Monday, December 28, 2009

Laps, Laps and More Laps

So much news for this, the end of a most interesting year. Sean Goldman is back with his dad. For whatever the reason, I was terribly disturbed by the whole story. (Some would say I’m terribly disturbed without the help of a story, but that’s not the point). For divorced or separated parents, who do or did not, have full time access to their kids, this whole episode was too much of a reminder of the pain of that absence. Not that all parents who live without their kids are totally denied a relationship (like with Sean – who at this point can barely speak English), but it’s just never easy to explain all the why’s – especially at holiday time.

Today the news was not stop terrorist attack on a Northwest flight from Holland to Detroit. As it turns out the terrorists father called the American Embassy to report that his son was probably a terrorist and at the very least should not be allowed to fly to the United States. He might also have mentioned that the kid had trained in Yemen with Muslim terrorists. Whoever took the phone call either chose to ignore the warning or didn’t take it seriously. What an Idiot, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. There are so many unanswered questions about the whole incident that no matter how many questions are answered, just like a game of ‘Whack a Mole,’ more just keep popping up.

The only good news about this whole story is that the guy attached the explosives and faulty detonator to his groin. If that isn’t poetic justice. He’ll live, but without the balls he thought he had when he determined he would blow up a plane with over 250 people.

That is not the best part of the news. Today, an incredibly stupid businessman, flying on the same flight – same flight number, same route- was taken ill in the air and locked himself in the bathroom. Why the guy didn’t tell them that he was sick, or why the crew didn’t break into the bathroom, are still unanswered questions. But neither happened and so the plane was taken to a secluded part of the airport where they discovered that the guy was sick and there was no need to have taken any of these precautions.

And speaking of incredibly stupid, The Department of Homeland Security has issued new and even more ridiculous rules for flying. For example, passengers can only carry one bag, they won’t be able to get out of their seats for the last hour of the flight and they will not be allowed to have anything on their laps for that hour. I’d like someone to explain to me how any of those rules will help to deter a terrorist. Especially since they are all a reaction to the terrorist whose father called to say don’t let him on an American airliner and some Homeland Security person screwed it up.

Everyone who has ever been involved in security (ah my hidden past), knows that making rules in reaction to a single incident is not going to prevent a different incident from occurring. No one involved in airport security is thinking about what works and what doesn’t work. How many people do you know, terrorist or otherwise who would strap an incendiary device to their “pupik” (it’s Yiddish but you get the picture). Why in the world would you forbid people to have something on their lap for an hour (unless there’s a delay and it’s more), because some idiot had explosives in his lap.

What the rules do is make the flight attendants into security officers – as if they didn’t have enough to do. The constant rewriting of rules is an inconvenience for everyone flying , that will not have an impact on any security. Business travelers who work on the plane, photographers who have cameras they don’t want stolen, and parents who are traveling with children, would like to fly, but Homeland Security, which needs a good dose of my mother’s common sense, is making it increasingly difficult, If there is an alternative to flying, people will eventually opt for that. And then what happens to the airline business? What a shame that the very people who are supposed to keep us safe, have become the enemy at the airport. How can we have any respect for a system that body searches old ladies, but ignores the warning of a parent who knows his kid is a real danger to the public. As my mother would say, “smart, smart, stupid.” We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Up on Boxing Day

One of the things we were taught in grade school, and I’m sure is no longer on anyone’s curriculum (including how to SPELL ‘curriculum’) is the fact that December 26th, is known in the UK at Boxing Day. It seems the tradition came from “collecting” boxes after Christmas, and evolved into making contributions to the poor, and other charitable efforts. In the US we don’t celebrate it as such. Instead we have the institution of the ‘after-Christmas sale,’ one which seems to have taken on almost the same cache as the Black Friday after Thanksgiving. That’s the day when store keepers lure hungry shoppers in with well advertised deals to try and kick off the shopping frenzy for the next four weeks. Today, in celebration of that grand tradition, I accompanied my wife and daughter to the 8am doors opening at Bloomindales on Third Avenue. My mother-in-law used to say “… when Bloomingdales has a Sale, its some Sale!” She, an Olympic class shopper, would be the one to know such things. The idea of 50% off an item already 20 or 30% off is enticing in the idea, though not always as rich in the follow through. I agreed to accompany the expeditionary force as the doors opened at 8am, and I figured it would probably be good for the ongoing development of my character. We actually arrived inside at 8:08am, no lines visible from the street, and being that Bloomies is so cavernous, there were virtually no signs of the hellacious Penney’s or Walmart-esque crowds which are constantly portrayed on 5pm local news shows.

I have to admit that the concept of saving $45 on a $170 Ralph Lauren tie ALMOST gets my attention. (Apparently Men’s wear doesn’t operate on the same discount levels as Women’s.) But its still leaving you with a $125 piece of neckwear. Thus, the phrase “oh, I’ll take three…” didn’t get uttered this morning. Yet I have to admit that the sheer logistics of running a sale like this.. a block square store in New York (plus all the other Bloomies stores around the country) – prepping the prices tags, figuring what will and won’t be actually slashed, and keeping some semblance of order, is truly a great triumph of management and marketing. So, while I didn’t buy anything of substance in the store today, I admit there is a tinge of admiration of the mere fact that they are able to carry it off. There must be 100.000 items for sale in the store, and keeping track of all of them, even with the luxury of inventory programs on computers, is a real challenge. (For more, please check – and I’m not making this up – the RFID Journal.)

Yet, walking back onto Third Avenue, on this somewhat lazy gray and languid Saturday morning, was like a little trip back into the past. There were, as far as I could see – down to the low forties, no cars on the Avenue. Nothing that would bear a resemblance to the madcap horn-driven traffic of just 48 hours ago. The city is still amazing when you can find it in those little moments of traffic reverie. You could stand in the middle of the street for a whole minute and risk neither life nor limb. Our New York base is in the shadow of the Lipstick Building, an ovalesque structure which takes up the block between 53 and 54th streets.

Red finish, shaped, indeed, like a lipstick tube, it is a singular building. And last spring it was better known, for a few weeks, as the headquarters of Bernie Madoff’s financial empire. It’s the building where he put together the scams which ripped off thousands of people. For more than a week, news crews were posted outside the building on a stake out (the most tedious and difficult kind of assignment) to try and get a glimpse of the great swindler, himself. I remember the first day I heard Madoff’s name mentioned in the same sentence as “fifty billion” and assumed, like almost everyone, that it had to be a misprint. Fifty Million? Maybe. Fifty Billion? You kiddin’ me?

The Lipstick building itself has managed to maintain its poise throughout. And it remains little beacon, denoting a part of town that looks like no other. So even the though city is still reeling from the aftershock of the year’s great swindlers, there is a feeling that things will somehow move ahead. That even with all the dreary news about the economy, security, and the unfortunate state of the body politic, we may face days ahead which will enliven as much as depress. Ten years ago, having just plunged into the dot-com bubble, we thought we’d never see things recover. The spectre of Y2K, now laffable in retrospect, remained a real concern for those who knew of such things. (One major CEO, who I accompanied on a trip to China in May of 1999, was incredulous that the Chinese were taking virtually no steps to avert the disaster that the world was facing from Y2K.) On the afternoon of December 31st when we saw that Sydney had not been plunged into darkness, relief was briefly restored. But we seem to have navigated our way through the ‘aughts,’ if not entirely without incident. (Yes, I would have to say the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were ‘incidents.’) But standing in the middle of Third Avenue, you get a sense that there is power enough to make it, God forbid! To 2019, and that, essentially, it’s right around the corner. When I was a kid in school, I used to try and figure out just how old I would be at the changing of the Millenium. Born in 1946, and subtracting that from 2000 equaled 54. It seemed like a number that was bigger, broader, older than almost anyone I knew, except maybe George Washington. (I still remember the crushing moment in the 2nd grade when I learned that Washington was no longer alive.) Now, imagining that in a mere decade as we approach the TwentyTwenties, I’ll still be a young guy with silver hair, I wonder how it could all have scooted by so damn quickly. Well, we have a whole week to go before Twenty Ten, make the most of it I say, even if you can’t get everything at fifty off. We’re just sayin’….David

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traditions, and Our Lives

Apparently, Sean is going to go home with his dad. It is unclear what happens now, but the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled in favor of David Goldman. Here’s what I don’t get. Right after they made the decision, why didn’t daddy Goldman get in a car with Rep. Chris Smith, drive directly to the kidnappers home, and take the child. The scenario would be something like; they drive up in an American Embassy vehicle. (This is important because the major reason the Brazilian’s ruled for Goldman was because the United States threatened sanctions which would have an adverse impact on their economy.) Then they all get out of the car and knock on the door. I would suggest Chris and the Ambassador lead the way. Then David approaches and says, I know this is confusing for you Sean, but we’re getting on a plane and going back to New Jersey, your home. We have a lifetime for me to explain all of this, but I love you and ultimately it is right for us to start this New Year together. And because it’s Christmas, not only will we thank God but I’ll buy you big expensive presents. I like the idea of bribes.

