Monday, March 31, 2008

Still a Perfect Place

Key West was a perfect place to launch a book. It is also a perfect place to launch a boat – but I don’t have a boat and I do have a book Actually, Key West is perfect for anything.

Iris & Clay signing books at the Dewey House
When you are there, whether you open your eyes in the morning to a purple sunrise or close them, after a few rum drinks on the beach and a brilliantly orange sunset, it remains a perfect paradise. Perfect and paradise maybe repetitious but in this case well deserved.

This was not the case after Wilma hit in October 2005. It was only a few months after the devastating Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi and because the Keys had escaped serious damage from that storm, the destruction Wilma caused was almost a surprise. Key West is an Island. You can just hop on over if you want to drive three hours from Miami, fly from points north but with a change in aircraft, or venture by sea—like on a cruise ship. It is well worth whatever effort it takes to get there, but it is not as easy a vacation destination as others might be—which makes it even more agreeable. But people who make their living from the tourist business, as well as people who chose to own property so they could escape to paradise every year, found it difficult to recover. Restaurants, shops, even bars disappeared in large numbers. A property that had been selling for a million dollars immediately dropped 10 to 20%. People whose homes were severely damaged were forced to move to trailers or worse, to leave the Island. The trailers were the same lot that went to Katrina victims so they were delayed, non-existent or, and here’s the best part, only to be used in non-hurricane areas during non-hurricane season. So even if you got lucky enough to finally get a trailer (and it didn’t rot) you weren’t allowed to have it for very long.

Needless to say when people were looking for a place to mellow out and relax, they gave second thought to traveling to Key West which was what they considered “chancy”. My pal and co-author Clay Greager had a store called Last Flight Out for twenty-two years. Given the diminished number of tourists, he finally closed the store this past January.
And as I have said, he was not alone. They are starting to rebuild but there is still a kind of pall hanging over the community. The people who are Key Westers no longer trust or like the Government of the US – it is just too dumb, most agree. And so they find solace in their own Republic which was “established by secession of the Florida Keys from the United States of America, on April 23rd, 1982 in response to a United States Border Patrol Blockade setup on highway U.S.1 at Florida City just to the north of the Florida Keys. This heinous act effectively isolated Keys Citizens from the U.S. mainland since the blockade was on the only land artery to and from the mainland. This roadblock portrayed Keys residents as non-U.S. citizens who had to prove their citizenship in order to drive onto the Florida mainland! Hardly an American thing to do!” In a 1982 declaration of independence - in the name of The Conch Republic, they wrote:


The Secretary-General of the Conch Republic, Sir Peter Anderson
In their humor there is a sweet sadness reflecting only a part of their frustration with the high price of fuel – the cost of fish has remained the same but oil to run the boats has quadrupled. Additionally, People who work in high priced places like Key West can’t afford to live where they work and have to commute – which costs a lot if you have to do it by boat or car—and how else can you do it. The residents are tired of the lack of concern, services, diplomacy, and general effort of the part of the government to deal with this, as well as many other problems in “vacation” communities.

I know, vacations are not a priority if people can’t eat, be educated, take medication, have health care, drive their cars, etc. But vacations are not the point. People just trying to survive and maybe use a few extra dollars for which they worked very hard, are exactly the point. And so we decided to launch our book, a test that, in a humorous way—like the Conch Republic, introduces the reader to the overwhelming scope of what it takes to be President, in a place that has suffered the consequences of government ineptness.

People came in droves to celebrate the success of one of it’s own. And they wanted to see what this piece of political literature was really about – they wanted to take the test. But more than that, they want the next President of the United States to have passed some kind of a reality check. They are no longer willing to hear Bush say he didn’t know gas prices were high or Cheney to say “So?” as a reaction to the war, or even a speech like the Obama speech about race. Maybe if, like the Conch Republic, every state secedes in protest over incompetence or arrogance we will actually stand a chance to succeed as a nation. We’re just sayin... Iris

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Once Upon Whatever

Once upon a time there was a princess, a prince, a big bad wolf, and, of course, some serfs. And a few too many court jesters. All of this royalty lived in a kingdom that was seriously lacking in leadership, vision, and a sense of the right thing to do. The Kingdom had a good share of famine and disease, for which there was no immediate cure, and a war that took the lives of too many young warriors-most of whom were handsome knights from all over the land. And, in addition to all these problems, their economy sucked.

No one knew what to do. Did I mention the King was a dope and they eventually had to drag him from his throne kicking and screaming about all the important things he had done, and so what if the peasants, farmers, cobblers and hair dressers (yes, there were always hair dressers), were suffering. They were of no importance to him. You see he was the arrogant kind of king who did things simply to prove he could, and for the financial benefit of his friends.

The people put out a call to Robin Hood, but alas, he was tied up in another far away Kingdom trying to sort out their problems and, of course, protecting Maid Marian. So the Prince and the Princess, both of whom wanted the job (it's nice to be King!), decided to have an election. But the Big Bad Wolf said that unless he could run as well, he would simply eat them. What could they do but pick sides and all run against each other.

The contest got very nasty, the jousting dirty and swords were laced with poison. And believe it or not, the big bad wolf emerged as the only candidate who thought waging war against other lands was fine, but he refused to wage it against the Prince and Princess. Besides, they were so busy killing one another off, that he didn't have to do anything, but sit back and wait. Oh my, oh my!

This history lesson was brought to you by a friend of Mickey and Minnie Mouse who was so depressed by anything other than bliss the he bought a condo in Orlando and charged people to come and visit. The End.

Unfortunately, this Fairy Tale is not unfolding nicely. But there are certainly lessons to be learned from history, whether they be fact or fable. In days of yore there was a smart, funny, elegant Prince named Mo Udall, a one eyed Mormon from Utah (although he was Congressman from Arizona), who decided that he could be the leader of the land-as opposed to the leader of the band - that was Dan Fogelberg, may he rest in peace. Anyway, Mo had neither name recognition nor any money. But he had a sense of humor beyond compare and he loved kibitzing with the media. Mo, much like the Father of the country, was incapable of telling a lie. Sure, he could spin a tale but when it came to a lie -- about policy or an opponent - he couldn't do it. In return, the press made him their hero, never said anything bad about his campaign, and wrote wonderful stories about how what a great leader he would make.

