Thursday, April 30, 2009

UnCommon Sense

In the realm of “What was he thinking?” Or maybe, “Just sit down and shut up,” Joe Biden has once again said something stupid. He clearly didn’t listen to his mother when she told him to think before he spoke, but Joe never did because he just likes to listen to the sound of his own voice. In this statement released by the White House, here’s what he supposedly said, or at least what they said he meant:


Office of the Vice President


April 30th, 2009

Statement from Vice President Biden’s Spokesperson Elizabeth Alexander:
“On the Today Show this morning the Vice President was asked what he would tell a family member who was considering air travel to Mexico this week. The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the Administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways. This is the advice the Vice President has given family members who are traveling by commercial airline this week. As the President said just last night, every American should take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick.”

As it happens, I was listening to “The Today Show” when he said it. In an immediate follow-up Meredith Viera asked Chuck Todd (crack White House correspondent) if the Vice President had just told people not to use public transportation. I think he said, " wel,l it sounded like that". But whatever it was, it was close to that. Todd, who has become an NBC/MSNBC 'suck up to the White House because he’s afraid to lose his access', was cautious in his reply. So let’s turn to me – because I am hard pressed to suck up to anything except a coconut popsicle. I heard him say that he wouldn’t go on a subway or a plane. Isn’t it lucky that he doesn’t have to? But what about the rest of us – the peons, who don’t travel on Air Force Two or in a limousine. We don't have a whole lotta options. Talk about sending people into a panic.

When there is any kind of national crisis, people look for leadership from the people they elect to govern. We like to think that they will give us thoughtful direction and guidance. Mr. Biden is so busy being important, that he seldom thinks what effect his words may have on the people to whom he is speaking. I can just imagine what the White House Press Office was like seconds after his conversation with Matt (who he called Sam) Lauer. I am in New York but I swear could hear the groaning and the commentary. I’m sure it went something like this; “Groan, groan, sigh… well once again the VP has made a moronic statement. Let’s go clean up the mess." I’ll bet President Obama is just as pleased as he can be by constantly having to make repairs for “Mr. Diarrhea of the mouth.” Why doesn’t he do what all good VP’s do and find a funeral to attend – preferably not one of the swine flu victims.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You're Fired!

Originally, I was going to talk about the passing of Bea Arthur, and I’ll get to that. But first I want to rant about two recent events. The first is “the possibility of a world pandemic.” David says the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic is that the pandemic can’t be controlled. But remember a few years ago when there was a flu epidemic and no vaccine available? There was certainly no control. There was a great deal of sneezing, fever, vomiting and wheezing, but no control. 150 people have died in Mexico from the flu – how many have died from dysentery or some equally unsettling virus. Twenty eight students at one school in NY are symptomatic and have tested positive for the swine flu – but they haven’t died or even been seriously ill. It seems to me that the whoopla is because the World Health Organization in combination with the news media, need to have equally unimportant and bordering on the ridiculous, topics to discuss. Use your hankie. And talk about ridiculous, the Orthodox Jews and Muslims are offended by the name ‘swine’. Although I don’t think anyone asked them to eat the disease, they want it renamed the Mexican flu – (which makes no sense at all despite it’s killing 200, [I increased the number because I assume it’s growing], it does give them something other than the Palestinian problem to whine about. If we really want something to worry about, let’s talk about the pandemic of poverty, breast cancer and violence against women—which will surely kill more people around the world than this flu.

Yesterday a 747 flew over New York City. It was trailed by an F16 fighter jet. For thousands of people in lower Manhattan and Jersey City, the scene was reminiscent of the World Trade Tower terrorist attack. Reports are that neither the Mayors office, nor the police knew anything about it. OH NO! The plane was, if not sent by the White House Military Office, at least explained by them pretty much in this way; “I’m sorry, but we needed a photo op of the plane.” We need a little Obama “the buck stops here” action. Someone needs to lose their job. If not Mr. Caldera from the White House Military Office, then someone from the Pentagon or the FAA. It doesn’t really matter, but someone, with incredibly bad judgment, or no judgment, is still making decisions. And why should that be? Not only that, but they were going to repeat the performance (photo op) over Washington next week. That’s been cancelled, but what kind of idiot would have scheduled it in the first place? And yes, Mr. And Ms. Taxpayer, not only did you underwrite the NY event, you continue to pay the salary of some White House (or Pentagon) dimwit.

Enough stories about pathetic behavior. On a sadder note…. When I heard the news that Bea Arthur had gone to what we all hope is a better place (Florida?), I felt that I had lost a friend. Remembering. Yes, I was a fan of everything she did. I hardly ever missed a “Maude” and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t see at least one episode of “The Golden Girls”. This is not an exaggeration. The show is on the Hallmark Channel a few times a day and, whether I’m on my treadmill, (which is dangerous because I laugh so hard), or unable to fall asleep in the early hours of the morning, I make it a point to be there for at least one viewing. The beauty of the show is that no matter how many times you see the same show, you can still enjoy it. After a while you start to quote memorable lines and make them part of the way you live your life. And yes, I was amazed and inspired by the scope and breadth of all her work. If, at age 80 or so, she could be out there on the road doing a one-woman show, certainly I could try to keep up with whatever the small project I was attempting to complete.

In a way I felt like I knew her because a few years ago I had the good fortune of being seated next to Bea on a flight across the country. We introduced ourselves immediately – she was delightful and not at all reluctant to make conversation with a stranger (and I can be strange beyond words). She was carrying pile of movie magazines, and I was reading the “New York Observer”. She was fascinated by the satirical paper and I was dying to read the dirt about the celebs, so we traded reading material. We gabbed about political issues, the business (TV and movies), and Herb Edelman, a dear friend of ours who played her husband on “The Golden Girls.” She was generous with her business wisdom and she was just plain fun. We laughed for six hours, traded contact info and parted at the airport. I never called her because I felt it would be an intrusion, and she never called me because I was just an entertainment corporate dweeb, to whom she was kind. But for those few hours I don’t doubt she had as good a time as I. And it was a trip in which we both felt we had made a good, if only momentary, friend. So, I’ll miss you my friend, but at least I can tune you in six times a day. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Friday, April 24, 2009

3 For The Price of One

The world is changing in ways that our kids never thought would happen. If you are in the generation I’m in, the ‘graduated from high school when the Beatles were just becoming popular’ era, you have seen a helluva lot of change. I knew young ‘revolutionaries’ from Ivy league schools who, two years after carrying their red flags across Harvard Square and the President’s office at Columbia, were making a hundred grand a year working in the business side at Time Inc, and having what were then frighteningly expensive lunches that cost Twenty bucks. (In December, 1972 just days after LIFE – the weekly – closed down, one of the former staff photographers announced to me that with a bleak outlook for work – “the death of photojournalism” – we should only have a YooHoo and two hot dogs for lunch each day: total cost .. One Dollar.) For twenty bucks you could eat the fanciest lunch in the City. That’s what I would call Change: Woodstock Generation post hippies, wearing fancy clothes, living in 4 bedroom apartments on the East Side, and putting the same energy into making money as they did into raising hell. Many of these folks, my contemporaries, became the generation of parents who felt their kids should always be first in line, treated best, clothed and fed best, and first, of course. They were often seriously tedious in their parental behaviour, laying on the kids all their own feelings of ownership and entitlement. Now that the generational slam has taken place, and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a series of financial panics which more or less seemed unimaginable just a year ago, many of the foundations of our lives have been shaken to the core. None of the stuff we assumed we be around ‘forever’ seems like it will be. There is an underlying tension, much of it unspoken, some acknowledged, that covers much of our everyday lives. Food, shelter, all those basics very quickly become question marks instead of sure things. And few (besides those smart enough to sell short into this market) have maintained the kind of wealth that was theirs just a year ago. Many of us, had there been an essay question about the chances of this happening, would have written that it seemed almost inconceivable that such a shake up would occur. Yet, here we are, all trying to pretend, hoping it will somehow work out, maybe not like it was, but at least something short of a nightmare.

