Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Motherly Epiphany

When we fought for civil rights in the 60’s we faced issues well beyond our world experience. We hated the bigots in Boston and we regretted the opportunities denied our black friends – who admittedly were few, but the personal numbers didn’t matter as much as what was the right thing to do--for everyone. We have continued, (in those years and until today), to fight for human rights and civil rights and women’s rights—all that is right. I did not cross that bridge in Selma with John Lewis. I have friends who did. They were young, and they knew it was the right thing to do, but they also knew that they would be in physical danger. Their decision was not easy—but it was about doing the right thing and hoping they would live through it. And if they lived through it, facing jail was a certainty – not pleasant in 1960s Alabama as a civil rights activist or as the public thought, “ trouble makers.”

John Lewis changed his endorsement from Clinton to Obama yesterday. In an interview with Andrea Mitchell, he said it was harder than his decision to cross that bridge in Selma. The Clintons are good friends, but he changed his vote because something is happening in this country that he wants to support. There is talk among the pundits about whether this was in fact, a courageous decision, or whether it was politically advantageous. John is a most principled person. I have never known him to do anything politically expedient if it was in lieu of doing what he thought was right. I can’t imagine that this has changed.

It is possible that Hillary will pull off yet another upset and we will all be having the same discussion next week. But the reality is, that there is, as John Lewis said, ‘something’ happening. Sure, people have said Obama won the battle for change but they have also been using the word to indicate some kind of momentum – because change doesn’t just happen. But there is something going on. You can feel it when you talk to young people who voted for the first time, and cynics who thought they would never vote again—but finally chose to.

It is not difficult to explain why it has happened at this time. People are disheartened about the government, the economy, the price they pay for gas, the loss of their homes, and the lack of health care. Why shouldn’t we all be excited about someone who says there is hope. And why shouldn’t we take the next step and say, “maybe this guy, who has not been at it for a long time, but seems to have a vision rather than a list, be able to do better. I’m right there with him.”

The question becomes, what happens now? If Senator Clinton wins in Ohio and Texas does it prolong the inevitable. What’s really interesting is all the chatter about how she has changed the person she is so many times, no one knows who they would be electing. Here’s my take. I agree with that to some degree, but the more I think about it—the less complicated it becomes—if you have been a mother reacting to her child. I know that my kids never knew who they were going to find when they opened the door to my house. Not that I was nuts, but depending on what happened during the day, or how business was going, or if there was something the kids had done that I didn’t discover until they'd left, I was a number of different people. Not unlike Senator Clinton, I sometimes expressed my pride in their behavior or some accomplishment, I reprimanded them for being naughty when they disappointed me, I threatened them for leaving food under the bed (we would assuredly have mice or cockroaches) I cried when they moved me in a recital or learning how to skate board, I pretended to know more than they did about things, and I wanted them to love, respect and notice how important I was—just in general and maybe to the entire world. Sound familiar? And therein lies the real problem. Senator Clinton is not just an experienced qualified woman running for the highest office in the nation. She is manifesting all the motherly qualities/behavior/rhetoric, we may like or not, in our moms. But we don’t want to think the person we elect to the highest office in the world is going to behave like our mothers. It’s just that simple—or maybe not, but it is my latest take on what’s actually going on.

The question than becomes, if defeat is inevitable, when does she concede? She will certainly wait until after the primaries in Texas and Ohio. Too many people have too much invested for her to chuck it all tomorrow. But how does she do it and when and then what do all her supporters do. Will they get over the defeat and do what is good for the Party? Certainly the issues/organizations people will do that. Obama brings them a new generation of possible members or activists. The consultants walk away rich and unscathed—just look at Bob Shrum from the Kerry campaign. I guess it depends on which Mom makes the concession. I hope it’s the same one that is proud to be a Democrat in a party that will nominate a black man for President. Who ever would have thought. We’re just sayin... Iris

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mngmnt Dsster, Thts Me

I am, apparently, a Management Disaster. I was informed of that tonight. Over a $6 martini. Well, it was advertised as “$6 Stoli drinks” but they charged an extra two bucks because the Martinis have more than a 'shot' of vodka. Go figure. In the end, it wasn't something that I was totally unaware of. I mean, there were times when, sitting in front of a sofa, a bed, a big table, with dozens of expense receipts laid out chronologically, or according to amount, in an attempt to be organized, I realized that I had no real idea how to put them all together and make a proper bill out of them. The older I get, the longer I am in this wacky business, the more difficult it seems to be to actually organize a bunch of receipts and make an Invoice from them. It remains a stenographic, accountantesque struggle to try and make sense out of a bunch of bills, from hotels, cafes, taxis, rental cars, and the occasional assistant. There is no question that we have an abject need for an assistant, an 'intern' though I'm not sure if that person should be from the photo school, or the business school.

I still have a nagging craw like memory of a management class I took in 1967, which spoke glowingly of the ability of the human trackers to be able to understand just HOW people would think and react on virtually any issue. It never really seemed to me that you could predict just what a group of people would buy into, but with science being what it was, there were more than enough alternatives to make such predictions unlikely at best. And this year, all we read about are the millions of dollars spent on Research and Polling in the Presidental races. The one thing I suspect is that Harry Truman's campaign probably spent zero dollars and zero cents on Polling. Gallup was still a young cuss, but his hunch in 1948 was that Tom Dewey would beat Truman by five to fifteen points. Well, he missed that one, and since then I guess I have stood with the folks who don't quite believe what the predictors are predicting. The Deciders know, but do the Predictors? Somehow, I still believe that the body politic has enough P & V in it to make the final summations a wild guess - just what does through the voter's mind when they enter that voting booth? That's just me. I mean, we can predict lots of things, but when it comes to voting, somehow I'd like to feel like there is a bit of unknown still in play. I almost pray for it. I like the idea of uncertainly lurking. And maybe that's why I am unable to delegate, and create a management structure around me which I'm comfy with. I just wish there were some way that as soon as you spent money, and got a receipt, you could copy it and it would race to a spreadsheet, ready to add itself to that job's expenses. When you end up waiting weeks to do it, hell, you can't even remember what city you were in. I mean, was it New Orleans, Omaha, or Seattle, or all three? The chances of mixing it all up, and having forgotten to write it in a Day Timer, is such that the odds of being lost in Expense space are huge. My dad always said: Make a list, write it down, cross it off when you do something. I think his life was a trace of crumpled up lists, each representing a series of finished tasks, which had been laid to rest after accomplishment.

My lists just forgot to be created. Well, in my head, there were a few neurons, no doubt, who felt they had tried to do the right thing. But the older one gets, the less likely those 'lists in your head' stay absolutely straight. Things get left off. You forget to cross them off, sometimes doing them twice. One begins to understand just what points are to be made by having some help. I mean, a semi-spreadsheet handy young man or woman who could take the dozens of bits of paper, and make sense out of them. And it's not like the job gets any easier. Most magazines used to have some kind of “per deim” concept, which generally meant that you were allowed, with no receipts, $25, 35, 50... the amount grew slowly over the last few decades though always way behind the reality of what it cost to eat on the road. Now days it is hard to find someone who won't demand the receipt, or some kind of piece of paper for virtually every expense. We may not be in the Computer age yet, but we're certainly in the Bookkeeper's age. And it's not fun. You have the feeling that all the paper pushers whose lives revolve around the moving of paper from an In to an Out or Maybe box, have little else to do besides monitor what we turn in. The curious thing is, for a number of reasons, the change in policy doesnt' really do what it's intended to do. If I can no longer just collect, say fifty bucks a day and not worry about backup, what is the point for me to go to some “popular family restaurant” as the definition sometimes goes (Olive Garden, Friday's etc) which would just BARELY let you eat for the alloted money, and still have to turn in back up. If I'm going to bother to turn something in, dammit, I'm going to get my money's worth. I'll be tempted to spend a few bucks more, and turn in something substantial, maybe taking out a client or subject for a meal, than to pinch my pennies just to be under the fifty dollar limit. When you are on a political campaign, you oft times are fed on the 'bus' or the 'plane' but just as often, you find yourself in the “you never know when you'll eat again” situation. It's not like you have a lot of time, even, to have a meal at the end of the day.

It's part of the terrible ongoing tyranny of the digital world. You shoot your pictures, you unmount the memory cards, you put them in a card reader and “slurp” them into your computer, having pre-written your details about what the captions should be.. then once they are in the laptop, you have to open up that folder of all the pictures, and start to edit them. If they are a bit dark, or too light, you need to open them in Photoshop, and correct them enough to not embarrass you when an editor sees them. Then save those 'selects' to your laptop, again, and hook up to the distant site (usually a magazine's FTP server) and Send the Images. Depending on how fast your line is, that can take up to several hours. You don't really have to stand around and watch them transmit.. that's like watching paint dry, but if there is an issue with the connection, you need to check it now and then and make sure you didn't wait around 3 hours for nothing. The bottom line is, I go to bed at 1:30 or 2:00 am far more often than I ever did when I could drop my film into a shipping envelope, and wait for a courier to take it to the plane. I think the draining aspects of the new 'workflow' (that's a new word for the new century which describes the 'flow' of the 'work'... duh!) are very deliterious to the brainflow for most of us. (That would be the 'flow' of the 'brain.')

