Monday, August 29, 2011


Steve, a friend who is also a poet, philosopher, and wordsmith said it best when he described the media reporting on the hurricane as weatherporn. There is no doubt that people needed to be warned, that another Katrina was to be avoided at all costs, and hurricanes are to be taken seriously. But, thank God, USA and TNT kept their regular scheduled programs, and TCM, felt no need to show old movies about hurricanes and earthquakes – although Clark Gable’s San Francisco is one of the best movies, ever.

Generally speaking, it was a wonderful weekend. My friends Soozie and Jane came up from Virginia to see “War Horse” and “14 flights”, a Fringe show. Both were excellent and totally different except for the level of anxiety which both shows produced in the audience. The news about hurricane Irene started in earnest on Thursday morning. When I say earnest, it means that the media hysteria started to mount on Thursday, reaching epic proportions on Friday and until the hurricane hit on Saturday – at which time the reports continued but the questions changed from, ‘where’s it going to hit?’ To ‘how much devastation did it do?’ How many lives were lost? And what were the “gruesomest” descriptions of the most horrible deaths. On the east coast, everything was cancelled, including my favorite TV shows, like “Sunday Morning.”

We merry band of maidens faere were determined not to participate in the hysteria. This was not easy when you think about the way in which Irene was described. Here are just a few of my favorite adjectives from our friends on cable and the network shows: Heart pounding, ferocious, howling, bracing, monster, vicious, brutal, cruel, vile. Clearly there was no good news. There was much ado about the path the storm would take. And, once it hit every weather forecaster took credit for predicting an accurate course of devastation.

It was when the chatter was so frenzied that we decided that we would watch the Weather Channel, but we would listen to the new recordings of “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” rather than listen to the talking heads. We also decided not to be in the presence of anyone caught up in the weather porn. We did not rush out to buy supplies (aside from two bath stoppers at the Dollar Tree) nor did we take cover in anticipation of pending disaster. It was not that we didn’t take the storm warnings seriously. But it was impossible to take the media seriously. Talk about overkill.

Anyway, we managed to have a storm-free visit. The girls did not change any plans. They took the train home at noon on Saturday as they had planned. The only change I made was to stop at the airport and pick up my cousin Honey because she had no access to public transportation –there simply wasn’t any for her to take.
On Sunday, the pressure from escaping water, caused this manhole to imitate Old Faithful...regularly
The storm hit us in Newburgh late Saturday night. We lost a few tree limbs but not our power. It makes you wonder who is up in those trees, cutting the boughs and limbs down to a manageable size so that when they fall, they make nice little patterns on the deck. The waterfront and marina were hit pretty hard but recovery was quick and businesses were opened back up by Sunday night or Monday.

views from around the house...
Once the brunt of the storm was over, the rain died down, and the winds were no longer treacherous, people gathered at a local marina bar to share their stories, have a few Bloody Marys, and watch the Food network on TV. Somehow even with water knee deep on the sidewalks and torrents popping off the awnings, watching a Bobby Flay BBQ Throw Down seemed to make excellent sense. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jobs But Not Forgotten

He’s not dead yet, though in the minds of most of us, yesterdays’ terse announcment that Steve Jobs had resigned from APPLE as CEO perhaps made us think we’d lost the preeminent industrial designer of our time. Jobs laid it out in a short note, that “when” that time would come, he’d know it, and he would stand back and let the others take over. I never worked at APPLE, and besides a handful of recent promotional pieces I had only ever worked on the company photo book “So Far,” published in 1987, on the tenth anniversary of the founding of the company. For years, in the 80s the payoff for working on a “Day in the Life” photo book was to get a new Mac. Yet, like most folks who followed (and purchased) the growth of APPLE all these years, I felt a small but weirdly sincere connection with the guy whose product design seem to create goodies which, like a flower girl spreading petals in front of a bride, led us into this wacky 21st century world of electronics-running-our-lives and us thinking we run them. In the space of five years we have become a society where instead of accosting strangers on elevators or buses, the old fashioned way of interacting, we simply pull out out an iPhone, and pretend to be getting really important messages that will alter our lives for the better. Of course almost none of those important messages will really make anyones lives better, though we’re perhaps all richer for being able to call from the produce section at SAFEWAY and ask if we need bok choy, or do we have enough. Much of the stuff that APPLE makes falls into the category of ‘created demand.’ We all liked the idea, invented by SONY with the Walkman, of taking our music with us. And when Jobs turned the world of music upside down with iTunes… well that was all she wrote. (Who besides me is still trying to remember the PW on their iTunes account so old gifted songs from other peoples’ collections can be ‘legally’ played? I always just give up when it refuses to recognize my name and PW… so it goes.) But Jobs was one of those guys who was like Kelly Johnson, the legendary Lockeed designer. He came up with the P-51, the P-38 and the SR-71 Blackbird, a full forty years of world-class thinking out of the box. Not many of us are gifted with such talents. We might get to be a part of one big deal in a life time, but it’s rare when you can keep throwing stuff at the world and the world loves it.
the throngs throng to the Apple Store, 5th Ave.
Jobs might not have been THE sole designer of any of the great APPLE goodies, but his influence in terms of the constant surveillance of look, feel, functionality… It all comes down to that tag line they use: if you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t HAVE an iPhone. As a Droid X owner, I marvel at the photo capabilities of the iPhone. You can shoot a picture, and then, amazingly, just keep on shooting. What a concept. The Droid, you’re lucky to get one shot, and doubly lucky if it fires in the 5 second window you want it to. The second frame… well, its like the All-You-Can-Eat Sushi buffet, except you really only get one piece of fish until time passes and it deems you ready for a second. The damn iPhone just keeps taking high rez images when you touch the button. I agree, the button isn’t always in the handiest place, but when you look at what’s been done with iPhones in photography, it makes you want to sell your Nikon and Canon shares tomorrow. At some point, maybe Canon will add a mobile fone to the 5d Mark iii, but I’m not holding my breath.

