Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Cain't Mutiny

In the realm of you couldn’t make it up.  We are a the Palm Beach Airport and I see this woman about 150 feet away pushing her bag in a wheelchair.  She lifted the rope, got into the handicapped line, took her bag off the wheelchair, got into the chair, and waited for a Jet Blue attendant to push her on to the flight. Don’t strain thinking about any of this , there will be pictures.  It was the worst line getting ready to board we had ever seen.  The Jet Blue staff was trying to clear the line and everytime he said, “we need this area cleared”, people who were blocking the way just looked at him, as though he was speaking Cantonese, and never moved an inch.  There was one elderly couple who tried to board early.  They were sent to the back of the line, which they didn’t do. They got out of line and stood on the side. Despite their pleas for mercy, they were rebuffed —over and over again.  We boarded before the issues were resolved. MAYBE  they got on, and maybe they didn’t.
for clarity's sake, it was the woman on the left
“And it’s going to be really really good. You’ll see”.  This seems to be Trumps favorite thing to say — it doesn’t matter the issue.  Everything will be "really really good”  Speaking of good, Melania now has an official White House portrait that looks like  a Glamour Magazine cover.  Never mind, there’s so much else to talk about why should I bother picking on Melania.

Back to the flight.  We are sitting at the airport prepare to be inconvenienced by the Trump visit to what has become the southern White House.  He goes nearly every weekend to play golf and host a head of State.  Here’s a question.  Is a foreign head of state happy to be hosted at Query-Lago (changed the name because it is a question) or are they insulted not to hosted as an official and t the White House?  This is a real question for which I don’t have an answer.

Many people have suggested that Drump (because that’s the way he makes me feel) should be impeached. This doesn’t “really, really” help.  Even if he is impeached he gets to stay in office. Remember Bill Clinton was impeached.  So that is not a solution.  Other people have suggested we should just “lock him up”, with his friend Flynn. At night hey could sing each other lullabies about what they could have done to eliminate the government if they hadn’t been arrested.  It almost sounds obscene — well, right at this moment in history, it is obscene.

So what to do?  You remember the film ,”The Caine Mutiny”. If not go see it on Netflix.  It is about a naval captain who is totally insane, so the crew  mutinies.  That’s what need so happen.  We have a lunatic at the helm and he needs to be “locked up”, “locked away”, taken away from the ship of state.  There is no problem finding reasons why this should be done.  We could start with all the lies. We could move to governing by tweets.  We can go on to discuss his inability to understand foreign policy which might lead to a war with North Korea or Syria, the choice is yours.  Or we might discuss abuse of human rights, the freedom of the press, immigrants, or the 36% approval rating.  And on and on and on….

But who takes the first step toward this mutiny?  By all rights it should be the media, who report the fake news.  Or it should be the Congress, who know that this lunatic doesn’t know what he’s doing.  In the end, it will have to be the people who are suffering the decisions he has made.

David always says that the anchors on the local news are simply playing at being journalists.  In the same sentence we might say that Drump is merely playing at being President.  Never forget “All the worlds a stage, and the people merely players”. Someone bring down the curtain.  We're just sayin'....Iris

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Road Warriors - Then and Now

When we had the energy to work on Presidential campaigns, and it does take energy -- at least the way we did it-- which was without any help, we called ourselves Road Warriors.  We had no assistance, no money (unless we raised it ourselves), never a guarantee of a place to sleep, or an idea of where we would go the next day. We washed our clothes in a bathtub because we never knew how long we would be anywhere. If we ever talked with HQ it was in a phone both, jangling a handful of quarters, quarters which we probably had to raise on our own.  You might say, “it was the best of times and the worst of times”.  We had limited expectations of what the campaign could provide. And we were grateful when there was any assistance provided from “National HQ”. 

Imagine how surprised  I was when NBC annointed the traveling staff, covering the campaign, “road warriors.”  Which by the way, they were not.  They were young, smart, journalists, who travelled with the campaigns.  This road warrior got paid, they knew where they were sleeping, were never out of touch more longer than an iPhone touch, and the networks made sure they were fed, because they were members of a union, maybe two.   In addition, they knew that after the campaign they would have a job for which ever network they represented. This was certainly not the case for campaign staff warriors. First your candidate had to be victorious. Then you had to compete with every other campaign staffer who also wanted a job. Everything you did in and round the campaign was truly a battle.

“Advance people,” the people who travelled ahead of the Candidate, were responsible for everything that happened to the candidate from the time the candidate arrived at an event to the time they left. It didn't matter what kind of an event. Everything from  checking sound and lights, to flushing toilets for the Press.  Picking up Press and Staff luggage and making sure it got where it needed to be.  These new so-called “road warriors” never battled more than an angry press secretary.

Maybe I should be pleased about the continuation of the label. But somehow the“warrior”part is only for people that were at odds with just about everyone with whom they had dealings, except other Advance people. Everyone hated them/us, or at the very least found us annoying, That includes other campaign staff like the State coordinators, directors and fund raisers. Because we did battle for the candidate, and the candidate ultimately depended on us, far more than desk staff or local political people.  We had access to the Candidate. Usually close proximity. We briefed, advised, and made on the spot political decisions.   Some of those responsibilities are no longer the job of the advance person, but they still remain responsible for doing "the battle".

Anyway, how about that Sean Spicer and where is Kelly Anne?.  The President came into office without one day of government experience and surrounded himself with people who also had no experience. You cannot drain the swamp if you don't know how the government works. It's not like the private sector, where if you are the person in charge, everyone has to listen and obey.  Nope. We should all be grateful for this. Except he can sign an executive order which might just destroy the environment and other treasured resources-- or freedoms, or people's lives.

Thinking is depressing. We all need to concentrate on the the tasks that make us happy and the people we love with the knowledge the President must be absolutely miserable not being able to get his own way.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fifty Years On....

Like a few of my colleagues (David K, are you listening?) this year marks a rather major milestone for me as a photographer.  I came into photojournalism the same way a lot of my friends did: I signed up for the High School Yearbook, clueless about what the photo staff did, but became completely entranced when I saw that first 8x10 sheet of Medalist come to life in the Dektol of Mr. Blackham’s darkroom.  That was junior year of High School, and I got the bug.  I began shooting almost everything, and within a few months was trying to sell pictures at the local weekly paper (which my cousins bought the next year, and kept me on in what became my first and only “Staff” position.)  Basketball games were a good chance to try and shoot the first half, then drive quickly downtown and hope that the Salt Lake Tribune might a) care about that game and b) not having their own photog there, actually buy one of yours for $5 (and give you your exposed film back), give you a fresh roll of film, and then to top it off, put your name next to it in the paper.  Hailing the next day’s paper to see what it looked like was one of those exciting moments which I came celebrate both the pain and joy of in the magazine years.  
I went off to college in 1964 armed with my supposed smarts in advanced math, with the idea of building Moon rockets for NASA. But my math skills seemed to have given way to my photographic eye, and even though there were no photo classes at Colorado College, I shot on my own, sold weekend prints to the drag strips I would frequent (when you sold 20 pictures at a buck each, you realized that twenty bucks was a pretty good haul for a weekend in the early 60’s and a chance to have your ear drums blown out by a AA/S Automatic Hemi.  Talk about fun!