And so, out of sheer adoration, and without winning any primaries, Mo went to the Convention as a contender for the highest office in the land. John McCain and Mo Udall were friends. As the Senior Congressman from Arizona and despite their philosophic and party differences, Mo was always kind and generous to the Junior Senator. They loved and respected one another and when Mo was dying in a Veterans facility John visited him every week.

Senator McCain understood the power of what Mo had done in his campaign and is doing the same in his. And for the present, John McCain is the darling of the press, while his opposition is whiny and their antics tedious. And although McCain can be a loose cannon and has derided any number of press people for questions he didn't like or a perceived slight, they just can't get enough of him. Maybe this campaign is a bit more calculated and contrived than Udall’s, but the appearance of honesty, straight talk and likeability is working. For how long? Who knows. But it might be long enough to get elected.

Speaking of long and elected and despite what you hear, this is not the longest Primary race in history. It only seems that way because we expected it to be the shortest (and yes, it did start earlier). Let's take a quick look at the history of the Primaries. Actually, in 1968, when Hubert Humphrey became the candidate it was unclear right up until the convention that he would be the nominee. 1968 was also a year of change in this country, what with the war, women's rights and civil rights movements heating up. In fact, that may have been the last time we had an honest public discourse about race. Subsequently, 1976 was no picnic and although everyone thought Jimmy Carter would be the candidate, and thanks to the press, there was a perceived contest right up until Convention. In 1984 Gary Hart and Walter Mondale ran neck and neck until the primaries in California and New Jersey in June. And had Hart not issued those now famous words “I got stuck in NJ' there is no doubt the contest would have continued with the newly created Super Delegates weighing in.

My point is that while there were a few “whoever had the most money “ early decisions, (Dukakis and Kerry) most of the races did not end in February. The difference with this race is that Clinton expectations were for an early victory, young people came out in droves to express dissatisfaction with the status quo, and Independents and Democrats decided that hope was not a bad idea and real change was more important than experience.

The Princess felt it was her turn to rule. The Prince, being of mixed race and younger, thought there was no such thing as “turn.” And the Big Bad Wolf is satisfying his hunger with a meal of mollified media. The End? Not yet.

Friday, March 28, 2008

How Does It Happen?

Where did that week go? I was typing away, blobbing along, finished, posted, and it seems like yesterday. It was a week ago: the week flew..4 days in Florida attending the launch party of Iris' new book "So You Think You Can Be President?!"..

Iris and co-author Clay Greager
which was gobs of fun, and truly, arriving in Key West when it's 34 in Washington is a kind of blessing. As nerdy as you feel in a leather coat and sweater, there is something almost refreshing about the blast of heat you feel as you first step into the muggy warmth.

The first thing you notice when your feet hit concrete is that they are building a new airport in Key West, yet another trashing of a wonderful aging icon of culture -- the single floor, go-thru-security-on-the-sidewalk-since-its-too-crowded-inside, immensely user friendly terminal. Like LongBeach (the Jetblue LA hub) where you can walk across the terminal in three minutes, it reminds you of what airports were when the public was actually trusted not to be complete idiots. As a kid in Salt Lake City, there was a chain link 5' fence which enclosed the terminal, but it was free flowing and loosely drawn, so you really felt at home going outside to watch the planes land and take off . (In 1956 that was second only to watching the out of towners line up for the Sunday Morning Tabernacle Choir performances, on Temple Square.) The chain link, once you stood back a few feet, almost didn't exist... it was as if you were standing on the ramp, watching the DC-6's and Convairs grind the air with their propellers at a very noise inducing distance. Now they are building a double floor, take the elevators up and down, terminal, all in the name, one supposes, of "Security". What hasn't invoked that overused term in the last six years?

I recently came across a set of pictures from the Palm Beach Post, showing in loathesome detail the police response to a large gathering of hopefuls at the Boca Raton city housing office. A limited number of housing vouchers were being made available for what turned out to be a much larger number of applicants. The cops were called in to make sure no one went postal while in line, and once the vouchers were awarded, out of the line, as the crowd went home. If you wondered where all that "Homeland security" money went to for towns like Boca, take a look here: In full dress Riot gear, the cops showed up to keep the families and their kids from getting hostile. In fact, they kept telling people who'd brought their kids (where do you stash them when you're in the middle of looking for a home?) that they should be more careful, I suppose so that if they decided to bust a few heads, they wouldn't be seen hitting any babies. The pictures nauseated me. This is what it's come to. Hot shot ZORRO troops, dressed in black, knee pads, batons and the ever so handy assault rifles (I believe the Shah proved those extremely effective in crowd control). It was the kind of demonstration of power which made you seriously reconsider your position on "Law and Order". Most countries who wrap "Order" into their national slogan end up sacrificing everything else just to keep the order. Are we becoming like that?

This picture pretty much explains Key West
But that is, I suppose a blob for another time. Back to the airport. There must be a 21st century version of the Peter Principle (People rise in the bureaucracy to their level of Incompetence) which states something like "No usable space should be considered inviolate, when it can be razed in favor of a space far more expensive (oh la la!! OverRuns!) and less convenient to those for whom it was designed. But then I guess that assumes the 'designees' are the public, when in fact it's really the TSA guys who demand you take a plier to your nipple ring just to prove you aren't a threat to the Republic. On the campaign charter planes, in the absolute height of common idiocy (the opposite of common sense) the candidates themselves are wanded before they get on their own charters. I kid you not. Cindy and John McCain -- arms out! Hillary and Obama may get a pass since (like the press on her plane) there is a Secret Service screening each morning. But if you actually consider it "security" to have to wand a presidential candidate, then I GUARANTEE you that you are blind to the actual threat. Of course, you get to keep your job, and these days, that is saying something. But the day John Mccain leaps to the cockpit and demands the plane fly to Havana (maybe he does want to meet Fidel after all) is a day I'd like to be on that plane. And speaking of nipple rings, I wonder if any of the TSA folks are carrying such beauty adornments. Maybe there should be a swap-a-roo day, when we, the public (you know, "for which it stands") get to strip search the searchers. Let's face it: It can't make us any less SAFE. Here's to one-story airports. We're just sayin... David

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Guest Blobber Dick Swanson, responds to "Friends..