When I think back to, say, the B-25, the twin engine bomber from WWII, I see more than just a plane which is designed to drop bombs on soldiers and ammo dumps (and, alas, a lot of cow pastures.) I see a really beautiful piece of industrial engineering, aluminum curves and deep-throated engines which are locked into a specific period of time, and which speak to the ability of people to create things which are a quantum leap beyond what went before them.
the B-25 line, circa 1944
The APPLE products are like that. They are (usually, not always) a leap ahead of what went before. They are fun to use simply because they are elegant in use. (Please, don’t beat me up about some silly IIe disc drive thing thing or early Mac which didn’t work, ok?) The point is, we have very few folks in our society who wield the kind of influence that Jobs does, and from whom you can see a long list of really hot products. Do iPhones and iPads really make us all “more productive?” It’s worthy of a long discussion, I guess. But in the end, we need a few people who are able to float really advanced designs, shepard them through the design and manufacturing process without losing the original mojo. Jobs was apparently one of those guys. And of course it remains to be seen if there are others at APPLE who have the same sense of taste, determination, and moxy.

I know the biggest mistake of my adult investing life took place in late 1997. I was in Silicon Valley, doing the TIME Man of the Year story on INTEL C.E.O. Andy Grove. Grove was the opposite of Jobs in many ways. (For example, I don’t think Andy demanded a 30$ Million Gulfstream as part of his package to stay with the company.) But he did understand the world of microprocessors and computers, and managed to lead INTEL from a company which was perilously close to folding, into the chip powerhouse of the 90s. It was during one of those afternoons when as the photographer, you’re just trying to stay up with your subject, follow him wherever he goes. Our deal was simple. He did his thing, and I just hung out and shot a few pictures. At one point Andy picked up a Wall Street Journal and started perusing the stocks page. “Wow,” he said, in a very understated wow voice. “Apple is $13 a share……”

Here is a hint: when you are hanging around with someone who really KNOWs what’s doing in a sector of business, and he says something like “Wow, Apple is $13 a share…,” take my advice. Take every penny you make on that job, and buy the stock in question. Had I done so, my approximately six grand (it was a long story!) fee would today be worth something like two hundred thousand. It’s not as if it’s all about the money, or even all about the stock. It IS about the fact that while the iPhone only has something like 30% of the mobile phone market, among the people I know its more like 75%. But looking ahead into the next decade, who is going to be the college drop-out who figures it out, and leads us all to the next step in stuff. Where is that kid now, in the computer lab? Starbucks, upstairs on his 7th espresso. I hope he’s somewhere. We need ‘em. We’re just sayin’… David

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The News For...Laughs

The news has become almost my favorite form of humorous entertainment. Like tonight, when everyone in Libya was celebrating the end of the Gaddafi rule. There was a great deal of chatter about freedom and democracy and the rebel forces. Maybe you have heard it here before, but who the hell are the rebels? Who has been funding them – not bombing them? Do they like the U.S.? What is their definition of freedom or democracy? How do they transition from horrific human rights abuses, to God Bless whatever? So, I don’t know about you, but it makes me laugh til I can’t breathe.

This morning someone on Morning Joe, (and it’s hard to tell which middle aged white male – because they all talk at once and look and sound pretty much the same), asked who was going to pay the cost of this immaculate reconception. No one had answer. Of course they didn’t. Talking heads have no idea how things actually work—kind of like the President of the United States. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Is it me? Or is anyone else disturbed by the ignorance about what is actually going on over there. “Over there, Over there, send the word that they heard over there. The Yanks (that’s what we used to be called), are coming. The Yanks are coming…..” We are always coming. Every time I think about the wars and the economy I remember the Roman Empire and the British Empire – a little over extended and full of themselves perhaps. Are we at the “woe is us” stage? Well, the stock market went up 300 points. I’ll give that a big so what. The President is going to present the nation with a jobs plan –after he finishes his golf vacation. And the people are all thoroughly depressed – unless you are rich. Now there’s an answer to all our prayers. Let’s all get rich! But in my head all I can hear is Martin Sheen in the film “Gandhi”, when he’s on the phone reporting about the British massacre of the Indians protesting about the control of salt. In quite a moving conversation describing the brutality he says, “and still it goes on and on….” That how I feel about most unsettled things in the government. As my wise Grandfather would have said on Passover, Dayainu dayainu. Which means, enough! Enough!

That’s not what I wanted to blob about but let’s face it, it is hard to focus on anything when the world as we know it, seems to be coming to an end. We were thinking of moving to Italy but all of Western Europe is in trouble. At least in Italy you could drink enough wine not to notice. Asia, is in trouble, not that I want to fly for 24 hours and wind up in China – but Australia might work. And there is always Venezuela, which thanks to oil, and a wacky leader, is doing “just fine.” Fine is a relative term, but … Hey, so is Texas, and I don’t want to go there either. And speaking of oil, the price has gone down but not at the pumps. We will never again be below $3.50 a gallon…. and that is an optimistic guess.