the Grateful Dead  June 1967 - New York

Spring break of Junior Year, this was 1967, I bought a cheap (as they were then) United Air Lines ticket to New York, and spent a week trying to find a summer gig in the city.  In those days there were tons of classified ads in the Times  Help Wanted for Studio Assistant,etc., and while I did see a couple of them, that wasn’t my main aim.   My aunt had a good friend from Kansas City who had come for dinner the Sunday before I left, and as it happened she had an old pal, Ruth Lester, whose job it was to look at portfolios off the street for LIFE magazine.  A quick call was made, and I was invited to come see Ruth, showing off my pictures (which were, frankly, pretty lame….) in an attempt to get some kind of  summer gig.  Most of the magazines that did hire college kids limited their applicants to PhotoJ majors - usually from Missouri.  But I met a few contacts - friends of friends, who would call a photographer and ask if they would see me. (Steve Horn at Horn/Griner.  Katherine Abbe, are two I recall.)   I so remember the kindness that was paid to me, and have honestly tried over the years to return the favor to young photographers who want to talk about the business.  
Ruth was very welcoming, though I remember being so damn up tight on the 29th floor of the Time Life building, where LIFE Edit offices were.  Looking around you could see names on office walls who you had only ever seen on a page in the magazine.  She had, she said, nothing, but offered to call the Time B/W Editor (in the late 60s, the magazine could only use color with a couple of week’s advance, and so most pictures were in black & white, and that is what they spent most of their time working on.)  The Editor, Barker T Hartshorn was a jaunty New Englander, who I recall (Arnold I’m sure will correct me) wearing a lot of bowties.  In his charge was a large room of office cubbies, staffed by the women researchers (in those days, “Women” were the “Researchers”… it was one of those last (?)  bastions of male chauvinism) including Alice Rose George, Michele Stephenson [who became Photo editor twenty years later], and the unforgettable Evelyn Merrin.  “Bo” Hartshorn, as he was known, was very welcoming, and for reasons I have never truly understood, apparently saw in me someone who could eventually be of worth to both him and to the Magazine.  I briefly met Charlie Jackson, who was the overall editor in charge of pictures, and working with him, a  youngish editor named Arnold Drapkin, who was still a kid.  I left the building that day with no idea of what had transpired, other than I knew I’d been in the TIme-Life building, and that was pretty damn cool.  It was another three weeks later that I received the letter from Charlie Jackson offering me a 3 day per week internship at $85 per week.  How could I beat that?!  Couldn’t.  I can still remember the feeling of anticipation as I walked in from school the day the letter arrived. My  mom had placed it on my bed, the blue tinted envelope with the TIME logo sitting almost helplessly on the brown corduroy bedspread.  I don’t know if I ever opened a letter with such excitement.
I spent the summer in New York (for a month), Washington DC under the tutelage of Wally Bennett, the TIME staffer ( 6 weeks) and back in NY for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer.  I still had another year of college to go, but I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work for a magazine.  Space, page size, and of course the attention that came with something which reached 25 milliion readers every week.  
My first few days that summer were a bit dodgy.  There was really nothing set up for me when I arrived in New York on the morning the 6-Day war started, so they just cleared one of the extra desks and that became my space.  There were still a number of NYC daily newspapers, and each day as they made the rounds, the papers would pile up on  my desk. I wondered, as I sat there in my coat & tie, my huge “everything I own in it” camera bag next to me, when I would have a chance to do something.   Sometime late in my second week, as I was about ready to give up in despair, Michele Stephensen, whose cubbie was just around the corner from my desk, gave a yell…”David!”   I sprung to life, grabbed my bag and asked her what was up.  “There is a new President of J Walter Thompson… Dan Seymour… he’s leaving town in half an hour, so get over there and see if you can make a portrait…”   I hauled ass out of the building, found a cab on 6th avenue, and sat nervously as the cab went almost no where in the slow sluggish traffic.  I hopped out, grabbing my WorldsLargestCameraBagWithEverythingIOWNinIT and ran the last half dozen blocks.  I was shown upstairs to Seymour’s office , panting like a race horse, and as he talked on the phone, shot about 30 frames on my one roll.  He hung up the fone, I shot the rest of the roll, him looking at me with the expression of someone who feels his wallet has just been lifted, and that picture was what ran in TIME  “The Weekly Newsmagazine” the next week.   I had to make a real decision. Michele (whose mom, as it turned out, had gone to high school with my mom in Salt Lake) asked me that most important of questions:  “Do you want the credit line to be Dave or David?”   It took a few seconds to react, but I decided that it was, safe for Facebook, the last time I would be known as Dave.  That next week became very collegial as many of the magazine’s regulars   -  David Gahr, Peter Polymenakis, and Burt Berinsky, among others, all said something nice about having my “first picture” published.  
Every week there was an adventure of some kind.  Photographing private aircraft for a story on General Aviation,Vietnamese business women touring the states, etc.    And one day, I had another of those over the cubbie-wall screams for my name  — this time it was Linda George.  She had another of those “get down there NOW!” jobs.  There was a band playing a free concert in Tomkins Square Park in the East Village (decades before it was remotely gentrified) and please get down there and make some pictures.  I was not exactly the greatest of rock & roll trivia experts, but young people who I’ve met over years still can’t believe I’d never heard of The Grateful Dead.  I arrived as they were playing in a small bandstand, and with several hundred devoted listeners having taken lunch off to hear them play.  I hopped on stage, and to me Pigpen was THE guy to photograph.  He looked as if he’d been there a half dozen lives already, and made for a good picture. At one point a young boy, probably lost from his pals (or mom?) broke out into tears on stage in the middle of a song.   I’m sure he ended up making it home ok, but it made for one of those pictures that you remember. Not because it’s a great picture, just because it’s a kind of weird moment.   Who is that guy?  He would now be in his mid or late 50s, and somewhere, I’m sure, has a very distinct memory of freaking out at the Dead concert.   
Fifty years is a long time to be doing anything, and I have to admit that had it been anything other than photography, I probably would have moved on.  I’m still kind of sorry I didn’t drive dragsters or work on the Saturn V  Apollo rocket program.  I studied Poli Sci in college, but have never run for anything other than one semester as Kappa Sig Grand Master.  You never really know where life will take you, but as long as you are able to be open to the things which present themselves you can make a life which won’t be full of regret.  I keep thinking that from the Class of ’46 —-   Donald Trump born June ’46, George W Bush born July ’46, Bill Clinton August ’46, that I, born in September ’46 should have really been the next President.  It would have made for a helluva lot less “Fake News,”  progress might actually have been made on a number of social challenges, and boy, would the pictures that the White House photographers make be damn good, or what!?  I don’t really  feel that bad about missing out on being POTUS, and I feel lucky and honored that I have seen as a witness with a camera so much of what has gone on in our time - in a hundred countries - over the last fifty years.  What better wish can a photographer have hoped for, other than, of course, ‘don’t fuck up.’   We’re just sayin’… David





Wednesday, March 15, 2017

About the Gossip, And the Baby

Sometimes the best laid plans….. Guess how I spent a few days and nights last week?  You won’t guess. Well, my niece went into labor, in the morning.  We figured nothing much would happen until late in the afternoon. But late in the afternoon nothing was happening.  She made the decision that she would have an epidural so she wouldn’t be in any pain.  She spent  most of the day texting.  What else would a millennial do.  When Jordan was born we played Yatzee and Connect Four until I  had a reaction to the 2nd epidural, felt the life rushing from my body, and I had to have an emergency Caesarean section.  When Seth was born it was an unmedicated back labor and it felt like a Mack truck was running me over every few minutes.  What a joy.  They say a woman forgets the pain of childbirth — that’s a lie.  A woman decides to be medicated for her second birth.