It's hard not to be to snide about all this, but there is a point to be made: when we are doing our job, it requires hard work and a keen mind (no, really, it does!) To have to deal with the issues of every little bit of paper with a receipted bit of ink on it makes the whole process even more strenuous. In the end, you will never get back all the money you spend. There are just some things you don't get receipts for: tips for airport bags, tips for hotel bellmen, the baggage cart at the airport. Next time you ask a redcap for a ten dollar receipt, let me know, because I'd like to be there to film it. So, if you are a natural management disaster like I'm told I am, you can't believe the amount of follow up work which is required. Maybe part of what we should be doing is running Internships for aspiring accountants: hey, we could actually take THEM to Lunch and explain why every now and then a person needs a little break. Accountability is a great concept; maybe we should call it No Photographer Left Behind. We're just sayin'.....David

Here's Another Idea....

Another Idea
Question: What do you do if your Presidential campaign is falling apart?
a. Fire every consultant person who has made more than a million dollars.
b. Buy a ticket to Aruba and get some rest.
c. Cover your spouse’s mouth with masking tape
d. Just tell the public who you really are...

The ‘politicking’ gets more and more complicated. Yesterday Bill Clinton was somewhere, the place doesn’t matter – it was some state -- they all begin to look alike after a while. He was giving a speech about what Hillary would say if she was there. And at some point in the speech he said, “so if you elect me”. The intro was a bit far away from the “elect me” and so it seemed that he was actually campaigning for himself. Maybe he was. Who knows at this point. And is it important? Well, it is to the people who are voting for Hillary in order to get Bill back in the White House. That would be my mother and her 10 friends – maybe there are more. I didn’t mean to minimize my mother’s impact on the election. But for those people who are tired of the Clinton team, and had hoped just Hillary was going to be their President, it doesn’t work very well.

When Gloria Steinem wrote her NY Times editorial and said that a woman with Barack’s credentials would not have been taken seriously, I objected to the piece. I still think I was right, but with a caveat. Sure, there have always been issues of electability – people have been talking about that since Hillary announced. Things like, she’s a lightning rod for the Republicans. Or she’s too polarizing. And the campaign management problems are evident. It is certainly legitimate to say, if she can’t run her campaign, can she run the government? But a campaign is not governing—despite rumors to the contrary. Bill Clinton’s presence should have been a plus but has turned into a negative. And it is true that she can’t she seem to get a break from the media? But I don’t think that the reason is because she is a woman.

I think if Gerry Ferraro, or Claire McCaskill or any female Governor were running, there would not be the same amount of criticism. It seems to me that the attacks on Hillary are not about the fact that she is a woman. They are personal attacks by a media which has been mistreated or dismissed by the arrogance of the people running a campaign that does not respect the role of the media. It really wasn’t any different during the Clinton Administration. George Stephanopoulis, now a credible media person, tried to move the White House press secretary’s office out of the west wing. The media—for reasons good or bad—were thought of in large part as the enemy. Maybe that’s an oversimplification. I’m nothing if not simple.

But the questions of “Which Hillary” is going to be at the debate, is certainly being asked over and over today. And who did that? The fact is that she has been many different people over the last week, so voters are confused about who they may be electing. It should never have gotten to that point. But that’s what happens when the campaign does not have any discernable direction.

In 1992, when Bill Clinton ran against George Bush senior – the good George Bush-- the campaign I ran against the President (yes it was funded and impactful – don’t you hate that word, it sounds like a tooth issue) was designed to illustrate, in a humorous way, why the American public shouldn’t vote for the President. The best way to diminish the importance of a person is through humor, so we crafted a “Witch George Bush” effort which was launched on Halloween. There are those who say if people had ridiculed Hitler rather than ignore him in the beginning, he wouldn’t have come to power. Who knows? Anyway, we had people costumed as witches at all the President's events for the week following the holiday. We were funny. But the question was serious. If the public is not sure about the character of the candidate, or has to ask the question, “when we open the door who will we find behind it?” They will most assuredly be reluctant to support that person – whoever they are. As you can imagine there are many hilarious tales to be told about these adventures – but that’s another blob. The point is, no political person wants to be the butt of a joke – especially on You-tube. And you can be sure they are running clips of all the different Hillarys this week.

And speaking of TV, as my old friend Ed Sullivan said, “now ladies and gentlemen back to the shew.. the rilly big shew”. Maybe it wasn’t Ed or maybe he wasn’t my friend, or maybe he didn't say that. I can’t remember. But the talking heads, from Mort Zuckerman to Joe Scarborough have come up with great ideas about what Hillary should have said about the Obama accusations and how she might have responded to this or that issue. Or my own personal talking head favorite is the answer to the question, “At this point, how does Hillary win?” Then there’s a pause and the inevitable response of the day; which Hillary? This is followed by some empty ideas about how she wins, which among others suggestions always includes —she needs to know who she is. She needs to find a message. She needs to fire her consultants. She needs to wear better colors, higher collars, a different color lipstick. The dissecting of Hillary is so painful to all of us who worked for and respect her that I can hardly watch the process unfold.

Women are excellent managers. And excellent leaders. I know this because some of my best friends happen to be women. And I think to base the success or failure of this campaign around the fact that Hillary is a woman, is to diminish who we are, the fights we fought to get here, and our ability to be great at whatever we chose to do. I, among many other competent women could have crafted a successful campaign for Senator Clinton. These mistakes were not about her being a woman. They were, just like with any other person running for any office, about not having good advice, spending a great deal of money unwisely, and surrounding herself with people who had limited vision. At a time when people are looking for something to believe in, it’s ‘silly’ to think you can win an election by dismissing their ability to have hope for the future.
We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, February 25, 2008

Stupid IS Patheic

Maybe some wouldn’t think it pathetic, but the only job I have is writing speeches for my doorman, and he doesn’t pay me. This employment started last year when a friend of my doorman’s was retiring., “You’re a writer” he said, “can you write a toast for my friend's leaving his job”. I guess if you claim to be a writer, you are open to all kinds of requests. So I wrote a little something for him. And it was probably a mistake. Because it was so good, he now thinks I am working for him.

This time it’s a speech for a wedding. He has to talk for 10 minutes about the good qualities the groom possesses. “But it has to be funny” he directs. “And it has to be long”. So I am under more pressure than is usually the case. And I am not getting paid.

It’s tiring not to get paid for advice, speech writing or PR consulting. And I always find myself giving free advice, because to tell you the truth (there it is again), I cannot abide by people not knowing what they are doing and, in addition, spewing forth with stupid ideas or suggestions. Not having patience for stupidity, has always been a weakness for me..

OK so what does this say about who I am. David and I have spent many hours discussing what we will do in our twight light years. I had hoped it would be more than writing speeches for the doorman. Although, I wrote speeches for people as unlikely as Justice White. I’m not sure why I did that, but I think it was because my pal, Tim Wirth, asked me to do so, after he promised the good Justice he would find someone to do it.

I guess, had I thought about a career path, speech writing might have been part of it. But a career path was so far beyond what I could think about, that I never thought about it.

So where does this leave us/me. It is amazing to me, that some cable network hasn’t scooped me up as a talking head. After all, I am way ahead of the curve. I write a prophetic blog, I’ve written two books, and for a woman of my age - I am pretty cute. And you can’t say that about many women of my age. Although Sara Ehrman is somewhere around 89 and she’s the cutest person I know. So what is the problem? Well I don’t have a good agent. I’m not a tall beautiful blonde with a hateful attitude and I haven’t been in charge of a large constituency group. But I really am a political strategist. So what should I do? I could do the political thing and find someone who knows someone who can call and suggest they call someone who would then call me and say since you know someone you can come on TV and spout useless information. You see, I have such a bad attitude who’s going to deal with me?

I thought if I wrote a book, that would happen automatically. So I wrote “Schlepper, a Mostly True Tale of American Politics”. But it was a publishing disaster. There were never books available when we did our big media push. And despite the fact that it is a wonderful book, which reveals all kinds of inside secrets, as well as being a training manual for aspiring political dweebs, it never had a wide release. So there went that avenue to success.

Then we produced a documentary,, which I thought would launch me on my creative career path. And it might. But it’s not going to happen until we have a wide release.

And then, we wrote and I figured that would set me on my path to success. But the publisher opted for beauty over timeliness so the books that should have been available in January, won’t reach book stores until mid April. I tried to explain the concept of “if the tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it”, but publishers aren’t writers, so the tree and the forest are moot – unless they have dogs or wildebeests.

So now, the only request I have for the use of my vast talent, is by the doorman at our NY apartment. This is not a bad thing, it’s just not what I expected would be the culmination of an otherwise brilliant political career. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Let Me Just Say...

Since it’s the end of the week let’s do a wrap up of big events. Let me start by saying, without much back patting, this blobber and her friends are way out in front of the columnists. This morning Maureen Dowd wrote about Barack’s management style being more feminine than Hillary’s. Frank Rich wrote that last week, as did we - try to keep up Maureen.