I’d like to be the old cheery me, but it’s not easy being me. So, with all this in mind, let’s remember the famous words of that famous philosopher, Raffi. And sing along, “Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun….. please shine down on me.” We’re just sayin’… Iris

So Fragile

The other day, when I was crossing the street (yes, in the middle of the block – as do most New Yorkers), some moron (other than me), came racing around the corner on a motorized bicycle and nearly ran me over. We can debate who’s fault the accident would have been but everyone lived and that’s not what I wanted to blob about. The incident reminded me how fragile life can be, (and what an idiot I was not to look both ways before I crossed the street.)

When you are young, you want to be older and when you are old, you are exhausted. As a child you shoot people with a fake gun, (this is not going to be a blob about gun control), you see people in the movies die, get injured, or get terribly brutalized, and then ‘voila’ they are back in the next movie or show. Children think there is nothing unusual about this. Is it any wonder that a as a young person you believe you are invincible. Nothing bad can happen to you and there will never be life/death consequences for stupid decisions. But there are. Just ask the squirrel who recently became road kill. (We call that P S D, Poor Squirrel Decision -- but it’s also applicable to little, medium and big people.)

My adoring grandfather died when I was thirteen. Even as a teenager I wasn’t sure what that meant. We were all eating Friday night dinner and there was a phone call from some neighbor in Brooklyn who was screaming that Mr. Dubroff had a heart attack. All my aunts , most of my cousins and some of my uncles rushed out the door, leaving me, my dad, my uncle Phil, and my cousin Stevie sitting alone at the table, with not much to say—and they ran out so fast, not much to eat. Uncle Phil suggested we should get some Chinese food and go down to their house – right next door. My dad and Stevie sat and waited at the table and I sat under the piano humming Oyfn pripetshik, a tune my grandfather always sang to me – its about children and learning. If you want to tear your heart out you can listen to it on youTube.

Anyway, he died while I was sitting under the piano. We were not permitted to participate until the funeral, where it only got most chaotic. The highlight of the chaos was when Aunt Sarah wanted to throw herself into the grave, and Aunt Sophie said to let her do it. We actually were not supposed to go to the cemetery, because that was supposed to be too stressful, but in the turmoil they forgot to make arrangements for us to be driven back to the Shiva House (house of mourning), so we just hung out with a bunch of hysterical grown-ups – who were not the least bit entertaining. The thing is, it never occurred to us that WE would die at some point. A.) We didn’t know what ‘die’ meant. B.) Only very, very old people do that.

As time passes, you lose friends and family, young and old, and at some point you start to realize your own mortality. But mostly, you think that nothing will ever happen to you. Jordan has lost several friends over the last few years, one was murdered, one died in a Drunk Driving accident, and one had an epileptic seizure in the middle of the night and never awoke. It is too horrible to deal with these as a natural part of the life-death cycle, but even if it was getting hit by a car, we never think it’s going to happen to us.

Until one day, when we’re crossing a street and a cab going much too fast, almost takes us out. At that point you think about all those times when your life was saved because you arrived at a disaster a few minutes before or after it occurred. It is not until something terrible happens to you that you say, Geez—my life is merely hanging by a thread. It’s time to live it at it’s fullest. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Irish Times headline today might be the silliest political assessment of the next Presidential race ever. They said, “Iowa straw poll reshapes Race for a Republican US Presidential candidate” If you know anything about the history of this straw poll, you will agree that it means nothing with regard to what’s actually going to happen over the next year. Just ask Phil Gramm, Pat Robertson and Mitt Romney. Clearly, we will not have Ron Pawlenty to kick around. But given his humiliating defeat, he wouldn’t be much fun anyway. (A friend from Boston sent a note outlining the degree to which Iowa usually misses the eventual winner, and that New Hampshire usually correctly predicts. To which we replied, “and in New Hampshire they can’t even SAY “strawrrrr”… to which he responded “that’s right.. they say Hay.”)

Ms Bachman won the Iowa straw poll. This particular contest is one where the person whose organization buses the most people to the polls, wins. And she provided the most buses. Good for her. She is smart enough to have hired real political organizers, (and judging by the decision not to respond to the ‘Tina Brown’ Newsweek cover), quite astute communication people. When she left the debate to ‘reapply her make-up’ the media folks knew she was actually talking to advisers. The rest of the pack should have done the same… talk about boring. The most interesting confrontation was after Chris Wallace, (who is both transparent and dumb as dirt –which I mean in the nicest possible way), was trying to play the old gotcha game and Newt, (who never removed his folded hands from podium), remained remarkably above the fray, and called him on it. Yes, I know this is a run on sentence – but since we’re just Sayin -- not Payin, for the space…

WHERE WAS I? Oh yes, there are going to be lots of candidates, and lots of ups and downs, name calling, ugly banter, and foolish missteps, before we can be sure about who will emerge as the real front runner. It is hard to believe that the Republicans will chose a candidate who cannot win and no matter how smart her advisers are, neither she nor the husband she depends her for nearly everything, can win an election. Especially if Biden goes to the State Department and Hillary, as Vice President saves the election for BO.

