Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where Do They Go?

About five years ago, at 3am, having had dinner at a local “not New Jersey but not bad”, diner, my daughter and a few friends were driving home. Almost home, they were rear-ended by two drunks who spoke enough English to say that it was not necessary to call the police or her father. She was pretty shaken but her friend Alex had the good sense to write down their license plates, call David and the police. By the time David and the police arrived, (no surprise David got there first), the perpetrators (that’s legal talk) were long gone. But, because Alex had thought clearly, the police were able to drive everyone to the guys apartment where the kids were able to identify them because Alex had recognized the sweater one of them was wearing as ‘’one of last years Gap models’. The story goes on and on with all the victims (Jordan and friends came from all corners of the earth), appearing in court, the prosecutor being totally incompetent, and the criminals being allowed to go back to driving drunk in the middle of the night and probably killing the next person they hit… but that’s not what I wanted to blob about. The car is my subject of choice.
the Volvo, after the 3am accident
The 14 year old black Volvo 850 had served us well until that hit from behind. Basically the car was totaled—according to the insurance people. They said the car was worth $5000 and it was going to cost $6000 to fix it. Our insurance company and agent were State Farm. For over twenty years we have paid premiums to State Farm on our house and all our cars. Needless to say, it’s been thousands of dollars. So rather than sit back and weep for our vehicle, we told the insurance people that if they didn’t pay to fix it, we were taking our business elsewhere.

They took a deep breath, swallowed hard and paid to put the car back on the road in working condition. It was probably a mistake. The car has never been the same. It was driving OK but, the car like so many old people, has become progressively temper mental. For example, in the winter it often doesn’t want to be out in the cold, so it doesn’t start. In the summer it just wants to be left alone, so the air conditioning doesn’t work -- this discourages anyone from trying to get inside. There are also issues with the way it looks: paint is peeling, the gear shift looks like it was in a fight and the rubber sealing around the windows is ripping. But these are vanity rather than safety issues and David won’t take her to the beauty salon. More importantly, the mileage gage stopped working at 124,000 miles, although David still quotes that number as the amount of miles the car as been driven. We all know it’s far greater, but we play the game so the car doesn’t overhear what we say and get exhausted just from the idea of driving that far.

All our cars have needed repairs this week so having a vehicle in the shop is a sensitive subject. But last week, when the Volvo didn’t pass inspection David admitted that the car had probably driven it’s last mile. He thought we should offer it to one of those organizations that tow it away, sell it to make things better for small children and the handicapped, and give you a pittance of a write-off. Then, having looked at new car prices (I thought they were giving them away because the dealers are in such trouble), he changed his mind and had the car repaired enough to pass inspection. The guy that fixes the car is also an inspection station. $1400 later the dear old Volvo is back on the road. But it is driving sluggishly and if you go over 50 it shakes.

“We need to sell this piece of crap”, I said lovingly last night.
“Why? He said. “It’s still got lots of life. After all, it is only 14 years old with 124,000 miles.”
“I don’t think so.” I replied, just amazed by his total blind eye to the problem. “How many 14 year old 850’s with more than 124,000 miles have you seen around? I will not let any loved one drive it and really, we shouldn’t take it on the road either – even though the air conditioning does appear to work right now.”

We have not reached a decision about what to do. David, thank God, does get attached to people and unfortunately, things. He never throws anything away. I know if there were a Volvo retirement home where he could be assured it would be loved and someone would care for it until it went to Volvo heaven, he might consider that as an option. But for now, I guess it will live in Arlington and remain an old eye sore, but still part of our lives. We’re just sayin’... Iris


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Supreme Decision

The President made a Supreme Court nomination …. Let the fun begin. Senator Sessions, Republican on the Judiciary Committee, says that the Republicans are going to give Justice Sotomayer a ‘fair hearing’. Senator Schumer doesn’t believe it for a minute, but what choice does he have. He can’t circumvent all the Republicans on the committee – although that’s what he'd like to do. They are elected officials and have a right to be heard. But here’s the thing, (and I’m not opposed to this, I don’t think), these very important appointments are no longer made without looking beyond judicial credibility. Consideration must also be given to gender, ethnicity, and background. It makes sense to me because when decisions were made without consideration for these added elements, the Court (with very few exceptions) was made up of all white men. What is so interesting is that one of the all time great justices, Thurgood Marshall was Black, a womanizer and some said a drinker. But his background and struggles were critical when it came to his judgments about interpreting the Constitution.

So, is it important to consider Justice Sotomayer’s background when deciding if she is a good choice for the Supreme Court? Of course it is. And, OK I get why the nominee has to have some sort of a legal background—why they have to understand the way the system works. But wouldn’t it be terrific if a high school principal, or a fireman, could get the job. Someone who, on a daily basis, has to face the difficulties of real life. Someone whose decisions have an impact on the way people may live the rest of their lives. (I know Justices do this in the ‘greater’ scheme of things—but you get my point.) It’s not going to happen, but it would be terrific. I guess Justice Sotomayer, a Puerto Rican woman who was appointed by George Bush, comes about as close as possible. But gender, like race, as the best reason to be a Justice, makes me uncomfortable because there are qualified women and minorities (Sonia Sotomayer is certainly qualified - if it's not going to be me, then she's an excellent choice) who should serve on the bench but the reasons should be competence, not an consequence of birth. see:

Back to the Republicans. Despite claims that they want the government to work, Michael Steele, the Chair of the Republican Party is still sending out this kind of fundraising plea.

“President Obama and his Congressional allies have shown America their true agenda.They are leftist radicals bent on transforming our constitutional republic into a socialist "utopia" by dismantling the free enterprise system, eroding the rule of law, (a swipe at Sotomayer perhaps?), imperiling our national security, and curtailing our freedom. Friend, a groundswell of popular grassroots opposition to the Obama Democrats' unprincipled power grab and failed policies is rising across America.”

And there was more, including in the realm of the ridiculous, a desperate P. S. (apparently they are in such trouble their rhetoric comes close to begging). And, not since elementary school have I seen a P.P.S. Cute huh?