You go girl! (I hate that phrase but it is descriptive of the way I feel). What a great blog! (especially the last couple graphs in your March 26th, Friends, Friends, Friends.

And it’s those ‘graphs that I respond to.

It is always a good thing to be reminded of ones upbringing. I was raised by strong women. My mother was certainly a part of it but I was mostly raised by my grandmothers and great-grandmothers (I had eleven grandparents when I was born, but that’s another blog). My father cared but was gone all the time trying to support us all.

I married and was divorced from two girly-girls and then waited 10 years before marrying an Asian. After 39 years of marriage (I describe her as my “current” wife) I’m still trying to wrest control from her under the rules of who wears the pants (anybody who knows Germaine and the “foreign country” I live in understands what I’m faced with). But in the end I’m an unreconstructed believer in matriarchy.

Obama was raised by women also and probably is why I have more empathy for him than the other candidates.

Where it concerns Hillary, it is becoming apparent that she is trying very hard to be one of the boys which includes lying about her war record. So much for her matriarchal attraction.

Obama is receptive, eloquent, empathetic and has the grace of an “inner pulpit” to make us understand that there are alternatives to the nightmarish Bush years.

To paraphrase Zbigniew Brzezinski, “New leaders must emerge who are mature enough to accept global diversity and who treat foreign friends with circumspection and adversaries with tolerance”.

Our best hope to undo what George Bush and his gang of four or fourteen, whatever, have done, is to listen to Obama (I said in an earlier blog that McCain brings more of the same and Clinton brings chaos and Bill).

Having said all that, if only the candidates would discuss the things that matter instead of, “he said, she said”. Their focus on their tax papers, Rev. Wright, Bosnia (I know a little something about being shot at), stoke the press’ feeding frenzy about such matters. The lunacy of NOT addressing the issues that will make or break us cannot be overstated.

Every moment they spend confronting each other is a moment that they’re ignoring us. I don’t like being co-opted by the media....Dick S.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Friends, Friends, and Friends

Bill Richardson is an old pal. We go back to the Carter days, before he was a Congressman. Probably before he had either thoughts about being an Ambassador or President of the United States. It was a time when there were a small group of us, almost all who were political appointees, and we would party on weekends and other extraneous numerous occasions. We never needed an excuse—just a time and place.

The tone of the times among the people who were involved in politics a few Presidents ago, was much different than it is today. We were not fearful about the press. Quite the contrary, they had traveled with us on varying Presidential campaigns and had become our friends. In those more congenial, gentler times, the TV personalities, pencil press, and photographers, spent the day working, then filed or shipped their stories and immediately proceeded to whatever hotel bar happened to be the closest to the most people. Here we all proceeded to recount the events of the day and drink ourselves into a stupor—OK maybe not a stupor but enough to make us confess intimacies as well as outimacies (which were sometimes more interesting.)

But what about Richardson and why did he endorse Obama -- you probably want to know. I’ll get there soon. First let me say, Bill is a terrific guy. He is charming, funny, and has an incredible capacity to remember events and people. Even after I hadn’t seen him in ten years, he was able to vividly recount details about evenings which—even under threat of bodily mutilation – I could absolutely not recall. He is a person loyal to friends and generous of spirit. But if you cross him or if you are unkind to anyone he loves, you will assuredly suffer his diplomatic wrath. He will not forget or forget a slight or perceived slight.

That being said, and painful as it is for me to share, the Clinton campaign is infamous for their lack of grace, their sense of entitlement and their ability to anger even the sweetest of people. Although contrary to the Hillary I know, and I am not sure the candidate is aware of the way in which her staff operates, but she should be – this is a reality. So you put these two ‘knowns’ together and what do you get? A former Clinton Administration Ambassador who, although it was certainly not necessary, decided to endorse a stranger instead of a long time friend. Could it be that the Clintons either dissed or dismissed Governor Richardson in some way? I’m guessing this is a possibility.

“There is something special about him”. Richardson said in his speech. “I’m not sure what it is but it is good.” When I heard that statement I thought, come on Bill spell it out. But then I thought, the Governor is in the same place as so many people. I guess what I think is special is that he talks to the general American public like they are grown-ups. Unlike Mr. Gore, or Senator Clinton, he does not seem to care if he is smarter than we are—he wants us only to be smart enough to understand the some important truths. With regard to the issue of race, the truth is that there are Blacks who feel disenfranchised and discriminated against and Whites who are angry about the possibility of being or having been denied their own opportunity at the expense of Blacks and Hispanics.

What was also special about the Speech and the man was that he understood the limits of where he could go. It was not a speech that addressed economic issues, or welfare mothers, or inequity in the schools. It was an elegant explanation of why he couldn’t throw Reverend Wright “under the bus” (wherever did we find that colorful metaphor), how he didn’t agree, denounced, decried, was reviled by and found unconscionable those controversial statements and how he thought it was time to have an honest discussion about racial tensions, misunderstandings, difficulties. He felt the only way to get beyond them was to have a national conversation about them. How refreshing. So this man who wants to lead the country is articulate, honest, a visionary and refreshing. Agree or disagree with the depth and scope of the content, who wouldn’t endorse that?

I hope my speculation about why Governor Richardson did what he did satisfies this readership. Although it’s just a guess knowing the persons and personalities, my anecdotal surveys support these contentions. It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows – clearly this is true when you look at what’s happened to the Governors of New York and New Jersey. But as a woman, my concerns go way beyond who’s sleeping with whom and how many of them there are. I want to feel assured that Senator Obama, will eventually give the same kind of speech about gender. Although I do understand that in the initial stages of the campaign they needed to be focused on early wins, I now want to see him develop the kind of relationships that will help him to understand the importance of giving women a voice in the White House. Bill Clinton did this to some degree and Hillary, although not in involved in the beginning of the Administration, eventually came to support the effort and she is now supported by the women (and organizations) who had a voice. These are the women that changed the way money was donated in elections, that fought diligently for Title IX, Family Leave, and Choice. Is it any wonder that they remain staunch Hillary advocates? Is it a surprise that they are reluctant to trust any other candidate to support the enormous gains they made. And is it impossible to understand their fear about losing their powerful place in Democratic or Presidential Politics. I would think not.