Anyway, enough about my traumas, there was still no action in the evening.  At some point, after 12 hours of labor, you are exhausted from the contractions and just want it to be over. That doesn’t always happen. For whatever reason, with group practices, the doctor you like is not always the doctor who is with you during the labor.  There are some doctors who think a woman has unlimited tolerance for pain and she can just keep having contractions for hours and hours and hours.  The doctor she liked was pretty much absent through the whole labor. By 9am, she was no longer amused by what seemed would never be over.  Maybe because I was an older mother, and Jordan was in jeopardy, we all made the decision to have a Caesarean.  But some doctors are just shortsighted.  Who knows?   I’ll get back to that in a minute.

By this time all the aunts, cousins and friends were a wreck.  How long could this go on?  Since you asked, I will tell you — for 20 episodes of Season 5 of “The Gossip Girls”. This is an older series, I think about 2013.  It is horrible.  The acting is awful, the people are disgusting. There is not a character with any redeeming qualities. The story lines are simply stupid.  So who watches hundreds of hours of a television series that is so horrible?  People who are fascinated by clothing.  You cannot believe the wardrobe. Even as teenagers these kids wear the most incredibly fabulous outfits.  They are so wonderful I was able to sit through hours and hours of the most annoying shows ever written, and ever on TV.  But I couldn’t stop.  My viewing  was relentless.

Back to the birth.  Which happened without incident — other than the interminable labor. Anyway,  in the end, she gave birth to a big beautiful healthy girl baby. And as my cousin said, it was fine, but just  like giving birth to a toddler.  And we are all delighted.

Random thoughts about nothing…

If you want to cook chopped frozen kale, be aware that your kitchen will be covered with bitty pieces of kale and it will take forever to clean it up.  We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Holga Moment

When former Ambassador Joe Wilson ended up on the White House ‘shitlist’ for having dared speak publicly about his report on the lack of uranium shipments to Iraq, he and his wife became the toughest interview in the country.   She - Valerie Plame - was still working in Langley for the CIA as an analyst, and the disclosure that she was working for CIA, by columnist Robert Novak, caused a huge brouhaha as Washington found itself trying to figure out who had blown her cover.  (Eventually it became known that former Under Sec. Richard Armitage had been the one who told Novak.)   It was October of 2003, about a year after Wilson’s Niger trip, and some days after she had been named in Novak’s column.  In theory, divulging the identity of a CIA employee could be a chargeable offense.  Everyone knew WHO Valerie Plame was, but since she still worked for CIA, and no pictures had been published, no one knew what she looked like.  It was an odd juxtapostion for modern journalism.  I had called USNews to see about having them back me to photograph Joe Wilson (and of course having their backing to do so would probably make it easier for me to get to him.)    The conversation with Jen Poggi, the editor started with  something like (“…you need me to photograph Joe Wilson for you…”)  and Jen agreed it was a great idea.   Within a couple of days it was arranged:  “arrive at the Wilson home the following morning at about 8, and you’ll have about an hour…”  

I pulled my car in front of their house the next morning, grabbed my motley crew of gear (Speed Graphic, Holga, and Canons) and was greeted at the door by Mrs. Wilson — Valerie Plame —  in a morning robe. She was getting their young twins ready for the day, and invited me in to the house.  We passed through the kitchen, and I schlepped my gear into the family room, which faced east, and was happy to see the first hard rays of sunshine coming through the trees, and lighting the room nicely.   I’m an available light guy.  And when what’s available is good, I’m all for it.  I set up the tripod and Speed Graphic, and made sure the Holga had a roll of film, before checking my Canon’s to be sure they were charged and ready. 

Joe Wilson came in, we made small talk, and as I often try to do, just began shooting a bit while we were chatting.  Anything you can do to take the subject’s attention off  “being photographed” helps. Usually.  He was pretty easy.   We talked, I shot, we talked and I shot some more.  This was in that period of the early 2000s when on almost every job I had, I tried to shoot at least one roll of 120 b/w in my Holga.  The camera is an odd duck. Imprecise, uneven, full of light leaks, and occasionally a lucky surprise.  I use the Stroboframe quick-release plates on all my cameras, and it makes using a tripod pretty easy.  You can undo one camera and slam another onto the quick-release in just a few seconds.   Normally I would save the Holga for the last bit of the shoot, once I had a feeling that I was covered.  The thing about a Holga, as opposed to any digital camera, or even a film camera like a Hassie or Rollei, is that you have to manually wind, and take note of the next frame number.  It’s like that first Brownie Holiday camera you had when Ike was still President.  You would just wind the film till that next number came into view in the red window on the back then be ready for your next picture.   A great, uncomplicated, efficient way of moving to the next shot.  So, once I got shooting with Wilson, I may have been talking with him, but my eye was concentrating on the numbers on the back of the camera.  The numbers on a roll of Tri-x are pretty visible, but it’s easy to accidently wind past the next number if you aren’t careful.  In an era of 15 frames-per-second on the modern digi cams, the Holga is more like — in high speed mode — about one frame every ten seconds.

I shot, and wound, and shot and wound, all the way through a roll of film, hoping that in the roll might be a good portrait the magazine could use.  We finished, and I packed up, and headed to the US News lab, where I dropped my film.   Later that afternoon I came back to the photo office to see how the pictures looked, and was absolutely jolted to see in the middle of the Holga roll, a frame of Wilson looking into the camera, and behind him, in what was an obviously accidental moment , Valerie Plame in her robe, looking as if she’d started to head upstairs for something, thought better of it, and was about to turn around and head back to the kitchen.  To make it more interesting, she seemed to be in a kind of quizzical stance.  It was one frame.  One Image.  All of a sudden I realized I had a picture I hadn’t bargained for.  We talked about it at the magazine, and everyone decided that since she was still a CIA employee, and since she hadn’t been ‘outed’ visually, that maybe we shouldn’t run the picture. (This story didn’t rise to the level of the Pentagon Papers, or I’m sure we would have.)   The decision bounced around the building, and in the end, they went with a more standard portrait, by standard I mean his wife wasn’t in it.  I called Joe Wilson, and told him about the picture.  He said it would be trouble for them if the picture ran, and we made a gentleman’s agreement not to use the picture until she was no longer under the CIA umbrella.

Even a few months later, at “contest” time, when I talked to him again, Wilson said it would be problematic if the picture became public.  It wasn’t till later that year, once Valerie had left the government, and the Wilsons did the full scale Vanity Fair treatment, did I realize the ‘deal’ was no longer on.  By then, USNews wasn’t really interested in doing a story on the Wilsons and the pictures came back to me and my agency, Contact Press Images.  TIME, on the other hand, was running a story, and they hopped at the chance to use the “one frame.”   It ran nearly two pages, and became one of those pictures which I was happy to have my name on.  When news breaks, and hitherto unknowns become the news headliners — think Monica Lewinsky for one — there tend to be a zillion pictures of them, yet seldom anything of real visual or journalistic interest.  I was lucky this time around.  Sometimes taking your eye off the target — especially when you have to watch those numbers roll across the red Holga window — gets you where you want to be.

photograph ©2017 David Burnett/Contact Press Images

Thursday, March 09, 2017

In Honor of Intl Womens Day

Happy International Women’s Day… we’ll get back to that.


It costs the taxpayer about 21 million dollars every time Trump goes to Florida. We thought home was NYC and now Washington DC. That sounds reasonable, right.  And by the way, I hate it when people excuse his lies and ridiculous executive pronouncements by saying, “He’s not your traditional President”.  I am seriously depressed, but this election hit me harder than I thought. When a sixties hippie starts yearning for Nixon, you know we are in trouble.