This next paragraph is only in part a wrap up but part of the overall last week picture. So when Tim Russert and Brian Williams host the debate next Tuesday, it will be interesting to see what kind of answer Senator Clinton gives to the inevitable question of her campaign spending. Can she manage the government if she can’t manage a campaign? I believe we also brought attention to this issue at least a week ago. If she can’t manage a campaign, how will she go into government on Day One and manage the enormous bureaucracy. I think she should read my book (Barack already has one) “http://www.SoYouThinkYouCanBe” if for no other reason, to be introduced to what she needs to know about the government on Day One.

And Bill Clinton is an enormous help. There he was again, not taking responsibility for his failures. Anyone who has a brain knows that, over the last few months, he managed to sabotage her campaign at every turn. (She did have enormous help from staff and paid consultants). Then, in Texas he actually said that it would be the voters, not the Clintons, who would be responsible for the loss. Duh, well of course the voters will be responsible for not supporting her candidacy, but why should they? In Politics 101 (don’t you wish you took my class?) it is necessary for the candidate to find a way to convince the voters that they are the best choice. The Clintons haven’t been able to give the majority of voters, in almost any state, a reason to believe this. In addition, (let’s stay in Texas for a minute), last week she said she did not understand the voting system in that state according to a number of reporters, she laughed when she said, “I’ve got people trying to understand it as we speak. Grown men are crying as we speak. I had no idea it was so bizarre.” Further, John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News reported on 1/19, that in Pennsylvania she still doesn’t have a full slate of delegates – despite an extension. The combination of not understanding the system, or the rules, is not the voter’s fault. Granted, she is busy with the big picture, but doesn’t she pay people to know these things? Or a better question, how did she pick the people, who is she paying to know these things. Aren’t these all questions of management skills? Which does take us back to the question of Day One.

Oh my, I’m starting to sound like all the other talking heads—only I’m not getting paid. Where did I go wrong? OK. It’s not all about me –unfortunately.

Moving back to the wrap up. What about the McCain story? Has the country moved passed any questions of marital infidelity? Probably. The big story is how does the NY Times respond to all the criticism. Of course they will protect their sources. But when the talking heads and the editorial columns say, “There is obviously nothing to the accusations,” it just may not be the case. It is hard to imagine that the NY Times, having waiting till the story was ‘ready,’ didn’t check sources. I think the McCain people have taken just the right tactic. They know the NY Times is not going to reveal their sources. They can’t. So what can they do in response to a press conference and a firm denial. Nothing. They can continue to say, ‘we stand behind our story.’ But, since they can’t reveal a source and they are taking big hits by every person in the media with a mouth or a pen, wouldn’t it be smart for Bill Keller to explain why they decided the story was important (questions of ethics) and how they determined the timing of its’ release? John McCain dogged a bullet, but from everything we hear, there are many more issues of ethics/morals, that will not be as easy to dismiss. In fact some people go so far as to say that once these issues are brought to the public’s attention, McCain will not be able to survive and will not be the nominee. Obviously, I can’t reveal my sources. All I can say if pressed about this story is, ‘lucky me and poor you.’

Then there’s the Cindy McCain pancake make-up story. Never mind, I think that was something I suggested. And the Michelle Obama, ‘does she love her country’ controversy. I would put that under the category that Barack so aptly described in his response to the plagiarism story as ‘silly’ politics. And it’s our hope that you find it amusing to see how silly politics are conducted, because silly politics are what we will see a great deal of for the next few months. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Concession?

Despite the upbeat “we’re moving ahead” text messages that Terry McAuliffe sent to every person who ever even thought about having a Blackberry, I think (and most media don’t agree so I must be on the right track), last night was the first step in the Hillary Clinton concession speech. And I also think the media has missed the point. The part of the sentence that was important was not “I am honored to be sitting here with Barack Obama”. The telling part of that moment, at least for women, was when she said “we’re going to be alright.”

Last night at a debate watch party with Obama survivors, (remember, it didn’t look good for a while) women who were much smarter than I (and yes, there are a good many of them), there was a discussion about what really happened to the campaign There was general agreement that the ‘boys’ who were making the money and calling the shots, were incredibly short sighted and to be blunt, wrong. But it was more complicated than that for Senator Clinton. Women always feel like they have to prove themselves. Hillary chose to do it by constantly giving us a list of all her accomplishment --over thirty five years. The rhetoric goes something like, “for the last thirty five years I have been...” and finishes with, ‘here’s what I am going to do for you.’ Oh yes, that’s the other part of being a woman that we forget when it comes to expectations about our leaders. We feel like we constantly need to be doing something for someone. This deadly female combination (help everyone and prove ourselves), interferes with the ability to function, without being concerned about what people think about you. It is much too distracting to have to be concerned about what people think about you—personally combined with professionally.

It gets more complicated. Obama’s style is rich, all encompassing, and much more feminine than Clintons. And I certainly don’t mean that he’s ‘fey’. When women manage it is more likely that they will build support by consensus. They try to be inclusive. If you look at Obama’s approach to the nation, by developing organizations in every state, and if you listen to how he develops a speech, ”Yes, we can”, his approach seems to indicate that we can’t make a difference without getting everyone (all the Democrats in the whole world-- he was victorious with Democrats Abroad), on board.

So the question remains. Was Hillary’s last sentence in a gracious ending to the debate, also her first sentence in what many consider the inevitable concession? I was moved by what she did and wish she had done more of it to save the campaign. But women have a difficult time in moving on. Men are much better at dealing with professional loss. Often, when a guy loses his business, he closes the office, walks out the door and finds some way to start another business. Women who fail at a business can’t just move on. They spend years blaming themselves for the failure. They think they will never survive. They feel like they failed to prove themselves in the professional world. We just need to get over ourselves, but it’s not easy. And I think that both campaigns reflect this dichotomy in approach to the way they do business. Barack suffered some losses, made the necessary changes and moved on. Hillary suffered some losses, but made no real changes in personnel or approach (getting rid of tactics and staff that didn’t work) -- it would have been an admission of failure.

Where is it written that women have to be judged differently than their counterparts, whether in business or politics or life. It must be written somewhere. Surely when Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden they didn’t go with different job descriptions. “ OK Eve, you’ll have to work twice as hard to be recognized as almost as good. And you will have to prove yourself time and time again”. OK Eve, you are the person who can have the babies and so forever women will have to take care of men, children, the house, the car – well, forget the car.

It’s time for me to move on. But wait, I don’t get why the next debate will be “exciting” or as the NBC family says “exciting.” Hillary showed her vulnerability last night? I don’t agree. While I do think the so-called campaign geniuses wrote the Xerox line for which she got booed, I don’t think they wrote the “I am honored...” or “we’re all going to be alright” line. Nope, I think that was the “Hillary I Know” (See Blob Dec. 2). She was calm, gracious, upbeat and absolutely realistic about what is going to happen. We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Do Lobbyists Wear?

Let’s talk a bit about the way Washington Lobbyists operate.
Question: what is the job of a lobbyist?
a. To ingratiate yourself with a lawmaker in order to effectuate change.
b. To give a law maker big donations in order to get them to effectuate the change you want—in order that you keep your job.
c. To brag about your relationship with a lawmaker so everyone (especially the firm you work for) thinks you can effectuate change.
d. Never to say one word about getting a lawmaker to do something that helps your lobbying career.

If you answered all of the above, you would be wrong. If you answered a,b, and c you’re on your way to a career as a lobbyist, or at the very least you know what you are supposed to do to succeed.

I don’t think what John McCain did years and years ago really matters. Here is a guy who was a fighter pilot in Viet Nam. I think he’s probably the kind of macho guy who likes women. In addition, he and his first wife divorced, while he was seeing his second wife. So we know he has had a least one moment when he may have embarrassed his family—if not his country. Did he do favors for the young lobbyist who has a great gold dress (as seen in the NYTimes)? I don’t think there is a legislator in Washington who has not done a favor for a lobbyist. They don’t call them favors. What the legislator says is that lobbyists present a case for their client and then the legislator makes a decision whether to support it or not based on the merit of the idea. Blah Blah Blah. But there was enough question about what legislators get from lobbyists (money, trips, meals, maybe even sex) that Senator McCain, working with Senator Feingold, tried to change the way lobbyists do business and legislators do favors.

It’s all part of the Washington game that Senator Obama wants to change—and I’m right there with that kind of change. But don’t tell my lobbyist friends, (some of my best friends are lobbyists.) But that is not what this blob is about. As I said, John McCain is a nice guy, macho, older person. I have the greatest respect for him because as a young legislator he was befriended by Mo Udall, an older (Democrat) Representative who later ran for President and for whom I worked and who I loved (not like Monica Lewinsky). And when, years later, Mo was diagnosed with severe Parkinson’s and confined to a nursing care facility, McCain visited him every week. There was no one else who did this. Not other friends or family.