While he has advocated for Choice and women’s economic opportunity, Senator Obama is an unknown in the world of Gender politics in which these important ‘girls’ play. They look at a fairly inexperienced campaign with young people in senior positions and they say, “ is this new generation going continue to fight, stay the course or think the work is done.” What relationships will the Senator develop that will take him to the place they want him to be? One good sign is Betsy Myers—who headed up the White house Women’s Office in the Clinton Administration. Another is Karen Mulhauser, the former Executive Director of NARAL.

Given the reality of the Primaries, it may be time for women of a ‘certain’ age to trust that Senator Obama really does have a special qualities and they are, as the Governor says, 'good.' What I know for sure is that the more we talk about these things the healthier a Presidential season we will have...Iris

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not Everyone

Not everyone is going to agree about everything. And that’s OK. In these United States of America you hope you will find there are people who have varying opinions. Diverse debate is what makes this country great. Or at least it’s one reason, along with the ability to buy bagels almost anywhere, and get spring rolls or pho ga in even a small town.

From the time we were kids at Brandeis University, (I didn’t go there but my first husband did so we were part of the community) and we had many Israeli friends, they would always say, “When you have two Israelis engaged in conversation you will always have twelve different opinions.” This is no different from having two Americans in a room who are of different races, genders, geographic locations, religions, and cultures. Between these two people you are bound to find a virtual panoply of sentiment about whatever the topic. So I am not surprised about the range of didactic discussion when we are talking about the Obama speech.

Most of the articles in the NYTimes and Post reinforced the idea that Obama’s was a momentous speech which might actually kick start a conversation about race. They interviewed number of people who agreed that, although they might not have been satisfied with his answers about the Rev. Wright, they were moved by the sentiment and thrilled about the possibilities of race reconciliation sometime down the road. And you have to say he was successful given the number of conversations it has produced on talk radio and cable TV.

My surveys were much more anecdotal but not to be discounted. I asked about twenty Floridians (that would be at least 80 opinions) how they felt about the DNC discounting their votes and additionally, how they felt about the Obama speech. Interesting enough none of them felt disenfranchised. Some said they were not surprised, since they didn’t follow party rules. And they were angry at the Governor (a Republican) who made the decision about when to have the primary. A few said they hoped Hillary would get their delegates and a few said they wanted some kind of a recount but they didn’t care as long as they got to go to the convention. “So what”, they said “they’re not going to give us chairs?” Once they had vented their seemingly indifferent feelings (limited frustration) about the primary , I asked what they thought about the Obama speech. (These were people from 20-60, predominantly white). Most felt it was an amazingly candid heartfelt sharing of information and concern. A few said it didn’t explain why he stayed in the church—but many of those sentiments were a result of a conversation with their rabbi or minister. My (pick one: rabbi, minister, priest) said, “If I had given a sermon like that my congregation would have left the sanctuary. Why would Obama – this elected official, have stayed for twenty years?”

This is not a question I can answer because I am sure it is so much more complicated than any of us can imagine. The thing that struck me in the Obama speech was when he said that Wright had been a Marine who served in combat. And that in the twenty years of sermons, these few has been plucked and played over and over. It doesn’t excuse Rev. Wright, but I wonder what kind of rhetoric white ministers used in the South during segregation. I wonder what it must have been like for Black men who served their country and came back to find they still had to drink from a different fountain and their kids were not permitted to go to the “good” schools. I am saying Reverend Wright had no business saying the things he said, and I am not going to try to figure out what Obama’s thinking was about his commitment and dedication to this church and this man. I’m only asking a question in, maybe too circuitous a way, is it possible that what this man, working diligently to be the President of the United States, should not be judged by what one angry and disgruntled character in his life (albeit an important personality) has to say about his own experiences – not those of the candidate? Regardless of agree or disagree with what he accomplished or what the speech lacked, there is general agreement that he did the right thing and we absolutely do need to have an honest discussion about race.

Hillary said she thought it was an important speech. Maybe it is one she should have made about gender. I would have liked —no loved it -- if she had addressed the nation (without whining) about why it is important to have a woman as the Commander in Chief or any important elected position. A woman in that role would have a totally different approach to domestic issues, war and negotiations. We are very different managers – I think much better because we are more likely to build consensus among the people to whom we delegate responsibility. Additionally, we are much more willing to listen to varying opinion. I am not generalizing—it’s just how women operate – when they are not trying to imitate men. But she didn’t think it was important to address gender issues and he felt he couldn’t survive without a conversation about race. As my mother would say “go know’ – translated without my mother’s tone it means, ‘who ever could have guessed.’

But back to my original thought (yes, I have actually had a few). There are always going to be people who agree and disagree about whatever the issue. This is not a surprise since there are still people who deny the Holocaust ever happened, evolution is a myth perpetrated on an unsuspecting ill informed public, and any book by William Faulkner is trash. Not that these are bad things—and I mean that in the nicest possible way, but in my humblest of opinions, they do fall under the “give me a break, you idiot” category.

So we need to stop worrying about right wing talk radio show hosts, and we need to look at the reality of this great nation. There is a desperate need for substantive discussion about race, gender, medical research, war, the economy, health care, oil prices, foreclosures, corporate greed, jobs, education, drugs, international relations, care for the elderly and on and on and on. We do need to look at all the candidates and decide who has the vision and courage to be a great (just ‘good’ doesn’t make it anymore), leader. All the candidates need to get beyond the “he did, she did, and their friends did” and start to have a conversation with the public about what they did—or at least intend to do to make this country the best it can be – whole and strong and competitive in a world where there is both chaos and hope. We're just sayin... Iris

Morning Composition in Black and White

Never in a million years. Well, not for the last few anyway. I wouldn’t ever have thought that I would be cheeky enough to put a picture of my feet on the blob. Actually the phrase “my feet” and “blob” seem to go... dare I say it.. “hand in hand?” For a dozen years [Editor’s Note: upcoming is T.M.I.] I have been plagued by what is called in the popular media, “unsightly toenail fungus.”