“P.P.S. We need every American concerned about our nation's future to get on board in our fight. Help us increase the groundswell of support for defeating the Obama Democrats! Please forward this message to all of your friends and ask them to join our GOP team today!”

I’m not joining and I'm not sure how I got on this list -- but it is always entertaining. We’re just sayin’... Iris

Monday, May 25, 2009

It Never Gets Old

Entertainment, like politics can be totally subjective. What one person thinks is remarkable another will think is superficial. Critics of either of these disciplines have differing tastes, experiences, and opinions, so their evaluations are merely a suggestion of what may entertain or enlighten you. While it is true that there are people who have studied or worked in the theater and do know something, it doesn’t mean that they will feel the same way that you will about any production. But the important thing is that, with the cost of a theater or movie ticket, you have some idea of what to expect, and then you can decide on whether you want to invest the time and money for the show. With this in mind, let me introduce you to the ‘what’s in it for me,’ entertainment blog, “Bulletins Over Broadway” – I haven’t really decided on a name, and all suggestions are welcome. The blog will rate venues with a “What’s in it for me” scale with 1 being nothing, don’t waste your time. 2 being, I was entertained, and 3 being, I was moved and enlightened and it changed my life.

Before I begin my critique I will take you back a few years. In the early 90s, despite heavy artillery fire, young Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian performers risked their lives to make their way to a small make shift theater in the middle of Sarajevo, to perform the musical “Hair”. The theater, had no electricity or heat, but it did have a standing room only audience, that made their way through the same treacherous streets to attend one of the two daily performances. The Los Angeles Times wrote “A Sarajevo troupe's adaptation of the 1968 anti-war musical "Hair" has survived a year of bombardment to become a symbol of this integrated city's defiance of death and division.”

It seems “Hair”, which, like “Rent” is a symbol of the times, was also a statement about the search for love and peace, and making difficult personal decisions. It also transcends generations and geography. Viet Nam, like Iraq, was based on many lies and the ability for old men to send young men and women to fight a war which ultimately benefited only those old men—and their friends. No one quite understands why, but still it goes on and on. That being said (and yes, I did have to say it), it is impossible not to be moved by what happens on and off the stage in this latest production of “Hair” at the Hirschfeld Theater in NY. The production is happily interactive, with the characters not only making entrances and exits through the audience, inviting the audience to come up on stage for the reprise of “Let the Sun Shine,” but also making comments, touching and having conversation with individuals in the audience. In other words, if you can dance, get ready to be part of the play, but don’t be late because Berger (Will Swenson) the charming and sometimes “you just want to smack him” lead, will call you out about it.

The music remains memorable and moving. The ‘tribe’ – is perfection in their musical pleas for justice, love, and peace. Allison Case as Crissy breaks our heart with her plea to “Frank Mills” to forget the two dollars he borrowed and come back. Although we’re rooting for him to flee the country, we understand Claude’s (Gavin Creel) reluctance to dodge the draft. Andrew Kober is a hoot as Margaret Mead, and the Dad. Megan Lawrence who plays the opinionated and unforgiving mother is truly irritating in the way she should be as an ‘over 30’ parent. Cassie Levy (Sheila) is not as passionate as she might be as Sheila , but as a member of the tribe she’s fine. The tribe is energetic and works in concert to make all the music a statement about confronting life changing issues – as we knew them then and in some regard, know them now.

To be perfectly frank, I cannot listen to any version of “Let the Sun Shine” without tearing up. Part of it is the music and part is the memories, but when I hear the first note, I am jello in my seat. Although staying in my seat is never an option. And while I did not go up on the stage with the rest of the crowd (they do provide even the balcony and mezzanine with a way to do that), it is impossible for me to sit and listen. I just have to move with that music, which I did with legions of other people standing in the aisles. In the ‘what’s in it for me’ rating I would absolutely give it a 3. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's Never Too Late

Last weekend I attended the Commercial Theater Institute 3 day program for Broadway wannabe producers. (I have always been passionate about the theater and however it happened, I took the road less traveled and wound up in politics). In the sessions we were introduced to a number of theater professionals who talked about how you get a show financed and mounted. The talent and information were vast. And mostly, people were open to exchanging e-mails and tips beyond the sessions. It was a wonderful opportunity to think about what I can be when I grow up. It’s my feeling that if you aren’t going to be a doctor, lawyer or photographer you can have as many careers as your imagination and energy will allow. My favorite speaker was the producer who made the decision not to comp anyone to see a show—not even the press, because he felt they would treat it with more value if they had to pay a small amount to see it. What I realized, at the end of the three days, was that I should have been an entertainment lawyer – but for years I wasted my time thinking I wanted to be Perry Mason, (he was a television courtroom personality who never lost a case and additionally always found out who the real murderer was. If you’re lucky you can catch him on Sleuth TV at 3 am.) OK so even though I got into Harvard Law, I didn’t go for too many boring reasons to explain in this limited space—what I mean is that I’m not telling.

So, after three days of intense study, what do I want to do? (It shouldn’t take more than three days to figure out what you will love for all the rest of the time you can still walk and breathe). What I know is that I have all the skills necessary to produce a Broadway show, but do I want to spend the time fundraising – which if you do nothing else, is absolutely required for success—even if the show is going to be a failure. The other thing I learned is that with the changing technology, the power to “make or break” a production is moving from the traditional media to the internet—theater blogs et al.
Having never been the kind of person to turn down an opportunity to be powerful, and being an insightful articulate writer (there’s that modesty again), I have decided to try my hand at being a theater critic. But I’m not going to talk about only the show, I’m going to talk about the marketing as well. So here goes, my first venture into the world of theater, with an unconventional view of “Billy Elliott”.

You don’t necessarily get what you pay for in this theatrical version of the simple but elegant film “Billy Elliott.” On the billboards around New York, the play is positioned as “Simply the best play you will ever see”. It is simply not true or maybe it depends on which Billy Elliott you actually get to see. But since the ticket is priced at $126.00 and the only discount available is student rush, the rest of us could be out of luck.