The holidays seem never to be easy for families. Whether it’s too much tension, too much stress or the idea that people who are related but don’t necessarily like one another, feel forced to be together. Ultimately, it is not always a time to reunite in a positive way. We, like so many other families, always celebrated the holidays in traditional ways. In other words, we had traditions. For example, we always celebrated Thanksgiving in New Jersey with my brother's family, friends and mom. The tradition began with dinner at the Reservoir Tavern the night before Thanksgiving. Then, on Thanksgiving the kids would make a gingerbread house and I would cook with my sister-in-law. We would always get a Honey Baked ham for Seth, and we would cook a delicious turkey, mashed potatoes (usually purple), green beans with cream of mushroom soup and French’s fried onions, a squash soufflé and stuffing. After dinner other friends would join us for dessert and coffee. For the last few years, Before mom moved, she would get sick and we would spend the rest of the night in the hospital—that was always colorful.

We have been celebrating Christmas with the same friends for more years than I would believe possible. When I was small I went by myself. Once we were grown the whole family was invited. It usually starts with dinner at the ‘’Res’ the night before Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve we have appetizers, good wine and lasagna at the Hance’s. Christmas morn is spent with Joyce and Ron and their family. We eat, and sing and exchange silly gifts. For me, laughter, family and good friends are what the holidays are about. But things change.

Once mom moved out of her house, Seth and Joyce stopped coming and opted to spend Thanksgiving at home in Plymouth, Ma. The rest of us moved Thanksgiving out to Bainbridge, Washington so we would still be with mom. We usually celebrated the week before the actual date because it was easier to travel that week.. It was always fun, we still miss not having Joyce and Seth and now their kids celebrate with us but things change.

Last year, because we had already celebrated Thanksgiving (and David was somewhere working), Jordan and I had a lovely meal at the York Grill. The restaurant was booked to capacity so we sat at the bar for dinner and drinks and it was most delightful. This year David was going to be gone again and Jordan decided to spend the holiday with her boyfriend and his family. I spent the afternoon with my college friends and had dinner with new friends back in the city. On Christmas, Jordan will be with us, Seth and Joyce with her family. And I know things will continue to change. Eventually, I fear David and I will be spending the Christmas with friends, sans family, and who knows what will happen with other holidays, like Passover – which is much more important to us than it is to our children. Glad we did the “Gefilte Fish Chronicles” because at least we will always have those memories.

David and I know that there is really nothing we can do if our children’s lives lead them to make decisions that do not include us for family celebrations. Seth has his own fabulous family and their own traditions, and Jordan has someone she loves who also has traditions. Part of it may be that we have accommodated everyone’s schedules by celebrating holidays on days that were not actually the holiday. That was also colorful, and easier. But it may have led the kids to believe holidays were not important to us – as opposed to, holidays were so important we wanted to celebrate them whenever we could.

When we were kids it was traditional to eat dinner at Aunt Sophie’s every Friday night. There were no excused absences, no passes. Time passed, we grew up, Aunt Sophie sold the house and, as adults, we grew apart. Recently, the absence of ongoing old traditions and realization that the “kids” have their own lives is not as easy to deal with as we thought it would be. But life moves on. Things change, and we feel sure there will be new traditions to which we can look forward. Every holiday will be a new adventure. We’ll just leave a cell phone number in case anyone wants to text us to find out where we are. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Sunday, December 20, 2009

About Sean....

Doesn’t anyone remember Elian Gonzalez? He was the child from Cuba whose mom (without his father’s approval) took him on a small boat ride from Cuba to Miami. Their boat sank and Elian’s mom died. Elian was taken to relatives in Miami until there was a decision about what should be done with the child. The Cuban community in Miami was not about to turn him over to Castro – not to mention his father (who was a communist).
Elian and his dad, reunited
I was in the Clinton government as Chief of Staff at the USIA, when we confronted the “Elian” situation. Lula Rodriguez, who was working with me, was a close friend and confidante of Janet Reno’s (and a Cuban refugee), got a call from the Attorney General. She wanted to know what Lula thought they should do. “Send him right home. Under no circumstances should you give that family the opportunity to grandstand.” The Justice Department did not heed that sage advice. And, as predicted, the family used Elian as a symbol of their anti-Castro sentiments – for six long months.

The United States and Brazil are both subscribers to the Hague Convention. It is an international document that, among other things, prevents international kidnapping, even by a parent. Or maybe, especially by a parent. David Goldman’s wife took their son Sean, to visit her family in Brazil. It was never just a visit home. She intended to stay. But she knew her husband would never let his son go – if he knew what she intended to do. Once back in Brazil, she divorced David, remarried, and got pregnant. She died in childbirth. (If that’s not a sign from God I don’t know what else it could be).

Her new, and apparently well connected husband, decided to keep David’s child. Kind of like Elian’s Miami family did without the politics. Here’s the simple fact. The mother kidnapped the child, who must have been traumatized by losing his dad, and then his mom. The Brazilian family now says that since the boy has been with them for so many years, he should stay with them. What a bunch of crap. Unfortunately, David can’t just take him and flee. Or maybe he could, if the State Department would support the effort. Hasn’t the government made daring raids into dangerous areas to rescue hostages. Why doesn’t Chris Smith, the Representative from NJ, and human rights advocate, just walk up to their door and say, ENOUGH! It would probably be better if Hillary went with him so that the federal government (Democrats and Republicans, diplomats and legislators) appear united against this heinous injustice. It would also be good to get Bruce Springsteen to go, but that’s a pipe dream.

The President has been silent about this personal and tragic situation. I wonder how he would feel if Michelle just took the kids to somewhere without extradition, and did the same thing. OK, she wouldn’t but I’m talking about feelings, not reality. I understand that with the bombing of Yemen and all the trips to Copenhagen he must be distracted, but what if he went to Brazil and said to their President, stop this foolishness and give this American citizen back to his dad.

A child is not a thing or a possession. The Brazilian family that is holding him has no right to keep him. It’s obvious that the Brazilian Courts have no idea about justice or injustice. Someone is making some money on this. It’s time for our Justice Department, State Department and Congress to take the issue to the Hague. It would be an international embarrassment for Brazil to be dragged to this court and maybe bring enough pressure to ensure Sean’s return to his dad and to his homeland in New Jersey. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Forming Reform

Who thinks it’s OK for the insurance companies to be able to cap the cost of a devastating disease, like cancer. Who thinks that the American public will be happy about the kind of ‘reform’ that we are about to suffer. It’s always fun to look at the real definition of something and then to try and connect it with what is the reality.

According to Thesaurus.com reform is defined as “correct, rectify” with Synonyms such as: “ameliorate, amend, better, bring up to code, change one's ways, clean up, clean up one's act, convert, correct, cure, emend, go straight, improve, make amends, make over, mend, rearrange, rebuild, reclaim, reconstitute, reconstruct, redeem, refashion, regenerate, rehabilitate, remake, remedy, remodel, renew, renovate, reorganize, repair, resolve, restore, revise, revolutionize, rework, shape up, standardize, swear off, transform, turn over a new leaf, uplift.” None of these sound like what the health care bill will be.

Admittedly, I did not read the bill. I was waiting for the Republican Senators to read the 2000 pages to me as a part of their filibuster. What was I thinking? None of them can read. Well, maybe a few can read, but not all those words. All you have to know is that insurance stocks are rising. What does that say. That the insurance companies are expecting a windfall. That the insurance companies are not worried about being controlled. Or that the insurance companies are not afraid of government competition. My skepticism is probably a consequence of thinking like a progressive. You remember the progressives? We’re the people who helped to elect Obama because we believed that he would end the war and make sure people who didn’t have access to healthcare would finally not have to choose between food and medication.

The progressives have been told over and over that we are not going to like this bill. What’s to like? I’d like a list—even a short one. We have also been told that while there is no public option, and the insurance companies really don’t have to cover preexisting conditions, (wasn’t that one of the points of reform?) there will be yet another ‘fund’ to do all of that. What I now realize is that the Obama Administration, which turned health care over to the Congressional lobbyists, instead of writing their own plan, really did want to reform health care and not health insurance. I kept writing about how important words were. And people did not understand what health care meant, so how could they support changing it. But now I see that I was wrong. As long as no one understood what the Congress and the White House were reforming, the likelihood of supporting the status quo while giving lip service to ‘health reform’ was precisely what they intended to do.