What is much more interesting than if he did favors or had an affair, is why the story broke now and who benefits from it. Supposedly, the NYTimes broke the story now because the New Republic was going to do a story about why the Times was holding their story. That has to be crap—all the NY Times would have to do is say ‘we didn’t have enough substantiation.’ It’s not the Democrats, because they would prefer a story like this break during the General Election. It is premature for a Democratic victory. So let’s think. Far as I can see, only Huckabee has anything to gain with a story like this. We’re not sayin that Huckabee crafted this scenario—Drudge had the story in December – but as a person who believes that people care about character issues and pointing out character flaws is a good way to defeat your opponent, I ask again, who benefits from the release of what appears to be a story not quite fleshed out. Not the Republican Party, although there are those people who don’t believe he is a real Republican nor can he win an election without the conservative base. Not anyone who wants to run for his Senate seat if he loses the Presidential election and has to face another Arizona senate race. That’s much too premature.

If I were a reporter this is where I would focus my attention. Speculating about whether or not the staff tried to keep them apart or warn of the improprieties, or appearance of impropriety is just silly. It’s no smarter than when the a senior Clinton White House official called and suggested, because of the appearance of impropriety, (little did we know), I hire Monica Lewinsky at USIA. I refused and suggested they just fire her. ‘Well,’ I was told, ‘they couldn’t because her family were important funders.’ So they sent her to the Defense Department and wasn’t that a wise decision.

Anyway, let’s talk about the only important issue with regard to John McCain and this election. How much pancake make-up does Cindy McCain apply. And further, wouldn’t it be easier to just apply real pancakes. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Does the Media View, Determine, Report?

Maybe it would be more interesting to blob about how the news media is viewing this election. Or maybe it would be as boring as most of the conversations after ten minutes—except for Chris Matthews who, although you may not like him, is hardly boring.

Before my pal Laura Slutsky goes on a date she asks the guy three questions:

1. Do you have long term health care?

2. Do you have children or other family that will not be happy about a long term relationship?

3. Do you remember the first two questions I asked you?

Why do I bring this up. First of all it’s funny – although not fall on the floor funny when you have to ask those questions. And second, it reminds me of what I would ask John McCain before I pulled a lever or poked a chad for him. I know he has long term health care or at least a wife who is young enough to take care of him. I know he has a first family, and I wonder what they think about being the “other” children. I assume that he can remember most of the questions that he answers—or he has staff that keep him informed and briefed. But for how long?

Rolling out the Red Carpet in Red Square, 1988
I remember when David called from a Reagan Summit in Russia and was appalled by the fact that Reagan could not remember the questions that were asked prior to answering the next one. One media friend described it this way, “I think he’s really losing it. It was scary.” The remark was made about a joint Russian-American press conference in a large university auditorium setting, with Reagan’s podium perched, suitably and not without irony, in front of a 12’ bust of Lenin.

Reagan could not answer questions coherently. He repeated himself and made no sense. The insider explanation was that he was tired and jet lagged. People will go to great lengths to keep their jobs. But still not a comforting excuse when the President of the US is supposed to know what he’s doing in order to negotiate important international agreements and treaties –OK that’s all done before hand. But the great communicator couldn’t communicate a reasoned thought. It was frightening and surely (dare I say this), a consequence of old age. The Reagan adoring press, including George Will, loved it, calling it “..vintage Reagan.”

John McCain is 72 years old. He is, by all reports at the very least, cranky and volatile -- when he’s not on the campaign ‘trail’ , path, alley, whatever. Although, another press friend said he did lose it when a young reporter asked him a question he decided was out of line and then realizing his mistake, apologized. These are things the public doesn’t know. And why not? These are issues of character, stability, and the ability to think rationally. Surely, among all the other things, we take into consideration age is one.

Last night, in his victory speech McCain said again, ‘I stand on my record—and my support of the war.’ I think it’s a shaky pedestal on which to put oneself, since if this election cycle has demonstrated nothing else, it certainly has proved that young people will get involved and probably vote. And who will they vote for? My guess is that even young Republicans have questions about McCain being a real Republican (rather than a maverick Republican) and I can’t imagine that too many of them are standing in line to fight a war no one wants to fight and almost no one thinks makes any sense. This stubborn determination to legitimize the reason his son went to Iraq, and to fail to admit that it was a bad decision, is also a consequence of age combined with hubris.

Speaking of hubris—it’s certainly one way to explain the Clinton decision not to have organizations in all of the primary states. And by all reports they still think they were right and they are in the well paved road to win. What else are they going to say? I guess they are hoping that Obama will do something so terrible and the Party will turn back to them. I also believe that when you don’t trust many people it is hard to widen the circle and delegate—which accounts for why the organization, what there is of it, is so small.

It will be fascinating to see what’s next for the Clinton campaign. It may be too late for them to make real change—not in the country, but in the campaign. We’re just sayin... Iris

More .... Just Words

“I have been an imperfect public servant but there has never been a time when I wasn’t proud of my country”. There it is. Michelle Obama screwed up and John McCain crafted the final sentence of his victory speech around it.

Then there are the very stupid people who think that her statement “This is the first time in my adult life that I have been really proud of my country” is proof that the Obamas are Muslims and additionally, they are terrorists who are going to take over the country.

Let’s be honest. She did make a mistake. The fact that all the talking heads who are speculating about what she meant by what she said, is proof of that. But if the screw up wasn’t what she said, it was certainly a screw up because it distracted from the campaign on a primary day and on the same day that there was controversy about “just words”. So were Michelle’s words just words? Did she mean that she has spent a lifetime being embarrassed about the country. Or did she mean that she was proud of the country’s response to her husband. Oh we could go on and on and on and on... but we are sure that no one wants that to happen.

Michelle can speak for 35 minutes or more without notes. Aye then, there’s the rub. Maybe she should use notes so that she doesn’t say something that can be interpreted and misinterpreted by millions of people. Luckily, the Clinton protests about what the Obamas said or didn’t say, appeared to be desperate moves by a losing campaign. I have no opinion about whether the Clinton campaign is desperate or losing, but I do think that Wolfson’s attacks on the Obama’s rhetoric seem a bit disingenuous. Where is Maggie Williams when they need someone credible to be the public face of the campaign. I don’t get it.

Tonight there is much discussion about whether the Clinton’s should just have skipped Wisconsin and gone on to Ohio and Texas as originally planned. If the Clintons had done that and Obama was victorious at least they could have said, “Well, we didn’t campaign, what did you expect?” But how do you dismiss Wisconsin. Doesn’t that appear to play into the perceived Clinton arrogance. And further, if we are playing a delegate game, how do you relinquish 74 delegates without a fight. Senator Clinton cannot be considered a contender if she won’t fight the good fight. (I know it’s a lot of fights but the word battle doesn’t work within the context of this blob). It’s for sure that I wouldn’t want to be sitting at the Clinton strategy table in that campaign meeting tomorrow.

The campaigns are moving on. Clinton is in Ohio and Obama is in Texas. Tonight I listened to the speeches, which were not about wins or losses but rather about hope and change. Hillary asked people to go to her website to see how she is going to change the country. Obama talked about a young soldier who lost his life in Iraq. The soldier’s mother gave Barack a bracelet that said “ All give some, he gave all”. Sounds good. I don’t know exactly what that means. What is the ‘all give some?’ I get the part about he gave his life. But people in the audience cheered like they understood so maybe they know more than me. It wouldn’t be the first time. That’s not my point. I know Hillary is tired, who wouldn’t be. But “I want you to go to my website” is simply not inspirational. And it isn’t about great rhetoric. It’s about the appearance of wanting everyone to work together to make a difference. What if I’m not online and I don’t even have a computer. I don’t know about everyone else but I hate to feel left out. Obama says “change doesn’t happen from the top. It takes a village”. Maybe it wasn’t Obama who said that – or who said only part of it. Why doesn’t the person who said the other part, live what she wrote... Or maybe she didn’t write it. There’s that ‘words’ thing again.

I don’t want to appear to be piling on. It’s just that I’m so disappointed about the way the Clinton campaign is conducting business on the campaign trail. David refuses to call it the ‘campaign trail’ because he says it sounds sophomoric. “What is it, a little path through the woods like Red Riding Hood traveled.” He goes to great lengths to avoid characterizing it as some kind of virtual road. It’s unclear why the language irritates him. But words are not just for the lofty or the candidates. Even a lowly photographer can pick and choose the words he uses to describe a a lane ... no a corridor...maybe a path. Never mind, the next thing I’ll be doing is sending them all down an alley where they’ll get mugged and no one will be around for the convention. We’re just sayin...Iris

Just... words...

Just words.

Every blogger in America is writing about the possibility of Obama plagiarism. What a joke. Howard Wolfson says Obama’s record is based on his oratory and the promises he uses in his oratory. That he has no real public record. Blah blah blah. It’s a big “so what” since Obama does have a record of public service and his campaign is not based on oratory – it’s based on hope. This just makes me mad. I think the Clinton campaign appears desperate, and it shouldn’t be. The Senator is again, not well served by her strategy team.