The kind of stuff that turns otherwise normal looking people into stand-ins for the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Having never spent much time in golf club locker rooms, or gyms for that matter (my exercise bike is home, much more convenient) where those weirds microbes lurk I was kind of surprised when it first struck. My dad had broken a toe in the forties, and for years, that one great toe of his had that yellowy, scary, layered, “I just took out the garbage” look to it. It was a thing of wonder really. Of course just being different made it somewhat interesting, the kind of curiosity you feel when you can’t help looking at someone with some sort of flaw to which you attempt to avert your eyes, but in the end, succumb merely for curiosity’s sake. Aging, it is said, is not for the faint of heart, and when you remain someone with an essentially 14 year’s view of the world, as I do, the tough parts about growing up are not only personally challenging, they can be baffling.

As a kid two of my uncles, Uncle Max and Uncle Joe were favorites. They looked like an Uncle should look. Kindly round unaggressive faces, ever present hints of a smile, and bald heads. Oh, they had a bit of hair ringing their crowns, but essentially, they were prime candidates for the missionaries of the Hair Club for Men. Uncle Max was a special fave since he always, and I mean always, had a roll of Cherry Lifesavers in his pocket and was willing to dispense them virtually instantly. You only got ONE, but you always GOT one. If either of them had actually had a head of luxuriant dark Brylcreem’d locks like my dad, I don’t think I would have seen them in the same way. There was that extra little “worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize” effect that baldness seemed to reserve that made you feel just a bit more comfy in their presence.

ph: Tom Zimberoff (circa 1978)

As someone who once sported a Jew-fro’ of the first order, and was told more than once by the photographer behind me that they would be able to get a much clearer shot if only my hair didn’t stick up so far, it has slowly come to me of late that the richness of that mane is particularly time-sensative. As in, at this time, it will no longer be like that. It must be how women feel who see their hair going from that Virginia Mayo / Lustre Creme commercial richness to a very lifeless grey, something akin to George Washington.

And while many of us would aspire to be worthy of George’s wisdom, judgment, and leadership qualities, his hair would probably not be the object of such 21st century adoration. This is all part of the plot where they tell you that apparently you missed the briefing... What briefing, you ask? Oh, the briefing where they tell you that your body has other plans: that great mane of hair you had, the one that is disappearing from your head, will start to make appearances on other parts of your body. Now can anyone explain to me just why you have to reach your sixth decade for your ears to all of a sudden begin to develop rich, dark, vibrant curls, when for your whole life they were as sleek as a sharks tummy? Is it a vain attempt by your eardrums to send a message? Somewhere inside your ears, do those drums, unable to wave their arms and shout “I can’t hear a frickin THING anymore!” just grab whatever follicles they can, as if to layout a stretch of ground art – like the aliens did in Peru centuries ago? It’s a lousy way to send a message if that is their intent. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where, to be sure, there is a different attitude about body hair generally, I shared locker space with a chap from Bosnia. He cannot have been over 35. And he looked quite normal, save for two of the most enormous, untended, wild tufts of hair sprouting, and I do mean sprouting, from the front of his ears, that I have ever seen. Trying to look him in the eye while discussing the results of the bicycle team racing event of that afternoon was like how I imagine it must have been for an interviewer to be sitting backstage chatting with Jayne Mansfield, and look her right in the eye. You just can’t do it. This guy’s ears had the same exact fascination for me as watching the cleanup of an automobile accident. Cracked glass, torn metal everywhere, big dents and twisted frames. You can’t walk by and NOT look at it.

So I find it funny that so much time and money is spent on trying to get us to buy what the pharma companies are selling – on the evening news programs there are ads for Lipitor, Viagra, Nexium, and who knows what else. But forget those serious conditions – blocked arteries, sexual performance and tummy aches are nothing when you have to stare at your very own toes each time you hop out of bed, or take a shower. I had taken one of those drugs for toe fungus called Lamisil for a few months about ten years ago –don’t be put off by the warnings about potential liver and kidney disease, and the notice not to allow it anywhere near where barn animals gather – and it actually started to clear things up. And then one night late, just before going to bed, I accidently dropped a 600 mm (that’s one of the really BIG ones) lens right on my toe. It’s not the recommended treatment for insomnia, believe me, and my ravaged tootsie finally just gave up, and went back to its old ugly self. I stopped taking the Lamisil and have accepted, not unlike the rest of my self, what it will be. So this morning when I hopped out of bed, and answered a phone call, I was amazed to look down and see this wonderful composition: my feet in a box of light that the morning sun was creating next to the bed. I ran downstairs and grabbed my new Ricoh R8 (a very slick tiny tiny camera with a big heart) and shot a few frames.

The key, I think is not to look for too much detail. Imagine these might be Cary Grant’s feet, or even Jimmy Stewart. Actually, I suppose Karl Malden or Leo McKern might be a little more on target. But part of aging is getting to be comfy with what it is that you have, and this morning, by the light of that great softbox in the sky, even my very own clodhoppers looked worthy of a moment to themselves. We’re just sayin..David
This picture of the Air Force Memorial, near the Pentagon, was shot in March of this year (last week, actually) with the M4 Leica in the 'fro picture above. Viva la Leica

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Follow Up From Guest Blobber Dick Swanson

Everywhere For 5 Minutes ( You HAVE Been There, Right?)

Obama’s speech on race made me think about the values and pitfalls of experience and the arrogance of empowerment that can come with it (my resumé includes Time, Life, Fortune, Look, Saturday Evening Post, (how’s that for dating myself) Newsweek, National Geographic, The Washington Post, etc., so I’ve done my share of traveling in 40 years).

“Arrogance of empowerment” is a term I first heard out of the mouth of…wait for it…George H. W. Bush! He was being interviewed for a Time Magazine piece (He was CIA director at the time and was asked about his WWII experiences as a Navy pilot). He said that being a fighter pilot was empowering, elitist almost, and his arrogance about it is what put him in harm’s way.

The memory of that honest self-assessment surfaced during Obama’s speech last Tuesday explaining his character and beliefs. I thought, what’s so unusual about understanding other cultures including the black culture?