Today they announced that there were enough Senate votes to pass health care reform. And so they will. But no one, including the people who wrote or mangled the bill, will understand what they have done until it is too late to see the consequences for all the people who need help (and most of those who don’t.) Then, I guess, they will have to reform the reform. That should be another 2000 pages or more. You can be sure, however, that the insurance companies will pay no penalties and suffer no hardships or God forbid, competition.

If I were the President, I would do exactly what Howard Dean suggested. Just throw the whole thing out and start over again with specific goals. Things like ‘you have to be able to read and understand the bill within an hour or two’—and that’s reading and comprehension. And how about, the health care offered to the pubic has got to be equal to the health care offered to our elected officials. Or, conversely, that the Senate/House coverage would have to mirror that which was passed for everyone else. They would never tolerate what they have now foisted upon a distracted public. The real shame is that President Obama now appears not to care about promises made, or, what was that word….. Oh yeah, Change. Some would say same old, same old. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ma'Wah'Kee

Quite frequently, when we are minding our own business, (I know that it doesn’t happen with great frequency), some stranger will say to David, ‘”Excuse me sir, but could you take our picture?” This happened last Saturday when two young women asked David if he could shoot their picture in a Christmas decorated park in Milwaukee. He didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” The only thing is, when David shoots a picture, (of stranger or otherwise), it just takes longer than the subject expects, because he is real photographer and he wants to take a good shot. Anyway, after a great deal of fussing with an unfamiliar camera, the girls (clearly uncomfortable with this unkempt stranger), said that they had to leave. Did I forget to mention he was wearing a wool hat with the price tags still on. Anyway, David said he would take a shot with his camera and send it to them. They looked frightened by this suggestion. It’s funny when a young stranger thinks your husband is a pervert, so I jumped in and said, “go to David Burnett.com and you’ll see who took your picture.” And apparently they did because what follows is a note we got from them yesterday:

We are the two random girls from the Milwaukee Cathedral Square. Could you possibly send the pictures to this email address??
thanks!!!
you have a lot of talent!!
'

It’s Christmas season and it feels like everything in Milwaukee twinkles. It’s a nice town. Tina and her husband moved there from Madison years ago, and found it to their liking. There is good food, lots of theater, a wealth of extraordinary architecture and the Pfister Hotel. There is also black ice, (that’s the ice that looks like just a little water on the ground and before you know it, the ground is exactly where you will find yourself), a few great restaurants, a wonderful Lt. Governor, a beautiful little park with colorful holiday lights, and some lovely people -- who will gladly give you directions whether they know how to get to wherever you’re going or not. But not worry, it’s a terrific place to walk, regardless of the time it takes to find your way to your destination.

And speaking of finding. We found our way to the auditorium where Jordan was performing. We took Tina, her children and grandchildren to see “Seussical.” Mostly, the show is targeted to children who know the Dr. Seuss, stories or the parents of children who have fond memories of the stories. We have been in audiences where there were and weren’t parents. The shows where there are teachers instead of parents are better. Quieter, more respectful of what’s happening on the stage. This audience was made up with very well behaved school children, who, among other things, knew that if they behaved, they might have another opportunity to get out of doing school work for at least half a day.
JKB and the 'roomies'
The show remains adorable and the cast equally so. Jordan’s four roommates (they have been sleeping 4 in a room , two beds, everywhere.) They have a $40 a day per diem – for food and lodging and decided to stay with us at the Pfister (we get an amazing deal and pay about $10 more than their usual Motel Six. If you haven’t ever been to the Pfister and plan a trip to that part of Wisconsin, put it on your list of things to see. It’s a gorgeous, old world European hotel. The ceilings are a combination of carved gold muted paintings. Everything wreaks of elegance. (I know wreaks is like smelly but I was going to say ooze and that was even less pleasant.) Let’s call a do over. The hotel drips with elegance. Never mind, you get the point.
a Pfister blobbing moment
The whole weekend was great fun. When we are with Tina and the kids we always have a good time. You never know when someone will call
In fact, when Jordan was a kid it was so much fun it’s where she chose to celebrate every birthday. And the good people of the county board who run the Mitchell/Milwaukee airport, have added a sense of wry humor by proclaiming the sit-down-and-get-your-stuff-together area after Airport Security, the RECOMBOBULATION Area, in honor of those of us who know all to well what Discombobulation is all about.
It was another on our list of fabulous, brief, road trips with the bonus being good friends and a sparkling holiday feel. As my mother would say “Try it, you’ll like it.” We’re just sayin’… Iris

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Ode to an Old Silver Pal




Even though much of what is done in photography is very personal, very isolated, removed, in a way, from everything but the photographer’s eye and the subject, there remains still a certain camaraderie amongst those of us who practice this endeavor. If you’re working on a story of gang life in Limerick, Ireland (by Rian Dundon) or the growth of fundamentalism in Pakistan (by Yusuke Harada) you will probably find yourself in the middle of a lot of people, none of them photographers. These are the kind of stories which require a certain commitment from a photographer to plunge in, essentially letting the story unfold at each new stage and which by definition mean that you, the photographer, are working on your own. And then there are those stories, and most of us have been there, when you find yourself in a pack of photographers, each one trying to glean a moment out of a situation which might not be so obvious. But ours is a business of colleagues, and many of my own good friends are photographers. There is something collegial about our work, and whether it is sharing opinions on the new DSLR that shoots hi-def video, or the best point-and-shoot camera for taking on vacations, the banter tends to cement friendships. Maybe it’s like a lab experiment – put 10 photographers in an enclosed, confined space, shake well, and see what happens – but many good friendships have been made of lesser stuff.

This month, however I want to write about another friend of mine. One I have known for forty years. One which has always been there for me. A friend I know I can rely on when the chips are down, and failure is not an option. And while I feel a little like this friendship sometimes seems like it’s a one way street, there is no doubt that I would stand up for and defend this friend if the challenge would arise.
The Continental Palace Hotel, Saigon
In a time of so much uncertainty, it is a joy to know you have someone to rely on. And for me, that friend, the one I became acquainted with in the first year of Richard Nixon’s term, was my 26” Halliburton aluminum travel case. In early 1969, a year in the business, and trying to complete my ‘kit’ of gear, I was always on the look out for good deals. John Olson, a friend who was working for the weekly LIFE (at 22, the youngest staff photographer they’d ever hired) was selling some of his gear, and I happily purchased a few of those goodies. It was a very different time: Hong Kong was still a cheap place to buy photo gear at unbelievable prices, and things were bought and sold even before there was an eBay to facilitate such things. John sold me a black Leica M4 with a 21mm lens for $325 (and he made money on the deal, I’m sure) and for an extra hundred, threw in a mildly beat up two-suiter aluminum suitcase (official stats 26x18x12.) I was only just beginning to own enough gear to come close to filling a case that big, but somehow I knew I’d eventually own enough gear to fill it up. In one early incarnation, I filled the case with four layers of foam, and cut out holes to fit all my cameras. (Shipping was much more secure then. It was rare that something didn’t make it to the final destination of choice.) Sadly, the foam I chose wasn’t quite firm enough for all my cameras and lenses, and when I opened the case (in Lima, I think) all the gear had schmushed down to one end, the foam rubber barely keeping the cameras apart. It looked like a pizza which has been carried home from the café in a vertical position, and when the box is opened, a giant mass of cheese has settled pillow-like all the way down on the bottom. I learned to be nicer to the case – and the contents. When packing cameras in foam, I bought the more expensive stuff for a change. Often, I’d throw cameras and clothes in together, as the aluminum outer shell of the case made it almost impervious to the crushing forces which lesser bags have succumbed to. I used the case to get my cameras to and back from Vietnam in the early 1970s. The fact that it locked with a pretty silver key gave it an added air of safety and protection. You would need real cutting tools to get inside a locked one. I eventually started buying decals on my trips, and sticking them both inside and out, little mementos of trips which came to have great meaning to me personally. It came to be a shippable version of my 70s and 80s itineraries. Like most photographers, I think, I still get those little butterflys of uncertainty as the plane flies over the fence on final. You look out the window, see the local cabs and buses scurrying on the perimeter road and wonder awaits. Nothing boosted my confidence on arriving at a foreign airport like seeing the silver Halli, rotating around the luggage carousel, beckoning me to grab it and get on with the work.
Snuggling up with the 4x5 gear
Most of us have a few old friends like that which we rely on. Dennis Brack, the great DC freelancer, has been using the same black heavy plastic shoulder bag for at least forty years. It’s not a very handsome bag, and anything but chic, but the one thing it offered, virtually no one other did: you could stand on it without either crushing it, or falling off. It let Dennis be 6’4” when he needed to be. All the difference when a little elevation was called for. I’m just back from a trip to another exotic location – Southwestern Ohio, and as I unpacked the big silver case yesterday, I slowly read over all those stickers again, and so many images came back to me. Saigon 1971, a submarine trip in the Pacific 1982, Sarajevo 1984, the Pope in Poland 1983 (where Lufthansa tried, unsuccessfully to destroy the case, and paid heavily for it!),
The Black Madonna of Czestacowa (Poland)
Tehran 1979, Ayers Rock 1981, Jamaica 1985, and the Presidential campaigns from 1976 through John McCain a year ago. It scares me to think that I’ve been married to a suitcase longer than I’ve been married to my wife, but each of them seems to understand the place of the other. And even though the Halli doesn’t cook so well, and has a demeanor devoid of the kind of humor I appreciate, when I need to pack up my stuff, and head to the airport for trip to Timbuktu, I know that it will be the one case which will get me out and back. We’re just sayin’…David