Back to International Women's Day.  There are also International Women’s Years and Conferences.  When I was at the State Department I was often detailed to the White House for to Advance Presidential or First Lady Trips. The International Women”s Conference was held in Houston and Mrs. Carter was going to attend.  So a few of former Advance people (women of course), were asked to set things up for her.


Mary, Christine and I flew out a week before the Conference — figuring we would spend a few days just hanging out. This was not to be. As soon as we arrived the Secret Service attacked. They said it was a horrible mess and we needed to do “something”. Apparently, the opening ceremonies were in shambles and there was no one in charge.  We needed to go right to work.  First thing was to put out a press advisory. Actually, the first thing was to find out what was going on.  We had no office space, paper or even pens— it was like we were undercover.  There were no cell phones, no computers, or iPads —no new technology, how did we ever survive?

Sometimes the most outrageous acts are never identified as outrageous. We figured everything we needed was across the street in the Conference hotel. It was like another world over there.  They had the supplies we needed to survive.  So over we went and (without hiding anything) we helped ourselves to a electric typewriter, paper, pens, press lists, staff lists, preliminary schedules (that made no sense), and plans for the opening ceremonies in which at least 500 people were invited to participate.   We decided to reenact what the ceremonies would look like. there were many gory details but reliving them would be too painful.  Imagine 50 members of a choir, a marching band of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the military honor guard, the VIP’s and Mrs.Carters entourage.

When you have been doing this kind of work for the as long as we had, you learn that the best way to visualize events is to act them out.  The first group to deal with were the VIP’s. They wanted to enter from the rear of the auditorium, who knows why. So I started at the rear of the auditorium and by the time I got to the front we couldn’t stop laughing. There were no stairs for the VIP’s to get upon the stage. Most of the day went just like that and we only had two days left to do five days worth of work.

The ceremony was about to begin.  We had to commandeer some stairs but that was no problem.  We asked the choir to sing one song before Mrs Cater arrived and one while she was getting up on the stage. The choir director had another agenda in mind.  They started to sing as Mrs. Carter entered but they didn’t stop after the second song, or the third. Despite my pleas to stop singing, they continued and ignored me.  Finally, in desperation I pulled the mikes so they had no sound. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts marched in as did the military guard with the flags and the speeches began.  We all breathed again, went out for a cocktail and recounted with hilarity the events of the week.

When I reflect upon those events all I can think of was how wonderful it was working with those ingenious, talented, warm and wonderful women, some of whom are still in my life, some of are not but they will always remain in memories and in my heart.  We're just sayin'.....Iris

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Underwear Ware

It was a perfectly wonderful south Florida day, until about 10AM.  Susan and I screwed up making the coffee but no big deal.  We still enjoyed our catch up conversation and just being together.  Because my exercise schedule was a little off I thought it would be a good idea to go to my cousins club house and get on the treadmill.  There was plenty of time to exercise, get a bite to eat and still make it to my 2:00 meeting about Gefilte Fish Chronicles the Musical at the Wick theater in Boca. I figured I would put my stuff in the car so it wouldn’t be forgotten. This is an important detail to remember.

For whatever reason, incompetence, a stupid GPS or roads that seemed to change in mere minutes, getting lost was the norm rather than “oops” — which is me being stupid.  But I know the difference between Yamato and Glades road.  Thing is that when you’re driving to see a little bitty sign that suggests you turn immediately in order to take Butts to Glades.  But that’s not important now.  Anyway, I was happily on my way to Broken Sound. 

The first indication that things were not going my way, was when I took my stuff into the club house and didn’t have my earphones or the clothes I had packed to change into.  At this point the clothing for my workout was clown pants, sneakers, and my Boonton T-shirt.  But where was the additional bag with all my dress clothing.  Back at Susan’s. So, I exercised took a shower dressed unencumbered by any undergarments. All I had was the t-shirt and clown pants. but no underpants. bra, shoes or make-up. Now, I know that young people who don’t  have floppy boobs or a gelatinous tush, don’t have to wear underwear.  Not the case with me.  And not to have earphones  on the elliptical, tragic.  There was no question about dressing.
What to do.  I didn’t have time to get back to Susan’s. But I figured the Town Center would have a pair of underpants, a bra and some reasonable shoes. 

First I went to Macy’s for the shoe’s and got a really cheap pair of Steve Madden’s  for $20. I asked the GPS to find the closest Forever 21.  And while there was one right around the corner in the Mall, they suggested the drive to Delray would be 25 minutes. There isn’t even a Forever in Delray— trust me.  So rather than get back in the car and drive for 25 minutes. Right past the food court and around the corner, is the store.  Not a great Forever but one none the less. They have to have a lingerie sections I thought as I wandered around the store.  When I asked the sales person she looked at me like I nuts, like she didn’t know the word bra.  It reminded me of the time when I asked a sales person in lingerie  for thongs,  and she directed me to the underwear department.  There was a time when what we now call flip flops were called thongs.  OK, and honest mistake.  But there was never a time that my travels took me to Forever and they didn’t have undies and bras. Well, this one didn’t.   

It was getting late and given my travel history I thought it was time to get on the road. The directions seemed simple enough. (Oh, I had no bra or underpants, but I bought a large t-shirt to cover the floppers. ) And off to Costume World, which for the time being houses the CEO of the Wick Theater.  After about fifteen minutes nothing looked familiar.  When I checked the GPS it said I would arrive at my destination in two hours.  Nonsense, my trip thereto other day took twenty minutes max.  After I put the destination in the GPS four more times, it said to head west toward Dixie Highway, which it also said it was South Federal Highway — where the meeting was to take place. You ask yourself, does a GPS have the capacity to lie?  Apparently it does.  My arrival was without fanfare, an hour after I set out, but exactly on time for the meeting  It was harrowing.  Lots of cocktails on the agenda for the evening.

Not to change the subject but let’s change the subject.  When I hear Drump speak it makes me feel like there must be music to make me feel better, and there is, but it’s all music from those years when we were in the midst of the struggles, in the 60’s — Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Crosby Stills and Nash singing, “Ohio”, Richie Havens, Bob Dylan and Micky Katz — don’t ask.

The President is going to Mari-lago again.  i don’t think we need to worry about the President’s health — the people in Palm Beach may kill him for the disruptive inconvenience he is causing them every week.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Campaign Pals - Not THIS Campaign

What the media and the public don’t understand is that Drump knows exactly what he’s doing.  For example, now all the Drump supporters will feel bad for “Oh poor Ivanka” (lets be honest, my mother in law said it a long time ago,  “Ivanka is a stupid name.” ) and look for her clothing line. Her father is not stupid - he got two days of free publicity for the line.  Kelly Anne, did exactly what he wanted her to do.  Did he take her to task for her ethical mishaps?  Don’t be ridiculous.  He probably asked her to do it.  The Drump Administration along with most of the Republican House and Senate in ages, have lost their moral core.  The Drump journey cannot be separated from the appointees or elected officials.

Not to distract from my rantings, but today the officer in the TSA Precheck line searched my sparkly bag, which I told him looked very nice on him. They saw something.  What could there be in that bag I thought? After taking everything out of the bag and spreading it all over his station he finally found the culprit  — the Metamucel. He held it up, opened it and poured some out. Remember the first time you went to the drugstore to buy sanitary napkins or rubbers?  You thought you would never get over the embarrassment.  Such was the feeling today.  Does everyone in the airport need to know I don't have regular bowel movements?  It seems they do.