In my CTI class every producer talked about how mean, insensitive, power hungry and ignorant the theater critics were. I don’t want to be mean or insensitive, because I love the theater and respect the hard work it takes to make a show a success. So, let me start by saying that there are a great many talented people on stage in “Billy Elliott.” Gregory Jbara as the Dad, Carole Shelley as Grandma, and Hayden Gwynne as Mrs. Wilkinson are all exceptional in their roles. I was moved by their relationships with Billy and the pain they experienced in dealing with the reality of their lives. The Billy Elliott we saw, David Alvarez was remarkably fit. I would kill for those legs. He dance proficiency was extraordinary. Every movement and step was perfect, but it lacked “heart”. There is an unexpected and welcomed amount of tap in this notable ballet story, but his was without any soul. Dance without heart and soul is simply not interesting or for that matter enjoyable. But David was not the only problem. The play or book, doesn’t move with the pace of the dance. Maybe it’s a British thing, (I’m no longer caught up in British cache), or maybe it’s just an attempt to try to give people their money’s worth, but there was no need to sit and watch the repetition of themes; workers on strike get screwed and young boy struggles with economic adversity and ignorance to live his dream, for three hours. There were dance numbers and scenes that could have been eliminated without any problem. And lastly, the simplicity of the Billy Elliott story is part of its beauty and attraction. This production was so bloviated with mechanical enhancements that it screamed “I know I must try to be Wicked to be good” (the show, not the personality type). I thought if the elevated bedroom went up and down one more time, I would have to take a sledge hammer to it. Then there was a moment when, during a ballet number, Billy, like Elphaba, is flown around the stage. It was not only a distraction, it seemed to be without a purpose.

While it is true that people who go to the theater and pay big bucks for seats expect to be wowed by what they see on the stage, (sets, scenery, toys), they also expect to be entertained. I was distracted by the bigness, annoyed by the pace and disappointed by the lack of connection with the subject. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

Bolt, and I mean it!

I’m so pissed. I wrote 7 graphs (stupidly) using the AOL Mail writer, and just as we passed exit 15 it just did a big beach ball, waved goodbye, crashed, and took all my idiotic words with it. I’m on the Bolt Bus headed to New York. I had written a very almost witty account of taking the bus in the era of cutbacks (the “groovy” wifi/110v at every seat bus.)
Your correspondent, in full BOLT Bus mode
In an era two generations gone from when the Greyhound passed through small town America, picking up young men and women and their duffel bags, and took them to the big cities, the arrival of the new bus system is quite timely. If you go to the Greyhound stations, you will probably still see primarily Loners and Families with Kids, and many bags, making their way to a new life somewhere. The Bolt Bus and the Mega bus, more narrowly aiming their business models at the alternative to short haul flights on busy routes (NY to Boston, Philly or DC) aim to provide that semi luxurious experience to a whole new kind of bus rider. Two rows up from me, on the left is a young genX’er looking at Craigslist job opportunities while she has 4 or 5 iChat windows open. Just ahead of me on the right is a young man with the de rigeur George Clooney 3 day beard watching The Mummy on his wide screen Toshiba laptop. He is lit by the soft glow of that laptop screen, a common look on the bus. On the left, another 20something has put down her paperback (some few people actually READ) long enough to fill out an entry form for a marathon, and started reading through A Guide to Running. This is a self starter. She is someone you might think about hiring. Motivation is the most desparately lacking factor in hiring young people. Take it when you can find it.

I thought about my options when trying to determine how I’d come back to the City. Just as I was online ready to book this seat, I got an email from DELTA announcing new Walk Up fares for the shuttle, up to 60% off. How could I not see what that was about. Well of course, shuttle fees are so bad, that even at 60% off they are $170 one way (same price as Virgin America to San Francisco). So with cabs you’re looking at over two bills. The bus... with a cab to the metro is about $25. And it’s true, in the four + hours of the bus ride I could have flown to Missoula, Phoenix or the Azores. But at least I have had the chance to update my Facebook Page (wow, Dave that’s really worthwhile!), enter two photo contests, read several Photo magazines, and look at a few photo related sites on my laptop. I think I still prefer bus/train/plane to driving, since driving lets you do none of
the aforementioned Life-enhancing activities. But since there is no food served on the bus, you must bring your own vittles. (Note to food carts: someone should bring a first-class sandwich/plate lunch place to the 10th& G bus lot in DC. Money awaits you.) I took a few minutes at the deli near my local Metro stop to get an absolutely forgettable ham/swiss on a ciabatta. Now you would think that if they bothered to have ciabatta rolls, that they might actually care about the sandwich they’d make with it. Did I mention the limp lettuce? In the days of lousy sandwiches ( I guess those days still are amongst us) when it was easy to get a bad sandwich, you sort of expected nothing special. But it seems to me that at the moment you enter into CiabattaVille, the bar is raised. Considerably. You start throwing bread at me with Ci spelling, and pronounced CHEE-AH… it better be good. Slather something on there, maybe even a Secret Sauce. Tempt me. But don’t just litter the sandwich with two dorky slices of tomato and a wilted piece of lettuce that even a pet rabbit would hold his nose over, and expect me to be happy. If you are going to ride on the quasi-chic bus, there ought to be some way to complete the experience. No catering waiters are needed: we don’t need the old French train tradition of the little food cart on wheels, whistling up and down the aisle selling chips and gum. But it would be nice if there was an easier way of connecting a reasonable bus ride with a great sandwich. Nothing is more annoying than being the person across the aisle from the pastrami on rye with Russian, and not having a chance to partake of it. Not that pastrami is that easy to come by these days. A lot of places claim to have pastrami, but they would be, frankly, run out of Brooklyn if they tried to pawn the stuff off as authentic. So, hop on board, pretend you’re in the new century: use the wifi, plug in your cell fone charger… I’ll see you on the corner of 33rd and 7th. Next to Sbarros. Say, there’s an idea. Grab a stromboli and a Yoohoo. Your mileage may vary, but you will arrive. We’re just sayin’…David

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Remember Those Lighthouses....