It's About the Threes

When I was a kid a friend told me that airplane crashes always come in threes, so if a plane crashed at a time I was supposed to travel I shouldn’t go. Obviously, if you gotta go, you gotta go. This meant, that when I got on a plane, after two planes crashed, within a few days of my trip, I simply prayed a lot and hoped for the best. This was not as disconcerting as when my college boyfriend took me to the airport and told me that my number wasn’t up, but – (and he would point) “you see that guy going with you, his number is.” Needless to say, I lived, but it was a sign the relationship was doomed.

Holidays always seem to be a time when people are celebrating or they are getting sick. For example, this week I found out that the grandson of one of my friends has leukemia, a treasured cousin has inoperable pancreatic cancer, and an old friend has a brain tumor.

This week there were three news stories that were equally unimportant and yet, received an overwhelming amount of media attention. First there was the White House party crasher story. Then there was the Tiger Woods, “did she try to kill him or save him” story. And last but not least, Chelsea Clinton is getting married to a nice Jewish boy. Should I send them a copy of “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”. I know his mother must be kvelling. I mean, I know his mother and I know she must be kvelling.

What is it about the number three. Or, maybe a better question is, what is it about superstitions that make us pay attention and find significance in something like a number. In my family there were no shortage of superstitions. Although some were ridiculous, some actually seemed to make sense. (Sense may not be exactly the right word but in my family it's hard to distinguish between sense and nonsense.) Some superstitions were directed specifically at the women in the family. One of them was, “if you throw something at a pregnant woman, the mice will eat your clothes". Or, if you go down the staircase backwards, you will get your period. And, my own personal favorite, “if you have your period when you make the horse radish—it will never be hot enough.” If, on Passover when they had worked to make the horse radish unbreathable, and you could open the jar and still breathe, she would line us all up and insist we confess about being ‘clean'. (When you have your period you are not ‘clean’) Other old wives’ tales or as my grandmother called them bubemeisters seemed to be a bit more rational. For example, if you lose something, and you turn a glass upside down on the table, you will find it. (Try it, it’s amazing.)

There were also bubemeisters to which she insisted we pay attention: You never moved into a new home without first putting salt, flour, and sugar in the cabinet and a broom in the closet. And most importantly, you never did anything (like dress your children to well) or anything that would draw the attention of someone who might give you the evil eye. Now aren’t those refreshing. Especially in light of the horrible 'three' thing.

This is also the time of year when we think about things like our own mortality, what we weigh, and how to avoid fighting with our families at holiday dinners. But it should also be a time to remember that no matter how hard we try to live good lives, life is so tenuous that there is no predicting what will happen. So, I would say, err on the cautious side and stay away from black cats and broken mirrors. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful and Grateful

We celebrated Thanksgiving two weeks ago so I felt that if I stayed in bed all day, to watch the parade and a few more episodes of “SVU”, I wouldn't be missing anything. But as it turned out, I received three invitations, which were very appealing. One was from a college friend who was having a difficult time and needed a hug. One was with a new friend whose Mom passed away this year and she wanted to be with people she loved. And the last was from a friend who I have known for years but who has recently become a part of my professional as well as personal life. Unfortunately, there was a problem with timing (even I can’t be in three places at the same time), and I could only accept two of the invitations.

Needless to say, (I have never understood what that means because if it is needless to say, then why say it), but I had a wonderful time at both celebrations. It’s always terrific to see my friend from college and as it happens her husband is also a friend from college. We have known one another for quite some time, (which means we remember one another without any baggage), and we truly love each other, but we have never shared our children. We just never took the time to do that. Maybe it’s because we still see each other without all the life experiences and we don’t want anything to interfere with than perception. Or maybe we just never took the time. Whichever, yesterday I met her entire wonderful clan.

It occurred to me, while I was on the train going from place to place, that the expression “time flies when you’re having fun” is totally stupid. Time flies whether you are happy or miserable. My grandfather used to say, “life is like a train. First you are on the local and then when you get older you also get on the express.” Anyway, I took the local back to the city to join my pal who had lost her mother this year. That was also a special time. The food was miraculous, the wine flowed and we all told stories about our lives. We were getting to know one another, as opposed to sharing times passed together. It was also very special.

I often think about the things for which I am thankful. There are the obvious things, like children, family, and friends; doing something I love everyday, health, and having medication available when you need it. Yesterday, I was also thankful that I was not the Tareq or Michaele Salahi, reality show wannabes (a concept I find ridiculous and maybe appalling) who crashed the Indian state dinner at the White House). They certainly dressed the part. He in a tux and she in a fabulous red almost Sari. They looked like they belonged – but they never got an invitation. Why would anyone (with their egos, as opposed to a terrorist), take the chance of maybe going to jail for lying to a federal officer, or embarrassing themselves in front of their friends and maybe the entire nation. It was like an admission that they weren’t important enough to be invited, so they got all dressed up and crashed the party. How tacky – and tacky is only the beginning.

Then I started to think, is there a difference between being thankful and grateful. People often use them synonymously, but one (grateful) makes me uncomfortable and the other is comforting. Dictionary.com defines grateful as ‘warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received;’ and thankful is defined as ‘feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.’ I think that grateful is something you receive externally, like a Coke when you’re thirsty. And thankful, is something that quenches more than thirst. It is something you feel deeply, an emotion rather than an act. Then I stopped thinking and got back into bed feeling thankful for the people in my life and grateful that I had eaten so much good food with so many lovely people. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Monday, November 23, 2009

Of Course You Realize, This Means War!

Yesterday I was reading Frank Rich’s op-Editorial in the NYTimes. It is something I try to do every week because he is consistently right on target – or right on target for me, since I agree with most of what he says. I also try to read the editorial page of the NY Post and the Washington Post and Washington Times – although I do not agree with a great deal of what is written. But it is important to understand the differing opinions in order to craft an argument, because not everyone in the United States agrees on everything. However, unlike other people who write editorials, Frank is not mean spirited about his views. And he’s a good writer.

I only mention this because yesterday he wrote about Sarah Palin and to tell you the truth, I am sick of conversation by and about the former candidate, Mother and Grandmother of the Year, and now ex-Governor of Alaska. It is unlike me to be intolerant but let’s face it. She is irrelevant in my life right now, and hopefully forever. The only difference between her and Ann Coulter is that Sarah was elected to do something (which she has abandoned) and Ann never did anything, but was trained to compose right wing rhetoric (and found it quite lucrative). What they have in common is that they both thrive on the media attention they receive and have no moral core about whether or not what they say is truthful. This, and the fact that they both get so much media attention is disturbing, but not surprising. In my opinion, I think it says more about the media than about their victims. (And I mean that in the nicest possible way.)

What I’m finding lately, is that I am also tired of liberal organizations that send e-mails where, usually in the first paragraph, they choreograph an ‘us and them’ scenario usually about important issues – like heath care and the economy. This is usually followed by some scare tactic that predicts the end of the world and then asks for money to support whatever their effort. Examples from MoveOn.org and Truthout follow:

“Skyrocketing health care costs have resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths, and are driving many thousands into poverty. And the outlook is not good. Truthout needs you to help give these people a voice. We need you to join with us to hold professional politicians accountable to the people, not just the lobbyists.
Meanwhile, right-wing teabaggers and corporate lobbyists will be left demoralized and in disarray.” Moveon.org 11/23/09

And From Truthout.org “But we could still lose this fight. And if we do, we won't get another chance: Democrats will conclude that bold, progressive initiatives are too risky. President Obama will be forced to scale his agenda way back. And the Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck wing of the Republican Party will be on the rise headed into the 2010 and 2012 elections. The next few weeks will determine whether we face a dream or a nightmare. Can you contribute, right now, to make sure that nightmare never comes to pass?”