That’s not what I wanted to blob about. I wanted to blob about mistakes. And speaking of mistakes, BO or, …. who disguised as Clark Kent…. No not BO, the Super Committee he insists will make the decisions all the elected officials in the whole Congress could not. It is painful for me to watch the creation of yet another government Committee that will never do anything but spend money. Of course, each Congressional Member will need staff, supplies, a liaison, clearances from other Members, and space in which to operate. What does this have to do with Clark Kent. Nothing really, I guess I could have said Super Glue, or Super-stitious or Super Delegate or Super-erior. But it was easier to make this analogy: Simply, Clark Kent was a disguise –the Super Committee is a disguise as well, just not as handsome, not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and not ever going to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Were just sayin’…. Iris

And One, and Two...Sort Of...

There has been a lot of thrashing around lately about Jane Fonda, whose recent TV shopping network promo of her new book was scotched at the last minute by some folks, mainly Vietnam Vets, who complained mightily about her presence. Since she made the famous trip to Hanoi 40 years ago, and in particular sat at the North Vietnamese anti aircraft gun and urged them on, she has been a pariah of the Veterans groups. According to Snopes, though, many of the long and oft repeated stories about her purposely turning over ‘secret’ pieces of paper given her by American POWs, to the North Vietnamese, are long proven to have NO credibility. Yes, she was somehow helped by some North Vietnamese staff people in their Paris embassy, into doing what they wanted, publicly, and yes, she sat at that AA gun (ahhh… bad idea Jane!) But it brings up some interesting points, when you analyze the vitriol that many vets feel about her. I’m not a huge fan, but I think that the process needs a little more discussion. There have been, lately a couple of new pieces about Henry Kissinger, and his role not only in the Nixon years, but later, when, during the Reagan presidency, he changed many of his views to make them more palatable to the Reaganites who were in power. One researcher recalls: "As his friend and mentor (Hans) Morgenthau identified in 1975, one of his greatest skills was his ability to 'adjust ... intellectual conviction to political exigencies' from time to time.”

Adjusting? Yeah, in spades. Actually, the Kissinger thing is pretty interesting when you think about it. Does anyone think he really gave much of a damn about the American troops in Vietnam ? The famous Nixon 'secret plan' to end the war, which stayed pretty secret from what I remember, must have had Henry's hands all over it. But aside from the effort to pull troops out (by '72 you found -- as John Saar and I did in a LIFE piece-- that a lot of Army units were stuck in the middle of ‘indian country’ only to see their resources sharply cut back, as the "cut backs" were actually put into effect .. (aka Vietnamization).. I don't remember much of a plan. I think General Giap had a plan too, but he didn’t really bother to keep it secret. In the end.. I just wonder if Kissinger didn’t deserve as much disdain from the vets as Jane Fonda did. I didn’t see the VFW boycotting any appearances of his for his new book on China. Obviously he came from a different end of the spectrum, but was he near and dear to the hearts of grunts? I think not. Certainly his attitude about imperial American hegemony (a word i seldom like to use since i barely know what the hell it really means) was not exactly the kind of thing which would lend itself to adoration.

I'm not a huge fan of Jane Fonda.. and she still (Time this week) recites her admissions of apology (even though the apologies themselves are a bit faint-hearted) and says she shall for some time to come for that picture on the AA gun. Kissinger of course has never apologized for anything that I am aware of.... but maybe I missed something. But the bigger issue (and this is what really got me going tonight) is the attitude of the populace now vs. thirty-forty years ago. In the 70s world of 'real' journalism, for all its faults and they were legion, the populace really was better informed about what was going on in the world, and able to make their decisions about what they thought government action ought to be based on those opinions. (Long discussion to ensue.) Today's internet/twitter/blog world has a helluva lot of propwash, and so little which actually has substance to it. You can read all sorts of crap which is aligned to what you already believe, things which bolster your attitudes, already pre-formed. But like propwash in the lake, the bubbles eventually disperse, and there is little left, other than the fact that the boat is somewhere else, and the water is calmed. But can you call it information? Data? I’m just not sure those terms apply.

When I began working in France in 1973, I was bemused by the fact that the French press was already arranged in a very political fashion. France-soir was the Gaullist paper, Liberation the Socialist, Humanite, the Communist. So if you were a Communist auto worker, you probably read Huma'... a banker more likely France-soir or Le Monde. I couldn't believe that you could have a progressive society (which the French always have taken themselves for) which had dismissed the idea of a free and independently aligned press. If you read any of the big US papers (the Times, Chic. Tribune, LA Times...) at least in the eyes of many, there were attempting to be great papers -- to conduct great journalism. And you can assign the rise of FOX news as a reaction to what many conservatives believed was the Lame Stream press at work, altering their view of the world to conform to their liberal leanings.

We have lost whatever we might have once taken as simply good journalism, and replaced it with this engagĂ© form. And the populace, for all the internet, twitter, etc, isn’t necessarily a whole lot better informed. I agree with Mort Rosenblum, a long time AP reporter who bemoans the death of journalism in this world of ephemeral news, and that in losing the bases for what we consider classic journalism, the country suffers greatly. And we're so busy tweeting each other, that no one seems to give a damn. The propwash swirls. At least we don’t have to watch Henry’s Work Out Videos. We’re just sayin’… David

Friday, August 12, 2011

What About Next Time?

Yesterday we saw “War Horse” at Lincoln Center. It may have been the most exciting theater experience I have ever had. You simply didn’t know how anything would turn out. You merely hoped for the best – which is what we are living with the Congress and the Administration.
Is there anyone left in America who thinks BO is doing a great job as President? Is there anyone left who has a nice thing to say about his ability to lead? (Other than the six people he actually talks to). Is there anyone left who is not tired of Axelrod’s apologies and Geithner’s “deer in the headlights” performances. All the first time voters, and young people who thought that BO was their future -- what will they do? What will any of us do? Is the next election going to be one where we vote against, rather than for someone.