Politics has been a big part of my life mostly because it gave me the opportunity to meet so many terrific people and then meet wonderful people through those people.  Yesterday I found the daughter of one of my dearest political friends.  Another nice story about what political relationships used to mean.  Among other things, those friends were loyal, caring, insightful, committed to positive change and yes, loving.  Sure there was sex on the campaign trail but that’s not what I mean.  Although my X (the sperm donor -  that’s how we refer to him because he did give me a great kid), once accused me of giving blo jobs in back seats — now you know why he’s my X.  All those years ago, in the light ages, (these are the dark ages), when you could count on the friends you made in the campaign. When I arrived in DC, unencumbered by money, a job, or a place to live, the one possession I took with me, was my Fiat 500 Station wagon. It wasn’t much of a vehicle. It was small, you could say tiny because that would not be an exaggeration. But it was big enough to sleep in.  And that’s what happened. I slept in my car on Capitol Hill, close to some hotels so I could clean up for job interviews. On occasion, when I wanted to take a shower, I would swing by my pals, Jane and Wes — they had a great house, a great kid and a shower.   At some point Jane asked where I was staying that didn’t have a shower. When my answer was my car, they insisted I move in with them until I could find a job and somewhere to live. It was an incredible experience. They were early civil rights activists, so the frequent parties we had were populated with their friends like Julian Bond, and creme de la creme of the Carter Administration.  We were family.  But when we all realized that they were talking to me and not to each other, it was time for me to go.

They got divorced. Wes had lung cancer and a heart condition, and died some years ago.  Jane remarried and has early Alzhiemers — but when we talk she laughs and seems to remember all the silly things we did.  Yesterday, after much too long, I found their daughter, LD on Facebook. She looks just like her mom did when we met.  A smile never to be forgotten. We have not talked yet but I am happy to report that her parents passed down their values. And her postings on Facebook are exceptional. She is a writer, I expected her writing to be literate, but her choice of postings are thoughtful, moving, perceptive, and right in line with what a smart and progressive thinking person person might post.


In my dotage, I find reflecting on times and people I love or loved, just remind me that the future can be a great as the past… I better get busy.   We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, February 09, 2017

That Next Stage. Did Someone say Stage?

To all our faithful readers I owe you an apology. Remember I said that Trump wouldn’t be that bad, after all he was a Democrat 2 years ago.  Turns out he is more horrible than any of us could have imagined.  But enough about Drump, he is not worth the paper this is printed on…Hold up it’s not printed on paper so I guess he’s worth nothing.  Over the last few weeks My Facebook has taken a real hit.  It was necessary to defriend a number of people who, although I like them, have taken to calling me horrible names.  Those kind of comments are neither welcome nor appropriate.  Moving on to a much more important informations.

A good friend, Linus asked his sister (also a dear friend), Lucy, to tell him a story.  Here is the story;  “a man was born and  he lived and died, the End”.  If only it was that simple.  Turns out, living is quite complicated.  Not only that, but the complications only increase, until in fact, you die.  Which unfortunately we all will.  

When I was born my grandmother Sadie sad it was too bad I wasn’t a boy. So the doctor put a mustache on me, because my dad had a mustache and I looked just like him. The consequences were that I always had a mustache (ask any girl with dark hair) but I didn’t have a penis. I didn’t understand what that meant until I got older than a few hours, because my dad (the true man in my life), always thought I was fabulous.  He was sure I could do anything and luckily I believed him.  The struggle began when I was in high school and they made me take home Ec, (cooking and sewing), instead of learning something worthwhile, like auto mechanics or wood shop.  That was my introduction to gender injustice.  As you can imagine, fighting injustice is a life-long occupation.  Luckily, I am a baby boomer, there was no shortage of injustice in the 60’s and 70’s. By the 80’s I was exhausted, but we made change. Real change in civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, academics and the war.  Who could ever have imagined we would have to do it again. In case you haven’t noticed, the Cabinet and most of the White House staff are white men, mostly old white men  It looks like th 50’s and their thinking has not progressed into the 21 century.

Back to life and transitions, personal and professional.  We talked, as Lucy said, about being born. Now we’re into the meat — or the lived. areas of Communication called to me.  Mostly teaching and politics.  Emerson College, in those years  accepted those of us who did not do too well on SAT’s, but it prepared me for any career path of my choice, and remember, my dad said I could do anything, so off we go.  Once you get  hooked on politics it is hard to go in any other direction. Once you become part of that conversation, it is hard to learn another language.

Anyway, Waltham high School, Boston University and a Jewish bakery in Brookline and St Mary’s in central Ma. made it possible for me to continue my whole life education. The living continued with a disastrous marriage and a wonderful child.  The passion for politics continued and miraculously  a Presidential campaign appeared.  After painful losses we became President.  But I had no job and was living in my car  In this case you used all your resources to survive. At that point in this endless recounting of “alternative facts”, the greater unknown determined I would work in Presidential Politics every four years, while in between remained a mystery.  Teaching at University level, The world of non-profits, Television Executive, and theater were always on the horizon, but never more than  four years because then there was an election.

Once again, marriage and an amazing child.  Selfishly, I was not to be deterred from any dreams — what a lie, but moving on….  There was government and television.  The conversation was the same.  Was I lucky, I traveled all over this country and the world, working with terrific, smart, savvy people.  Henry Kissinger was my dinner partner at the White House Correspondents dinner.  Movie stars, musicians, Pulitzer Prize winners, Cabinet Secretarys, Stan Lee, Stewart Mott, Congress people, Senators, the rich and famous, the Easter egg roll, and yes I danced with Fred Astaire, lived in India with Dickie Attenborough when we were producing Gandhi, and always had the Presidential Box at the Kennedy Center.  There was no place I couldn’t go, and nothing I couldn’t do. 

They say all good things have a time limit.  Which is probably true, but so what.  I am and was beyond fortunate both personally and professionally.  I find myself at a crossroads.  Should I retire or spend the last quarter (I am a “fourth quarter Queen”), doing exactly what I have dreamed.  Which would be OK but I have already done everything I dreamed — except producing my musical. 

Anyway, when things are confusing or untenable, or fantastic, we often look for the “comfort and joy” part of our lives. Sometimes we think we have found the answers and sometimes we are still asking questions.  Yes, the continued questioning takes us forward but we will never find the answer to, “why me?”   How do I go on?  What does my future look like?  My guess is it looks like the past with me always yelling about injustice, trying to encourage young women to get a grip, and hoping beyond hope that my kids have learned about what’s a good life, from me, our family, and all works that went before they were grown up.

We’re just sayin’… Iris

Monday, January 30, 2017

Where Cometh Drump?

Did Drump’s family come from anywhere?  Did his hair come from anywhere.  For a while his family claimed they were Swedish.  They were not, but lying seems to come naturally to the Trump’s.   From all reports he is of German and Scottish ancestry and it is said that he “epitomizes the American immigrant experience”.  Pleeeze!  The Dubravinowitz’s , the Oppedisano’s, The O’hara’s, the Kimchi’s, the Federer’s, the Salazar’s the Nzewogi’s , and the Jackson’s (slaves took their owner’s name), epitomize the American immigrant.   Here’s an interesting fact: Trump’s grandfather came to the US in 1885, he returned to Kallstadt— his birthplace, in 1904, with his wife, claiming to be a loyal German who stood behind the Kaiser and the German Reich,”’  but German officials turned him away, because he was a draft dodger. (Drump comes by avoiding military service honestly,)  And when old Frederik was turned away, he said, “It was my intention to remain in America forever,” If only they had gone home we wouldn’t be in the predicament we appear to be in now.