Why is all the material that both Parties send to their constituencies always couched and described as if we were fighting a war. As if there is no common ground. As if the health of the nation (literally and figuratively) has to be decided in combat rather than diplomacy. Maybe I am naïve (ha ha ha!) but it seems to be that conversation and compromise, in order to achieve a common goal (other than supporting lobbyists on both sides), would be much more productive. And the likelihood of leaving only the spoils of war would diminish considerably. We’re just sayin’....Iris

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Just a Little Disappointment

Am I the only person in the entire universe who thought that the stock market was directly connected to the health of the economy? Clearly it is not. It is just worth noting that in “Slate” this week, they did a cool little piece which addressed the number of jobless and the number of foreclosures in America.. And those are the real indicators of the health of he economy and the nation. They also did a terrific spread (front page I might add) about David Burnett’s book “44 Days” about the Iranian revolution in 1979. Oh that guy!

The question is, did the Obama administration think that no one would notice the promises made and not fulfilled. As many of my gay friends in the military are still asking, what happened to getting rid of “Don’t Ask, don’t tell”. Many will remember when Bill Clinton decided that this policy was the best way to address that closeted issue. It wasn’t. The best way to address the issue is to say being gay, just like being black, a Muslim, a woman (pick any of what we Democrats call ‘special interest’ groups) who want to serve the nation they love so well (well enough to want to risk their lives for it), will be welcomed with open arms. This would make good political sense to the “Obama” constituency. And rather than making sure the rich get richer (which I always thought very Republican) he might be concentrating on Human Rights, and, dare I say Women’s rights. Just take a look at the Stupak amendment, which, although written in the ‘new’ health care reform package, reforms abortion back to about 1960. Rachel Maddow, a liberal but not a Democrat, on one of her shows asked “what would happen to the Democratic party if pro-choice women decided not to vote?” Those of us who understand how important women are to the party, can certainly answer that question.

Maybe, the Obama Administration thinks that women have no place else to go – but we don’t have to go anyplace. If I might digress for a moment and comment on this ‘rich get richer thing.’ A few years ago I co-founded a women’s small business internet loan fund. We realized, when we looked at to whom the banks were giving money, women were not a big percent. Women did not have the same credit scores as men. Women live and put priorities on different things – often things like family instead of career advancement. We redesigned credit scoring so it reflected the way women live. It then became possible to make reasoned decisions about which women would be able to pay back their loan and make a success of their business. Traditional lenders (banks), thought women were not a good risk. Just like Democrats think women have no place else to go. Boy, (you should excuse the pun) are they mistaken.

Let's not forget the drug companies, who have decided to raise the prices of their drugs before there is a moratorium on price gouging. Are you wondering what the Obama Administration or the Congress is going to do about it? Apparently the same thing they did about exorbitant bonuses for the people who work for big bailed-out banks and in stock market related jobs. Absolutely nothing.

Do you detect frustration in my tone. Maybe not, because writing doesn’t necessarily have a tone, but I am the same kind of upset as I was when Bill Clinton pointed his finger and said "I did not have sex with that woman." We waited so long to have someone who understood the 60’s struggle and values, to make a real difference in the world. And ultimately, he embarrassed all of us because he couldn’t keep his fly closed. The circumstances are different with President Obama. He is a loyal devoted husband and father, but we feel the same disappointment. He had a vision and seemingly, a way to make it a reality. But when we compare the rhetoric to the reality, there appears to be a big gap.

When just plain folks ask, “I have lost my home and my job, why can’t the President bail me out?” You often hear from the powers that be, “Because a person who has lost their home and their job is not a good investment. But who put those people on the street. The same companies that were bailed out by the government.

Oscar Wilde, who would not have been allowed to serve in the military – because he was incapable of not telling, said, “It is absurd to divide people into good or bad. People are either tedious or charming.” And what does that have to do with anything? Nothing it's just one of my favorite quotes and I wanted to share it with my loyal readers. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sisters in Fish

When I get one of those e-mails about women as a ‘sisterhood,’ I usually gag and hit Delete. The bulk and somewhat impersonal notes, that often end with ‘send this on or lightning will strike you dead,’ are worth ignoring. But that is not the same as having a few women who are such an intimate part of my life, that I consider them Sisters. Here are examples of just a few. Tina, has been part of my life since before we were born. Our mothers were best friends and it was almost as if we had no choice. Tina has not had an easy time of late. Her husband died, their business went bankrupt and what seems like an impossibility, financial struggle, has become her reality. Despite all this, Tina remains one of the funniest people in the world—maybe in the universe.

Then there are my high school friends, Joyce and Pam. Actually, Pam has been part of my life since nursery school but that’s almost too far away to remember. We shared so many incredible experiences as children, like I was tossed out of Brownies because the leader was anti-semitic, and Pam’s mom, in protest, took her out of the troop. That was really something. It was a statement I would never forget. I met Joyce in Home Ec (I wanted to take car repair and wood shop, but they didn’t let girls do that). I was forced to take cooking and sewing. Cooking was bearable, but sewing was beyond my comprehension. Joyce, seeing my struggle, decided it was easier to complete my projects, than to teach me how to complete them myself. There is Soozie, who I met freshman year in college. We have laughed through good times and bad and have continued our mutual adoration society for oh so many years. She and her husband Jeff were Jordan’s Godparents. Sadly, Jeff died over twelve years ago and we still miss him everyday. Happily, Soozie introduced me to Jane, who lives pretty close to us in Va., and has become the person I call every time I need a laugh, a meal, a confidante, or company for the theater.


Then there are the women I met in politics, Kim, (who was actually my student before she became my political protégé) Marthena, Sidney, Deborah, Sarah, Sara, and Kat. They are all totally unique. When you meet people in campaigns or politics, you form the same kind of relationships you do in camp.— they are fast, furious and forever. Even when you don’t see one another for years, you remain connected by something unexplainable, almost magical – and part of that has to be the shared desire to make the world a better place to live.

My newest of these sisters is six feet tall and not Jewish, except in her sensibilities and her heart. And what a heart she has. I have only known her for a few months. When we met, however, it was like we had known one another all our lives. As part of the story, you need to know my husband and I produced a documentary called "The Gefilte Chronicles.” (yum, maybe) It's a remarkable film and you should take a look at the website www.gefiltefishchronicles.com

Anyway, there I was at a Public Diplomacy conference at White Oak in Florida. It is a gorgeous facility, but unlike most other conference centers, this one has a wildlife preserve attached. There I was scoping out some big ugly lizards, and my phone ran out of film --or power or whatever it is that allows your phone to document your day. "Oh, Crap!" I said. And this tall beautiful woman (also scoping the reptiles) said, "What is it?"

I shared my camera woes with her and she took a picture for me, and that led to a discussion of fish. (Don't ask it just did). I spoke about gefilte fish and she about lutefisk (she being of Scandanavian extraction from the northern mid-west.) Jews aren't privy to information about lute's, and Scandinavians aren't usually conversant about gefiltes but that was soon remedied. I told her about combining the White and Carp fish and she told me about the best way to make lutefisk.

The most important thing to know about gefilte fish is that you have to 'hock' (like chopping) until it becomes so glutinous that it doesn't require any bread or matzo to hold it together. The most important thing about lutefisk is "it important to clean the lutefisk and its residue off pans, plates, and utensils immediately. Lutefisk left overnight becomes nearly impossible to remove. Sterling silver should never be used in the cooking, serving or eating of lutefisk, which will permanently ruin silver. Stainless steel utensils are recommended instead."

No need to go on and on. The most important thing to know about these amazing women is that despite our cultural, religious, age, and physical differences, we are all ‘fish’ sisters in our souls. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Die Mauer ist Kaput

This seems to be a month for anniversaries. Last week (the 4th) marked the 30th anniversary of the taking of the US Hostages in Tehran, an event which spun out of control of both the Americans and Iranians, each feeling obliged to plant feet firmly in the ground and not give the other side an inch. What should have been solved in hours (as it had been in February 1979 when militants took over the Embassy for a few hours) went on till relations had soured between the countries well beyond what anyone had thought possible, Jimmy Carter had taken his Presidency down the path of not return, 8 military guys died in a failed rescue attempt, and above all, the chance for any civil dialogue between Tehran and Washington was totally ruined. It wasn’t till Reagan had taken the oath of office, 444 Days into the depressing chapter, that the hostages were finally released. I had been for almost two months in Iran the previous winter, during the Revolution, having arrived there on December 26, 1978 fresh from a story in Pakistan. I’d heard of unrest, and protests against the Shah building for that previous year, and thought I’d spend a few days checking it out for myself. Within hours, I realized that it was a story which was not going to quietly go away. There was a degree of energy in the street demonstrations I’d rarely seen, and I decided to hunker down and see for myself what was going on. In front of the eyes of our cameras, the Revolution played out day by day. Following it was something like being in a race in which you didn’t know where the finish line was. You just followed the events from one day to the next, and like the Iranian people themselves, tried to make sense of it every night. By mid February the newly returned Ayatollah Khomeini had consolidated power, and the Shah had fled. With rallying cries at nearly all the political events primed with “Death to America,” the stage was set for what would be come, in November. As it happened, the day the hostages were taken I was in Thailand, waiting for a departure to Burma. I’d managed to get a one week visa for a trip there, in the days when you could still spread 30 rolls of film through your luggage, and be relatively sure of not being seen as a “professional” photographer. Bags were not routinely x-rayed yet, and with a bare bones set of 2 AE-1 cameras (see the ad I did with John Newcomb for CANON shortly there after) and a few lenses I spent a visually enticing week in that mysterious country.