So much news, so little that’s newsworthy. For example, in the realm of ridiculous social networking, the FBI announced that they are going on Youtube, Facebook,and my personal favorite, Twitter, What could they possibly have to say, I thought. So I went to Facebook and l searched for the FBI. Sure enough, there they are. I mean it’s not like looking for Joan Evans or Peggy Smith, (there are hundreds of those). There are a few FBI’s but the one we’re talking about is obvious. There’s a big fat FBI symbol and it’s incredibly friendly. Then I looked to see who their friends are. Jane Dough is there and a few other people who want info, want to make statements and are apparently curious. It’s such a big disappointment I didn’t even bother to Tweet them. (Just flash your badge here.)

Then, just when you think you will not have to listen to anymore political crap about who did what to whom or when did they know it and how did they get the information, you have to face the fact that there are some things that are never going to go away. Who do you think I’m talking about? Almost any female public figure I guess. Elizabeth Edwards is still yapping about what John did to her and how she’s going to live with it. Nancy Pelosi never knew that the CIA gave her information because someone on her staff forgot to tell her… OK, it doesn’t pass the laugh test. Or maybe her staff is incompetent and she needs to rethink who gets paid with hard earned taxpayer money. Or her “pants are on fire”. Maybe it’s Jennifer Aniston. Just when we all thought that Brad and the big A were living happily ever after in Paris or Africa or somewhere exotic we find that Brad may be back in Jen’s life. Oh why doesn’t her let her live her life in peace… Didn’t Gandhi say that, or was it “It is possible to live in peace.” He didn’t know Brad, or Jen or Ang or Rush Limbaugh, for that matter.

And why do I mention Rush. Probably because I am offended by his emerging (without any election) as the voice of the Republican Party. It is amazing that more Republicans have not denounced his politics and rhetoric as abhorrent. I could be wrong, (which hardly ever happens), but his voice is not the one that reasonable Republicans want to hear. Additionally, he is not the person to lead the Republican party back to victory. Were they listening to what the American people wanted? A change to a government and elected officials who would be able to work together to build a kinder more prosperous nation. With the exception of Limbaugh, (who makes gigantic sums of money by bashing anyone who disagrees with him), there is hardly a person in this country who does not want the President to succeed. It’s simply mean, short sighted and incredibly dumb.

Speaking of the President, he remains clear headed, reasonable, funny and popular. The right wing sent protesters to Notre Dame to disrupt the graduation ceremonies, but everyone knew that those people were not students or faculty. They were, what my new friends in the FBI call “outside agitators.” (Just one Facebook encounter and I’m already conversant in FBI speak.) People want things to be better so they are investing their confidence in the fact that it appears he is doing something to make their lives better. And thank the Lord, perception is reality.

And speaking of the Lord and the President, he, or both of them were at Notre Dame today. I thought I might share a little of that with you because it was another opportunity for the President to confront controversy and emerge as quite a classy fellow. What follows are some of my favorite parts… you can pick your own.

We must decide how to save God’s creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it. We must seek peace at a time when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity – diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.
Unfortunately, finding that common ground – recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a “single garment of destiny” – is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man – our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.

In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

We’re just sayin’.... Iris

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Light That Candle

I spent the last weekend at the Kennedy Space Center, in central Florida, where every manned space mission has been launched from in the last 48 years. Everything you ever remember from “The Right Stuff” (space wise, not X-15 in the desert wise) happened right in this complex, an amazing amalgam of concrete, blacktop, briny inland yeecch water, the occasional alligator, and miles of sandy beaches. Sort of like the rest of Florida except with rockets attached. We (royal We) are now at one of those tipping points (always a delicate phrase when speaking of manned rockets) where decisions need to be made without overtly political input as to which direction the program should go. There are only a few more than a half dozen Shuttle launches left in the program, at which point the remaining Shuttles, like the SR-71 Blackbird airplanes, will be taken from service and replaced by.. well there isn’t really a replacement YET, but there may be some day. Currently the geniuses in charge (these are, frankly, NOT the scientists, but the folks who figure out how to build a new rocket and make sure pieces of it are manufactured in at least 38 states—enough for cloture) have authorized a 4 or 5 year window, in which time there will be no American heavy lift capacity vehicles: the Shuttles retired, and the new Ares not ready for prime time. We’ll be relying on, as General Eisenhower said in his speech to the Europeans announcing D-Day, “.. our great Russian allies.” They have the goods: perhaps a bit ordinary, since they have been perfecting the same big-ass rocket engines for the last 40 years, eschewing exotic and untried in favor of “wow, it works damn near every time.” Even one of the U.S. current unmanned vehicles, the latest version of Atlas, relies on Russian engines because we know they work. Nothing fancy, just success.

Well I don’t mean to belittle, for the truth is, just getting to see the Shuttle sitting on the pad with the giant red ET (external tank) attached does fill you with awe. And though it was dwarfed by the Saturn V Apollo rockets of the late 60/early 70s, it remains a giant of engineering achievement. When you think of all the stuff we throw out every day, the fact that you can re-use the shuttle dozens of times is quite cool. It remains big, and brawny, and in the end, when its launched, you see, in that cloud of noise, smoke and flame, something quite extraordinary. It is, rather like I felt about the Saturn V launches I saw in 1969: it’s something that every tax paying citizen (or J-1 Visa holder for that matter) should have a chance to witness. At the very least it gives you a profound sense of worth for all those horrible checks you wrote to the IRS, even when you realize that all the money you ever paid in all the years you paid taxes, put together, wouldn’t buy even one wing panel for the Shuttle. But think of it as yours and it becomes a little more friendly of an experience.