Hasn’t everybody experienced a rousing sermon in a black church? Hasn’t everyone had the experience of having a meal at the kitchen table of a black family? Hasn’t everyone had the rowdy experience of getting a hair cut in a black barbershop? Well, no.

It came to me that having been everywhere for five minutes (a description of photojournalism that comes from David Burnett) there was a certain “arrogance of empowerment” of being an insider in the cultures of others.

And therein lies the arrogance. One tends to forget that millions of decent non-black Americans don’t understand the depth of anger displayed by Reverend Wright because they had not been exposed to the legitimate grievances of the black community. They hadn’t been to a black church or had a meal with a black family in their kitchen or spent time soaking up the atmosphere in a black barbershop.

To be sure, Reverend Wright’s more lurid accusations about AIDS and race and 9/11 were over the top. But in a larger context he emphasized the perceptions of a large part of the black community.

And that’s what Obama was trying to explain to us. Don’t take for granted that we are all one big happy family. To paraphrase Peppy, a favorite chef of mine, as in any family, dialogue becomes “the glue that binds us together”.

And if Obama’s “crazy uncle” goes off the reservation from time to time, well, so be it. To disown him would be more revealing of Obama that Rev. Wright. To listen to his message and start a dialogue would reveal how far we we’ve come and how far we have to go.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Mentor, A Friend

How different must it have been to be born in Rhuddlan than Salt Lake City. A decade ahead of me, in that small North Wales village, Philip Jones-Griffiths was born. He was one of the first people I knew with a double last name. We were only ten years apart, but as you can sometimes find in life, ten years is more than enough to make you realize that you have much to learn from an elder who lived those years. Philip was trained as a pharmacist, and I suppose if he had continued to bring his passion and humor to pharmacology, we would all be getting Rx’s filled that would have something to do with one or another discovery of his. But his real love was photography, and he joined Magnum at the age of thirty, and became very quickly, quite well known. I had read in a British photo magazine about him; he was described as “ a loquacious Welshman,” and when I arrived in Vietnam in 1970, he was one of the first persons I met. Happily for me, he remained loquacious even after we became friends. He was one of those folks who turn into your mentor without being asked. I suppose he found my Utah sense of humor not all that far removed from his own, and we got along well from the first time we had beef and ginger at that lousy Tu Do street Chinese cafe.

Most impressive, looking back 35 years, was his absolute selfless sense of assistance and encouragement, offered freely but never with any real pressure. He kind of embarrassed you into doing the right thing. Having arrived in Vietnam with 200 rolls of film, and a rather opened assignment from TIME to do a piece on “Children of War”, I’d been stumbling, utterly, in trying to figure out how to make pictures that would make sense. I kept trying to figure out just how that ‘story’ would fit into the other ‘stories’ I was trying to do. And one afternoon, over a Coke at the Royale Hotel lobby cafe, Philip let me have it: “The real world isn’t about this or that story for TIME, or for LIFE. It’s about being out there. What you need to do is put 50 rolls of film in your rucksack, fly to Danang, and don’t come back to Saigon until you have shot every roll.” It was a kind of watershed moment for me: that extra push I needed to start thinking out of my own box, and while it seems so obvious now, at the time, it was just the kind of nudge I needed to get off my ass, and head into what would become the real work of photography.

Philip having just finished a Coke at the Royale bar
Philip had lived in Room 47 at the Royale, the Penthouse, up three or four floors from the noisy street. Airy and with plenty of windows, it normally would have been the prize room in the hotel, but the thought of being the first place an incoming VC rocket might land gave me pause. (I lived in an airless, lightless room on the 2nd floor of the hotel for two months.) Yet, when I realized that Philip, with all he had been through, wanted to live there, I decided, “So do I,” and when he finally exited Saigon in January of ’71, he bequeathed to me not only that room, but his cassette/radio player (for twenty bucks) which brought me all the sounds of the time. Hoping I might actually run a roll of film, I also got two tall 8-reel Nikor developing tanks marked D (for developer) and F (for fixer) with which he’d processed all his Vietnam films that would later appear in his book Vietnam Inc. I still have those tanks in the basement, the crayon’ed letters still visible. They seem almost quaint in this digital age, but when you know that all those amazing photographs passed through them, it gives pause.

Vietnam Inc. was his attack against what he thought the Americans had done so badly in Vietnam. He always spoke with force and anger, and his pictures, never attempts to be objective or uninvolved, told the story the way he wanted to tell it. With passion, pain, and force. Many journos I knew thought Philip was a little too far gone in his point of view, but for me, I never tired, even when I didn’t agree with him, of seeing his engagement in what he felt was a story worth telling. Yet there was another side of him which might been even more captivating than his earnestness as a journalist. A funny side, sometimes darkly humorous, but always funny. He introduced me to the BBC World Service radio shows – Just a Minute, the Archers (“a story of simple country folk...” which he did complete with down country imitation of Dan Archer), and maybe the most lasting, Private Eye. Private Eye, the satirical English magazine which poked fun and holes through virtually anyone in power or the public eye, was a master dodge though the English libel laws, and skewered folks who, for the most part, richly deserved it. In those early 70s years, there was a cartoon in the back done by a young Australian cartoonist, Barry Humphries, a side-splittingly hilarious take on a young Aussie gone to find fame and fortune in Pomland (England) and his misadventures: That was the birth of Barry “Bazza” McKenzie, and the character who seems to have outlived the others in that story, Dame Edna Everidge. It was as if I had my own private British Council Cultural Affairs section in Philip to help me understand all the vagaries of language and nomenclature. (Yes, “Rita Chevrolet” WAS Private Eye’s name for the Queen!) I valued his company greatly, and always enjoyed hearing the great stories he knew, had lived through, and was a master of retelling. Who else do you know that could get such joy out of describing that the only proper source for lighting a self-designed slide-duplicating machine was “the landing light from a 707 jet.”