I hear that folks are starting to buy distressed homes in Florida (I don’t see that happening in Michigan for a long, long time) and maybe things have bottomed and will start to come back. But it’s interesting to watch the way the mercantile world is trying to make the most of it (‘making the most’ of it, is something just below ‘taking advantage’ of it). Last week I saw an incredible offer, that were I someone obliged to wear a suit every day, I no doubt would have jumped on.

The haberdasher Joseph A Banks was advertising a sale, buy one suit at $299, and get to suits of equal value Free. I have to say that it’s been a while since I paid a hundred bucks for a suit (a white “colonial” in Kenya, 1989) though when I attended a labor meeting recently, and saw three of the officials present, I realized that even a suit doesn’t necessarily make the man. But it was quite surprising to see such a massive promotion.

I’d love to know if they actually sold thousands of suits (from their over stocked wearhouse) or if it was just another attempt by a well known business entity, one which expanded from a few stores to many dozens during the big 21st century boomtime, to pretend they had a smile on their collective face while secretly grabbing on to their corporate wallet. There are a lot of vaguaries in the world of commerce, no doubt, and where commerce and technology intersect, it is truly a minefield. Consider this: About 8 years ago, Canon introduced the EOS1-v ($1800) 35mm film camera, capable of shooting a 36 exposure roll of film in about 5 seconds and using the best auto-focus system in the world. The focusing and metering were amazing, and in essence this was the finest 35mm camera ever made, since the invention of the first Leica in the early 1900s. Yet, because a far less capable digital camera had arrived – costly ($20000), slow to operate, and small (3 megapixel or so) chip size, this wondrous piece of photographic machinery was to be sentenced to the trash pit of photographic history. In the news business, where most of these cameras where sold, the ability to see immediately and transmit shortly there after, a picture just shot, meant that the hours you needed to wait for the film to be processed, were hours you were getting clobbered by someone with a digi cam. It didn’t take long for that side of the photo business to change over to digital, where speed, (and now, years later) quality was far superiour to film. (No, I won’t use the term analog, and I refuse, equally, to describe shooting with a digital camera as “capture”... Capture is something cowboys do with ropes in a herd of wild horses.) So in many ways, the parallel in the economic world, in which things all became digitally powered, accelerated the downturn simply because it could. Information moved more quickly, deals either happened or fell apart, loans which shouldn’t have been made were done and became risks to all the rest of us who essentially weren’t such a risk. Now we see the way the water flows downhill, grabbing everything in its way and pushing it along. At some point we may actually start to see the plane pull out of its nose dive, (sorry, mixed metaphors!) and it would be a pleasure of course. Who wants to bequeath such shoddiness to our kids, even if they are well dressed? I for one, would love to see a world where some kind of redemption meant that the wonderful Canon 1v in my cabinet had a reason to exist, and a purpose, to accompany me in my travels to see the world. For every hard drive of images I see building up in this world (on my desk, at the office, in huge world wide agencies who need terabytes of storage) I still feel a certain comfort in the existence of a roll of film.
Films from the Bonneville Salt Flats, 1964
Simple, not prone to destruction by electrical failure or ElectroMotivePulse, capable of living at least another 50 or 100 years (who here owns a hard drive which has lived for 50 years?) film will be the place where those pictures in my heart rest. Sure, it’s not as convenient as digi; you can’t shoot and upload during a single Billy Mays ad for Oxyclean, the way my SD cards do. But should I live another 20 or 30 years, I know I’ll be happy to be in the company of that film, and that somebody else may have the chance to see it, too. (The lesson: make backups of your hard drives and keep them in a big shoe box.) We’re just sayin’... David
1964: A Sunbeam Alpine during Speed Week at Bonneville

Don't Make Me!

Women are once under attack in Afghanistan. Not that there was a time when they weren’t, but the Taliban now feels comfortable enough with their growing power that they have become bolder in their gender perversity. No school, no health care, no walking alone unescorted, heads, arms and legs covered, young girls forced to marry old men and have babies, death for being raped – and death in the funeral pyre if their husband happens to die. And, by the way, if all the husbands died it would be a much happier country. Death tolls are up in Iraq. The economy still sucks and torture memos abound. Here’s what I don’t get about torture. Why would you torture someone hundreds of times to get information. If the guy didn’t give it to you after the first brutal interrogation, chances are you are not going to get it after 100 dunks underwater—or whatever your torture of choice.

When things are looking grim, I try to find something fun to think about – it always seems to help. And it seems I never have to struggle for a thought. Like yesterday, when I was a bit down in the dumps about losing millions of dollars (I wish), I turned on the news and there was something that made me smile. It took me back to when my children were little and, (because I have two only children), as we were driving, they would have a fight with some friend. I would suggest they stop screaming or hitting or whatever their torture of choice happened to be (it was torture for me not them). And at some point I would say—on the top of my lungs—“don’t make me stop this car!” In most cases they would settle down and continue to annoy one another in hidden ways, at a lower volume. If they were hitting, they would cease and desist, at least until they were out of the car.

Madlyn Primoff is described as “ well-known only in legal circles as a top-flight lawyer at a white-shoe Park Avenue law firm, where she specialized in complex international financial disputes.” She’s also described as having an Ivy League degree (my mother would say smart,smart, stupid) and living in a two million dollar home – but it’s Scarsdale so it could be a dump. Stopped the car and made a 12 year old and 10 year old get out. Apparently the 12 year old ran after the fleeing parent, and got back in the car. Maybe she wasn’t fast enough, maybe she was too stunned to move, or maybe she was just too stubborn to give in, but the ten year old was left by the side of the road. Luckily a good Samaritan, rather than a rapist, pervert or murderer picked her up and delivered her to the police station. When Madlyn came to pick her up, she was arrested for child endangerment.

My first thought about the whole episode was, “didn’t she have a nanny?” Someone she could pay to put up with bad behavior. My second thought was, “I bet she was on the phone doing some of her top-flight lawyer business and the kids were interrupting her train of thought. My third thought (yes I did a great deal of thinking) was “I bet her GPS was screwing around with her and she was frustrated beyond belief.” Our GPS plays gotcha all the time. Like it gives up directions that say turn tight and when we have gone 1/4 of a mile it says, “take a right, take another right, take another right”, which means “you idiot, why would you have listened to me. Now turn around and go back in the correct direction.” Our GPS (I forget her name) has a British accent, which makes you think she’s elegant and would never deceive you, but alas, that is far from the reality.

Anyway, the mother dumped the kids and now she has to be embarrassed in front of all the other lawyers, neighbors and her spouse. Just imagine what it would be like to explain to your spouse that you had a hissy fit and left the kids to fend for themselves. Not something I can fathom under any circumstance. I get why, if you don’t have any patience and you lose it (it happens), you might pull over to the side of the road and get out. I even can understand how you might make them get out, pull away about 100 feet, and then back up. But what was going on in her mind that she did not think it through.