In 1969 while living in Miami, I covered the launches of Apollo X, XI and XII. It was the supreme moment of the space program. The Manned program had begun just 8 years before (think of it this way: George W Bush announces that we will go to the moon- 2001, and this year we actually DO it.) For those of you too young to remember John Kennedy maybe this helps put it into a time perspective. Yes, we designed and flew three systems concurrently, each adding to the knowledge of the next, but done with a combination of precision and energy which would appear very uncool today (Mercury/Atlas, Gemini/Titan, and Saturn/Apollo). Not only did they have cool names, but the stuff worked. There were no giant computers to run all the numbers. In fact the Apple or HP you are reading this on has infinitely more computing power than any of those capsules did. They got by with less, and made more of it. They knew they were taking chances, but they didn’t take stupid chances. It was most certainly a New Frontier. It was all being done the first time. There weren’t any books to read. They had to write the books. Engineers worked 80 hour weeks while their spouses (mostly wives.. in the 60s engineering was pretty much a ‘guy’ thing) bowled at the Rocket Lanes in Titusville. And when it finally came time to launch the rockets, we all waited with baited breath, unsure yet full of confidence that everyone along the way had done his/her job with dedication to the big task.

Now days I must say that I wonder if that same sense of purpose is there. The astronaut teams are still amazing, selfless, and ready to sacrifice. They are backed up by some great engineering folks. But the stories you hear about how things don’t get done quickly because of Union work rules, how simplification of tasks is derailed by a need to make sure a large number of political chits are cashed (read that as spreading the work around), and other stories which don’t tend to make headlines, and you wonder if the same verve which took us to the moon in 8 years, is still there. All bureaucracies, I well understand, eventually become most preoccupied with looking after their own survival, often to the detriment of the real mission. In this case, I think the bureaucracy has acted like it always does, and puts itself ahead of that amazing mission.

This week, the crew is going to do a final refurbishing of the wonderful Hubble Space Telescope, that fantastic toy which as given us the absolute most amazing views of our solar system and universe. There will be another few shuttle flights scattered over the next year, but I worry that as the shuttle goes offline, there will be not only a lack of hardware to take up the task, but a supreme lack of public interest in making the space program something of continued import. I think we have proven to ourselves that the fancier things get, the more our attentions are scattered, and if you don’t believe me, just watch a 22 year old constantly monitor his Blackberry for some supremely unimportant email which hasn’t arrived yet. It’s the ultimate picture of ennui, and yet if that same kind of ho hum attitude takes over our view of what the space program ought to be, then it will truly be a sad moment. Yet, watching and feeling the incredible noise of a launch, the remarkable speed of the ascent, the power that the hand of man has created, you don’t want something like that to end. We need to keep it going forward. And now, this piece will end in three, two, one, liftoff…. We’re just sayin’… David

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's your Worst Nightmare

Can you imagine what John Edwards must be thinking at this point? I’m sure it’s something short of “I wish the bitch would sit down and shut up”… but not that short. And what ever possessed him to actually take part in one of Satan’s, oops I meant Saint Elizabeth’s interviews? “Did you think she would leave you?” He was asked. “I didn’t know” he answered. From what I hear the house is big enough that they never have to see one another so I guess that’s’ like leaving without packing your bags.

As a humanist and someone who is incredibly empathetic about fatal disease – I am in awe of Elizabeth’s courage in the face of her limited destiny. Everyone seems to think that her time on earth with her children is limited. Who wouldn’t feel something for her. And as a person concerned about the way women are treated by their spouse or significant other, I think John deserves to be publicly humiliated and yes, maybe flogged at high noon on the corner of K and Connecticut. But as a political strategist, someone who has invested in many candidates and campaigns, I cannot help but think, if her kids mean so much to her and she wants to leave a legacy, why (knowing what she knew—cancer/affair), did she encourage, some say insist, that he continue his Presidential bid. She clearly didn’t give a damn about all the thousands of people who devoted themselves to his campaign. That same some would say, “in the greater scheme of things he kept the poverty issue alive”. Others might suggest that if he dropped out Hillary would have taken his votes and possibly won the election”. And if there is anyone left, they might admit that they were duped by this fast talking, ambulance chasing, millionaire… and don’t forget his wife. And it pisses them off.

Like everyone else, my opinions range from: ‘she has every right to speak her piece’ to, ‘let’s just find out who really is the father of the baby, the blonde bimbo (who got paid in lieu of volunteering), gave birth to after the campaign.’ Whew! Am I being exceedingly harsh? Having had any number of friends whose husbands were less than faithful, I just don’t get where she’s going with this. Is her daughter proud of the way she has revealed the truth – in a best seller with hundreds of interviews. Or would she rather her parents just sat down and talked to her (and the other kids if they are old enough to understand), about the reality and consequences of his abhorrent behavior. “He did it because he could,” doesn’t work as an explanation for his children. And all the wind in her sails crap, in the final paragraph of her book, doesn’t explain why she took this route. Does she not understand that when she drags her husband through the mud her kids wind up with dirty shoes.

So why did she write the book and why is she promoting it 24/7. “It’s for my children?’ She says. Which part is for her children? I’m sure they are well aware of her cancer. They probably know she isn’t going to live to be an old grandmother – unless there’s something else we don’t know. The kids certainly didn’t need the money. Nope, no matter how much time I spend thinking about it, the only conclusion that makes sense is that she felt this was the best way to pay the Senator back for humiliating her. For screwing around while she was struggling to save her own life. And don’t forget, for having the opportunity to have a life after she’s gone. And if that is her motivation (not all the other selfless, courageous, bull-ticky) then I applaud her with a standing ovation. We’re just sayin’… Iris

The Death of Real News

The White House correspondent’s dinner was always my favorite Washington event. In order to go, you have to be invited by a White House correspondent—someone who covers the President on a daily basis and thinks you are a valuable resource, or at least the invitation won’t be wasted because your presence at the dinner will be notable. Or your invitation needs to come from a large or wealthy media organization because the table costs big bucks and every invitee needs to be worth the cost of the ticket. I never had a relationship with an organization, I’m not good at interpersonal greater scheme of things. But even in my non-White House years, I knew at least one journalist who had always had a ticket for me – my pal Steve Daley, a brilliant reporter, and insightful blogger http://failedtalkers.blogspot.comwho/ worked then for The Chicago Tribune. I’d like to say that he invited me because I was invaluable as a resource (it’s everyone in Washington’s dream), but he invited me because I knew everyone worth knowing, and he didn’t have to “take care” of me. Furthermore, I always (and I mean year after year), wore my mother’s antique head-to-toe white sequins gown and I was gorgeous – in my humble opinion.