While waiting for that final visa, I secured a pass from the Thai military, and drove into Eastern Thailand where thousands of Cambodian refugees, fleeing the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, were being kept in refugee camps. I only had a visa for a few hours, but the impression those faces made on me has never gone away. Now, years later, we can speak of the Killing Fields as if we knew all about it at the time. But once the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975, little information got out of the country.

At the time the US, still smarting from the ignominous departure from Vietnam in 1975 still had the feeling that the Vietnamese could do no right. Yet it was finally the Vietnamese army which in 1979 actually invaded Cambodia (following previous Khmer attacks on Vietnamese border towns) and defanged the Khmer Rouge, ending the regimes tenure. I remember feeling at the time – after I saw the faces of the Cambodian refugees, that as odd as it might sound the Vietnamese army should have been given the Nobel Peace Prize. It was too little and far too late for the millions of Cambodians killed after the 1975 take over.

This week, Monday, is the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin wall – the sudden decision by East German authorities to finally give passage to East Berliners, letting them travel freely to the West for the first time since the Wall was built in 1961. Looking back on it now, it’s hard to relate just what a huge breakthrough this was. As a child of the cold war, who remembers the palpable fear of those confrontations in the late 50s and early 60s with the Soviets, to see the end of the Wall, and all it represented, was an enormous surprize. It all happened so quickly. After years of having come to accept its leaden and stultifying presence, in just days the world changed. In response to the news of things seeming to bubble along, I’d planned to leave Washington for Berlin on 8 November, which would have put me there at just the precise time when things broke. But at the request of a good pal, Doug Kirkland, who was having an opening exhibition in DC that night, I put my trip off for a day. (It was in the days when you could actually change an airline ticket without losing the whole value of it…) On that Thursday afternoon, as I was packing, I received a call from Stanley Kayne, then TIME”s photo chief in Washington. “The East Germans are giving visas… “ he said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

He summed it all up,”the East is opening up.”

I felt that I’d once again missed a key moment in something going on in the world. (You know, you always feel like you’re missing something.) But it was with even more excitement that I packed my bag that afternoon, and headed to Dulles to catch the plane. The next morning, arriving in Frankfurt to grab a plane to Berlin, I called Lennie Heinen, the TIME picture coordinator in Bonn. In one of the very few moments of my life which reminded me of a John LeCarre novel, she gave me the following shipping instructions. “By one o’clock you need to go to Check Point Charlie. On Friedrichstrasse, look for a large red S on an office building. Under that S will be someone holding a red TIME Magazine envelope. Give them your film.” Somehow it seemed so appropos for my first shipment from Berlin to be so shaded in that mysterious cloud that the Cold War had given us. Once there I made my way to Check Point Charlie, shot for an hour, and shipped under the red S. Then I headed to Brandenberg Gate, that enormous 18th century structure which is one of the real marvels of the city. Hundreds of young people were there, standing on the wall, having played a large game of tag with East German soldiers the previous 24 hours.

I reloaded my cameras, stepping over the cables which anchored a TV crane near the wall. As I did so, there was a tap on my shoulder, and I turned to see Tom Brokaw tell me those words which no journalist ever hopes to hear: “You should have been here last night.” Of course he was right, but the story continued to undo itself over the next week and those weeks turned into months. It was a new world, and not only the Germans but the rest of us beheld it all with amazement. In the months to follow, the regimes in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania will fall as well, and that time we knew as the Cold War would slowly morph into that new world which we now live in. Sometimes, I have to say, it’s almost with nostalgia that I think back to the simple days of the Cold War. No IEDs or “asymmetric warfare,” just the basic worry that at some point, potentially, a giant phalanx of tanks and planes would roar across Europe as the Soviets would conquer all. Never happened. Didn’t make sense for either side. But it was the nightmare you could almost live with. The new world isn’t as pretty or orderly, but to paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, you “look at the world the way it is, not necessarily the way you want it.”

I can’t begin to describe the joy that those few days of liberation felt like in Berlin. The sparkle of discovery in the eyes of the Osties was something I’d never seen before. None of us really could believe it was happening. But as sometimes happens, the pictures of this most momentous event are uniformly less powerful than the memories of those dark and cool Berlin nights. The cries of German revelers still rings in my ear: “Die Mauer is Kaput”…. “ the wall is finished…” Often as a photographer, you make great pictures at an event of little significance. But the opposite is possible too, and when it does, when those pictures just don’t match the power of how you remember it, you just have to take it to heart that the satisfaction of having been somewhere at the right time is reason enough to have been there. Sometimes just being there IS reason enough. We’re just sayin’…David

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Lament of Art

Perhaps the most telling comment about the state of things was the often lampooned statement by New York Times editor Bill Keller on "The Daily Show" this summer that "the last time I was in Baghdad I didn't see a Huffington Post Bureau, or a Google Bureau or a Drudge Bureau." While there are plenty of things The New York Times and the rest of the daily and weekly press don't get right, if we are stuck without them, going forward in this time of economic upheaval, we will soon discover that there are plenty of things they do get right. I have never worked for a daily paper or a wire service, but I certainly appreciate the role they play in trying to inform the public. There are lots of things to bitch about when talking of the "press," but in the end there is a desire to inform, a need to investigate, which is paramount. And at the point where these things become less feasible – money and manpower constraints chief among the villains – the society we like to think we live in will change radically. The idea that journalism can flourish merely by the aggregators aggregating is so flawed. Eventually, with nothing produced by the actual producers, there will be no content available to aggregate. And the bloggers can have all the opinions they want, but it will be based on little that is real. The economic collapse of the last few years has proven several things. That without some kind of active reporting to keep things in check, there will always be people – in government and business – who will take the shortest of shortcuts to make a buck.

This week there are said to be yet another round of cuts at the Time Inc. magazines, cuts numbering in the hundreds. Part of the ongoing bloodletting that the press as a whole has endured over the past five years. The spiral shows no sign of ending: advertisers moving away from traditional sources (in this case, magazine ads) to either the Internet or nowhere … the fall in revenue, causing the magazines to try and rethink how to be relevant … said relevance nearly always falling short, and leaving the company with much reduced budgets to spend on content. Less money spent on content (photography = content) produces a magazine which fewer readers find interesting. And so it goes as the swirl around the bowl catches more and more of us.

In the end, one wonders how it's possible to even put out a magazine anymore. When I think of what we used to do, the budgets we had – and they never felt extravagant at the time – were essentially an investment in excellence. The overall tone of every conversation with every editor was about coming up with something better than before, something which the readers would react to, and keep bringing them back week after week. That quest for excellence is what drove many of us. It made us want to find those qualities in our own work that would round out a story, and provide something refreshing and compelling to the readers.

In the fall of 1973, the "Kippur" war between Israel and Egypt and Syria was a case in point. I remember sitting in what was then the cramped Gamma office (I'd just joined Gamma after Life folded) in New York, listening to the bidding war on film by Jean-Claude Francolon, the photographer covering the war on the Israeli side. Robert Pledge – then new to the world of photojournalism – was fielding a battery of unending calls from Time and Newsweek, and each call that afternoon upped the ante considerably. For just one photographer's work that week, the bidding eventually reached something like $12,000 for first rights. In 1973 that was enough money to buy two cars with something left over for a good bottle of wine. Today, I suspect the entire photo budget for a complete magazine is something less than $12,000 on an average week.