When my kids were little I would say, “If you don’t behave I’m going to count to three.” Sometimes, if they were very angry or misunderstood, I would get to 2. I never had any idea what I would do if I actually got to three. It never happened. But the counting gave them and me and few minutes to change the tone.

I flashed to the women and children in Afghanistan, and I thought about how those women struggle every day just to stay alive, while this mother and so many others in wealthy nations, have the luxury of thinking they are entitled to treat their children without concern or respect. The act of giving birth brings with it some kind of responsibility and there is never an excuse just for being a jerk. We’re just sayin’...Iris

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Zachary

Last week was Zach’s second birthday. While we don’t see him as often as we would like, we did spend the afternoon with him for the celebration. He is an incredibly wise little boy. He knows exactly how to get around almost any issue. He has figured out who to ask for anything he wants, and who he should avoid because they are on to him. Parents always try to do the right thing. Grandparents, who adore without reservation, are easy targets. Chances of us saying no to a request, are little or none. It’s not in our job description. Zach, being a child of the 21st century, has more grandparents than most of the people with whom I grew up. We had two sets, mother’s parents (Zaide and Bubbe) and father’s parents (Mr. And Mrs Schultz – just kidding). Zach has six. While this may present complications for the grandparents, it can only be heaven for the child. His loving maternal grandma (Nana), takes care of him while his parents are at work. His maternal grandfather (Papa), is retired and is mostly around during the day. (A fabulous guy who can’t resist slipping Zach a marshmellow upon request), His fraternal grandparents include Grammie, Papa, Poppie, and Mimi (a name I took from my friend Joyce, who decided upon it because, she said “Well it’s really all about Me isn’t it?”), I simply thought ‘m’ sounds were easy and I would be acknowledged early on. What I have learned is that nowadays, you can’t have too many grandparents. The more you have, the less likely you are to be refused even the silliest of requests – like providing M&M’s upon request or rolling down a steep hill in the rain.

The party started with a great deal of playing and transitioned into a great deal of cake eating (Zach like Leo, is a very neat eater), and ultimately the opening of a great many gifts. It was hysterical to watch all his little cousins deciding which gifts to open and then plunge into the ripping and tearing of all the beautifully wrapped presents. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time and wish it could happen more frequently.

Before we went to the party we stopped by at Seth and Joyce’s house. I figured maybe we could have a little alone time before the birthday extravaganza. Zach was still asleep but when I went to look at him before (he sleeps just like Seth did with his backside in the air) he got up. My presence was a bit disconcerting – he expected Mom or Dad, but he didn’t scream, he just managed the two-tear, ‘get my daddy’ look. It took no time and he got comfortable with us.
Seth, at age 4
Seth carried him down the stairs and when they reached the bottom, Zach was quite insistent that Seth put the gate up on the stairs. It seems that he had a bit of a tumble a few days before.

When Seth was little we lived in places with very steep staircases. In one house they were only somewhat steep, but in the other they were uncarpeted and so scary, that our soft - coated wheaten puppy would just sit at the top of the stairs and cry.
Earnest, after his trip to the Supreme Court
We resolved his fear by taking Earnest, not Seth, to the Supreme Court building and teaching him how to go up and down the steps in the front, which were about 6” steep. Anyway, when Seth was very small I taught him how to meet the stair challenge by using the “Dubroff” method of going down the stairs, which was to turn around and go down backwards on his tummy. My cousins taught their children to do this and had visions of the girls as teenagers, getting picked up for a date and turning around to go down the steps to meet their boy friends. (I don’t think that ever happened but who knows). Let me say that parents are much more terrified about a child falling than the child usually is, but when you have a fearless kid – they are bound to have some kind of a fall. And he is fearless. It seems he took a header down a couple of stairs and he is now reticent about having to get from top to bottom. The result is that he smartly insists you put the gate up on any stairs that maybe encountered, because he doesn’t want anyone to be in danger.
Reverse, mode
He is fine, by the way, and did not suffer any injuries from the accident. Anyway, I bring all this up just to say that yes, he does know my name (Mimi—I was right about those M sounds), he may not know that I’m his grandmother, but he knows I’m a pushover. He is a divine child, and because he is so smart, in a remarkably short time, I was able teach him how to turn around and go down the stairs backwards which, if it didn’t make him feel more secure—it made me feel like I had participated in an extremely important event in his life. And isn’t that what it’s all about. We’re just sayin’..... Iris

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Bout a Bake Sale?

Has anyone noticed that the Republicans have stopped calling liberals, liberals, and started calling them Socialists. Socialist is a pretty scary word. It is one that conjures up images of people marching in unity carrying red flags, down wide city streets. Liberals are no longer frightening to the public because a ‘liberal’ is someone who wears tie dyed shirts, and smokes marijuana. They may be among the great unwashed but being smelly simply isn’t frightening—it’s just unpleasant.

The Republicans, not all, but those who are desperate to ride a new wave of hatred on the backs of the Obama Administration, are looking for a symbolic way to scream about an increase in taxes—for the wealthiest Americans. The way they thought they could do this was by saying that the Socialists had taken over the White House and were playing politics with the hard earned money of Mr. and Ms. Everyday citizen. (But people knew it was just those pesky liberals, so who cared) When this didn’t work, they thought they could send a visible message, to which everyone who ever voted could relate. “Let’s get people who are angry about everything to march around with signs protesting tax increases.” But as anyone who has ever organized or worked in politics knows, an organized protest costs a great deal of moola. (Don't you think calling it moola is a lot more colorful than saying money.) The question is, who’s paying for this newest Republican attempt to develop a grass roots effort to protest paying higher taxes. Dick Armey for one. You remember Dick Armey, the former Congressman from Texas who supported Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”. I think protest would be fine if it was the average guy (who was actually paying higher taxes—which they are not) was underwriting this project. But that isn’t happening. The ‘tea parties’ are bought and paid for by the rich. The only people who will pay higher taxes are the really rich people who are funding the protest. It’s a bit circuitous but are you following? “Aye” my pirate friends would say, “there’s the rub”. On April 15th the mega rich Republicans paid for tea parties. Middle class people did the protesting, even though they will pay less taxes than they did under the Bush Administration. It makes no sense unless you don’t want to support anything this Administration is doing. To be perfectly Frank, or Harvey, or Mildred, I would prefer a bake sale, because I love a bake sale, but the Minutemen in Boston didn’t toss their cookies, they tossed the tea into the Boston Harbor. And so the Republicans are holding tea parties. Well not tea parties exactly, but protests. It’s not only confusing but a little light in the pants if you ask me. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Here’s what I, and I’m sure millions of people, find ridiculous. Obama has been in office for about 80 days. For the past eight years, (this is before the last election), the people in power did nothing, absolutely nothing to deal with the economy, the environment, the crisis in education, or the greed of their friends who were running corporations. They did nothing, and now that the Obama administration is attempting to do something, but they find the intrusion of government so appalling that they will do anything to sabotage every effort that is made to deal with all the crises. Let us not forget that under the Bush Administration the government was the largest it had ever been. It was also the most incompetent it has ever been and certainly the most intrusive – OK I don’t remember all governments ever, but no other government deserted the number of people in need (remember New Orleans and “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job”) the way this one did.