I share the sadness that I feel about so many folks of my earlier years, who, for reasons of geography, I seldom see much anymore. In Vietnam, in particular, there was a rather wonderful mix in the 4th Estate crowd, and the richness of their presence seems to diminish every week. Yesterday, after a long and protracted battle with a stupid disease which tried, but failed, to crush his spirit, Philip passed away with his two daughters by his side. In the last few years he had mastered digital photography the same way his pharmacological background had made him a first rate dark room man. He knew every trick about how to scan negatives to get the best results, and how to print them once you had done that. Right up till the end he was in a rush, getting those pictures organized so that even after he wasn’t here to personally look after things, they would make sense to everyone else. I’m glad those pictures, that embodiment of his plucky spirit are with us, but I do believe I will miss the man himself. We’re just sayin... David

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

And Now a Word From... A Guest Blobber

Dick Swanson, who has been a friend of ours since Nixon was President (ok.. since Degaulle was President.. does that make you feel better?) started to write a comment today, and it grew to become blob-length and, as he is a dedicated fan, blob-worthy. So, here is today's Guest Blob:

I grew up in the farm lands of Illinois where there are no mountains and no oceans to break up the prairie. As my old pappy used to say, “If you don’t like the corn fields turn around and look at the soy beans.” In the six decades since, I’ve learned that he was trying to tell me there is always an alternative no matter how similar.

Extrapolating that to the 2008 campaign for president, he could have just as easily given me a third option…the barn yard.

In the beginning (waaay last year) I told myself I wouldn’t feel like leaving the country if Obama, Clinton or McCain were elected. Since then the race has degenerated into, “Mine is bigger than yours” (yes, I include Hillary in this squabble). The race is periodically interrupted with discussion of the issues but mostly it is about race, gender and geriatrics. Furthermore, anyone running for president must pander to get elected. It’s the nature of the beast (if my opponent promises this, then I must promise that). The candidates promise the moon (in good faith, we hope) and we vote (some might say, selfishly) on what we think is good for us but it hardly ever turns out that way.

I now feel that McCain will bring us more of same (the Bush legacy), Clinton will bring us chaos (her management skills and Bill). Obama will bring us youth without experience (not always a bad thing but preferable to the alternatives).

Instead of addressing the problems of economy, health care, the military, diplomacy, security, education, immigration, on and on, the candidates are trapped in circumstances that are mostly beyond their control: though they make change and experience their centerpiece, they are plagued with surrogates out of control, bad but innocent choices and saddled with marital legacies.

And they all will inherit Bush’s war.

As far as I am aware, none of the candidates have addressed, in a continuing way, the broken America that is Bush’s legacy. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfson, et al, have broken America, and any credibility we had with the rest of the world has disappeared. The tragic results of Bush and his administration cannot be overstated. I don’t believe it’s a stretch to blame the Bush eight years for the accelerating deterioration of our values.

Also, I am becoming fearful (scared shitless is more like it) about Obama’s candidacy. Given the events of the last week or so, he is becoming more polarizing than inspirational. These events will continue exponentially as we near the nomination process and certainly engulf the electorate if he is nominated. What we don’t need are the fundamentalist democrats and misogynists (there are just as many racists and misogynists in the Democrat Party as in the Republican Party) taking the rest of us hostage.

The by-product of this election year will be that the fundamentalist Christians, the religious right, racists, misogynists of every political persuasion and skin color will co-opt this election and send us further down the path of social disintegration. The anger in the churches, both black and white, will taint the process of democracy.
Ironically, tragically, the candidacies of Obama, Clinton and McCain (all fine people) through no fault of their own, have exposed this anger (in and out of church).

To quote Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

It’s another way of saying that it’s the bad guys against the bad guys. In a perfect world it would be the good guys against the good guys.

It's About Time

It’s times like these that I wish I were a poet instead of a political pundit. And after watching all the pundit’s on TV, I say that with no reluctance whatsoever. Where do they get these people… Never mind it’s not important in the realm of knowledge or truth.
John McCain has visited and been embraced by Bob Jones University. In this particular seat of advanced education, no interracial dating permitted. You may say, “It’s 2008. And they are Christians. Surely that can’t be”. (You are so smart – but I count on that from this readership.) In this case, however, you would be wrong to think that this can’t be. My question is, how do they call themselves an institution of learning? Or maybe they don’t — except when high level elected officials visit and need votes. Maybe they are just a religious enclave with too many young people buying their crap. And I mean no disrespect to the Little Baby Jesus, because you know he’s one of my favorites.

Barack Obama gave a speech today. I did not listen to any of my colleagues evaluate what he said. There was no need. I know who liked it and who didn’t. He talked about having an honest discussion about race. And he shared a very private story about his white grandma and how she was afraid of Black men but she loved him more than anything. And he admitted that she made racist remarks that made him cringe –because he was a half black kid. He was well aware of his color, but she clearly didn’t see him as colored – he was her blood and the precious child she was raising. For those people who doubt this as a possibility, trust me, it is. How painful and devastating this must have been for a child or a young man. But I know he is telling the truth because I know it is not only possible, but likely for a person to be blinded by love.

When my son was a child we lived with my dear friend Bebe. Her son Alan was Black She was White. Seth, my son grew up in a community where there were no Black people – although one of his friends was of Indian heritage. So when he met Alan he acknowledged the fact that he was not exactly the same and he was thrilled that his friend looked like chocolate. It was never a negative. The color was a celebration and about as important to him as liking a shirt that another friend was wearing. He loved Alan and was blind to any racial or cultural differences. In the same way, but not exactly, when my daughter Jordan was growing up she was surrounded by people of all colors and races. Her school, by accident was about ¼ Black ¼ White, ¼ Hispanic and ¼ Asian. She, unlike Seth saw no color differences. She loved her friends, without any judgments other than if they called her pig snot. I’m sure she must have noticed there was a difference but it was no more important than friends who had straight or blond curly hair. It wasn’t until she got into high school and her Black friend Reesie decided she wanted to hang out with only Black students, that Jordan discovered there were greater issues than she was prepared to discuss.

This was not how I grew up. My small town was blue collar white Italian and Polish Catholic. There were fifty Jewish families and 40 of them were mine. Not much diversity to be sure. But because there were no people of color with whom to contend, race was not a problem. I do, however remember that the Jewish kids had to stand in the back of the room when everyone else was singing Christmas carols. It was lonely back there because there were only three of us. One was my cousin Steven, who was happy not to be hung on a hook in the front of the room for his behavior and the other was Andy Hurwitz, now a Supreme Court Justice in Arizona—hopefully someday the job will be federal. Anyway, I didn’t like being singled out for something over which I felt I had no control. The good news is that my parents weren’t racists and I developed a sense of moral outrage about discrimination – color, cultural, gender, age whatever. The bad news was my introduction to cultural diversity didn’t exist until I got to college. It was a long time to wait – but at least it came.