The first time I was invited to this dinner was not with Steve. It was with Bill Plante, the CBS White House correspondent and more importantly, a good friend. But my invitation (I don’t know why) came from Time Magazine. This meant that instead of sitting with him, I was put at a table where Henry Kissinger was my dinner partner. Not that I admired or agreed with anything the esteemed Dr. Kissinger said, but his conversation was fascinating – even if it was with the notable eight old farts (I was a young fart) at table number Two, the most prestigious seating except for- you guessed it - table number One. The most memorable part of the evening was Jane Olivor, the entertainment. Jane was a relatively unknown performer (at least in Washington circles), but she was on my list of favorites. Anyway, for whatever reason, she admired Henry and asked to meet him. Since he didn’t know who she was and I made it clear that I did, he took me backstage. OK, he was a war criminal, but not a bad guy.

Years ago, that dinner was an opportunity for important journalists and political people to spend a social evening. It was an “off the record” occasion for these two groups of adversaries to get to know one another. It seems to me that this is no longer the case, because now the media invitations go to Hollywood celebrities rather than notable government or political sources. This dinner is a clear example of media priorities – to have access to entertainment rather than develop substantive government “sources”. This is certainly understandable: wouldn’t you rather make dinner conversation with George Clooney than Bill Frist. But if you look at who sits where and why, you will find that the way opt for entertainment is a clear reflection of what most “news” has become, and it’s not pretty. If you watch the network morning shows you might see an interesting political/issue driven face, but more time is given to the celebrity promoting a movie or a TV show, especially if the movie is owned by the parent company or the TV show on the same network, than to a crisis with the environment. News, as we used to know it, is reserved for old people after 6:30pm. (The ads on evening news are uniformly medical ones about losing various bodily functions, age related impairment, and the trauma soon to be faced by a lack of retirement income.)

And the same is true for newspapers. They are no longer the news delivery system of choice for a majority of people. Rather than read a newspaper or watch a news show, the 18-35 generation would rather get their news from the internet. They prefer an analysis from Colbert – who, if no one remembers, is a comedian.

Here is my concern, not that the White House correspondent’s dinner, as well as the White House photo dinner and all the other little White House soiree’s may go the way of TV rabbit ears – cute but serve no purpose. But that newspapers and substantive TV reporting will find they have little or no financial support—so they too will be a pair of rabbit ears. Maybe they deserve it for their lack of courage and not staying relevant, but then who investigates government abuse, corporate corruption, and all those issues that one reporter learned had a disastrous impact of the country and wrote about it until the problem was dealt with. Woe is us if we replace a real news effort with “American Idol”. And woe is us unless we find a way to make “real news” as important as “American Idol”. Now That’s Entertainment! We're just sayin'....Iris

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Another Mother's Day

I have never been fond of days that were created to sell greeting cards. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Secretary’s Day, Farmers with Blue Overalls day, it doesn’t matter – I am not a fan. That being said, parents are important and should be celebrated if for no other reason than they lived through the parenting experience. When we were kids we would ask my mother what she would like for Mother’s Day or how she would like to spend the day. She always said the same thing “Every day is Mother’s day. There’s no need to do anything special.” We thought that she didn't really mean it, and if we didn’t express our love for her in some distinguishing way, it would surely be noted in subtle ways like, “Did you see what Andy got his mother?”

“No mom,” I would answer, “How would I see what Andy got his mother, they live in Arizona.” “Well,” she said “it is a beautiful watch – real diamonds – and adjustable. Of course, what would I do with diamonds? I mean you could have them after I’m dead. But I’m just as happy with a card or a phone call or nothing, because as I have said, every day is Mother’s day.”

This is a little exaggeration of what my actual mother would say, but you get the spirit of the conversation, and that’s what’s important. Anyway, over the last few years a number of my friends have lost their mothers – unfortunately not in the super market, where they could easily be recovered. In conversation about the loss, and it didn’t matter if they were close or there was a lifetime of animosity, all of them agree that the loss was devastating. And that it isn’t just the death and all the chaos that goes with that. It is that when their mom was alive they always felt like there was someone who cared for them unconditionally. They knew (although many didn’t do it), that their mom was just a phone call away. If something terrible or wonderful happened in their lives they could share the joy or the tragedy with her.

Although all of my good pals had mothers, about half of them didn’t have kids – most by choice. Some got married after they were thirty and were settled in their ways and a number of them didn’t marry and chose not to be single parents. They made a reasoned choice for themselves. Those of us who took the path most traveled (to reproduce in some fashion,) started from before we got pregnant, to map out a plan to be the perfect parent. We realized that was not going to happen the moment baby left the womb. So we rethought our perfection strategy and just tried to do the best we could. Here’s the problem, we thought we were doing our best and our kids thought we were determined to make them as miserable as was physically and emotionally possible. What we considered fun, they often considered torture. For example, we would take kids on a trip and expose them to an array of people, geography and maybe even cultures. We thought it was fabulous and what a good growth learning experience. They thought that fun was ongoing video games and never leaving the 24 hour movie channel in their room. If we arranged a tour of old cathedrals, they were convinced that we conspired to irritate their allergies. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been a parent.

But here’s the saddest thing. I have spoken to any number of pals who have confessed that in discussion with their adult children, the kids thought they had miserable childhoods, totally devoid of laughter and love – none of my friends have the slightest idea about in whose homes those kids lived, but perception is reality. And no matter how hard they tried to convince them otherwise, (pictures, film, items collected while enjoying themselves), they insisted that they never spent a good day – OK maybe one, but that took real effort. Fortunately, I think my kids had at least a few good days, but how painful must it be for a mother who spent her entire life trying to do the right thing and truthfully, it didn’t matter.