It’s all about politics. What isn’t? But at a time when the country could really use a show of bipartisanship, it does not exist. I say it’s bad breeding. Clearly, most of these people did not have parents who taught ‘do unto others’. What a shame. I wonder if they take those attitudes with them to church on Sundays? We’re just sayin’….Iris

Monday, April 13, 2009

Not Like It Was

Where did the President go for Easter services, but more importantly, what kind of puppy will become the First Dog? Both those questions were answered and discussed, ad nauseum on oh so many cable news show a few days ago. In case you are dead or don’t have access to any form of media, the dog is a Portuguese Water dog given to the Obamas as a gift from Teddy Kennedy. And the church where they celebrated Easter services was St. John’s – right across the parking lot from the Casa Blanca. No one was surprised because it was right across the parking lot. Close enough to make sense.

This decision, however was convenient and safe. The real question the media is asking, is what church will they choose to be ‘their’ church. The one that makes them part of the Washington community. Gotta be honest, why would anyone want to be a part of the Washington community. No matter which way they decide (black church white church, puddin’ and pie church) they will offend someone. So, if you are one of the Presidential deciders (I prefer that to advisors, because guaranteed, the President does not dabble in drivel, he asks someone to make these decisions, rather than advise and give him reasons for the decisions.)
Ted Kennedy with "Bo"s uncle
These two items were less than important on the Presidential priority list but the media has to fill space so there needs to be something to speculate about, no matter how trivial. I believe Newt Gingrich called it a silly topic and on this as opposed to any other topic, I would agree. There were other more important areas of concern—like the Somali pirates and how to free the Captain. Which was done by Navy Seals. Bob Kerrey was a Navy Seal, perhaps that’s really the reason why the New School faculty doesn’t like him. Americans always want it both ways. They want military men to be heroes, but they hate the idea of weapons, war and violence. Today we are celebrating the heroism of the Captain and the crew—who maintain the pirates never took the ship—but what if we had to go to war with Somalia? Never mind—we could just bomb the crap out of Somalia and it wouldn’t make even a little difference to most Americans. Are all pirates Somali or are all Somalis pirates? What’s the difference—we won that contest. I know that because I saw the crew holding up an index finger and yelling “we’re number one!”

OK, so all those problems are solved but here’s an issue that has changed the way I look at the world. I mean major! Yesterday I went to the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue. I love a parade and will go to great lengths to be a spectator. I have been to the Pakistani parade, the Ass parade, the Indian parade, the parade for Gay Pride, the Thanksgiving Day parade, and most recently the Scotch Tartan parade – for the country not the drink. Although, there were a great many Scotch (Scottish?) people in the parade drinking beer, playing bagpipes, and singing Amazing Grace (which you only do at funerals or in a drunken stupor).

Admittedly, I have never been to the Easter Day Parade. I have watched the Fred Astaire Judy Garland movie “Easter Parade” about 100 times and when Peter Lawford dons his hat and walks down 5th Avenue, my heart does skip a beat. I don’t know what I expected. I guess I thought it would be an actual parade where beautiful people filled the street wearing elegant outfits and extraordinary hats. This was not the case. The Avenue was filled with people. However, for every fifty people there was one person decked out in Easter finery. The rest of the crowd was in jeans and heavy jackets. And people don’t march in an orderly manner from 47th to 57th Street. They mill, or saunter in nothing that resembles a parade. I was very disappointed. I yearned for Fred and Judy and a simple song or two—but to no avail.
(photo: Iris B.)
The tradition of the Easter Parade la la la began in New York in the 1800’s when rich people would go to church and then ‘parade’ on 5th Avenue in their spring finery. Poor people would gather to watch these folks rich showing off. It was a fashion show before there was fashion week. But it is told that some of the most talented of the lower class seamstresses would copy the fashions for their clients. How awful. Poor stealing from rich. But isn't it delicious when you think that Easter was actually a time when Jesus rose from his grave, and poor people celebrated by stealing from the rich. Now I understand why we say “Happy Easter.” We’re just sayin’...Iris

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Frank at the National

Im back in DC for a couple of days and finally got to visit the Robert Frank exhibition of photographs at the National Gallery. Frank, now in his 80s, was a young immigrant from Switzerland, who, empowered by a Guggenheim grant to travel and take pictures, spent two years roaming the country and produced “The Americans,” a book which hip-checked modern photojournalism into a new era. His pictures, unlike the cookie cutter “isn’t that nice!” which so much of journalism had been (and a reason that much of his work was never published in magazines) had a raw, unfinished, quality to to. Elegant at times, messy at others, but full of a lot of wonderful found moments. Well, they were found as long as you always bothered to look out your hotel window, or climb a building to see the sidewalks from an elevated point of view. Much of the charm of his pictures is the seemingly random quality of the kind of things he observed (you wouldn’t say he “covered” events like we often do now... he really just observed as he meandered.) We photographers all wish we could get someone to just pay us to wander and shoot great pictures.
David and his shadow, Israel, 1972
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. But as there are more and more photographers, it becomes more difficult to become one of those lucky ones who succeed. Looking through some of the source material of the show (and it’s quite well researched with glass cases of contact sheets and work prints, as well as final ‘show’ prints) I was struck again by the pace of life in the 1950s. There are copies of letters written by Frank to his first wife (included in a small one-of book of pictures), letters to and from Walker Evans, one of Frank’s mentors who helped get him the Guggenheim, and a pair of letters from Jack Kerouac, then living here in Orlando (it’s now called the Jack Kerouac house - and writers live and write here on 3 month grants)
type written with pencilled annotations and many typos, but of life as only a single-copy-produced-by-a-typewriter can be. It’s an actual LETTER. When was the last time you received an real letter. One written in pen or pencil, of which there are no other copies? One that arrived in the mail in an envelope. One that in twenty years, long after all the first twenty years of eMAIL will have died and gone away, living on only as a bad memory, you will still be able to hold in your hand. There is something quite fetching about a letter. It’s as if it remains the quintessential opposite of a “write on your wall” message on FACEBOOK. However charming and artistic a FACEBOOK message might be, though I have seen precious few like that, it’s pretty safe to assume they will have died some kind of cyber death a generation from now. They might exist somewhere on a discarded hard drive in a land fill somewhere, but will you have access to them the say way you might a folio of old ‘letters’ from the good ole days? I think not. Too bad. The paucity of primary source material for future scholars is going to present real problems when future gens want to know what people were really thinking. The inspirational value of prime material is beyond what we can recognize in the immediate moment. I still remember a moment during an 1970 trip to London, wandering through the British Museum, and coming across a vintage copy of The Compleat Angler - by Izaak Walton (first published in 1653) and being mesmerized while reading the two pages it was opened to, under glass, and shaded by small velvet curtains. I immediately went to a book seller on Oxford Street, and made the faux pas of asking for a ‘paper – back’ version, which I later found, only after being hounded out of the book shop by a merchant so dedicated to original works that he felt the only thing he could do with the likes of me was to snarl and snort in a frightful “Damien Omen” way. I got the point.
Early Burnett: 1972 Roller Derby