Anyway, the bad news is, that against all hope for moderation, Drump is a lunatic. who clearly watched that Andy Griffith movie, where Andy is a musician who becomes so powerful he thinks he can be President, too many times. (it’s a favorite theme for Hollywood).  In the movies the nut cases does not succeed, but…..

Yesterday Drump enforced one of the thousands of most telling Executive orders he loves to sign. People coming from one of the predominantly Muslim countries  were not permitted entrance to our otherwise immigrant friendly country.  (How did they implement the order that fast.) Immigrants were in a pen at JFK.  If Drump had watched the Women’s March last week, he would have known there would be a public outcry. In fact, this protest may the first step in turning a March into a movement. The ACLU finally came to the rescue, but this horror show is unfortunately, just beginning.

Power is a complicated element. People who are insecure show their power by saying “no”.  Hey Muslim immigrant, can’t come into my country. We need to build a wall to keep “those” people  out. The Drump people are denying any prejudice but Muslim and Mexican human beings appear to be today’s targets, examples of the power “no” of the day. Oh and if you assist one of “these” people you can go to jail.

Whenever I witness an attack on human rights or dignity I think about this extraordinary poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller.  There are many versions.  Here is one :
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left to speak out for me.

We must all be diligent in our speaking out.  There are a variety of versions and you can see more at:
http://hmd.org.uk/resources/poetry/first-they-came-pastor-martin-niemoller#sthash.Ev1EN70D.dpufhttps://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=first+they+came&fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fhateandanger.files.wordpress.com%2F2012%2F01%2Ffirst-they-came-martin-niemc3b6ller.jpg#id=8&iurl=https%3A%2F%2Fjudgybitch.files.wordpress.com%2F2013%2F10%2Ffirst-they-came.jpg&action=click

We're just sayin.... Iris

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Now, About Those Weddings...

Paul Tully, my friend and political mentor, always thought about “the greater scheme of things.”  While he was a brilliant political strategist, he had some difficulty with interpersonal relationships.  It didn’t make him less lovable.  He died during the Clinton Campaign in 1992-- alone in a hotel room with an ashtray full of the cigarettes he smoked nonstop.

Whenever Drump opens his mouth or signs a document, I think about how Tully would react. For example, when Rockefeller died in the arms of someone who wasn’t his wife and the Presidential candidate, for whom we worked asked Tully how he should comment, Tully suggested he just say “good riddance. It doesn’t matter Mo, his people are never going to vote for us ”.  Drump is the anithesis of Tully.  Drump cares more time concentrating on more and bigger -- crowds, voters, walls —  than he does on the big picture.  Talk about anal, this is far worse than Jimmy Carter keeping track of who was using the White House tennis courts. At least that didn’t have any impact on international relationships, healthcare, or human rights.

Admittedly, I did say that I wasn’t worried about the results of the election, and that was true until someone handed the “President” a pen. Have Pen, Will Sign. It doesn’t matter what.  So, there will be a pipeline and a ban on immigrants and a wall that Mexico won’t pay for.  The President of Mexico cancelled his trip to the US because Drump is a jerk. Then, and despite what had been said in an hour long cross cultural conversation between Presidents, ours repeated that he would build a wall for which the Mexicans would pay,  and theirs said, “no chance, pal.”  So, in another shining example of Drump’s delivering alternative facts, he just doesn’t have the ability to hear or listen to what anyone else has to say. Especially, if it is not in concert with what he has to say.  Woe is us. It all gives me the “willies.”

On a happier note, David and Iris are celebrating their 33 alternative wedding anniversary. You see, March 26 is the day we met. We consider that our real anniversary. January 29 is merely the day we signed the katuba.  David asked for my hand and the rest of me on New Years.  We were in our 30’s.  When you decide to marry at that age, you need to do it with haste or you will manage to talk yourselves out of it. Jan 29, was the first timely and free weekend — Super Bowl, etc. We decided not to have a big religious wedding because Milty (my dad) was ill and couldn’t get out of bed.  David’s parents had to come from the west by wagon train. 

Now, here’s the reason I am the person I am.  My mother and her sisters totally ignored what we said.  Her reasoning: you HAVE to have your whole family at a wedding. You HAVE to get married by a Rabbi, after all you did have a Get (a Jewish divorce from Husb. #1).  Like it or not, Daddy will get out of bed. Of course we can have it at our house, We’ll just put all the furniture on a truck in the driveway… No, it’s not going to snow. It will be very simple, your Aunts will make tuna salad and we will use plastic table cloths.  Aunt Sophie bought the tablecloths (plastic),  cut them to size (oh yes, they rented tables and chairs), hated the way they looked and returned them to K-Mart.  Are you starting to get the picture?  And as a final you HAVE to, they found the Rabbi with whom I grew up and flew him from Florida to New Jersey to conduct the ceremony. 

Anyway, it was terrific. All our friends came from DC. The aunts and cousins came  from wherever.  David’s brother had a party, in NYC for our hundreds of friends who couldn’t fit in my parent’s house.  Our car got towed because Matthew left it in a No Parking zone. And we spent the night in an enormous suite unencumbered by the friends with whom we wanted to continue to celebrate.  This was not as bad as my first wedding where my cousin Stevie got drunk and tossed in a swimming pool, lost the keys to his new Corvette, where I had stupidly left my clothes for the honeymoon, and my Uncle Lou decided we would have more fun if he came on our honeymoon— which we were spending in his Miami apt. He was right.

Ok, I just leaped from a scary Drump in charge of the country we love to my hilarious weddings long ago. What am I trying to say?  Trump will never win the popular vote. He managed to totally ignore the millions of women and men who wanted him know that they have a voice.  His lies will continue as “alternative facts.”  Yet, there is still humor, love and kindness in the greater scheme of things. Iris and David are living happily ever after with lovely memories of a their wedding in Boonton NJ.  We will all survive the stupidity of our elected officials. We have in the past and we will again.  And always take Uncle Lou on your honeymoons.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Monday, January 23, 2017

Yes, That March: #alternative facts

Kelly Ann outdid herself today defending Sean Spicer.  Who is she, and where did she come from? Back to KAC --- Liar in Chief. (Is she LOTUS …that’s bit too sweet).  She went on Chuck Todd and actually said that Spicer was simply using Alternative Facts.  Chuck too rightly said alternative facts are lies, falsehoods.  But KA is not one to back down.  She called Chuck overly dramatic and talked right through him  What have we, as a voting public wrought? The question becomes, can they keep it up?  Will the media continue to fold, otherwise they won’t have access to the Administration. In case they haven’t noticed, they don’t have access now and it won’t get any better.

Why would Sean et al, think its smart for the first press conference to be a na na ne na na.  My schlong is bigger than your schlong. Otherwise known as  a boys  toys pissing match.  We are apparently in for a great deal of measuring schlongs while we are pissing.  It’s all about optics.  What Trump has learned in is that you do not have to play the Washington game of telling your own truth.  You simply make up alternative facts, and repeat them frequently and no one will doubt you. It’s like the old saying, “if the lie is big enough, no one will question whether or not  it is the truth."

Let’s talk a little about the Women’s march.  People were yelling  things like “where is Democracy”, and the crowd would respond, “this is Democracy”  or “Women rise” or  “Trump has got to go?"  Is there someplace for him to go? Who would want him?   But that’s another blob at another time.   The idea that the marches were going to be a way to connect with people of like mind.  Not all of them, but most were out there because they want Trump to know that women have a voice and we will not go back.  But the President  is not in charge of making all the rules about which we care.  We have to let elected members of the school board know not to vote for restricting the material that our children are reading. We need to insist that our children should believe scientific truths as opposed to religious truths.   Remember, (here I go again),  that silly idea of separation of church and State.

