had the greatest outpouring of sympathy and friendship this country has ever seen. And all that good will was fiddled away over the last six years on wars which have, in their own way, become 'bridges to nowhere.'

I often think back to that afternoon in Yugoslavia, and wonder what our host, the coach, must think of the US today. Is there any sense of good will left, or have we just let it all die in a gigantic fit of bluster and hubris. I worry for our kids, and the world we leave to them. In 1946, with the war ended, and the beginning of the rebuilding of Europe and Japan at hand, I was born. That world was one of promise and hope, and of course Red Scares and Nuclear worry. But the dark days of fear and the unknown in 1942 had been vanquished, and the country was the one place where people everywhere wanted to be, live, enjoy. Now, as a parent in the post 9/11 world, I wish we'd done a better job of trying to set up the world we have control over for the next generation. Some days I think.. with Clinton born in August, '46, Bush born in July of '46, that I, as a child of September '46 ought to be the next President. One Dem, one Republican, one Independent. Would I be considered “qualified?” Maybe I'm too naïve when it comes to the level of self serving which politicians can be accused of. But beyond that, I have worked in 80 countries, have a working knowledge (eat, navigate, complain) in a couple of languages. I know that Russia is close to Alaska, but I know it because I've been in Russia. I suppose I could still be drafted, and if drafted I might serve. Maybe that could be the one thing that “everything changed at 9/11” would give back to the country which wouldn't be another step in toward the world of Fear. We're just sayin'....David

The World Trade Center, 1974
as always, click on an image to see it full size

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Look Inside

Is Wassila really middle America? Not according to crime and substance abuse statistics. And although this can be substantiated by the “National Enquirer” it is also part of the Wassila crime records—which are all over the internet and can be verified. Here’s something I don’t understand, all these middle class, middle American women say she is someone to whom they can relate. I am a kid from a small town in New Jersey— and despite my years in Washington – still very middle American. But I (like so many of my middle class sisters) don’t shoot wolves from a helicopter. I don’t speak in tongues. And I don’t want anyone telling my daughter what she can do with her uterus.

This morning I was watching the Today Show. Well, actually I was walking by the TV and it was on and I wanted to see if it was raining in NY. There is always a crowd outside and the hosts often make conversation with them. I don’t remember who it was that spotted a woman in the crowd who looked just like Sarah Palin. And much to everyone’s surprise she was from Wassila, Alaska. They were all amused and discovered that this woman and Sarah have pedicures in the same place (it is Wassila, how many places could there be?) I watched for only another moment and then my heart stopped. “My God”, I thought, “there is more than one Sarah Palin!” I hope this Sarah double is not part of the God’s will she talks about so frequently. Even more frightening is the possibility that maybe Wassila is the place the Stepford wives migrated to when they were driven out of Connecticut. Scary huh?

On another matter that has been discussed even by me, there is a Wall Street Journal article HERE...
that addresses the issue of censorship in the Wassila library. It seems that some people reported that Palin tried to have books with questionable language banned from the library. This did not happen. Palin merely made inquiries about whether or not books could be banned. Whoever started the rumor did not check their “Harry Potter” dates and some of those books were not even published yet when Palin was Mayor. It’s not a crime for elected officials to ask questions about censorship – it’s just dumb. And it’s not a crime for bloggers to make up information – that is also just dumb. So my feeling about the whole incident and the reporting about it was, as my mother always said “smart, smart, stupid” – you figure it out. And I guess, as long as we’re talking about truth in journalism, I should admit that when the Delta Shuttle offered free newspapers and magazines to their customers, I always picked up all the Wall,Street Journals and threw them in the trash. Some blobbers are incredibly opinionated.

Now back to the Stepford wives. Or maybe back to when my heart stopped. I, like so many other people (regardless of party) have been wondering why the Obama campaign is allowing the McCain campaign to ‘swift boat’ them with accusations, innuendo, outunnendo, pigs and lipstick. Even Torie Clark, former Press Secretary to Donald Rumsfeld, who wrote a book called “Lipstick on a Pig”, had the chutzpah to say something like “anyone who was paying attention for the last week knows Sarah Palin owns lipstick”. Oh yeah, then what about Revlon and Mac, and Kiehl’s? Forget Kiehl’s, they make creams. Does she not understand that in order to promote her book she needs to own lipstick? Hey, maybe Torie wrote the speech and used the line in order to promote her book. That would certainly be Republican genius – let’s give credit whether due or not.