It’s not easy to govern a big country. But it’s impossible to govern when you the Administration and most of the political people, who work within its confines, have never transitioned out of the campaign mode. There is an enormous difference between running a campaign and running a government. Presidents usually learn that the first year. But when the President thinks that the way to succeed is to compromise values and the promises made for which he was elected, you have to know something is wrong. Where is all that hope!?

Here’s all you have to know about this Administration. One very senior level appointee told a friend of mine in the media that if he didn’t do what the appointee wanted, “there would be blood.” What kind of professional people (who are over 8 years old) talk that way? The breathtaking arrogance, partnered with an unwillingness to admit that you need help for things to get better, is stupid… just damn stupid.

BO is not to blame for everything. While the eight years of George Bush probably are. However, this President was elected to make jobs, not war, improve the economy, and make “change we can be proud of”. Oops. The war in Iraq may be a Bush war, but Afghanistan is not. Let’s try to put it in the simplest terms. (And I mean no disrespect)., I count some men, as well as Military leaders as good friends. But I think all the big guns said to BO, “We have a really big penis, and we think that if you don’t go along with all our recommendations, the rest of the world will think yours is itty bitty.” Sorry to be a bit crude, and reduce the problem to a body part, but there seems no other explanation except inexperienced people coupled with exceedingly bad advice.

Where is all the goodwill. Hooray! We killed Bin Laden! Hooray, we passed health care reform -- somewhat. Hooray! we raised the debt limit – wasn’t that supposed to save the world as we know it? Hooray! We sold women down the river, but they are, after all, just girls. And Hooray! Gays can serve in the military – it’s about time. Oops, no they can’t. But we are a nation in a fog. The President may know where he’s going but not how to get there. The Congress is clueless -- except they will all have money, healthcare and a Hill parking pass forever. What are we going to do when we we’re so unsure about a next time. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Monday, August 08, 2011

It Used Be So Easy

It used to be easy to figure out simple truths. Things like who was a good girl and who was a “Ho” as they’re inappropriately called, a prostitute or less nicely, a whore. But it’s not that easy anymore. Perfectly nice women are happy to look like “women of the night,” if a little less glamorous.

What with ‘Fme’ shoes, tight clothes, boobs hanging out and hair in disarray, you are better off if you check out the location. And there is no longer any clarity in that. For example, when 42nd street was dirt bags, pimps, and porno stores, you were more likely to find someone of questionable character there. But now it’s Disney northeast, and you’re unlikely to find anyone of less moral character than Pinocchio.

And there are other examples of these moral/emotional/physical quandaries. There was a time that you knew who was a Republican and who was a Democrat. The leaders were not as contentious as they appear today (you could almost call them civil and respectful) but there were differing political philosophies. The elected officials were mostly not ideologues, but they had different ideas about the way government and the country should function. I won’t bother to tell you how you differentiated; you can read my book, “So You Think You Can Be President,” if you want to know. Politics are just that, yet there was a recognized difference between campaigning and governing. Once the election was over, the people who were elected, transitioned into governing. Not that they stopped raising money for the next campaign, but they selected experienced operatives to help them make decisions that were related to how to be successful in governing – moving the country along for the good of the society. This was never easy, but there were clues that helped the electorate to determine which way they wanted to go.

Anyway, there was a time when a President was elected to lead the country. There was never a time when an election meant that you had to be political friends with people on the other side of the aisle. That is not to say you couldn’t be personal friends – because that was what created a cordial atmosphere. But, the reason the President gets to have political appointees is because those people are supposed to reflect the policies of the Administration. What do you do, however, if the President refuses to kick ass and make the government what people expected, when they elected him. Here’s a small example of what I mean. When Bill Clinton was elected, the people in the White House were reluctant to clean house. They thought it wasn’t ‘nice’ to fire political people. For a while, the only Agency that cleaned house was the United States Information Agency – my job. I simply asked for resignations from every Republican appointee. It’s what was supposed to happen. People did not elect Bill Clinton so that George Bush’s people would still be making policy decisions.

Eventually, the rest of the Clinton people got it. Nice was allright. Collegial was close to accepted. But compromising positions for which you were elected, was not going to happen. The Clinton White House, as dysfunctional as it was in some areas, never hesitated to put people who knew how to govern, in governing positions. No one is perfect, and you’ll notice I said “no matter how dysfunctional,” hesitated to ask people who knew what they were doing, what to do. Clinton couldn’t get enough information from a million sources—sometimes too many. Sure there were problems, but the President never negotiated away what he he was elected to do. Foreign Service Officers, for example, are of two minds about everything – but never the President.
The campaign is about to begin too soon. Will BO get reelected? Do we want a leader who leads us in the wrong direction, or someone who doesn’t lead at all? It’s not an easy choice. Finger pointing doesn’t work. The Tea Party disrupted the process, but the President never told them he wouldn’t stand for that. He still thinks that it is more important to be liked, than to be in charge. Someone ought to tell him that when the Tea Partiers pledge their next class, he just isn’t going to be invited. “Oye”, as my mother would say, “Smart, smart. Stupid.” We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Happy Birthday Pops...