So what will become of those bodies of work that we used to refer to as "photojournalism?" Will there eventually be a retrenchment that will feed more money back into a system that has broken so badly? We have so much potential now, though at times the new technology seems to be of questionable value. I have been on big-event shoots (political conventions, for example,) when magazine editors, instead of trying to make their own calls, spend their time sifting through the wire service pictures which end up on Yahoo News Pictures, and keep haranguing their own photographers about why they don't have a particular picture. That seems to be one of the lesser virtues of this world of instant communication. (On the other hand, let's face it, copying information from a caption off a wire service picture and using it as your own at least gives you a reasonable chance to get the subjects' names spelled correctly.)

We are facing what will no doubt be a continued period of uncertainty, and the major challenge remains our ability to feed photographers enough to let them do their work and pay their rent. Many photographers work on their own projects, self-supported or funded, or at the very least, self-motivated. These are often the most interesting work of all. Yet at some point, when the budgets that have been cut a dozen times already finally trim off the photography altogether, what in the hell do we do? Where does society find the value in our work? What will be the new venues where photography in general, and photojournalism in particular, might find some kind of rebirth? Will it be strictly on gallery or museum walls, or will some new form arise which can take the vision of photographers, rather than just aggregate? I am convinced that the power of the still picture remains a vital force, all the more so now that our daily lives are so inundated with bad video. At some point, perhaps that magic formula will arise, and photojournalism can be profitable again. It would be a pity if, at a time when so many good photographers are producing so much good work, there would be no place for it to be seen, save for a corner of an aggregator's screen. We're just sayin' … David B.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Plethora of Unfinished Pastry

Here’s the question of the day – other than who will win the World Series which may be more important, at least in NY and Philly. Was yesterday’s election a referendum about Obama’s leadership? My pal Laura says it was more a referendum on the wealthy – in particular Corzine and Bloomberg (who despite spending 100 million dollars, almost lost to someone whose name next to no one had ever heard.) It’s possible that the rich still get richer but can’t always buy an election. However, I’m not sure it was as much about Obama as it was about the Democrats and Republicans having a party and no one came. There were so few voters that they were serving pastries at the polls and most everything was left over.

The good news is that the Democrat from the 23rd district in NY won, with the help of Ms. Scozzafava, the Republican who dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat. It certainly was not because Joe Biden threw all his support that way. And if you want to talk referenda, the fact that Sarah Palin and the right wing conservatives lost, is a sin the Republicans should not ignore if they want to win elections when more than seven people vote.

The bad news is that the people who voted in Maine repealed the law that permitted Gay marriage. It’s clear that there was a well organized campaign to make sure this happened, but I would have thought the vote would have been closer. I don’t know why I thought this. Silly me. I also thought that Obama would eliminate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and as uncomplicated as that would have been, he didn’t do it. He should have had a serious conversation with one of our great generals, Wes Clark, who said anyone that wants to serve their country should be allowed to do so, no matter sex, color, religion or sexual orientation. There’s something to be said about electing people who are courageous human rights advocates.

Exactly what is it about single sex marriage that frightens so many people? Clearly it’s good for the wedding industry. And the economy. More jobs making wedding gowns and bright blue tuxedos for purchase or rental, more catering jobs, more hairdressing needs, and more magazine sales—they could use some help they are all in such trouble. “God is opposed to gay unions” doesn’t work for me because, as far as I know, none of the anti gay activists has a direct line to the big G or his son. And further, plenty of respected religious leaders and medical experts, think it’s just fine. Really, when you check out the majority of perverts in this great nation, most are heterosexual.

I think it’s all about THE sex act. They don’t want to think about two people of the same sex having sex. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they watch pornographic movies where you can see plenty of this.

My mother always said “live and let live”. She always said that as long as your actions don’t hurt anyone else, they may be stupid and insensitive, but they probably aren’t dangerous. My mother told us we needed to marry within our religion. My brother didn’t, my son didn’t and who knows what my daughter will do. But she learned that my sister in law is fabulous, as is my daughter in law and now my mother admits she was wrong.. Now she says, people should make their own decisions about how they want to spend their lives and everyone else should mind their own business.

If all the people who spend oodles of money and energy advocating against the freedom to choose a particular way of life, spent their time looking for Osama Bin Laden, they probably wouldn’t find him but at least, they wouldn’t have time to stick their noses into other people’s lives – especially their bedrooms. We’re just sayin’.... Iris

Murt the Blurt

Gee, I wonder which genius decided that Joe Biden should ”take on” Sarah Palin. What a stupid mistake. A mistake that only “one of the guys” would make. Because they think Biden’s arrogance is smart. Here’s the breaking news: It’s not. Just in case you can’t hear the tone of my words in this blob, let me fill you in. It’s a combination of irritated and incredulous. Here’s what Biden said yesterday at a campaign rally for Bill Owens.

“Notwithstanding my former opponent, and by the way I like her, I really do--not a joke this is not a cheap shot--the fact of the matter is Sarah Palin thinks the answer to energy was 'Drill, baby, Drill.' No, it's a lot more complicated, Sarah, than 'Drill, baby drill.”

Let’s dissect the sentence in terms of what he said and what women heard. (Despite ignoring women generally, women will still determine the outcome of most future elections.) First of all, Biden doesn’t like her, he thinks she’s a dope. His humor, “Palin thinks the answer to energy…” which whoever wrote the remarks thought was clever, maybe even funny, was nothing more than smug. Smug and arrogant doesn’t become the office of Vice President. It is unattractive, especially coming from someone who has a tendency to be a political bully. Women hate a bully.

In response to this attack, Palin, who is campaigning for Doug Hoffman the third party right wing Republican candidate for Congress from New York, gave her response on her facebook page (I wonder if Biden even knows what the impact of this “peoples” social network has become -- doubtful.) But among other things, what appears to be factual information about Biden and domestic drilling she said:

“There’s one way to tell Vice President Biden that we’re tired of folks in Washington distorting our message and hampering our nation’s progress: Hoffman, Baby, Hoffman!”

Sarah Palin is not someone I would pick as a pal, or as an elected official, but she seems to have some personal charisma that is attractive to even people who don’t agree with or respect her opinions. The general public loved her spirit and good humor on Saturday Night Live. She was good humored, able to poke fun at herself, and absolutely charming. Biden, has none of these qualities. He is especially incapable of poking fun at himself because he mistakenly thinks he’s too intelligent. Remember when Gore publicly needed to prove he was the smartest kid in the class. People found it disconcerting. No one ever liked the kid who had all the right answers and let everyone else know it. Then, when he realized it wasn’t working, he went back to just being Al and used self deprecating humor as a tool and we all liked him much better. OK, he didn’t win the election but he did get a Nobel Prize – which is not a popularity contest but being popular never hurts.

It seems to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same or get worse. Democrats think they can get away with being dismissive toward women because we have no place else to go. This is incorrect. If we go nowhere the Democrats will surely lose. Their victory is dependent on getting us to the polls. And here’s the bottom line, (as political people so oft say), we may not like Sarah Palin. We may think she is a jerk who is totally irrelevant. But we do not like it when a bully disses any woman publicly. Especially when the man is an elected official who is supposed to know better. Someone should tell Joe to stop blurting and start acting like the Vice President of the United States. At this moment his rhetoric and behavior is nothing less than embarrassing – everything he says does read like a script for Saturday Night Live. We’re just sayin’...Iris

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Capsules of Life

Does it strike you as sexist that insurance companies cover Viagra and other products that help men to have an adequate sex life, but it doesn’t cover birth control pills or any female contraceptives to prevent pregnancy? And if you think that's not sexist, how would you explain it. Is it possible that insurance companies are really human and they just want the products they pay for to result in a good time. It is not my job to try to explain how insurance companies make decisions, but I bet that most of the people making them, have either a penis or penis envy.

And speaking of medication, which we weren’t – exactly, but it’s such a contemporary and pithy subject that we should. There is hardly anyone I talk to or about who isn’t medicated in some way. Most of the people I know take a combination of little pills and some like calcium, big enough to choke a horse. Among the assorted goodies are often vitamins to supplement those things that we can’t eat, because they are unavailable or bad for us. For example, we take fish oil capsules because the fish sold in stores is “farm raised” and that is, supposedly, like eating poison. Or we take vitamin D because we don’t get enough sun. And we don’t get enough sun because if we do we’ll get skin cancer.

We take pills to cure ills, and tablets to prevent infections, headaches, and babies. So with all this medication available, why is it that so many friends are dying so young – many from cancer and many from heartache. My guess is that it’s either the environment, whatever we’re ingesting, or our daily routine. I guess we should be eating organic, absolutely stop breathing any air, and stay away from people who are aggravating. It doesn’t make sense. Our parents are living longer than we are and throughout their lives they never exercised and additionally, ate tremendous amounts of butter, white flour, meats with all kinds of crap, and heavy cream. That would be my kind of diet if I weren’t consumed with being OK –just OK.