A derby girl heads home at night
I guess the real point is to try and reach back and see what things are made of, and very often it will lead you to what the artist, or sculptor, or even photographer was thinking. Perhaps the most charming discovery for me in the Frank show was looking at his contact sheets (and yes, that IS primary matter!) for it showed me that even on the edge of discovery, Frank was some one not so removed from myself at that age. Of three consecutive rolls of film shot in the same situation (I believe it was New Orleans), there was a roll of Tri-x, a roll of Plus-x and a roll of Ilford HP3. Each had numbers which included 0 and 44 in the middle of the roll which meant that Frank had, like all starving artist photographers of the time, been rolling his own bulk film into cassettes, rather than buying singly packaged (more convenient, but much more $$) film. We’ve all been there: trying to find a dark dark room to load film in (in my case in Salt Lake it was the closet in my sister’s bed room, the only place without windows) for even slow-speed film can be annoyingly subject to light streaming under a door. And those contact sheets, what a treasure they remain. My agency (also called Contact) had a show in China three years ago which was comprised of only contact sheets, blown up to 12 feet x 7 feet, so that each and every photo was large to enough to see as a work – good or bad – all by itself. But it let you follow what was in the photographers head – again, good and bad – and see just how the situation developed. Now, with digital, there are ways of making a ‘digital contact sheet’ out of your images, but somehow, it doesn’t have the same commitment to truth that laying actual film strips down on actual photographic paper does. To luxuriate in finding your older work still in tact, and wonder what ever possessed you to shoot something that way, is something I find more and more attractive, even if the end result is only my own self-indulgence.
Ted Burnett, my dad, on his 70th birthday
We discover things which we didn’t know at the time. I’m sure Robert Frank has spent many nights looking at his contact sheets trying to see what is meaningful to him now which he might not have seen then. That is the joy of re-discovery. But it means keep that material handy. You can’t go back if you have nothing to go back to. We’re just sayin’...David

What Next

We’ve been doing Passover the same way for 100 years. Like a popular, but well worn, Broadway show, most of the original cast is gone and in their place there are equally talented but different players. Sure, there is comparison about performances, like the matzah balls are too fluffy or the chicken soup doesn’t have enough salt (nothing ever has enough salt), but all in all, over the years the recipes have improved and with the new fangled appliances, the work gets easier. Of course, we still argue about recipes and ingredients, but we have the cookbook to turn to in an emergency. And we argue about who was there which years and who said what to whom that started some trouble. But we are luckier than most families because we have an actual document that helps to guide us every year. And it provides us with the so many memories we are likely to forget, as our brains start to shrink.

As it turns out this little piece of family history has also inspired poignant comments from strangers. Letter such as this one are posted on the web site. I thought this was worth sharing.:

“My family is very small - I only have my 88 year old mother and 90 year old stepfather. They live in Florida and I'm in Washington, D.C. Their days of holiday preparation, let alone any meal preparation, are long over.
So this week was kind of lonely for me. I have good friends, but it's not the same.
Last night I was channel surfing and came across the 3 sisters cooking in the kitchen. I had no idea what I was watching -- and I was loving it. Couldn't stop. Then I checked the info button, only to see I was watching PBS and I cracked up when I saw the title of the show. I don't know how far into the show I tuned in, but it was long before the meat grinder broke. Watching those bubbies arguing over which way the blade should face and then trying (successfully!) to put together the new one from Home Depot was priceless. Even though my family has always been small, I have childhood memories of my late father leading the seder at my grandparents' home in Florida. Since he passed away in 1969, Passover has never had the same meaning for me. Until watching the show last night. I've never seen anything like this in my life. Old world meets 2006 (I saw the copyright date). Old family pictures. Remaining sisters (it broke my heart when they said that one of them had passed away since the filming) cooking "with love" and kibbitzing. This needs more salt. No it doesn't. Hysterical! Everyone sharing memories of past Passovers. Mentioning past seder leaders and introducing the new ones. And the eloquent speech made at the beginning of the seder. For a while, last night, I felt as if I was part of a beautiful celebration, even if it was from my sofa. I laughed hysterically and I cried, too. I was sad for all those times that can't be recaptured.You asked if I liked the show? Now you know! I loved it. The credits were hysterical. I bought the DVDs and cookbooks for my 2 best friends from childhood, my mother and me. Since my mom doesn't cook anymore, I didn't get a cookbook for her. I hope that the family tradition never dies in that family. And I hope that everyone appreciates all the love that surrounds them.”

I wonder if there’s a difference between events that you celebrate every year, like an ongoing New Year’s Eve party at someone’s home or a restaurant, and a celebration that becomes a family tradition. We always had a New’s Year’s party and for years served caviar with blini, tenderloin and assorted expensive goodies. But so many people moved on (in any number of ways and expensive was no longer an option), that we looked for an alternative. For us, Passover is not just something you can do until it gets too lonely or too expensive. It is a celebration that sustains who we were as a family and what we have become. But every year the number of guests seems to dwindle. We have successfully moved the celebration generationally and even geographically, four times — from Brooklyn to Boonton, NJ to Newburgh, NY to Caldwell NJ. But what happens when we’re gone? Will our children continue with holiday banter and fare? One of my cousins said it’s not about who comes on what year. It’s about knowing you have a place to go if you want to be there. I think that’s right, at least. I hope so. We're just sayin'... Iris

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Joy of Hocking

Does the Gefilte fish? Is the Gefilte related to the tuna? When you ’hock’ (like chopping but you do it for 20 hours – if you chopped for that long your hands would fall off). Anyway, when you hock a Gefilte, does it go to heaven, or does it taste like heaven, or is this a totally ridiculous discussion. Yes to all of the above, or the preceding or whatever.
the high-end stuff
I have often wondered how we would measure the value of the work we do to prepare for Passover. As if by magic I got a partial answer when walking through the market at Grand Central Station. There we were sauntering by the fish monger when I noticed a large platter of perfectly oval gefilte fish. No hand made gefilte is ever perfect so we knew immediately that each was shaped by machine. My guess was that these guys went to Costco or Sam’s Club and bought a couple of giant cans, opened them, plated the fish avec carrot, and decided to charge $2.50 a piece. It is possible that we could sell the fish we made for $3.00. 3 X 70 is $210.00. That’s pretty good. Then we could charge maybe $2 for each matzoh ball – unless they are stuffed with grebines (onions sauteed in chicken fat until crisp). Then we could get as much as $2.50. And if we charged for chicken by the piece we might get $3.00 for dark meat and $4.00 for white. And what about the matzoh farfel muffins? Chicken soup should go for $5.00 a bowl because it’s organic and we clean the chickens with a tweezers. They are kind of a delicacy, probably worth at least as much as a designer cupcake, say $3.75. All that seems fair to me, but I am in a bit of a quandary about the black radish, the horse radish – do you charge by the spoonful or the jar. And the cholent (slow cooked beef stew). You can’t charge by the piece of meat because the beef, potato, and stuffing all mush together. You could charge by the serving but it would be much more lucrative to charge by the pound because it’s really heavy. Finally, there are the sponge cakes and brownies—none of which has wheat flour. Now they should be really pricey. Oh my God! We could be almost rich if we went into the “Seder R Us” business. Geez, we could make more than $25.00 for each meal we sell.
Chuck(c), Karen (r) and unidentified first cousin, at the hock-fest
Not so fast. There are easier ways to make money and part of the joy of creating the Passover experience is that it has nothing to do with money. It is all about being with people you love. It is about arguing without animas, about the important stuff like the amount of seasoning to use, (there’s never enough salt), how much chicken fat is enough (none is too much). And the length of time to cook something (does it really take 3 hours for the gefilte fish to get done). Oh and realizing that hocking’ 35 pounds of pike and carp, can be more fun than a carnival. Of course, I hate to go to a carnival, but it always sounds like something that would be colorful.
Chuck and Honey, and the late carp
And, I don’t mean to sound like a commercial but how do you put a price on all the wonderful conversations that you have while you are hocking, or mushing, or baking. You can’t charge by the story or laugh or by the tears you shed when you remember the time that has passed or the people you have lost. Anyway, it is impossible to measure all of that and put it on a menu with a price. I guess another great business idea bites the dust.
Rosalie and Honey, being serious
This Passover is the first time the first generation cousins prepared without supervision from the Aunts. It wasn’t easy, and we actually haven’t feasted on the results of our efforts but we are confident that it will all be just terrific. Because even if the horse radish isn’t strong enough and the chicken is dry (neither of which will be true), the joy we had all just being together have already made this holiday a success. We’re just sayin’…Iris
fone-cam pictures by Iris