Today is August 7th. It’s my dad’s 105th birthday. He hasn’t been around for a while to celebrate, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about him, and that wonderful optimistic sense of self and the world which propelled him in the 20th century. He missed the whole century by just six years on each side (b. 1906, d. 1994) but I can’t think of anyone who better embodied that sense of upbeat hopefulness which drove him every day. It’s a little surprising perhaps, as I assume his childhood had some real bumps. His mother Liza died in 1912 or so… when dad was just a tyke. And he spent much of his growing up years in the company of aunts, uncles and cousins. And the occasional Japanese houseboy. In the early 1900s there were a lot of young Japanese who came to live in the states, many of whom later became citizens, and as it was, they opted for the most available ticket. The 19xx version of “au pair.” I think dad was very close to a number of these young men, many of whom were only a few years older than he was. And I think it was from that period that he latched on to telling really bad jokes in overly accentuated Japanese accents – the kind that in spite of our pleading, he would tell at dinner or family outings. To him, of course it wasn’t so much a question of being a racist – that was one thing he surely was not – but merely recounting to us some of the stories of his youth. It didn’t stop us from cringing, however, when he would start to wind up one of those tales. But in his years in high school and college (Tacoma, Santa Clara, and U/Cal Berkeley) he was an athlete (usually on the 145 pound squad), and quite a man about town. Just a few years ago I discovered for the first time a wonderful album of photos he’d kept during the 20s, and considering I’d never seen him pick up a camera, or show any interest in photography aside from some of my own exploits, this album was an absolute gem. Pictures of his friends, his teams, and generally speaking the most elegant set of pictures I think I have ever seen (most taken by the “school photographer” but some obviously by him.)

The team pictures often inspire me to think that in this day and age.. .all color, all excessive color, and little leaguers stripped into green-screen backdrops of Yankee stadium, if you could manage to make a 2011 Little League team look as good as these pictures from the 20s, you could make a million bucks. It really is such a wonderful look, making you nostalgic for something you never actually knew. Now THAT”s Nostalgia!

I wish my scrapbook looked this cool!
Dad spent much of his working years ‘on the road.’ Driving mainly Chrysler cars (in the 50s we had a new DeSoto every other year…) he would cover an area from Utah to Washington state, with Idaho, Oregon and Montana thrown in, for different watch companies. At first it was Gruen, based in Cincinnati (which gave rise to my older brother’s life long obsession with the Reds) then Omega, Movado and EternaMatic. All great brands. In his role of salesman, he had a unique relationship with the stores who were his customers. He would lay out the trays of beautiful watches, and then instead of the owner/buyer making a selection, they would usually just say “Well, Ted, you tell me what I need, and that’s what we’ll get. “ How do you top that? He knew that he couldn’t take advantage and sell them a lot of stuff they couldn’t use. There was no future in that. But once he’d established his credibility, they had total confidence. He owned the first cars I’d ever seen which had alarms. With thousands of dollars in watch samples in the trunk (to which he always added a heavy metal cage.. the man was ahead of his time!) he needed to be able to sleep soundly when the car was parked out of sight. The first time he showed me that little key slot near the driver’s front wheel on the big white DeSoto, I didn’t’ know what to make of it. He had me open the door to the car, and it set off the biggest wailing sound I’d ever heard. We’re all used to this now… those 3 a.m. city alarms when some drunk pedestrian stumbles into a Lexus and wakes up the whole neighborhood. But in 1956 it was pretty hot stuff. Remember, that was before the Space Age, ‘Vietnam,’ the transitor, and color television. Yeah, color television.

My brother Tom (3 years older than me) and I had the joy of each spending several of our adolescent summers on the road with dad. He would take us on a two week trek to Seattle/Tacoma – where numerous cousins still lived – via Pocatello, Twin Falls, Boise, Lewiston, Orofino (look it up!), Bend, Yakima, Richland, and Walla Walla. Those were great trips. And I think they were the inspiration for my wanting to do a cross country trip with Jordan (which we finally did 16 months ago, when she moved to LA.) With dad, the pace was a little slower. Less time in the car, more time at the minor league park & local golf course. Along with his watch samples, he always had his golf clubs in the trunk as well. Anytime we’d finish at the jewelers by 4 or 5 in the afternoon, we’d find a little local course and go play 9 before dinner. He always claimed that in all his years of meeting up with strangers on the first tee, that he never met a jerk. It may have been more his view of the upbeat side of life than the actual fact that so many wonderful people were going for par that day, but the bottom line is, golf was for him a satisfying and challenging way to meet people, maybe take two or three bucks from them, and spend a day outdoors. He was no sandbagger, usually shooting in the low 80s, now and then the 70s, but he had a tendency to play just well enough to win. The term “golf Money” was for the Burnett kids, a little pot of gold. If he’d had a good day on the course, he’d advise us to take a buck each in golf winnings, and I can’t count just how many model airplanes came into our house on the “golf money” plan, but it was probably enough to outfit a small country’s air force.

Dad’s optimism was sometimes oddly placed, at least in my eyes. But I always tried to remember that he’d lived through the depression, and knew what tough times could be. He once told me of a cross country trip he took in the early thirties, in an old car with a friend. One night, somewhere in the southwest, they stopped to sleep. His friend took a blanket from the car, and tossed dad one, saying “see you in the morning.” His description of how the ground became harder and harder as the night went on has never left me. He was most certainly NOT a camper. But he had an appreciation of what rocky terrain would feel like. In Tacoma once, in the 50’s I remember the sour nose piercing smell of the pulp mills (this was definitely pre- EPA!) and remarked about it’s unpleasantness. Dad’s reply was “that smell means jobs for a lot of guys.” He never met a new building he didn’t like. New construction was akin to something positive, people DOING things, people Making a difference.
Sorry, Dad: Still Ugly
There was a seriously ugly 5 story building being constructed near our house in Salt Lake in the late 70s. Everytime we drove by, dad would say “look at that beautiful building.” I looked, kept looking but it never really got ‘beautiful.’ But to him (see the Citicorp bldg here as an example of “gorgeous!”) there was something in the mere attempt by the hand of man to improve the landscape, even if it didn’t always… you know… DO so.