The most amazing thing, however, is the number of people who are on “happy” or “crazy” pills –some prefer to call them anti-depressants. If the 60’s were the Age of Aquarius, the late 90’s and early 2000’s are the age of much Weariness or Wariness. Yes, we have become apathetic, disillusioned and suspicious. Yech!!! Not a particularly appealing way to live. In the past, when we greeted our friends we said “How are you?” Now we say, “What’s the dosage you’re on?” Where once our conversations revolved around jobs, or tennis, or restaurants, now they are about symptoms and consequences.

What is it about the way we are living today that makes us yearn for the “Leave it to Beaver” or “Ozzie and Harriett” days. How did everything get so stressful? Do we yearn for a simpler time? Is there an absence of role models who don’t try to do everything. Is the music we listen to over complicated? Is the television we watch over stimulating? Have we become a society of people who chose the internet over more comforting interpersonal relationships? Are we, in the sandwich generation, simply responsible for too many family members? Is there just too much information to digest in a single lifetime, or a single day -- and so we feel like we are failures or stupid?

The answer to these and many other questions is Yes. So what is there to do about all this turmoil? I don’t have an answer that is realistic or universal. I guess the best answer is to get your doctor to write a prescription for a magic pill that dulls the pain and eases the anxiety. I think I’m at .75mg maybe tomorrow I’ll up it to 100.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Fighting for Halloween

Last night I was walking back to my apartment . It was raining—pretty hard. If I walk on 54th street I have to pass St Peters Church, where there are always any number of homeless people making their home. Usually , their home is a few cardboard cartons and maybe some plastic to keep them dry, if it’s raining. I was in a good mood and as I passed by the church, doing a tuneless and hopelessly unbalanced (yes I was dancing clumsily down the street), version of “Singing in the Rain”, I noticed that there were four people length cartons on the steps to the entrance of the church/York Theater. (The York is in the basement of the church and they share and entrance.) When there is a show, management clears the way for the paying customers, but if there is no performance or church activity, the cartons are not, like the people, displaced.

So very tragic. I wondered what had happened in their lives that put them in this impermanent place. It was hard to dance past this incredibly lonely and, especially of late, a much too frequent scene. Then for whatever reason, I flashed back to the previous day when the touring company of “Seussical” the musical, descended on our old homestead in Arlington, Virginia. Twelve young actors who were so excited about everything. The juxtaposition of the people who live on the steps of a theater, and young people so enthusiastic about their lives and the future in the theater, hit me in unexpected ways.

First of all, I stopped dancing. The people in the boxes couldn’t see me, but still my happy little two step seemed irreverent in front of the boxes. Then, as walked past Citi Corp, which is adjacent to the church, theater and boxes filled with people, I thought, why isn’t the government bailing out these unfortunate souls. What would it cost? Certainly not as much as it cost to bail out all those rich Wall Street companies – who are already back to their old tricks. And certainly not as much as escalating a war in Afghanistan. Nope, it would be pennies in comparison.

Then I thought about the non stop political commercials—it doesn’t matter which one. They are all the same. They are not about what their candidate will do, they are about what the other guy won’t do. The professionals call it negative advertising. I call it a pathetic attempt not to deal with the real issues. There is another thing that is consistent with all these commercials. Every candidate says something like, “We are fighting for your rights, future, jobs, families,"(pick anyone or all of these.) How exactly are they fighting –with boxing gloves, guns, wet towels (pick any or all of these)? But the better question is, why do we need anyone to fight for anything. Just the word ‘fight’ is an indication of what campaigns have become – war zones. They are no longer organizations which look to make life better for the general public. They are battles with words as their weapons and the truth hard to find or even irrelevant. In other words, you don’t have to go to Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan to fight. All you have to do is put your ethics away and sign on to a political campaign.

Back to singing in the rain. It’s actually raining right now and worse, it’s Halloween, my least favorite holiday. There was a time when I loved decorating the house, putting on my witch attire and scaring the little children when they came to the house. For many years, as a concerned about health parent, I gave little toys instead of candy. Sure the kids could choke on the little pieces, but at least they wouldn’t get cavities. Now I don’t care if they get cavities or go into sugar shock. There are so many more important things to worry about. Wars, people starving, people without jobs, children dying in foreign places and the definition of health care. It would be terrific if we could, like the young troupe of performing artists who stayed at our house, feel great about the world they were about to encounter. Or it would be nice just to sing in the rain without having to think about much else. We're just sayin'.... Iris

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Message to Myself

Once you pass 30 (remember "Don't trust anyone over 30?" ) its often difficult to get from the 'idea' stage to the 'remembering' stage. I have all these little ideas in the course of a day, things which would make a great blob topic, the kind of things you relish being able to share at cocktail parties and the like – but which, like the water streaming over the just cooked pasta in a colander, race out the little escape holes, and down the drain before you can write the damn things on paper. I’ve started to try and remember these items by sending myself a text message immediately, with a couple of words, confident that at a later moment, I’ll be able to reconstruct the idea as if I’d written it right then. Two words: “Doesn’t work!”

Going through my emails and texts I find all kinds of little clues which now seem as distant as spot quiz French tests in the 11th grade. I have a vague memory of them, but it remains truly vague. There is one called “Just Keep Breathing.” I think it must have had something to do with figuring out how to live a long life. I guess I’d read something about longevity. And you think about these things when your friends, particularly your younger friends pass away. That breathing thing was key… If you wanna be here at 47 years old, 55, 63 or 71.. you gotta keep breathing. It’s a key element in the overall scheme of things. When you read the obits, and more than half the people are younger than you are, it takes an extra moment of consideration. You kind of think you’ll never really end up in that world of the gone. I mean, don’t we all feel (by ‘we all’ I mean anyone able to buy Senior Fare tickets on Amtrak) like we’re 32 or 28 or on a bad day, maybe 40. I wonder sometimes if my folks felt that way as they grew older. My dad passed away at 88. He played golf regularly until the last couple of years of his life, and always lived with a very youthful gusto. I wonder, though if he had the same kind of feeling – comparing himself to his dad (his mom died when he was a child) all through his life. It’s a natural thing to do, and the older you get, I suppose the more philosophical you become about it. There was a great poster in the subway I saw today, showing the eventual rise of man, and the stops which it took to arrive where we are. (It must have been for the Smithsonian Natural History museum in DC) Worth thinking about..such that it started with these neo ape-like characters (yes, your great(167 power) grand dad) who began making small talk. Small talk. Small. Talk. In a cave, under a tree, 50000 years ago. Small talk indeed. And it probably didn’t have anything to do with getting Kindergartners into the right school, or wondering how to fix a Magic Bullet Express with a frayed wire. No, that small talk must have been pretty small: “Fire?” “Water?” “Buffalo” Imagine the first guy who made a tool. Took the tooth from a dead sabretooth tiger, and started to carve things like mad. Did he think Patent was a good idea? He probably wanted to share it, understanding that what was better for all was also better for him.

Some of the other little messages I send myself are intriguing enough to actually follow up on. (Besides the standard stuff like Airline reservation codes, and Amtrak departure information.) The latest came from Melanie B., a photog who recently moved from Texas to the City and was stuck with the NewYork problem many people face: how to get your sofa inside the apartment. Sounds simple, as if you can just measure a sofa and measure a door or hall way and see if it fits. Which of course, if you ever tried it, you have discovered that it's not a proper method for measuring anything. The concept of volumetric space and how it relates from one shape to another, is something that in this age you’d need a pc and some great software. In the 30s and 40s they did it with a slide rule and a pencil. I kind of like the old version myself. There was something attractive about a slide rule, which gave you a real sense of being in control of the math, instead merely a pawn to it. Thus was created a wonderful new vocation. That of Couch Doctor. Those two words were immediately sent to myself when Melanie told of how she and her befuddled boyfriend had to finally call in the Couch Doctor to handle things. What does the couch doctor do? He either “disassembles” or, in manner befitting that 95 year old house next to the new library in your hometown, he cuts it in half, moves it through the pesky hallways and door ways, and once back in place, reassembles the two parts so that the impossible is accomplished. I guess it’s kind of akin to building a sailing ship inside a glass bottle. If you troll on Youtube I’m sure someone has given that secret away by now. But the couch doctor, I mean, he’s not even listed in Wikipedia yet. That IS cool. I guess if there is a lesson to trying to follow these little ideas onward to their natural end, it’s that you can’t ever really know where they will lead you. They remain rather like a race with no finish line. In those little two and three word gems are hidden (at least from my mind) all kinds of wonderful possiblilties. And while you may not be able to reconstitute the idea which led you to write the message in the first place, they may lead you somewhere else, to yet another place where ideas grow. Fire? Water? Buffalo ? We’re just sayin’… David