Just Like in ER

You know how when you watch ER (and of course you must—or you watch any of the Law and Order’s which is great, but has nothing to do with this blog), there are often these intimidating medical machines. Maybe it’s not ‘ER’, maybe it’s “Gray’s Anatomy”, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have seen an intimidating machine like an MRI. So today I had an MRI because I had a fall a few months ago and hit my head. Other than yelling “I am bleeding from my head”, I did nothing. But since Natasha Richardson died from not having the proper medical attention, I decided that the unusually frequent headaches and memory loss might deserve some attention.

It’s not easy to navigate the health care system anywhere. First you have to find a doctor that takes your health insurance. Then you have to find a hospital or some equally large facility that performs an MRI. Then you make an appointment. That is just the beginning. Next you have to call the insurance company and give them all kinds of information like the name of your doctor, the codes for your illness, and a prescription for the test. Then they refer you to a place that gives you an authorization number and all kinds of rules. [Who would have thought a zillion dollar industry could exist merely from OK’ing medical procedures?!) It takes hours and many phone calls. Then you have to contact the MRI people with all the data and hope that they can give you an appointment while you are still alive.

This being said, I am quite fortunate because my pal is a humma’ at the Hospital for Special Surgery and even though there aren’t many bones in my brain, she does know every fine doctor and facility in NY. They were able to make an appointment for me and, when I arrived, there was a welcoming committee. That’s a slight exaggeration but they couldn’t have been more welcoming. I guess I should mention that initially I went to the wrong facility, but I had arrived early enough to figure out that I didn’t belong there, so I was able to scoot across town in enough time that I wasn’t very late.

Back to the intimidating part. They take me into a room where I am to remove any metal, including jewelry and an under wire bra. I hoped that my shirt and the label had no metal thread and wondered if I would suffer severe burns if they did. But the nurse thought it would be OK. Then they take you to another room where they search for a vein in order to inject the dye that does contrast. I have no veins. I mean for years nurses and doctors have been looking for my veins and when they find one and try to stick a needle in it—it collapses. Inevitably, they try two or three times and then they stick it in my hand. The good news is that I could never be a successful drug addict. It would simply take too long to inject anything and get high.

Once you have the tubes hanging from your hand, they take you to a room which contains only the MRI machine. It is a massive structure, a big enough machine that it dwarfs every room. “Are you claustrophobic?” they ask. And if you weren’t before, the sight of what they are going to put you in is enough to make you think you might be. “The machine makes a great deal of noise” they say. “You might want to wear ear plugs.” I always want to wear ear plugs when there is any noise but, like my veins, my ear canals are a problem. They are so small that I can’t wear ear buds or most plugs. When I use my I-pod, I do it with these giant ear phones that look like a Mickey Mouse hat or like I’m from another planet. Quite simply, it’s embarrassing to be with me. Even at my fitness club people won’t use the machine next to me.

“There’s a fan in the machine and it gets a bit chilly. Would you like a blanket?” the technician asked. “Sure” I said. But what I really wanted was a teddy bear and my mother. I put my head in the “head putting place” and struggled to put the foam plugs in my ears, but within minutes, they fell out. So there I am on the table, prostrate and plugless and hoping it just won’t take too long.

The noises started and they were incredibly loud. It took me back to a time when my photo friend Peter was shooting a story about the “Plasmatics”. He invited me to go with him to hear this nasty punk rock band, and then we planned to have dinner afterward. When the show was over and Peter came off the stage he was holding his head. “The worst thing happened”, he said. “I put the plugs in my ears and as soon as they started to sing the plugs fell out and I stepped on them”. It was hours, maybe even days, before he could hear anything. Anyway, this was not much different. At some point the technician asked me if I was OK, and I was just relieved that I could still hear him.

When the test was over I got dressed and made my way to the nurses office so they could take all the crap out of my veins. She asked me if I felt OK. And I did, other than having some hearing loss and a punctured vein in my hand. Only kidding, I was just fine. At least I hope I am just fine. The good news is that they discovered I do have a brain and there is no tumor, aneurism or bleeding. I refuse to acknowledge any bad news. There simply won’t be. Let’s just say that there may be other news sometime down the road. Where is George Clooney when you need him? We’re just sayin’….Iris

Saturday, April 04, 2009

New Yawk, Ain't It Sumpin'

On those rare weeks where I actually spend a week here in the city, I continue to be amazed by all those New Yorky things which carry on, whether or not your attend. In fact, TIME OUT/New York magazine, a swell weekly guide to things going and and things to eat, has a cover story this week called the New Yorkiest Blocks in the city. I don’t live on one like that. Our block, contrary to most in this city, has no palaces of food, no laundry, no nail parlor (all those things are just minutes away, but not ON the block), and just three garages, a late night club where yelling matches and the occasional gun-fire challenge sleep, and a men’s clothing store with nothing I’d wear (not much of an indictment, true) on a fancy dress night. We’re within a two minute walk of Indian, pizza, and that parlour of great confections, Tasti-D lite, that quasi icecreamian stuff which is made from the same thing that keeps your airplane tires inflated. The lack of goodies immediately near by is certainly trumped by the availability of anything in the city to be delivered. You call, give an order, and within twenty five minutes, a host of goodies can be arriving by bicycle at your door. Try and match THAT Denver or Cleveland!

Today, on a little wandering stroll west, we ran into what was the beginning of the Tartan Day parade. Sure, we all know about the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and as chronicled on this blob before, the Indian National Day Parade. Stand near a major avenue long enough and a bunch of people will march by, with either horses, dogs, bag pipes, or some colorful combination thereof. So today, forming on side streets in the low 40s, and marching up to the edge of Central Park, were hundreds of kilt and tartan wearing Scots and Scot-o-philes, including a small cadre of Scottish terriers, some of whom were also clad in the green, red and blue. There was even a group carrying a Caber, a huge, pole like wooden device for which there is actually a throwing competition.
I’m not sure how many times we heard versions of Amazing Grace and that other tune, the name of which escapes me, though the tune itself remains in my head. (It’s something like “we sing the tunes of glory, we tell freedom’s story’..” and if you know I’d appreciate letting ME know…) In any case, you expected to see many tents at the end of the parade for companies as diverse as MacCallan and Glen Fiddich, to name a few. But I guess the vast richness of New York saloons meant they didn’t have to do any individual marketing, assured that in Gotham city, with the exception of the block where I live, you can find a couple of bars at the drop of a hat. And I think many hats were dropped.