I miss him every day. He was 40 when I was born, a rather late age for a parent of the post WWII generation. But he never seemed old to me. He never really seemed aged or out of it until much later in life when, like most of us who live into our 80s, he started slowing down. In grade school, the one concession he made to age was at the father & son softball game. Bascially, he refused to run around the bases. So he just hit the livin’ crap out of the softball, sending it over Clark Warren’s head so far, that he could leisurely walk the bases for a home run. My embarrassment of his refusal to run was diminished by the fact that he had so creamed the ball. When he turned 70 I had a t-shirt made for him which read “70 is Par.” And that was the decade when he actually began to occasionally shoot something close to his age. The exact numbers escape me, but I think when he was 72 or 73 he actually did shoot his age. Part of the family lore.

I remember with great fondness that infectious smile of his. There was an “Uncle Teddy” smile which all the cousins knew well and appreciated. And though he was always one to leave the ball game in the 8th inning to beat the traffic, (how many great 9th inning upsets did we miss? Plenty!) he at least made the effort to get us to the game. And maybe that was the finest memory we can keep. The unending upbeat, always hopeful, bright eyed outlook on life. That life is meant to be lived, and celebrated. Sure, there are always going to be a few water hazards, but they are there for a reason. If you plop one in the lake you have two choices. Grab the extendable ball-grabber and fish it out. Or just drop a ball on the far side and take another cut. I still have his golf bag and his clubs (the finest technology that 1988 could provide) but I’ve been remiss in getting them back on a proper course, and swinging them once again. And the next time I’m out on a foursome, I’ll also remember that other key to pops’ life: when someone else is hitting, make damn sure you watch where it’s going, cause for most of us, a little extra friendly guidance on the fairway is not a bad thing. Thanks, Pop. Miss ya. We’re just sayin’… David

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

At The End of the Day

At the end of the day, have you ever thought, 'what exactly did I do today?' Or exactly what did I do today? Or Geez, did I waste another day? Or, what exactly did I accomplish today. Sometimes it’s so busy that I can remember what I did, but not what I accomplished. For many years I wrongly assumed they were the same. And then came my work in Presidential politics.

The technology has changed, but the fear factor remains the same. When you work in a Presidential campaign you would do anything to be included. Not only in senior level decision making meetings, but in meetings that involve things like, how much pizza do we need to get through the day. The technology has made it easier to order pizza, to figure out the number of flyers you need for a rally, to decide how many volunteers you need to do Get Out the Vote (GOTV), but there is nothing that eases a mind when you are not there to “weigh in”.

The first Presidential campaign in which I worked (yes I fell off my dinosaur getting to HQ), was when it occurred to me that everyone stayed at HQ longer than I did. True, I had a full time job at Boston University, but there were other people who had jobs, and they eventually quit in order to hang out at the campaign offices. In my mind, once you finished the tasks you were assigned, you could leave and have a life. Actually, that has always been my modus operandi. There is no need just to hang out in case anything happens. But you have to be fairly secure about your job (and who you are as a person), in order to feel that way.

Lately, I am reminded of how important it is not to waste time, but to get something accomplished. You may know that the Congress went on vacation leaving the FAA without a budget. The powers that be have asked all the federal airline employees to be professional and work for nothing. (And the airlines, blessem', ballplayers that they are, are mostly -- save Alaska Air -- refusing to refund the money they collect for taxes, even though they don't seem to be passing it on to the FAA. How do you spell Windfall?)) The Congess isn’t working for nothing. How do these committed public servants pay for groceries, a mortgage, and maybe a movie. Do they tell their bankers and their children that they can’t make a payment or buy a treat because they are committed public servants. If this isn’t an example of government incompetence and arrogance, I don’t know what is. Shame on the entire U.S. Congress. Shame on all of you for your lack of concern and just for wasting all our time. Come back to DC and fulfill your responsibilities to those people and the public. My kid is supposed to be flying next week and I am not real comfortable about that! We’re just sayin’….Iris

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


The one thing that is fascinating, when it is time to workout, is that there are a large number of young physically fit, and often beautiful, people doing the same thing I do, with only one difference. The ability to pose in front of the mirror and enjoy everything they see. It can be for just a few minutes, or it can be a look now and again, or it can be in lieu of physical exercise. No kidding. They come to the club all dressed for a workout and they manage not to work out and still look terrific (mostly at themselves) at the same time. And I am not just talking about women. The men are far more interested in how they look. They do not need approval from any admirers. They are perfectly content sharing the sight with only their reflection. Even more astounding is when you leave the sanctity of the club with all those perfect bodies, only to walk out on the street and see how large the rest of America has become.