The campaign rhetoric needs to move away from animals and make-up and toward the issues. People can’t afford health care for themselves or their families, they can’t afford the mortgages on their homes, they can’t buy gas for their cars, they don’t want to send their children to war. I yearn for the days of “It’s the economy stupid.” I want Barack Obama not ever to mention Sarah Palin, and rather to challenge John McCain to a duel—at sunrise, or maybe at “High Noon”. But instead of using a gun or a sword I want him to say, “sticks and stones can break my bones but I’m not going to let you tell anymore lies about who I am, or who you are. Let’s look at voting records and visions. Let’s ask the voters to look at the future. Let’s ask the people to open their pocketbooks as well as their hearts to see what’s inside and then cast their vote.”

picture of the Pig:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Kinder, Gentler Campaign?

Obama made an Ann Richards’ joke today but no one told him how to deliver it. It’s the one about “you can put lipstick and rouge on a pig and call her Monique but she’s still a pig”. He forgot the rouge and Monique part so the Republicans were yelling ‘sexism.’ Excuse me, but didn’t Sarah Palin use the same farm like imagery, only she did it with a pit bull. It’s awfully tedious to try to keep track of all the ‘oopses,’. And speaking of name calling, I was really hoping for a kinder gentler campaign. But, oh my God, it is not to be. We have just begun the fight and it’s neither kind nor gentle, nor truthful nor about the issues.

How come everyone in America knows that Democrats are being Swift-boated but the Obama staff? Why in the world would Joe Biden give kudos to Sara Palin’s speech right after they had been decimated in the same speech. He could have said “it was a creative way to present a great deal of misinformation”, “or “Sarah Palin is a pit bull, with or without the lipstick– and is that really what we want? Cheney is a pitbull and we’re not very happy with him.” Or even “Sarah Palin is George Bush in high heals—with lipstick, and do we want more of that kind of dressing up – we’ve seen that none of that matters when it comes to governing the nation.”

And where is Hillary Clinton? Why isn’t she on “The View”, why aren’t they both on “Oprah”? What is going on? Surely she can’t be sitting back and hoping he loses and she arrives as the shining knight in 2012. We could lose the Supreme Court by then. There might be millions of children left behind—all minorities and immigrants of course, and the war will still be raging. What could possibly be her thinking?

I read e-mail after e-mail with the same information. The Democrats are once again talking to themselves. None of it is translating as well as the pit bull line. None of it strikes a chord with middle class over 40 working women. None of it is translating into anger or excitement about the Democratic ticket. But here’s something that might. When Palin was Mayor there was some discussion about taking books off the shelves which included such titles as Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Geoffrey Chaucer, Judy Blume, and Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by Merriam-Webster. But let’s not stop there, here are some other books (although they were not removed) that were discussed as part of her "maybe they don't belong in the library" list;
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Blubber by Judy Blume
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Forever by Judy Blume
Grendel by John Champlin Gardner
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Have to Go by Robert Munsch
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Impressions edited by Jack Booth
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It's Okay if You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
My House by Nikki Giovanni
My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara
Night Chills by Dean Koontz
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Collective
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Separate Peace by John Knowles
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Bastard by John Jakes
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Devil's Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder
The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
The Living Bible by William C. Bower
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders
The Shining by Stephen King
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder
Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster
Editorial Staff
Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween
Symbols by Edna Barth

Thinking censorship is a tool for any elected official to use is incredibly dangerous. There was a time in the 1940’s when books were banned and Jews were cremated. I’m not implying that the good Governor wants to kill Jews, or Catholics, or immigrants or Blacks – that would take some work. But do we really want to revert to a time when ‘choice’ only happened in backstreets and basements. When ‘family’ was defined in such narrow terms that Sarah Palin’s kid would be in a ‘home for unwed mothers’. When people polluted because there was no conversation about global warming or alternative fuel and when there were no lines between church and State, so creationism was considered a science.