Women need to protect themselves from elected officials who think they know what’s best for women’s bodies, Their professions and the actual reality of their lives.  And the March reminded us of how dangerous it is to keep quiet and just sit down and shut up!  We are not going back —- we have worked too hard to get where we are.
How do you build and sustain a movement like we saw yesterday. The women who we called OWWO.Old White Women for Obama in 2008 are pretty good organizers.  We don’t want to be in charge anymore but I think we are all willing to help Millenials find their voice and defend their rights. It only takes one person and lot’s of new technologies, to follow up on what happened yesterday.

The March in New York had no celebrities and, for the most part, were just walking together for about 20 NYC blocks, Until we got to the Trump building (where we are not able to walk past the building) so we dispersed.  Feeling good about being together. Trump will dismiss this March as an exaggeration just as has  dismissed women’s concerns.  It doesn’t matter.  We have discovered that as a very large group, we will be heard and we can make a difference. We're just sayin' ....Iris

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The March of Women


It was my intention to write about the wonderful party we attended last evening. Who doesn’t love Diana and Mallory Walker.  In addition to being gracious and elegant they are the World’s Cutest Couple.It was a birthday party for Diana.  All her and our friends, family and colleagues gathered to wish her continued joy.  That’s what I intended do before “The Women’s March.”

Every group - in New York -  that invited me to March with them (8 or 9 of them), had a different location at which to meet. This was totally confusing and it was unlikely that I would meet anyone of them. So up at 6:00am in DC,  and off to New York for a day that I expected to be a bit tamer.  There was a great deal of traffic, thankfully not going my way.  By the second rest stop in Maryland, I decided to stop. The best way to describe what I found was the time we went  to  Woodstock (yes, THAT Woodstock,) and there was so much traffic we couldn’t get off the Mass Pike.  We just sat and sat and finally decided it was no big deal, so we drove to Wisconsin.

Anyway, there were so many people at the Rest Stop, I couldn’t get in.I don’t mean to the bathroom, I couldn’t get in the door of the building. Truly, I have never seen anything like it. There was nothing to do but try another rest stop. One which was not both north/south — just north.  There was surprisingly little traffic going through the tunnel.  Maybe the March was just hype I thought… until I got to 2nd Ave. and 53rd street, where there police and fire engines - with lights flashing and  sirens roaring - there were hundreds of people milling about and trying to get to the stage.  Some of us never even knew there was a stage, because there was no way to get that close to where the march was to begin.  Yesterday, there was an e-mail that suggested anyone who was planning to attend should try to leave the staging area in alphabetical order.  Oh yeah, that was going to happen.  Half a million people and they were going to depart from 47th street walk to 42nd street turn right and walk up 42nd and turn right on to 5th Avenue - and do it in alphbetical order. Right.  The police were amazing.  When they realized there were as many people walking east as there were walking west, they divided the street, so you had to walk east before you walked west.  What was incredible was that marchers and police remained good humored and happy to be in the middle of women and men who were all feeling terrific. I was with my family by choice, which made it easier to be connected. It was grand.


The most amazing thing for me was that I did not see one person I knew.  After working diligently on Women’s issues for years  — all different areas — health, economics, policies, politics, professional  issues and on and on,  there was not one person in this huge crowd I knew. And yet, everyone in the crowd was someone I knew — young, old, black, brown, beige, yellow, they were all me.  And this kind and size of crowd, happened all over the country, in fact, all over the world.  So how do we take what happened today and make it a permanent and ongoing movement.  First a name that reflects all the themes and concerns, leadership and organizational plans.

Who knows whether it was the speech, the attitude, the extra long  Inauguration program, the campaigns or the Hillary win/loss.  And so Millenials, take it and run with it.  The girls who have been doing it for 50 years will gladly turn it over to you.  But let the people who worked with Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug tag along.  It feels right and in fact, it feels just plain splendid.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Last Man: On the Moon

He was a tough guy to track down. I was assigned by ZEIT magazine to photograph the "Last Man on the Moon"… Eugene Cernan was the last man up the ladder to the Lunar Excursion Module in 1972 - Apollo XVII.  It’s hard to imagine now that what would have gone on next  - Apollo XVIII - was cashiered because of money issues.    No man has been anywhere close to the moon since Gene Cernan’s boots left their final mark in that Lunar Dust.  But it was Nixon Term Two: the Vietnam war was still the Vietnam War, and people seemingly had had their fill of Moon Travel.    Cernan had one of those busy lives which ex-astronauts tend to lead, and four years ago when I was given the assignment, to accompany a story by my long time friend and colleague Peter Sartorious (who spent many months at the Cape in the 60s-70s covering the space program), who had warned me that the woman in charge of Gene Cernan’s schedule was a “steel magnolia”(pronounced in about 6 syllables with a heavy German accent…I mean STEEEEEL Magnolia!) The phone call would usually go something like this: Me:  “So, I just need about ten minutes, is there any time in the next couple of weeks that it would work?”  Steel Magnolia: “Mr. Cernan’s schedule is extremely busy…..”     You get the idea.  Well…it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and in the second month of this back and forth (there was no RUSH for the picture..obviously)  I mentioned to a friend of mine, a philanthropic pal from college who is super interested and involved in aviation and space travel, if he by any chance might know Gene Cernan. It turned out not only was he a good friend, but a week hence, there was a big salute to the Space Program and all the Astronauts (including Soviet pioneer Alexei Leonov) at the Museum of Aviation in Seattle.  Among all the astronauts, John Glenn, who had a previous engagement, was the only big name who couldn’t make it.     So there I turned up a week later, and was introduced to Gene Cernan over a cold beer, and locked in a five minute session the following morning, using the front parking garage wall of the 4 Seasons Hotel as my studio (hey, you take what you can get.)
Once he arrived, en route to a waiting Taxi (I love it when the photo session is during a taxi waiting period…) he was very cool.  You could sense that this was not only a guy who’d been to the moon, but he also had a couple of hundred carrier landings under his belt.  I shot like crazy for my four minutes, trying to catch that edge.  You don’t go to the moon without a little edge in your life.  You just don’t.   I was very sorry to hear he passed away today, at the very young age of 82.  There are only  a half dozen Apollo astronauts left and every day, a little sliver of their knowledge of space travel gets a bit tinier. We’re none the richer for that.   But those guys who rode the rockets: Bravo!!  And the way things are going, it does look as if Gene Cernan will be the Last Man on the Moon for a very long time.    Photograph ©2016 David Burnett/Contact Press Images

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Those Natty Ole Reporters

Photographers make photographs for Memory.  We want to remember a place, a person, a moment, whether it’s warm, wonderful and uplifting, or something horrible on the other end of the human scale.  For while we may not always change many opinions, there is certainly nothing to be gained by the willful disrgarding of history, of the past, or even what happened yesterday.  This year has been full of what seemed like “one of…” moments. I was watching TV live the day that Donald Trump said of John McCain that he preferred heroes who hadn’t been captured.  At that moment I was convinced that his campaign was over, finished, unable to recover from yet another crazy comment.  But, of course, as we all learned, his campaign might have been the called the campaign of “one of’ moments: they just kept coming for the whole 18 months. And each time you would recoil, or laugh in disbelief. 