On election day in Virginia, I got four phone calls. Two of them were from the Clintons. The scripts were almost identical. They had clearly discussed what they were going to say – or the script writers did—and decided what would be the most effective appeal to voters. Neither credited the speech writers or one another with the words they used. Why is that any different than what Obama did with his friend Governor Patrick. Is it all right to share words when you’re married but not when you’re pals—boy am I in trouble. And further, how could you start your speech by saying “In the words of my friend Deval, and Martin Luther King, and whoever else said great things, I’d like to say....” Now would that be rhetorically successful. Yecch!

Let’s as we say at the end of an exhausting day with little children, put this to bed. Here’s the dictionary definition of said concept. ‘The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.’ Whew, it’s a lot of words to say, you have to have permission to use the same words as another person. Barack had permission to use Deval’s words – there are bigger issues.

I have no patience for this kind of foolishness or for stupid strategy mistakes. Public relations 101 or maybe 02 (from the Iris manual), Get out in front of the story. Be proactive not reactive. If you get behind, someone else will define the terms and you are merely a player in a game with someone else’s rules. And more from the same book: The Obama campaign should just sit down and shut up. Campaign and win if they can. Their new conversation about how ‘Hillary should drop out if she loses in Wisconsin’ smacks of the same rhetoric that put her back in the race in New Hampshire. Maybe it’s a boy-girl thing, but boys don’t seem to get what women hear when they use this kind of tactic. Women hear “The girl needs to give it up... she can’t win, despite the fact that a comeback is possible.. she just needs to go back to her little Senate seat and let us run the country.” Trust me, you want women voters acting — not reacting. My old pal Paul Tully always said – 'the wonder of political campaigns is you never really know what a voter is going to do until after they vote. If they get up in the morning and have a fight with their partner, or are irritated by a commercial they saw the night before, however they planned to vote for months is going right out the window.'

And wasn’t that the case in NH. Women came out in droves because they, like Bill Clinton, wanted to defend the underdog - who happened to be Hillary.

Once again it’s a wait and see. I think Hillary will do OK, but not because Barack plagiarized a speech. I think people want the bickering to stop, but the fight to go all the way to Denver. We’re just sayin.. Iris

Monday, February 18, 2008

Be Careful Crossing That Road...

Do you not love the concept of an Obamacan. The visual image I get is a little stuffed elephant wearing a red, white, and blue, Obama t-shirt. Sweet, huh? It’s not like being a Neocon or a Democrat-for-Reagan. Neither of those names had much appeal, while this is almost endearing. Someone will find a way to corrupt it and play politics as usual. But in the meantime, there are some Republicans and Independents who have made the commitment to Obama. Yesterday, when I was 3feet deep in newspapers and surfing from station to station on TV, I came across C-Span, where a man who called in on the Republican line asked Democrats to cease and desist—stop calling in as Republicans – he demanded, because they obviously had to be Obama Democrats, saying they were Republicans. Are you tracking with me. This guy absolutely could not believe that any Republican would support Obama – and yet they are out there. I know this because some of my best friends are Republicans – I think, unless they were just calling in on the wrong line.

What’s going to happen to the Obama campaign if they win the next two primaries. I think to some degree it’s already happened. The security tightens, we can all feel good about that. But the traveling staff don’t want to make mistakes, so they make decisions about the press and public that they think make sense but aren’t well thought out. Until recently, (I hear from press friends) it was nice to travel with the Obama campaign. The staff was courteous and accommodating. But suddenly there is that nervous tentativeness that always comes when you want to do the right thing, but you’re not exactly sure what that is. Requests are denied because “We don’t do that”. Rather than, “We’ll see what we can do.” They did not read my campaign press 101 guidebook – first rule; If you’re nice to the press, they are more likely to be nice to you – especially when you need them to be.

Gary Hart, in the best of the campaign days, was difficult with the press. He was not comfortable talking to them and he certainly didn’t want to hang out in a bar with them. Although he did get used to the small contingency of press who traveled with him, he never liked having to deal with them in large numbers. They sensed this and throughout the 1984 campaign they looked for a way to ‘get’ him – and I mean this in the nicest possible way. Then when he traveled to L.A. for a fundraiser (he was spending most of his time in New Jersey, while his wife campaigning in California), he thought he would be cute and in front of the press—it was not a conference or press opportunity, he was just walking along – he said something like, “Lee got lucky and she’s in LA, but I got stuck in N.J.” Had he been a different kind of guy we probably could have asked the reporter not to print it. It was an off-handed supposed to be funny remark. But he was arrogant and smug, where they were concerned, and no one was going to give him a break.

I think Bill Clinton is another example of this. He was not nice to the press as the candidate or as a novice President in 1992, but the public was so enthusiastic, that the media had no choice but to bide their time. And then they were almost gleeful when there was any screw up (you should pardon the pun) like all the ‘...gates’. He was wonderful as the ex-President, and they were revisiting history to give it a positive spin. But then the other Clinton campaign was disdainful of them – so they couldn’t wait for anything that looked like a mistake. And I don’t mean the talking heads—I mean the traveling or White House press corps. Whether it was the female or male Clinton they were/are looking for an opportunity to take a shot. A little payback for the not niceness.
This is why you should always listen to your mother and have good manners as well as wear clean underwear.

And I’m not sure but there seems to be a disconnect between what the “road show” is doing in the Clinton campaign and what they are doing in the Washington headquarters. It seems to me (just as a curios bystander) that the headquarters says one thing but the road show demonstrates something else. The people in DC say that Bill Clinton is under control and laying back. But he pointed that Lewinsky finger and shouted at protesters in Ohio. What happened to making fun of protesters and laughing them out of the event? Both campaigns (road and HQ) need to get on the same page—not just share the same script about why Senator Clinton should be President. We’re just sayin...Iris

Ah, Talent!

News flash. I may be in love with a curly headed twenty six year old Venezuelan conductor named Gustavo Dudamel, who was featured on this week’s “60 Minutes”. Until nine years ago he played the violin and then he decided he wanted to conduct—which he had been doing in his living room from the time he was ten years old. His father played the sax in a salsa band, and he had thought about doing that but his arms were too short. Oh be still my heart. What a nice distraction from the blah blah blah of the political campaigns.

Having now revealed my weakness for young talented adorable young men – Jordan is always embarrassed when I meet one and say, “you are an adorable young man”, I will confess that I’m pretty crazy about Frank Rich, or at least the way he writes. What does one thing have to do with the other— only that I am a sucker for talent. It hardly matters what the field. However, I must admit I am likely to be more attracted to someone in the arts rather than the sciences, (with no personal slight meant for my former husband the good doctor). I mean, I could list my crushes, Mike Peters, Dave Barry, Larry Irving, Tom Oliphant, Jack Germond—not necessarily young but truly talented and adorable. And if they happen to be politically astute – again the area of politics, (cartoons, satire, editorial, just thinking), the attraction only grows. I’ll try to contain myself for the duration of this blob, but in order to do this I will need to find a distraction – so how about those Presidential campaigns?

One of the issues that Frank Rich addressed in his column today was white guys and John McCain. He talked about how McCain in Virginia, like Hillary in Iowa, was surrounded by old white guys. (To her credit, Hillary had some old white women. I’m old so I can say this. Kind of like an ethnic person telling ethnic jokes about their own ethnic group, or maybe not ). When we watched the returns last Tuesday, we commented on just this. But we thought it looked like the people standing next to him were not only old, they were likely to take their last breath before the end of the event. Whew, I don’t mean to be unkind—but you know how we feel about the truth here at We’re just sayin... It is essential to the well being of all who depend on us for their facts.

Anyway, speaking of the truth, all the candidates are surrounded by white guys – not necessarily old, but certainly white. At least those are the people who are calling the shots. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are white guys, but it does get a bit tiresome to those of us who may be equally talented, but not of the male persuasion. So now you’re thinking, Maggie Williams isn’t a white guy. And you would be correct, sir. She is not. But she is one person and in case you hadn’t noticed, she is not the person we see on the Sunday shows, nor is she the person quoted about super delegates for her campaign—those people would be—you guessed it, white guys. I hope I’m not about to go off on another feminist tear, but it does get old (no slight intended, some of my best friends are also aged).

Let’s get back to what smart people say about the campaigns. Well, let’s hold on that for a minute and talk about Senator Schumer with Tim Russert this morning. Talk about ridiculous. He is committed to Hillary and needs to advocate for her. I get that, but what I don’t get is how Senator Schumer has become Ann Coulter—not in his politics but certainly in his rhetorical technique. It’s the bigger the lie the easier to deny. (What a clever rhyme. What a talent I am ). Anyway, Russert quoted from what the Clinton campaign agreed to about Super Delegates and penalizing the Michigan and Florida parties, last September, then what they said last week and there was clearly a 180 degree difference. And Schumer just talked right through it. He kept saying something like, “we will all be reasonable about any decisions, but we cannot deny all those delegates their rightful place at the convention”. Excuse me, but the Democratic committees in Michigan and Florida knew that if they moved their primaries the delegates wouldn’t count. They made the decision to go ahead and move the date despite the consequences.