It reminds you that for all the downs and ups lately, there are things which continue to keep people inspired to get out of the house, and go somewhere fun, interesting, or culturally piquing. The city has a lot of those riches, and even if you never spent twenty bucks on a tartan kilt for a 10 pound puppy, you could, with very little effort, be apart of something, somewhere.

Two nights ago I went with Jordan to an opening at the N Y Public Library, which traced the role of French literary figures through World War 2, the Occupation, and the various positions taken by those people during that challenging period.
The St. Columbus band from Kilmacolm, Scotland (nice spring break trip, eh?)
There was case after case of original letters (all hand written on actual paper) with a historian’s view on just how the principals related to one another and to the Nazi occupation. Fascinating stuff, worthy of a place so prominent, and one only hopes that there will be enough visitors to amortize the cost of what it took to put it together. The one thing that remains a given, whether you are in the big city, or a rural burg. You have to make an effort. You could stay home and watch TV, and don’t so many of us do that. But the richness of life which is outside one’s own door, whether it be at the library, or a bunch of moustached gents (and ladies) making music on the avenue, is something to keep in mind the next time you’re feeling bored and lonely. We’re just sayin’…David
Watching the parade from the sidewalk, so New Yawk

It's a Mitzvah

When I agreed to show “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, I asked for assurances that there would be more than five people in the audience. Having done my share of afternoon movies, (where there is always a plethora of the elderly), it has become apparent that, if there are less than 50 people in the audience, the tendency to talk during the film increases by 75%. In addition, the last time we showed the film at an assisted living facility, my cousin Dickie and I were the only ones who understood the show wasn’t interactive. And it didn’t matter how they made their gefilte fish 100 years ago – this was about our little ‘gefiltes’.

Judy was convinced that they would have a full house, so we said OK. The show was called for 2:00. At 1:20 there were maybe six people there. I thought that it was a good sign that an hour before the show there was already an interest. By 1:45, the place was packed. Half the room was populated with wheel chairs and the other half was walkers and folks who didn’t need any help. We were surprised and pleased – but waiting to see what kind of an audience they would be.

The lights dimmed and the music began. We were in the back and couldn’t hear much so I asked the aide doubling as sound technician to turn it up. I figured if I couldn’t hear it, any of the residents, who were like my mother and refused to wear hearing aids, wouldn’t be able to hear it either. At one point someone on staff started to test the sound system, which was a bit disruptive, but the person in charge raced to the office and put a stop to that. From the rear of the room I could see some of the people tapping to the Klezmer music – it didn’t matter that they were confined to wheel chairs. Then, when the onscreen Seder began, I could hear a few people saying the blessings with people on the screen. At the end, when the credits roll to the song “Oifen Pripichick”, (just in case you want to hear something beautiful,then check this out) they were singing along like it was “Merrily We Roll Along” – but much more poignant.

After the credits rolled I went to the lectern to give some background and answer questions. David was sure half the audience was asleep. This was not the case. The entire front row (people who could both hear and see) were in tears. Let me just share with you that no matter how many times I have seen it, I am always in tears by the end, because Aunt Peppy reveals that Aunt Sophie has died. So when I got to front and saw that all these other people were in tears, I lost it. When David came up to share his insights, he mentioned Dumont Avenue, and one woman in middle of the room yelled, “I grew up on Dumont Avenue” – she was wiping her eyes. “It brought so many wonderful memories back to me”, she said through her tears. There was also a woman in a wheel chair who asked if we would adopt her because she wanted to have a Passover like ours.

Needless to say, it was well received by all. And, needless to say, I knew that Bubby, Zaidy my Pop an all my sorely missed Aunts and Uncles were looking down at us and saying, “Look at what a ‘Mitvah’ the children did. We certainly taught them well, didn’t we?” We're just sayin'.... Iris

The Gefilte Fish Chronicles

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cleaning Up

It’s Spring, always a good time for cleaning up your house and your life. When I was a little kid my mom used Passover as the time to do this. We changed all our dishes, pots and pans to Passover approved dinnerware—in our case it was all glass dishes, a separate set of silverware and cookware that was only used for this special occasion. We vacuumed carpets, dusted surfaces, and scrubbed floors – well at least Helen Costello, the wonderful woman who worked as our housekeeper, babysitter and part time mother, did. (You would never describe her as a nanny. She was far too a critical part of our lives). Mom was a great supervisor, or at least she was an excellent delegater.

Passover was always my favorite holiday and while part of that was the tidiness, most of it was a complete set of glass dishes (bowls, cups saucers, cake/salad plates) with little embedded glass bubbles. I think we gave those dishes away or, maybe they got broken over the years, but when we sold the house we couldn’t find them. Believe it or not, I miss them even after so many years.

Sometimes when I think about how to deal with this lovely but often rainy time of the year, I think that it is a good time not only to clean our homes -- and get rid of all the extraneous crap we have collected over the years-- it is also a good time to get rid of the people who no longer bring any richness to our days. The people who are ‘no longer really friends’ and who, whether it is by being thoughtless, selfish, whiney, angry, or negative, simply require too much work and drain all our energy. And I mean this in the nicest possible way.

As time moves on and each moment we live becomes more measured and important, we realize that our time is limited and the way we spend it is critical. I have made a decision that I want to be surrounded by people who do not judge my faults but celebrate my strengths. In addition, I don’t want to be angry with people who have been unkind, or insensitive, but it’s much easier to discard ‘things’ than it is to eliminate personalities or issues. How do you say to someone who you have known for 100 years that you do not want to hear from them again because they are not good for you. And how do you get beyond being angry about something someone may have done to you when what they have done may be part of the fabric of what you do professionally or personally – in other words, it is in your face. But here’s something to think about; there is never an upside to being angry. It makes you sick and stressed and sometimes, not a nice person. It does nothing to the person with whom you are angry. Under almost all circumstances, they don’t care. My suggestion is to take a deep breath, and like you do with clothes that no longer work for you, make a list of which friends you want to give to charity. And slowly you will find you are in a much better place.

I heard this story today and, given my blog, I thought, since it was most insightful, I would share it.

Toward the end of Sunday service, the Minister asked, 'How many of you have forgiven your enemies?' 80% held up their hands. The Minister then repeated his question. All responded this time, except one small elderly lady.
"Miss Joyce, Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?'
“I don't have any enemies.” She replied, smiling sweetly.
“Miss Joyce, that is very unusual. How old are you?'
“Ninety-eight.” she replied.
“'Oh, Miss Joyce, would you please come down in front & tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years & not have an enemy in the world?'
The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation,
and said very sweetly and forthrightly:
“I out lived the bitches.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Plum Crazy

Word has it that Treasury is not the only Government Department where numerous jobs remain unfilled. Most of the unpeopled positions can be found in what is called “The Plum Book”. Yes, it is a government publication named after a fruit. While the actual name of the tome is “The United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions “, the reality is that it contains a list of all the political positions (about 8000) the President (or his designees ) can fill with their friends. But no one in Washington, or anywhere the jobs exist, has ever called it anything but the “Plum Book.”

Plums are considered by many, a delectable, kind of oval, purple delight. But not in this case. This plum is desirable, but not always sweet. I can only guess that staffing the government has never been easy. Even when it was first published in 1952, I bet those aspiring Eisenhower administration wannabe’s were tripping over one another trying to find desks and offices in places that would pay them reasonable salaries and give them incredible government benefits-- like health care and pensions. OK not pensions because political appointees can stay for a maximum of eight years – unless they burrow (which means they become civil servants)—but this is too boring. So back to tasting some fruit.