When Mother’s Day rolls around, we expect that our kids will celebrate our efforts in some way. But really, we made the decision to give them life, they had nothing to do with it. Most of us tried our best, some tried harder, but what does taking one day to say “thanks and I love you mom” mean in the greater scheme of things? I think the time is better spent with us saying to our kids, thanks for being who you are, I love you unconditionally, and I’m sorry if it wasn’t all great – I hope you know I did the best I could to make you feel your life was worthwhile. Here's an idea: Hallmark should sell "Children's Day" cards and then it would remind us to value all those precious people. We're just sayin'...Iris

Monday, May 04, 2009

I"m Sick Of It

I am totally sick of people I love dying. I am also sick of people I have read about or who have been my role models passing on. The list of things about which I am pretty sick, grows longer and it does not only have to do with loss or anything sensitive. Like for example, I am sick to death (OK I mentioned death but in a different context), of any mention of John Edwards and his girlfriend. I guess, in the greater scheme of things, I am sick of political people who use and misuse the power of their office and thereby destroy the confidence vested in them by an unsuspecting electorate. How many times have we heard “power corrupts” and how many times do we need to get hit in the head with it until we know it is not only true, but the norm instead of an aberration.

Moving on, I am sick of the people who live next door to me in New York. Unlike my courteous and considerate neighbors in Virginia. These people think they are “entitled” to do whatever. The man in the family is on the Board of Directors of our co-op. So while he should be advocating for the shareholders, he sends signals that he (and his family) can pretty much do what they want and screw the rest of us. Like, the hallways belong to the building, not individuals, but they use them as a playground and storage space for carriages and rain-soaked gear. And this would be OK if they didn’t leave their crap in front of our door. But I am told, that if I ever want to see the apartment I better tread lightly – - does that mean I can’t call my Navy Seal friends and have them teach these folks a lesson. Probably.

And I am sick to death of whining children, adults, airline passengers, and people who beg on the subway because they are suffering from the economy. Take the 20ish year old woman who got on my subway card today and spilled the saga. “I’m a single mother with two kids and I just got laid off, so I could use some help”.

“Who couldn’t?”, I wanted to say. But I controlled myself and didn’t. “Get a new job,” I also wanted to say, but I didn’t. I just kept reading my paper thinking, “what a crock”, but I continued to read all the news I deemed important. The 15 year old student next to me gave her a dollar and I wanted to ask him why? But I knew why. You never see a woman actually begging car to car. At Christmas, there are women who entertain and ask for a token of your admiration, but out right begging, hardly ever.

Anyway, what else turns my stomach lately—because I do go through phases? Oh yes, I am sick to death of e-mail, Face book and Twitter. I hate the idea that people don’t have to talk. There have been so many times when I sent someone a message and they missed my humor or intonation and sent me back a rather testy response. The internet has no sense of humor. Funny comes across as attitude and often sincere becomes sinister. But people use it so they don’t have to deal with other people in any personal way. My daughter thinks if she e-mails or texts she will get a response from people with whom she wants to have a professional relationship. I doubt that’s going to happen. People who are doing anything professionally want to hear the tone of your voice—it makes a difference.

So I guess this was a little like whining but without the sound. These are not the only things that make me sick, but it’s a good beginning. I just think when we sublimate these issues they start to eat at our insides and eventually manifest themselves as personality disorders. Did I mention that personality disorders really make me sick…. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Friday, May 01, 2009

right Meal, wrong Day

I have been traveling for a couple of days, and had one of those unfortunate occurrences where I happened to read a semi interesting article, but chose the wrong day to find it. I had a little gig in Arkansas this week, in a small, friendly and picturesque town in “Southern Arkansas” (this is opposed to “Northern Arkansas) which, if you look at a map will see at the southern end of the state. I’m not quite sure just where the magical dotted dividing line is, but like many states, everyone living there knows, so you simply have to ask. I have found as you travel the further into the heartland you go, the more “county” becomes the divisional title that people respond to. A county, in most places, would be the distance you could travel on horseback in a day, as long as you had a capable horse (General Quarters?) So it always surprises me when, in a long conversation, the pay-off line is ‘county’ related, rather than state or country. In 1985, as they announced the (how’s this for poignant) future ground-breaking of the Saturn auto plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, I had a conversation with a farmer who was ticked off at his neighbors for having made secret, $$$ laden deals with GM to purchase their farms, and ticked off at himself that he wasn’t one of the farmers who became seriously rich by selling to GM. He started into a long soliloquy about the richness of the soil, the way the loam let you plant anything, even a broomstick, and how you could watch in amazement as it would grow. He spoke almost lovingly of the quality of the land, and finished his sentence, “Yes, I do believe is some of THE finest land….. “ at which point I’m thinking ‘wow, this has got to be the most productive land in the country’… “ in Maury county.” Maury County? That was the twenty mile stretch of rural life south of Nashville, very country, yes, and no doubt capable of growing soy, greens, and who knows what else. But that the definition of his realm of description was so precise, and perhaps limited, threw me. It shouldn’t have. While the land all looked the same to me, I’m sure he knew what every acre of his own spread, and his neighbors’ looked like. He’d know individual trees, and streams, and places where the birds congregate. In many ways I’m sure that I was the provincial one, not he. I could see the world in perhaps, larger terms, more like Province or State or Soviet Socialist Republic, but did I have even an inkling of the intimacy with any of those places which he did with that farm land? Not a chance. I might know which Air France check in desk at Roissy to try for short lines, or where at LaGuardia you could avoid long security queues, but those are but brief and temporal, and don’t really relate to a reality you could blend into your daily life.