We’re not sayin that whatever the solution , it is not uncomplicated. Double negatives are always confusing. So try this. The solution is not simple. We know this. We’re just sayin, that for Schumer to dismiss the consequences as not to be considered because they shouldn’t be considered, seems to us like circuitous if not disingenuous, rhetoric. Very Ann Coulter but without the venom (and a very different hair line). And not very smart from an elected official—who also happens to be a white guy (nothing personal, I’m married to one).

So, are Senator Clinton’s white guys worse than Senator Obama’s white guys? I don’t pretend to know anymore. But Senator Clinton’s white guys (who are not the genius strategists who have been taking the campaign down the road to defeat) appear to be apologists for the decisions made, rather than advocates for the candidate. Perhaps the reasons for this have to do with the fact that Senator Obama’s victories were unexpected rather than her defeats, which were surprises.

Where do I go from here? More importantly, where does the Democratic Party go from here. First of all, our candidates need to seat other than white males around the table where the decisions are made. Decisions need to be made by a group of people who look and think like America because the person we elect must understand not only how to govern America, but America’s position in the world. I just don’t get why it’s so hard to reach out to find competent qualified women and minorities to play significant roles in the campaign decision making process. We’re around and available and we probably have computers and cell phones— and you won’t need a 26 year old curly locked musical genius to find us. We’re just sayin..Iris.

The Lure of the Salt

Sometimes we have the pleasure to share a real insight into what someone else is thinking. Yesterday, two years after it's first release, I watched a wonderful film called “The World's Fastest Indian.” I'm sure that at least 90% of the people who watched it at the time thought they were about to see a bio-pic of Jim Thorpe, the talented football and track star, who played for the Carlisle Indian School. They would, alas, have missed a great story if they'd left at the beginning of the movie, aware that it was a different Indian altogether. The film was, rather, about an Indian Motorcycle, a brand popular in the early 20th century, and more particularly, about a guy who owned one: Bert Munro, an elderly New Zealand racer, who, at the age of 67, brought his Indian for the first time to the Bonneville Salt Flats to see, flat out, what it could do. The film is wonderful, Anthony Hopkins capturing the good humored spirit of Munro to a tee. The adventure in merely getting the bike to Utah was worthy of a film, but there are a few moments which for me, were extremely personal. As a child of Zion (in Utah we referred to that state as “the Land of Zion”, assured that no matter what our religion was, we were in some kind of holy place) I spent many summers bumming around the Salt Flats.
It’s hard, perhaps, to imagine it now, but at the age of 16, when I had a few days off of my job working as a stockboy at the camera store or snapping pictures for the neighborhood weekly paper, I took my car, a venerable 1956 Ford, and drove it west for two hours into the barren plains of Utah which encompass the Salt Flats. I’d sleep in the car, whacking my ears at 3 in the morning in a vain attempt to derail the desert mosquitos whose deep-throated buzzing sounded not unlike the roar of the massive engines in the race cars during the day. My ears grew quite pink. Growing up in Salt Lake, the Flats were part of the local lore, and a visit to the state capitol building, de rigeur for every 9th grade civics class, always included a walk around the “Mormon Meteor”,

a car in which Ab Jenkins, a local speedster, had set dozens of world long distance speed records (i.e. the best time for 100 miles, 500 miles.. etc.) The car was a red and cream colored streamliner, with a seat designed for comfort for sitting in hour after hour, and the mere sight and touch of it helped fire dreams of what it might be like to actually see a car at speed on the Flats.

In 1960, my uncle Jack, the local Newsweek and New York Times stringer (a gig he had for thirty+ years) drove his son and myself out to Wendover (the town on the Utah-Nevada border with the only serviceable motels, and therefore THE jumping off point for all racers) to see the Bluebird turbine car. Bluebird was owned by Donald Campbell, the English racer whose father Malcolm had pioneered high speed racing on the Salt Flats. Donald was trying to carry on the family tradition with a sleek, elegant gas-turbine powered car, and a retinue of 30 Land Rovers, whose presence added an air of gravity which the California speedsters (a truck, a trailer and a race car, usually) never quite reached.

Donald Campbell with Bluebird
Like many of his erstwhile competitors, Campbell ended up crashing Bluebird at 365mph, though he was unhurt in the mishap. Malcolm Campbell, the first man to go 250 mph, the first man to go 300 mph, had run for years along the beaches at Daytona. But eventually he needed more room and in the mid 1930s moved his operation to the Salt Flats where he set a number of records. Curiously, as in many things of that era, the Brits were tops. After Campbell, came fellow Pommys (a wonderful Aussie term for the English) George Eyston and John Cobb. They lifted the record into the mid and high 300s, and at one point had a virtual duel on the salt, each running and breaking a record, only to see the record erased by the other the following day. The Salt Flats became legendary in their ability to providc a very forgiving 12 to 15 miles of smooth, cool surface on which to run. And by the beginning of WW2, Cobb had the record at about 370 mph. Even by New York standards, that’s damned fast. In 1947 Cobb returned with his fabulous Railton Mobil Special, powered by a Rolls-Royce Napier engine, all 3000 horsepower of it, and set a record of 394.196 mph (an average of two runs, the higher of which was 403mph) which stood until 1964.

The Railton Mobil Special
In that summer of ’60 when I made my brief visit to see the Bluebird, sitting quietly like a purring blue tiger in a hangar, I became enraptured with the cars, the course, and that long black line on the salt, stretching straight as an arrow as far as the eye could see. I clipped the newspapers, read everything I could, and as some kids would follow baseball, I became enveloped in the quest to set the World Land Speed Record, the LSR.

We all have stories about what happened after we moved out and went to college, the stuff we lost: the baseball cards, the notes from grammar school, and in my case the carefully clipped articles, grouped by driver, of those few years of racing on the salt. As it happened 1960 was an amazing year for LSR attempts. Dr. Nathan Ostich’s jet car the Flying Cadeuceus, Art Arfons’ Green Monster, and Mickey Thompson, whose Challenger One eventually did run 406 mph one way, setting an unofficial record. One local driver, a good Mormon boy named Athol Graham who owned a garage, had built his own car, a sleek red beast, powered by an Allison aircraft engine (from a P-51). His car, the City of Salt Lake, had run the previous December and reached 344 mph, and he felt that with a bit more power, and a little more design work, he could reach that magic 400 number which in the summer of 1960 no one but Cobb had done. In a bit of mischief, as stupid 13 year old kids will do, my cousin and I crank-called him one night – I suppose we thought his name, Athol, was funny enough in itself to warrant a call – and I can still remember his voice .. “this is Athol…” followed by something stupid which I said, followed quickly by a hanging up of the phone. I’m sorry now, 48 years later, that in that one moment I wasn’t able to think of something smart, and engaging, but I can still hear his voice. Later that summer, on a hot August morning, I took a break from mowing the lawn to listen to the radio and find out what was happening on his attempt to break the record. I will never forget the voice of Florian Weinreiter, the news reader as he announced “and as reported first on KALL Action Central News, Salt Lake race driver Athol Graham was killed this morning in a high speed crash at Western Utah’s famed Bonneville Salt Flats.” Those words hit me like a pile of bricks, and as I returned to the lawn mower, I could barely see the lines in the cut grass through the tears.

But somehow, Bonneville became a part of me for those years. I went to Speed Week (the annual 7 days of racing sponsored by the California racers: bring what ya got, see how fast it will go..) for several years, and once I’d started taking pictures, took my cameras with me. In fact there is a picture in a 1964 Car Craft magazine layout on Bonneville where, standing next to a beautiful race car is a skinny little nerd with shades, a camera bag, and a pith helmet – Me! In 1963 when Athol’s wife rebuilt her car, and made another attempt at the record, my pal Jim Warburton and I became part of their crew, even being charged with spending the night on the salt with the car – just the two of us, both 17, to keep away aliens and other foes. And of course the one thing they tell you is, never drift far from the camper at night when you need to take a leak. All the salt looks the same, and more than once, lost racers have been found the next morning wandering half-mad, miles from where they started. The second attempt by the City of Salt Lake fared only slightly better than the first. The car entered the measured mile at over 300 mph, but half way through got squirrelly, flipped, and crossed the second timing lights upside down. The driver, Harry Muhlbach, was unscathed, crawling out from the car, without even a scratch. Later that summer, Craig Breedlove driving the Spirit of America jet car averaged 407mph (with a one way of 428) and broke the record, finally, which had stood for 17 years. I was one of the first people to get to the car after his run, and have some pretty good pictures considering I was still a very unformed photographer. And I still have a print, signed by Breedlove from what was the first time I learned that if you send someone two prints, they’ll usually send you back one, signed.