And speaking about posing, have any of you watched Morning Joe lately? If not, don’t bother to turn it on. It is almost unwatchable – with good reason. Mika poses. O.K. And then there is Joe’s inability to listen to anyone else, as well as his overt unending impatience with his lovely co-host. There’s a wonderful Sondheim song called “Lovely,” of which I am reminded every time she appears. It goes like this: “I'm lovely, All I am is lovely, Lovely is the one thing I can do. Winsome, Radiant as in some, Dream come true. Oh, Isn't it a shame? I can neither sew, Nor cook, Nor read or write my name.
But I'm happy Merely being lovely, For it's one thing I can give to you.” (in this case, the audience.)

This is not meant as a criticism. I mean it in the nicest possible way. No longer does she speak in complete sentences. Usually what happens is that she says a word or two, Joe harangues her, she looks at him expressionless and then she poses – usually making some kind of a face which is supposed to substitute for an intelligent comment. It simply doesn’t work. Did it ever? Yes, when the show premiered and I was a guest, she said funny, intelligent things. Did someone at the network vacuum her brain? Did her dad say he was embarrassed by her remarks? Did Joe threaten to take away her nice shoes? Willie, she needs a hero to come to her rescue. Or she needs for someone at the “Lean Forward” Network to slap her until she sits back.

Never let it be said that my picking is directed at a group or one individual. There sure was a great deal of posing in Washington this week. Between BO, the Speaker of the House, (no Tip O’Neill but still very lovely) the Minority whip (who is also lovely), the posing didn’t stop for a minute. None of them had to stand in front of a mirror to see who they wanted to see – or be. Everyone was delighted to pose in front of a camera, and point the finger at anyone who wasn’t them. BO made some nice speeches accusing the Republicans of interfering with the process of government. Duh, that’s what they came to Washington to do. They did not come to be a “ diverse community” that needed to be organized by, for lack of a better description, the Community Organizer In Chief.

It is not like me to be harsh, however, what happened to figuring out how to lead the Government and kick ass? Like, how about you write your own Bill, sign it, pass it wherever you can, and let the Republicans go to the Supreme Court to impeach. By the time anything happens, BO will have finished his second term (he should be so lucky!) and made the real difference in America, that he promised before he got elected. Perhaps I am exaggerating about a solution to any stalemate. But for those of us who have been part of the Government Bureaucracy as political appointees, (political appointees are suppose to advocate for Presidential policies), and didn’t need to make friends as much as make a difference, with the guidance of respectable public servants, we 1. stopped campaigning for office, 2. didn’t circumvent the press with social media tools and 3. figured out ways to get things moving. This Administration needs far fewer posers, in order to defeat all those hosers. Yes, I could have been a poet instead of a blobber. We’re just sayin’... Iris

Addendum: Wednesday morning, 8/3 11am:

This morning at the fitness club there was a delicious young man who was all in white with a black weight belt. His T-shirt had holes in all the right places. Ragged, scruffy, and perfection. He was, of course, handsome and healthy with muscles in just the right places. You know how in a Disney cartoon when the hero smiles, you see a sparkle on his teeth. Yes, there was that as well. You remember how I said that the men at the club do not seem to need approval, they are happy looking at themselves. Well people were lined up to look at this guy(with me among them) and he seemed to like it just fine!. Why not.

Lessons to Learn: I said LESSONS TO LEARN!

Every time I take out my iPad to use it, I decide that I am actually going to learn how to use it—beyond developing a workable swipe to move things around. It seemed to me the best place to learn was from the experts, so I scheduled an iPad workshop at 58th and 5th in N.YC. There are a number of Apple stores in NY but this one is supposed to be the premiere store. For sure it’s the most crowded and noisiest. (You can hear a dozen languages from the throngs of tourists swamping the place, at any moment, day or night.)

There are about 12 or 14 people in each workshop. My expectations of it being 4 or 5 beginners was way off the track. There were beginners, all of whom had the iPad 2 (except me—I have the ancient model – all the way to last December), and mostly they were around my age – so that was reassuring.

Before the class began, I had to duke it out with a 10 year old who didn’t speak any English, (I did) but he absolutely spoke computer (I don’t). Anyway, David found a space and a seat for me and I let the kid stand in the space he was occupying. (He wasn’t tall enough to sit at the table and the only seat, other than mine that was available was especially short. So that wouldn’t work for him. But the Asian woman (who spoke a few words of English), had a large hat that covered her face as well as her head, and an even larger bag, was not deterred. She sat, sitting at least a foot below everyone else – and with everything she did have, what she did not have was an iPad. But, she felt free to share mine and comment about everything I did. Luckily, I couldn’t understand a word she said.

The workshop was a comedy of errors. The sophisticated sound system was screwed up and only worked intermittently, and only when it was worn by Jonathan. When Olivia wore it, you could hear nothing. As workshop leaders, they explained that their plan was to impress us with the audio as well as the video technology – which could not be done because the ‘wow’ sound system had no sound. Oh and they couldn’t find the woman who held the key to fixing the sound.

They kept apologizing for the screw-up, and tried to work without a mike. That would have been fine, except the store was beyond noisy. All I kept comparing it to was when the computer doesn’t work on a cash register at the yogurt store, and the kids don’t know how to give change without the register telling them how much. Finally, the lost sound technician who they call a ‘creative’ person, arrived with new head sets. We were on a roll: we could almost hear, and with all the apologies, we were almost forgiving about the many moments of wasted time.

Anyway, the workshop was fine, if not what any of us expected. But someone should tell the 20 year olds who understand how everything works (except microphones), that they have to stop saying, “this is so simple,” because for so many of us, it’s anything but. We’re just sayin’…. Iris