The major difference between filling jobs in 1952 and 2009 is quite simply, the vetting process. In 1952, no potential appointee worried about not paying taxes on a nanny, or a housekeeper or driver – or for that matter, themselves. It just wasn't important. Things are no longer that simple. A friend of mine, who is close to the people doing the vetting, said that when she visited their office, applications of people undergoing the process covered all the desks and were in piles four feet high. Another pal revealed that some applicants had been told to go to lawyers before they filled out their forms, (which could cost $5000 or more depending on their history), just to see if they could make it through the process. Just FYI, the highest salary for someone ( like the Secretary of Defense) is $191,300. Whew, that much!

Are you starting to get the picture. The 2009 staffing process has become quite cumbersome. If you want a job you either gave the candidate a great deal of money, worked in the winning campaign, worked on the Inaugural or Transition, worked in a losing campaign where the loser has been appointed to an important job and cut a deal to make their own appointments (word has it that this is the case with Secretary Clinton), you are or know a VIP, or you have information that you can use to blackmail someone in power (just wanted to see if you were still paying attention). Next you have to be willing to step on anyone who might be competition for a job you want. In addition, you cannot have a past --good or bad -- or you won’t make it through the vetting process. Almost finally, you have to be willing to spend lots of time and money to insure you will have a job that pays about 30% of what you can make in the private sector. Finally you have always to be on your best behavior because if you are caught doing anything questionable, be assured, your supervisor will 'throw you under a bus’.

When someone asks me if I am ‘going in” (which is how Washington people describe getting a government job – yes, like serving a sentence), at first I chuckle, which usually leads to a guffaw, and then all I can think is “why would anyone spend any time or energy to be investigated, scrutinized, humiliated, and made assuredly miserable, for the joy of working in a bureaucracy where, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to make any difference”. Don’t rush me, I’m having trouble with an answer. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Another Summit, Another Show

Every day you can find ways in which the world has changed. Not that you really needed to be reminded of it (home-style espresso machines, laser printers, Prius hybrid cars), but this morning watching the so called ‘coverage’ from the G-20 in London, I realized that how lucky I have been to have been a photographer in the last few decades. If the 70s, 80s and 90s were the time of the modern still photograph, then today is the elemental time of the internet and really bad video. Large scene, overall camera shots of the huge crowds of kids (sorry, most of them are kids) who are protesting the G-20 and the US role in the economic downfall. In the show I’m ‘monitoring’ now (‘monitoring’ is what fake anchors do when they don’t have anything interesting to say) there are background shots of the yellow coated bobbies, and the the crowds of protestors, bound together with a huge contingent of press photographers. Most are using still cameras, some seem to be schlepping a video camera too, but as I look at this scene, I wonder “where in the hell do they think their pictures will end up?” In Denver and St. Paul last summer, at the political conventions, there were a couple of great blogs which followed the protests, and did so with a very hip and interesting use of video and pictures. But in the world of the ‘net, where no one really takes seriously the concept of honoring copyright -- you pretty much just grab what you want from another site, and put it on your own site. No body, with the exception of a few big sites, really pays for anything. You can just link to someone else’s page, and if you are an aggregator (ever notice how similar that is to ‘aggravate’?) you just post it like Drudge does, and then don’t bother actually responding to your emails when someone like me gets pissed off about it. It’s kind of a content driven mess. The value of the content seems to be far less appreciated than in times when you actually had to make a decision to see something: you bought a copy of LIFE or TIME or Newsweek. There was no internet to gobble up our work and spit it back out a hundred ways. The value was that you could slow down long enough and actually look at something with a sense of pondering and thoughtfulness.

At the first US/Soviet summit of the Reagan / Gorbachev era, in Geneva in November, 1985 (and no, I can’t actually BELIEVE its 24 years) I was one of the stills guys present. We were few enough that you could put us on the head of large pin. Kennerly, Dirck, Diana Walker, Ficara, the usual run of magazine folks, and the wires. We were less than 15 from the US side, I believe. A large handful. On the Russian (oops, Soviet) side, there were a bunch of former rugby players with wide lapelled suits and Nikon’s with potato masher flash units. In those days, and I suspect that even now at the G-20, there were protocols which supposedly allowed the same number of Stills guys from each country. That meant that at a G-7 finance summit, Italy had the same number of credentials as the US. Given that all the ‘regulars’ lined up out the door of the White House press office were way ahead of me in the food chain to get the little twits’ approval, I had to find other methods. I became friendly with the Italian press service, since most Italian press photographers were smart enough to be elsewhere photographing beautiful actresses or car crashes on the Auto strada, instead of struggling to get a picture of their Premier who, because of the iffy political system, would be out of office in a week or two. I nailed my creds from the Italians, and would take my place in the grid – that big mess which we have come to call a photo-op.

In Geneva, I still remember spending a bone-chilling 8 hour day on an outdoor platform with Diana Walker (TIME) waiting for the Reagans to arrive at the big guest house. It took hours and hours, and the only thing which assuaged our discomfort was the discovery that someone had put what amounted to a free international phone line on the stand. We amused ourselves by calling virtually everyone we knew in a number of countries to say hello. In the end, the Reagans arrived late that day, the light sucked, and there was no picture to speak of. But in the spirit of Skype, we’d at least been able to keep up with all our pals and family. The next two days saw plenary sessions, and we all searched for that one special picture – hard to find in a world where protocol determines with razor like accuracy who stands where, and when, and how.

On the last afternoon, the joint session was another ticketed event. I was twelfth in line for a US group with ten tickets. So I went to the Soviet press desk, and played the “My great-grandfather left Russia 100 years ago, do you think you could toss me a cred?” card. The apparatchik with the paperwork looked at me with disdain and said “Impossible. You should talk to the Americans.” I reminded him that they were not a possibility, but that I was ready to wait and see. “You must be patient!” he said. “I am patient!” I responded. And for once, I was. Writers came and went, leaving with their creds, as the clock kept creeping up to the appointed time. After about twenty minutes, realizing he still had a stack of creds, he looked at me and announced “You are very patient..” and by the time he had finished his sentence I had one foot in the big hall where they were set up for the joint statement. Then the real work began. My first view of the stage showed the four chairs arranged in a long line (two heads of state, two interpreters), splayed out over the stage. In a quick moment I asked the ‘Service if we could run up and get a light reading (i.e. there was still this thing called “FILM” which had to be correctly exposed.) As we stood there comparing readings, and unbeknownst to the protocol stiffs at the side of the room, we started utzing the chairs together ever so gently. In the end, it was a right and proper thing to do. I mean we HAD to get the chairs close enough that you could make the shot with a 300! Some things just are worth making happen.
Reagan and Gorbachev, their interpreters, in chairs pushed just close enough for a 300. This was shot with a 200.
Now, looking from afar at the G20, where there are a helluva lot more photographers, and a helluva lot fewer chances to make a picture, I wonder how the movement of media and imagery will change again. The fleeting moments of the Obamas and the Queen, the long ranks of world leaders, might produce a picture or two, but who will take the time to look? Will those pictures just be blown off the front page by Madonna in Malawi and rankerous discussions about Subway fare hikes? Who will see, who will notice, who will understand? We’re just sayin’…. David