During those summer weeks at Speed Week, I also met and photographed Bert Munro, the subject of the film. A crusty New Zealander who was disinclined to take unwarranted guff, he brought his streamlined motorcycle (the “Indian”) and raced it for several years, even reaching 200 mph when that was quite a feat. And being a generation older than most of the racers, he became a wonderful beloved figure, the embodiment of what all the 20 and 30 somethings hoped to be when they were 67. But what I suppose really struck me about the movie was the wonderful scene where Munro, after a harrowing combination of freighter trip from Auckland to Long Beach, and towing his bike in an old beat up Chevy from California to Wendover, finally gets to that point off highway 80 where the big billboard announces The Bonneville Salt Flats: “The Fastest Race Course in the World.” Painted on the sign is a blurry, evocative rendition of Cobb’s Railton at speed, a blur of paint as it was in real life. And there, Munro shares with a young man who has hitched a ride with him, the joy of finally being on the salt. “I have dreamt of this for 25 years, to be at Bonneville. It’s where Campbell, Eyston, Cobb all came and raced for the record. Yes, it’s truly hallowed ground.” In that moment I felt the power of memory. The blanket of age. The power of knowing how, even across generations, across distance, there can be shared feelings. I remembered that twinge in my gut, everytime I slowed my Ford down to make the turn off the blacktop highway, and onto the salt, hoping at once not to become mired in a soft spot, and to be one of Speed’s special family for that brief time, to see a car moving across a horizon far ahead of its own sound. To share as a witness or a helper, the joy in seeing something special, for just that minute an amazing combination of the power of a heart’s determination, and the assurance of a humming engine’s roar beating its tires against time and against the salt itself. At four hundred miles per hour, a mile goes by in about 8 seconds. But those 8 seconds stay with you forever. We’re just sayin….David

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Valentine's Day... Revisited

When I was a little girl my dad worked in New York in the sales office of our family business. When I say ‘our’ family business, it was not actually ours. It belonged to the husbands of two of my mother’s sisters. It was a handbag, or what we then called pocketbook business. In those days you could drive in and out of the city without having to deal with the amount of traffic you do today, but the cars were slower, so it took almost the same time to make the trip. At that time, we were living in an enormous house with one of my mother's sisters, her husband and two children. It was not a two family house, it was just big. That uncle, Phil, worked in Paterson in the pocketbook factory and carried a gun, because it was located in a dangerous area. I don’t think he ever shot anyone, but having gone into the business after returning from China during WW2, I don’t think he would have hesitated. Uncle Phil was eternally colorful. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.

My dad left early in the morning and usually didn’t get back until I was asleep. It was a time when most 'wives' stayed at home and 'most' husbands went to work. But mom, and her sister Helene, didn’t stay home. Once we were up and dressed, they put us in the car (without seatbelts or car seats --just a lap), and drove us down (we lived uptown--having nothing to do with status) to the ‘flats’ (I have no idea why they called it that since it was New Jersey not Arizona) and we spent the day at my Aunt Sophie’s. The house was adjacent to, as well as identical to Aunt Fritzie’s. But we never spent the day there because her house was decorated with antiques and in silks and satins – and we were not neat. Besides, at Aunt Sophie’s you could play in what then seemed like an enormous finished basement with a pool table. The four sisters sat in the kitchen and played cards or cooked dinner. The amount of time they spent cooking still amazes me. But this isn’t what I wanted to blob about either—although my mother's sisters, (all seven of them) were beyond colorful.

When I think about the time I spent with my dad, who was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis, I have two memories that stand far apart from the others. One was playing on the beach at my grandparent’s summer cottage. My dad loved the ocean. We spent hours building sandcastles, digging in the sand for crabs, (little sand crabs—not the kind you eat), and we would play all kinds of games, which always included chasing, but not catching waves. In the summer mom moved us to Long Beach, on Long Island, and dad would visit on weekends. So again, although our time was limited it was always filled with activity and joy. The other vivid memory that I relive each year, was him bringing me candy on Valentine’s Day. And it wasn’t just ordinary chocolates. The box was a miniature heart with layers and layers of red ruffles. It was so beautiful that I never wanted to open it. I wanted to keep it with me forever, or at least until the next year when there was always another equally or more beautiful. For days, I carried it with me wherever I went – even to sleep. And I wouldn’t let my cousins (Stevie and Sheila, who shared our house), even breathe on it. In fact, I’m not sure I ever opened it to retrieve the four or five candies contained within. My dad would arrive at home, with the two boxes behind his back, (one for me and one for mom), and he would make me guess which hand mine was in. When finally I succeeded, he would pick me up and I would hug him for as long as my skinny little arms would allow.

Valentines Day was always my favorite holiday. I didn’t care about birthdays, or Hannukah, or New Years, or even Passover (a family favorite.) I loved Valentine’s day until ... I can’t remember when it changed, but now it’s become another unnecessary reason to buy cards. But that’s another blob. Anyway, unless you have someone to bring you flowers or if you get lucky, maybe some diamonds. Well that's not exactly true, David used to do a "love note" in the "Washington Post" and it was always a treat, but that kind of went away when Jordan did. Now, it’s a day like any other—or at least that’s what it’s been for the past too many years. And then, this year it changed and I was finally able to go to Michael Berman’s Valentine’s Day party for his ‘girlfriends’.

It’s a party to which I have been invited for many years. But I have never been able to go because for one reason or another I have never been in town (DC). But Michael’s very special wife Carol developed lung cancer and died unexpectedly a few months ago, and I felt that with his loss, (and all of ours), I needed to be a part of this ongoing celebration of love.

Mike, center, with his Valentines
David asked if he could take photos of Michael and all the girlfriends. I thought it was a terrific idea and Mike agreed. David also had a connection to Carol because she was his first Facebook friend. When I told Mike that David and Carol had this connection, he told me I was nuts. I believe he said “You’re nuts, not my Carol”. And then he went on her computer and sure enough, Burnett was one of her face book friends. When David asked me how many women I thought would be at the lunch I said it would probably be 20 or maybe 30. Although I think when he first invited me it was more like 15. Anyway, there were 90 women invited and almost all of them came to give Michael a hug and of course, to pay tribute to Carol.

It is hard for me to explain how moved I was by the occasion. But for the couple of hours I spent at the event I felt just like I did when my Dad walked into the room to deliver my little heart shaped box of chocolate, all dressed up in it’s ruffles and frill’s. It’s nice to have Valentine’s Day back again. We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why Women Vote, and For Whom

During the course of the primaries I admittedly have been concerned, not about a gender division, or a racial divide. I have been concerned about women being divided by age—I guess some would say, the women who were first satisfied to ‘stay at home’,and then recognized the need to work for change. The women who first benefited from it, and the women who will, thank God, never know what it was like to lie on a table in a filthy basement while someone who was not a doctor performed an illegal abortion. There are three generations of women who will vote next November. It turns out they could be my mother, myself, and my daughter. Although in our case, my mom couldn’t be an activist because my father required full time care—but she worked from home and expected my life to go beyond what hers had been – as long as I got married. Which I did in 1968 and then got dressed, went out on the streets to protest the war, civil rights, women’s rights and the right to make our own choices about how we lived our lives. I would have protested for Gay rights but no one acknowledged them until AIDS epidemic in the 80’s-- and by then I expected someone else to do it. Age is a terrible burden.

Anyway, I fear that after all our hard work, this campaign cycle will divide rather than unite women of all ages. And in my constant effort to understand why people think the way they do, I have been reading letters of endorsements from women of ‘a certain age’ to see why they prefer one candidate over the other. These were the two most insightful. Without mentioning names, (These are an accurate but edited summaries of both),

One of my friends who is a philanthropist and a Hillary supporter said this:

“She has a 35 year track record of commitment to public service -- as a grass roots activist, child advocate, legal aid lawyer, First Lady and U.S. Senator. The New York Times said “we are hugely impressed by the depth of her knowledge, by the force of her intellect and by the breadth of, yes, her experience.” Hillary’s lifetime of public service is her unprecedented experience on the world stage. At the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Hillary stood up and declared to the world, that “women’s rights are human rights.” The speech galvanized women around the world. Women who have never in their lives had someone to stand up for them. Hillary put women on the agenda. Many won rights they never had before. As First Lady she traveled to 82 countries. Her actions insured more governments were actively dealing with women’s issues in a meaningful way.”

The other, an Obama supporter is a near-80 year old woman who spent her life in public service as a federal judge, international judge, public interest lawyer and government official. She says:
“During my time on the bench, I saw the largest incarceration boom in the nation's history even as crime rates slowed. The 1995 "tough on crime" legislation sponsored by the Clinton White House, for which the First Lady lobbied, expanded the federal death sentence and gave fiscal incentives for states to legislate "truth in sentencing" laws. The cumulative result of the policies was a generation of young men and women, heavily tilted toward minorities, which suffered more severely than their crimes warranted. Senator Clinton's career, in my view, is that of a cautious and expedient legislator. Her ambivalent attitude toward the Iraq war -- particularly her failure to read the critical intelligence report before voting to authorize military action -- gives me pause when considering her claims to leadership and change. Senator Obama's record: His well-documented years organizing and unifying poor communities in Chicago give him first-hand knowledge of conditions on the ground that a new President will surely need in tackling issues of race and poverty. He has been an unwavering supporter of women's right to choose... I especially admire his unremitting honesty and respect for law. His opposition to the Iraq war at a time when political leaders overwhelmingly supported it reflects sound judgment. I remember Robert F. Kennedy saying in 1968, "I dream of things that never were, and ask why not" and how he voiced the longings of our country to go forth together: black, white, Latino, poor, rich, young, old, male, and female to fight poverty and injustice. I want my ten grandchildren to be moved by the same idealism that once moved us. We should not deny them the chance. For all Senator Clinton's talents, skills, and accomplishments, Barack Obama provides the greater hope.”