I get why the Obama campaign thinks they need to be careful about the Governor. But she is a heartbeat away from the Presidency and by all accounts, a person who careens ahead without thoughtful consideration about consequences or the truth. She is photographed sitting on a grizzly bear and proud of shooting moose. That’s colorful. But most of this makes no sense to me, especially the part where the Obama campaign sits back and let’s McCain define the terms of the election. Surely the one thing they could do is remind people that Jesus was a community organizer and Pontius Pilate was a Governor. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Save Levi Johnston!

What do we know about Levi Johnston? We saw him up on the podium at the Republican Convention chewing gum and looking adorable. If I was seventeen and living in Wassila, Alaska, he would certainly be on my list of possible boyfriends. Handsome, hockey playing jock... oh yeah! But look where he is today. Holding a Downs syndrome four month old -- in front of the country, for the cameras, and holding the hand of his childhood beloved (and lest we not forget, they are children), to make a point about how wonderful a father and husband he will be.

Let’s just say that Levi Johnston has no choice but to marry the mother of his unborn child. We’re assuming this, but he obviously doesn’t have a choice. The good Governor and the Republican party took the kid’s “My Space” page down because it said he didn’t ever want to have children. Now isn’t that a surprise? This eighteen year old baby doesn’t want to have a baby – let me rephrase. This eighteen year old baby didn’t want to have a baby, until his soon to be mother-in-law was selected to be the Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket.

When our pit bull – and that is what she calls herself—made the announcement about how she and Todd were delighted to be grandparents (they were also high school sweethearts), she failed to mention that, as Governor she line-item vetoed funding that would help other young single women support their unborn children. But when it comes to funding and legislation the McCain/Palin team seem to forget about individual needs. They talk in the greater scheme of things. (It’s so much easier when it’s not personal or rather inconvenient). Like we want clean air and water but we won’t fund it, just drill, drill, drill. We want a better education for our kids—if only those selfish teachers would sacrifice some salary. We want the veterans to be cared for—but not enough to pay for it. And in this case, we want women to choose to give birth rather than have an abortion, but we can’t be responsible for those kids. After all, the pregnancy was about their irresponsible immoral behavior. Oh, but not our kids. Our kids are different. They made a choice to get pregnant, have the baby, and marry. Or was it hot love in the backseat, no thought of consequences, uh oh a baby, what to do now that it is a national scandal. And by the way, we have the means to take care of our kids. We are happy, happy, happy -- so screw those other people (who we insisted carry those babies to term even in the case of rape or incest). But I digress—which we all know I am prone to do when I’m on a tear.

Levi, poor gum-chewing, adorable, obviously virile, Levi. When I watched this young man twitching on the stage it took me back to a time when marrying the pregnant girlfriend, was the right thing to do – unless the girl was a whore. And really, most of “those” girls were “bad” girls. They grew up with little supervision and absolutely no morals. But time marched on and things changed. “Good” girls got pregnant, school systems accommodated the pregnancies, boys, and I mean boys, were not forced into marriages that were short term (in this case my guess is until the ticket is defeated or the baby is born), and would make everyone miserable.

They have been “seeing” each other, “going out” for about a year. I remember when Jordan would say, “Tony (high school boyfriend) and I are going out” and I would ask where they were going. It was not, in her mind or mine, as much about the person as the actual place. We all go out – for a bite, to a movie, to the bowling alley, or to a place where we can make out. We do not expect to have to marry anyone as a consequence of doing any of these things. I’m sure getting married, and certainly having a baby were not in his present time life plan. But now he is saddled with these serious responsibilities that will play out on a national stage.

So here’s what we should do. We need to start a Free Levi Johnston campaign. We all need to vote for Obama so that there will be no need for him to marry Bristol Palin. The grandparents will take care of the baby and Levi can go play hockey, drop by for visiting privileges, and have a normal life. At some point if he chooses to marry Bristol, so be it. But right now, let’s help free this kid from the clutches of the pit bull, the Party, and all the pundits. Please, save Levi Johnston! We’re just sayin... Iris