The first time it was explained to me (by a fellow co-conspirator) how to smuggle caviar out of Moscow’s old terminal (it required an inexplanable but very Soviet style layout which let you pass though one set of security for hand check, and another for baggage check, during which transit you laid the caviar in the piece just checked and sent it on its way. It wasn’t very James Bondian, but I did get butterflies the first time I tried it, feeling quite exposed (I was exposed), fumbling with a dog-food dish sized tin of Caspian jewels, having a tough time getting it out of my heavy parka, and into the unzipped luggage. I KNEW everyone in the building was staring at me (they weren’t) and wanted nothing more than to bust my butt (they didn’t) so it was not without adventure and elevated heartrate. But provincial? It was probably way more provincial in its own way than the farmer in Spring Hill lamenting the loss of the South Forty.

Sitting in the Little Rock airport this morning, I marvel at the extent that provincialism remains strangely out of place. This is, as far as I can remember, the only airport in the US I have been to of late where the security level (Orange!) announcements.. usually preceded by the illogical “This is a SPECIAL Security announcement”.. which, by the very nature of it being repeated every seven minutes means it is NOT very Special.. are done in English and French. French in Little Rock. I’m sure both the Quebecois who traveled here a week ago, and the 22 French social engineers here to study American football all appreciate it. But what is the point? Why not Serbo-Croation, or Mandarin. Let’s really get into it, and include Tongan and Inuit. The most amusing thing is that the French is done in that completely atonal un-French way that non native speakers seem to specialize in. Trust me, it’s NOT Maurice Chevalier with a top hat and cane strolling past Gate B4, singing “Sank Aye-vans For Leetal Gulls.” It sounds more like a Nevada-born French teacher who might have studied language at the BYU/LDS Missionary program in Provo (Utah) for two months, but was then sent for their mission to Idaho instead of Bordeaux. And while I’m railing about airports, what is it with the targeting habits of guys in Men’s Rooms. Honestly. It isn’t THAT hard to hit a urinal. Trust me, we have, every solitary one of us, been ‘practicing’ (like a violinist, not like an attorney) since we were 8 years old. It isn’t that difficult. Ladies, it’s roughly equivalent to holding a Dixie cup of water in your outstretched arm, standing on the edge of a swimming pool, and inverting the cup. Here again, it’s NOT that difficult to get the water into the pool, right? Maybe there needs to be some kind of remedial course, broadcast in English, Spanish and of course French, at the entry to the Men’s Room. Even a little video to remind us that the really tough part of the job is just lowering one’s zipper. It’s discoveries like this that can make a short easy trip into a “I can’t believe I spent the whole day just getting here..” trip.

But that isn’t (as Iris often says) what I wanted to blob about. Last night I arrived in Little Rock just as the Bulls and Celtics were thrashing each other in the NBA eliminations. Like most sports, I find that the playoffs are usually more interesting than the regular season, and almost always more fun than the Championship game series (this year’s Superbowl a very rare exception.) In some ways, more is on the line, just to GET to the Championships, and that’s why the early days of January seem, for me, to be the most fun NFL games of all. So I ended up at a famous old eaterie downtown (Little Rock is a small easily navigated place) called Doe’s Eat Place. I remember the early days of the Clinton era, this place was already decades old and famous for big steaks, reasonably priced cocktails, and tamales.

Hey, two outta three ain’t bad. The steaks are all meant to be shared (2.5 pound minimum) but I forgot to invoke the time-tested ski lift protocol for someone on their own.. where you start up the lift line and yell “Single!” in an effort to find another solo-ist to sit with. So I was stuck with a gorgeous T bone, a Jack Daniels and soda, and an old non-flat screen (bulbous screen?) TV over the bar with the basketball game unfolding.

I wouldn’t have mentioned any of this except for the fact that only yesterday morning I saw an news piece “Studies Confirm that Red Meat Eaters Live Shorter Lives.” Heck. Couldn’t you print that story tomorrow? True, I could have just gone to the grocers and bought a nice Apple, and a small yogurt, gone to the hotel and watched the game. But for twenty years I have heard about Doe’s and if you wait only to go to places like this when you are with a small convention of Milliners or Accountants – excellent sharers, all, you’ll never get around to knowing what all the hubbub is about. So, you just go, try and order wisely (no dessert!) and take mental notes. The steak was perfectly grilled on what must be the former U S Steel Furnace: crisp and blackened on the outside, and pink on the inside, and accompanied by a deliciously odd dual potato fest of side dishes (Fries [excellent] and roasted New Potatoes drenched in a swimming pool of buttah [also excellent.] ) The place was mostly cleared out by 8:30 save for a few hard-core diners, you know, the kind who bring their own high-tensile steel steak knives with them. The ones whose handles have been worn down by years of delicious dining, like the brassed off corners of an old black-body Nikon. And to be sure, I only thought about the news article a couple of times as I chomped on that steak. It was a kind of self-regulated back-and-forth since I had only myself to converse with – did the study really include all the data? Hey, look at a big steak and tell me that it’s good for you (I still think it can be.) I ended up coming down on the side of “at least I don’t eat like this every day of the week.” It was as if Doe’s were the inspiration for Arthur’s Tavern in Hoboken & Morris Plains, NJ, temples built on the foundation of the caveman ‘hunter’ (as opposed to the ‘gatherer’ which would be something like the Smoothie shop at WholeFoods) for whom a fresh steak combined with fire was the ultimate in survival food. The steak was great, watching the waitstaff refill the Heinz bottles with a huge pitcher of ketchup under the baskeball game at the bar was comforting. It was as if this little interlude was meant to take place no matter what the medical researchers had found in their studies. And because the game went into countless overtimes (well, I lost count) I was able to get back to the motel, the airport Holiday Inn Express, in time to see the last 15 minutes of a pretty good basketball game. I don’t know how many great steak houses there are in the area, but as I started to unpack, with the feeling of completion only a great steak dinner can provide, I thought “I may be a provincial kind of guy, but I can’t believe there is a better steak in all of Pulaski County.” And while I’m neither a gourmet chef, nor a food writer, nor even a bus boy at a “sit down” Dairy Queen, I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. We’re just sayin’…. David
(as always, click an image to see full size)