Both pieces provide important perspectives, right? I am sure there is other thinking and and different reasoning about for whom we should vote and why. My ear doctor says that she’s not sure about anything but young people – women mostly, will determine who will be the next President—if they actually vote. And she adds that the only thing wrong with this is that young people don’t know anything. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Were They Thinking?

There isn’t a place he goes where there aren’t thousands of people. Usually the overflow people stand outside and he comes out with a bullhorn to say hello. It must be the ‘rhetorical flourishes’.

What were the Clinton people thinking when they decided not to organize for the caucuses. They had years to put organizations together. A year ago Obama wasn’t even thinking about the race, and maybe because he had so little money he determined that they needed to take the “old’ political tactic of actually building organizations, while the Clinton team determined that they would be the candidate after Feb. 5, so they could just ‘do’ media. Or maybe Mark Penn, whose company made 4 1/2 million dollars for strategy and media buys, decided that strategy would make him rich – so why should he build organizations. They would have plenty of time to do that during the general elections.

And why would they make a big deal of Patty Solis’ departure? First of all, she’s not departing. Second of all, she was always more of a fund raiser than strategist. Third, Maggie Williams didn’t suddenly appear on the scene, she’s been in place for a month, and an advisor forever. Is there a fourth? Yes, there is always more when you most expect it. Why would you get rid of the one person who was accessible, and keep all the people who have made bad decisions and continue to be isolated from the reality of what’s happening?

Does Senator Clinton not understand that when she tries to demean Senator Obama by taking a pot shot about his speaking ability, by indicating that she could do the same, but she would rather people know about her 35 years of dedication to helping children -- it doesn’t make her any more likeable or for that matter, electable. Clearly people want to be inspired by what a candidate says.

We now know that people don’t seem to care about so called experience, or they are not buying the kind of experience she has. We also know that Bill Clinton can’t be controlled – if he wants to talk fantasy – we all finally see that the fairy tale is about him. We know that Mark Penn and Terry McAuliffe have an agenda that does not necessarily reflect Hillary’s best interest and we know Chelsea is in Wisconsin because they have pretty much written off that state. What a terrible thing to do to your progeny. Maybe she’ll spend a weekend just having fun.

And what are they thinking to send Hillary off to Texas and Ohio and other primary states, rather than either stay in Virginia, DC and Maryland and face the music or at least gracefully acknowledge the loss. It just looks like she’s running away from the inevitable. It just seems like she has thrown in the east coast towel and has moved on, hoping that in other parts of the country the people who are supposed to vote for her, will actually do so. But look at the exit polls (which I hardly ever do): Obama won with white males in Virginia-- that is amazing. And young women (the campaign now needs to think ‘old’ as well). The Potomac vote, as they call it, was not supposed to be for Obama. Yes, we all knew DC would vote for him, but it was never clear what Virginia and Maryland would do. And they have done what they rest of the country may do. Right now Obama has 63% of the vote in Virginia. And I predict the same will happen in Maryland.

Here’s the thing. Hillary never expected to be in a contest and Barack never had anything to lose. She is not well served by the people who are giving her advice and he is very well served by the people who want to be inspired. It’s not like anything any of us have ever seen. In 1972, we rallied around McGovern because he was an elected voice for our anti-war cause. The campaign was young and we didn’t have the support of mainstream Democrats. But we were inspired to vote and to make a difference. This is not the case with Obama. Mainstream Democrats have endorsed the man and his vision. Young, old, black, white (brown is slow to come), Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Buddhists. (You get the point). People. Just people, have decided that they want a real change. This is not about ‘changing things for 35 years.’ It’s about a vision for the future and looking beyond who the Democratic party is today. It’s about what the Democratic party will be tomorrow. They do not want Bill Clinton and all the Clinton drama back in the White House—this is too important an election to reduce it to marital politics. Oy vey. (That’s Jewish for ‘oh my oh my’). I don’t pretend to know where this election will go—although I could pretend, and it would be pretty entertaining. I just want Hillary to get rid of the people who have led her astray, and play out a real race about the future. We’re just sayin.... Iris

Monday, February 11, 2008

Forty Winks in Campaign Hell

I am sooooo overdue. It's over a week since I reported for blob duty.You know the worst part of it is, you think.. “I’ll have all that time on the plane... Miami to Los Angeles, New Orleans to Omaha” and what better is there to do but write for the blob? Frankly, I suppose if you are on your own, there is nothing better. The problem is, if you’re trying to pretend that you are working for a living (and yes, I still subscribe to the Soviet concept of...”they pretend to have a campaign, we pretend to cover it..”) the time isn’t really your own. And in the newly liberated world of digital photography (“Oh boy, I get to edit my own work!”) the dictator ship of the laptop is anything but easy going. I’m sure I have complained about this before, but when you are covering a news event which requires a snappy turn around of images, and a political campaign is definately that, the time alloted to take care of the back end of the work is really minimal. So you end up scrounging for time anywhere you can find it. On the bus from the airport to the civic center; for a few minutes after a rally, before bus departure; even later in the hotel (the worst since you end up getting to bed at 2am). None of these is a great solution. Yes, it is cool that I get to decide what the editors see: I run thru the pictures and make that determination. But it’s never as easy or quick as it seems. I marvel at the wire and newspaper photographers who really have honed this to a science. The little connector which holds the memory cards from the cameras, and feeds the images into the laptop (card reader) are usually velcro’ed to the outside of the laptop. You just pull the card out of the camera, and plunk it into the reader, start PhotoMechanic, or whatever editing software you use, and minutes later you have all of the 294 pictures you shot half an hour ago, on your screen, ready to accept proper captions, be renamed and numbered, and stowed in a folder all their own. Then you go thru them one by one, marking the ‘selects’ and eventually sending those to your editor. If you work for AP or Reuters, you’re just trying to get one or two images out immediately, and maybe a few more later when you have time. But these folks are amazing: they can offload, mark, edit, tone properly, and caption a picture and have it going out on a wireless card in just a couple of minutes. Having once spent days in the darkroom, coaxing a single image off a roll of fim onto a piece of paper, the new tech is really astounding. But the downside is, there is never a break. Now I don’t want you all worrying about us freelance photographers and how we never have a chance to sit back, have a cocktail, ponder the issues of the day. No, that still happens though rarely. Most of the time we’re trying to get the images just shot into the ‘send em now’ stack. The bottom line is, finding a minute for reflection, thoughtful discourse, or hard liquor, becomes a real issue. For the most part, Room Service has replaced going to cafes in towns where we are working. There is simply no time to go off for a couple of rejuvenating hours, talk about the issues of the day (whether photographic, political, or personal) and be re energized for the following day. It’s a tough trade off. I like the fact that an image which I adore will actually be seen by my editor. No question about that. But in the end, I wouldn’t mind being able to relive the time-tested method of yore:
Put film in bag, find courier who will take it to the airport and ship it, go to bar and order a Bass Ale (draught, preferably.) And even with the wireless internet cards we have (I pay $60 a month for my Verizon card) sending a 3 or 4 megabyte file can be slow. So you may end up doing what I had to do last Thursday night:
Finish shooting, go to hotel, order some not very good/over priced dinner, upload pictures, edit pictures, caption pictures, create a folder of selected pictures, tone in Photoshop RAW (this takes a couple of minutes per picture to work it and Save it), and eventually try and send the pictures using FPT software. When it works, great. When it doesn’t, often enough in these hotels who are only too happy to still charge you $12-15 a day for internet, you have to keep getting up all night to make sure the SEND is going just the way it should. Last Thursday, I got up at 2:30am, started sending batch One, then spent almost an hour at the keyboard making sure the pictures looked good, and saving them to yet another folder. At 5am, I got up again, and sent the second batch. If that sounds like a lot of work, given that we work 14 to 18 hour days just TAKING the pictures, I’d have to agree. Sure, we love what we do, and wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. But there is something about a never ending day which eventually causes you to lose a bit of your edge. It all caught up with me on the plane to Seattle with Senator Obama last Thursday.

I was in the middle of editing on the plane, and apparently fell asleep at the wheel, hands on the keys, images on screen just waiting for my tender touch. The good news, there was no obvious drooling. I know we arent’ really yet into the ‘computer age.’ We’re kind of playing at it; but the real computer age won’t have computers that you have to type on or talk to. They ll just do their job. We’ll be happy for that moment I guess, though it shall surely be as intrusive as anything John Ashcroft could dream up. But it may give us a chance to catch the forty winks which have been absent in the last election cycle. We could parcel out those forty winks over the course of a week or so, and no longer would the photographic witness have to struggle to keep those beloved eyes open. I mean, hell, there’s a lot to see! We’re just sayin..David