Friday, September 05, 2008

Turn On Your Heart Light, Just Be Careful

A few days ago in Colorado Springs, we had the chance to enjoy a real antidote to the tortures of the Democratic Convention in Denver. The Denver, oops, the Ft. Denver Convention, which ended with a pretty swell evening at the football stadium (two days later the C.U. Buffaloes played an early season game and there were many complaints about how torn up the turf was... sorry guys, and I didn't even use my monopod!) Yet, even a week later I am, with continued assistance from the storm trooping lads of Minneapolis and St. Paul, still nauseated by the 'show of force' tactics which the police and “forces of order” used to try and maintain a peaceful venue for the host delegates. Now, a few days after the fact, might'nt it be wise to try and engage in some kind of actual dialogue with the police chiefs of the localities involved, out of the glare of spot lights and grenade launchers, and really see if there is, in the country of ours, any thing resembling Free Speech. I could have sworn that in the public schools I was raised in there was a mention of the Bill of Rights (Mr. Bigler, my 8th grade history teacher nailed me on a spot quiz – “by what other name are the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution known?” -- and since 1960 I have never forgotten) and how, in theory at least, they annoint the common folk with as much right to make their case known as that of any land owning oligarch. It would be a worthy experiment to see if any of the heads of the two main police departments have any sense of what the “Bill of Rights” is about. I do not buy for a minute that “since 9/11 everything has changed...” Sure, much has changed since 9/11 but there is nothing which takes away the rights of a public to be heard in all those changes. And I suppose if there is, then why do we bother to try and pretend, to convince ourselves, that this is still our parents' country at heart. It won't take much to figure that out. A couple of questions, and a few corresponding answers.

Headin' south outta Ft. Denver
But that is, as Iris oft notes, another blog (though it may be the really important one at hand.) Having suffered through that week in Denver, and watched the even more harassing shenanigans in St. Paul (by the way, I do agree that folks with sledge hammers in their hands – in this case the anarchists who did want to bust things up – deserved to be challenged and arrested once they make it clear that they are going to whack a dept. store window) it seemed to me that I could use a few days of chillin'. I didn't actually do the Trifecta (as Tim Zielenbach calls it...) -- the Olympics and both conventions back to back. I chickened out on the Republicans, and decided to stay in cool & peachy (amazing peaches!) Colorado for a few days. In Colorado Springs (the home of Colorado College, my alma mater) there was a wonderful gathering of balloonists this past week. Literally dozens of balloons – at one point I counted 30 inflated ones – all gathering in a park right in the center of town. It was quite a spectacle.

And because the festival operators must know that folks like me won't make it up at 5am to do a sunrise ascension (we did it a year ago in Sedona and it really was fantastic!) on a regular basis, they decided to put together a soiree version,

called something like Balloonglow or Duskglow, or WowThatsAHelluvaLotOfPeopleGlow. Just about 8pm, as the sun was gone, and the sky was that kind of rich blue you only see in the paintings of Maxfield Parrish,

the balloonists would all start to fire up their craft, using those flame spitting hot air emitting gas torches. The flames would leap 5 or 6 feet into the air, causing a rush of hot air to fill the thin silk balloons, and in just minutes give it a full, round, puffy look. Then as the overly chatty lady on the P.A. system would do a count down from 5 back to zero, we all stood in rapt attention, waiting to see just what it would look like when 30 balloons lit up at once. The amazing thing is, the flame projects not only hot air, but the most beautiful golden light into the interiours of the balloons, and it's as if the large round forms, having emerged from their Cherokee hauled trailers, have suddenly come to life, E.T. - like, glowing with a visual richness rarely seen. The first couple of times the large crowd (ten thousand, twenty, perhaps?) would gasp in unison. It was a great combination of sight and sound. I wondered what little kids would think of it, and watched a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds. They're at that age where they are ready to absorb anything cool that's out there. It was fun to watch their expressions. And my own, I suppose. The random quality with which the balloons would glow and then darken, each like some kind of giant cocoon, gave an additional air of surprize. Each one, fired by its captain, would come to life for five, ten seconds, then darken (they have to be careful not to let the fire get anywhere near the balloon material, obviously) again. It was as if there was a higher force, dispatched by the good people at Twilight Zone (thanks, Rod!) who wanted to somehow purge all that bad behaviour in Denver. To use the beauty of those flaming moments to burn away the ill wind of bad judgement which had clouded the Convention. I was quite ready for it. And there are plenty of cool corners in Colorado which are just right for washing off the official B.S. to which we are so often obliged to pay homage. So take a hint: get a cheap car (hey, the gas it plenty out there) and head to the rockies. You just never know what treat awaits. We're just sayin...David

as always,
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