But what bothered me most was the way he took aim with a verbal  blunderbus, inherently inaccurate, at the Press.   I grew up in the 60s.  Most of what was consumed was in print in those days, with TV trying to get a grip on just how much time to devote to ‘news’ and how to present it.  I remember the oft repeated phrase that TV “came of age” on the weekend of November 22, 1963 with early reports of JFK’s assassination, and later that weekend, live and in living black & white from the Dallas perp walk, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.  For those of us who had the special privledge of seeing JFK being sworn in during Mr Laursen’s gym class just two and a half years prior on a 14” fuzzy B/W TV, it was part of our understanding of the power of TV and, if you insist, the “media.”   But for me, being a Press Photographer, whether for a weekly paper of 25,000 circulation, or TIME Magazine with 6 million copies (and 20 million readers, as they counted those people in dentists’ offices and barber shops over the next year) it was the Press.  

The group who followed the President was called the White House Press Corps.  When you needed to boogie in a rice paddy with the 1st Air Cav, you talked with a Press Liaison officer.   It was only in the 80s that Media became the phrase of choice.   I suppose CNN had something to do with that, since 24 hour news was at the time,  a strange new thing. And I had the silly notion that CNN would be that great outlet for long form TV work, those great documentaries which had been a rare bird at the broadcast networks (think NBC “White Paper….”)  But of course I was wrong, and CNN became 95% about what is happening  “NOW,” often with incomplete background explanation.  But it was clear, the news was becoming about “breaking News…”    I, for one, had never thought the News was broken.  Amongst the people I worked with (mostly at Time Inc. publications) there were some who had an eye on playing their expense accounts, others who couldn’t resist the “me-me-I-I” sense of self importance, but in large part, it was people’d by a terrific set of reporters and writers.  There was very little agenda. They wanted to report what they saw, not mold their reports to any particular brand of political thought.  When I first started working in France in the mid 1970s, I was astonished to find that each  newspaper was more or less aligned with a poitical party:  l’Humanité  was the Communist paper, Liberation was the more liberal Socialist paper, France-Soir the rightist Gaullist paper.  I actually remember asking one of my friends, incredulous as I was, “Why can’t they just report the news?”  and being tsk-tsk’d as a youthful naif, to which I suppose I would have pled guilty.  In the last 20 years in this country we seem in many ways to have adopted that model.  Find a TV network which serves up what you want to hear, and keep hearing it.  TV is far worse (and with their advertising so much more based on demographics, they try playing to an assured audience) than print, I think.  It is still possible to find something which passes for “reporters” writing about the “news.”  No one is perfect, but where you have a corps of journalists who embody those basic J-school techniques, at least the news has a chance of being reported. 

What scares me about President-Elect Trumps continuing vilification of the Press is that it can truly poison whatever little respect the public might have for the 4th Estate.  At Trump rallies all year, when he talks about the “lying, dishonest” Media in the back of the room, it has created one of the most frightening ongoing situations where rally attendees feel a need to add their two cents worth, and though as far as I know there have been no physical attacks yet, the atmosphere is far closer to the extreme political parties which I experienced in both Eastern and Western Europe in the 70s and 80s.  There is a sense that everyone with a Press badge is a target, someone who is obviously unfriendly to the candidate (to the -elect…) and yet there seems to be no comprehension that before there was a 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, there was a 1st Amendment. 

One can only hope that as he ascends to the Oval office, the President-Elect will raise his own bar of behaviour, though of course we all wonder, amid the flurry of Tweets, whether that will happen.  It is something we are going to live through, all of us, even members of the White House Press Corps.    

This picture was shot in 1976 at a Gerald Ford (you remember him, one of the last Presidents - along with Bush 41- who actually liked photographers…) rally.  Typically in the pre-computer, pre-cellphone, pre-Wifi world, when the President (or candidate) would arrive at a speaking venue, the Advance staff would have put together a “Press Filing Area” which had a number of AT&T land lines installed, each paid for dearly (a couple of hundred 1976 dollars per line, for one or perhaps two quick ‘update’ calls) by the press organizations. The Wires (AP, UPI)  The Times, the Post, the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, etc., all had their lines installed, usually on  picnic tables (as if imply that “boy, this event is some picnic!”) and whatever news went down that day would be reported back to the ‘desk’ by those stalwart, ill-barbered, badly dressed, set of Burberry-wearing reporters. Flanked by their ever present Olivetti typewriters, it was as if you felt demonstrably less elegantly dressed simply by passing among them (rather like hanging out with Pig-Pen in Peanuts.)  But there was something sincere, honest, and and forthright about that crew of motley scribes.  They understood that while they may have all been trying to scoop their colleagues, the greater interest was keeping the public well informed, and that it was as much a duty as it was a job.   They weren’t simply “the dishonest media, the roomful of liars”  as they have been labelled.  Sadly, those who find his screeds uplifting have no idea what they about to lose if the Press continues to be beaten down in the public eye.  Ronald Reagan is oft quoted as saying  the 9 most terrifying words you’ll ever hear are “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.”    Just try dealing with those 9 words when there is no one around to report about it. We're just sayin'... David

Sunday, January 01, 2017

A Friend.....

Yesterday I got a call from a dear long time friend.  He has, for the last 40 years been a buddy, a mentor.  Once as a political co-conspirator, we ran Lee Iacocca for President because he refused, and simply did not want to be the President.  We didn’t care: we  thought he was the best candidate.  The law is such that you can develop a Presidential campaign but only if the candidate doesn’t want to announce or run.  Yes it’s another one of those stupid laws. We raised $50 grand.  With that money we  printed hillarious literature and held any number of amazing campaign events.   We were visited by a few Iaccoca’s lacky’s, who came really close to threatening our lives, but after they met us they stopped worrying.  Another time we were working on an actual Presidential campaign with a real life candidate in Texas. At the end of the event, once the candidate was wheels up (that means he flew away), we drove to Mexico to party.  Our transportation was six campaign rental vehicles.  We drank too much an decided to take a limo back toTexas rather than risk  driving drunk.  No one ever saw those cars again.

He - my friend -  is a like a brother, a life line, and a well respected Democratic operative. And that’s only the beginning.  Everyone one should have a person like this in their life.  Unfortunately, not many of these people exist.  He is literally one of a kind.

Anyway, he called me to say Goodbye.  Over the years he has travelled down a long path of disability and illness. He lost a limb and an eye when he was wounded in Vietnam. Then years of rehab, hard work, and incredible genius and he became a successful Washington lobbyist with an amazing supportive gorgeous family.  And additionally, he is in the Enlisted Man’s Hall of Fame.  But his health problems never disappeared.  He had a liver transplant, cancer, and diabetes.   Still, he has worked tirelessly for Veterans rights and care — both in and out of government.  Somehow when he wasn’t working as a lobbyist, there was some stupid rule about his veterans benefits, they disappeared and his financial problems got worse.  But no matter what problems he faced he was an activist and worked tirelessly for Veterans.  All these elected officials who have given lip service to their concern for Veterans, never helped him.

A few months ago I got a call from another good friend who was about to kill himself.  His body had failed him and he just couldn’t deal with being disabled.  He did kill himself.  This was not that kind of call. He called to say he was tired and his body was no longer working — he had to have a leg amputated, so it was just a matter of time till he was over.  I told him I was not going to have a goodbye conversation on the phone, and I would see him in the next few weeks. 

Everyone is going to die at some point. That is a reality of life.  But it takes a great deal of courage to face the end and pass the time knowing your life is at an end sooner than you imagined.  I felt honored to be one of the people he felt was important enough in his life to take a little time, express his thanks and love for our incredible friendship.  I will go and see him and thank him in return for all those fabulous adventures.  But he will remain a part of my life until I make the same phone call to the people I love. My hope is that the rest of the time he has is spent at peace with an abundance of joy.   We’re just sayin’…Iris