Back to the Obama speech, which was critical in order for him to continue with the campaign succeed. I can only judge it for what he said. Certainly not for what, (as other pundits who need to say something in order to have TV time or get paid), the implications or the innuendo might have been. He said he loved this country. There is no reason to doubt this. If you were to tell him to “put that American flag back on your lapel because then I will feel assured about your patriotism”, I’m sure he would give it consideration. Not because it is politically expedient but because there are some people for whom symbols are more important than words or actions. He explained, without apologizing, his attraction to the Reverend Wright and further explained how positive elements in the Reverends character are as much apart of him as his White mother and grandmother. But here’ the most important thing he said. We need to have an honest dialogue about race in the US. And we do, until it is a conversation we can have without being self conscious about what we say.

This nation can choose to pretend that race is not a social, political or economic issue. And we can continue to allow the people who want to be President of the United States to be embraced by bigots and racists who hide behind the shields of academia. Or we can see the importance of this election for everyone in particular women and persons of color and say, “yeah let’s talk about it.” And yes the teacher did hang my cousin Steven on a hook in the front of the room. We're just sayin...Iris

Unease in the Hood

Just when you thought things were almost gonna be ok. Then along comes two 300+ point days within a week in the stock market, and you know something is up. I guess I’m so used to the 100+ and 200+ point drops that it seems like old hat now. I keep trying to tell myself that, in the words of Alan Greenspan and others, “no one has rescinded the business cycle.” There is something desparate about big upside days.

And of course the business cycle has always included the ups and downs associated with human behavior, going back, to Pharaoh’s times, perhaps. (“Gee, Tuk, that hemp crop is just not looking very good, so we better charge more for it: How bout 2 goats a wagon load instead of one?!”) Greenspan’s successor,

rather like someone who has to follow Casey Stengel or A.J. Foyt, is in the unenviable position of having to carry on a difficult task when the outer world forces aren’t nearly so happily aligned. There is no question that, as bad as things are, they can always get worse. Truly, given how screwed up so many things are in the country now, who would WANT to be President, and inherit a country whose Army is worn out, and who, in the end, can do very little about it. Plans made when things look rosy seldom turn out so nicely when the reality of the ‘cycle’ heaves to.

Next door to our house in Arlington a project is somewhere between 1/10 and 1/4th the way through, more like 1/10th, I think, on a house which once belonged to the family of an old friend of ours, Chuck Trainum. In fact, we live where we are because Chuck’s pal when he was a kid, Kenny Keeta, lived next door via one of those backyard chain link fences with a gate. He’d heard that ‘the house next to where I grew up’ was on the market, and we ended up buying it. Chuck had long since moved away, but his dad, Charles “Senior”, and mom Jessie became our friends, and surrogate grandparents for Jordan when she was a tyke.

The back half of Pop-Pop's house
The Trainums moved into their modest 3 bedroom house in 1940 and lived there nearly sixty years, raising three children. Just after we moved in, Pop-pop took over the use of a chain saw to down a dead tree, seeing that none of us was skilled enough to avoid hurting ourselves. When Pop-Pop finally moved away after Jessie passed away (at age 91) the house was sold to two young ‘metro’s from the city who were thinking to crave suburban life. Pop-Pop passed away three years ago, having just reached 100. The new owners added a cute little garden and an artificial pond, part of the sprucing up of the post-war, but charming houses of Waverly Hills, our ‘hood. Then the boys decided other pastures looked more fun, and sold the house to a young couple who had two children in their time here, which is about two more conversations than we ever had with them. They left about six months ago, the For Sale sign went up, and a young contractor with eager visions, and a bettor’s attitude bought the place. He told me, in a phone call about two weeks after the Porta Potty was installed, that his intent was to keep the property’s sense of place, just add some square footage. The house was tiny granted, but his idea, now unfolding each morning with a roar about seven a.m. is to wrap a 4300 square foot house around the tiny facade which remains. In a way, the view from our bedroom reminds me of backstage at Disney, where you know the facade is just that. Here, a cute little post war brick front gives no idea until you get to the back yard, that there is nothing there, there. I have gone to the back yard a few times, via the 1950s gate, and shot some pictures, as seeing a house cut in half like this is that rare occasion when a home looks like a grapefruit, neatly halved with the machete. Or, a doll house. The kind you reachin from the open back side to move furniture around, and make sure the occupants don’t fall over. We (the other neighbors and us) all hope that he (the contractor) isn’t caught up in the real estate wipe out. I truly believe that homes for sale don’t need to attract the whole universe, just that one buyer, that one family for which it is perfect. So perhaps in “slowdowns don’t occur here” D.C. there will be a happy camper who will see this house, to be sold eventually somewhere around $1.4million, as their own personal close-in, two lights from the White House, Xanadu.

They may be in for a surprize though. On the other side of the house, the 19th st. we noticed some white painted arrows in a boxy shape a few days ago. This afternoon, ominously, a crew was out hacking away at the blacktop with a jack hammer, creating what looks like the largest fudge Brownie ever hewn in a single cut. I happened to run into the street workers a few minutes later, and asked what it was all about. The answer is a bit curious: they are cutting out a square in the intersection so the pavers can repave it.

The Pathway to China?
The road there is actually quite bump free, so I don’t know the real reason. At first, it looked like they had just decided to inaugurate a sister city deal between Arlington and Guangjo, and instead of flying, just take the direct ‘thru the earth’ path. I’m assured this cut will not go 8000 miles, though it looks ripe to me, for further exploration.

Whatever else happens, Snoopy & Woodstock bring you Easter
The neighborhood just putters along, then, hoping in all those living rooms, that something more unsightly doesn’t really crash the markets, or really wipe out millions of jobs. Since the weekend, and the not easy to understand bail-out/assistance by JPMorgan of Bear Stearns, I have wondered if the Bear Stearnsies got their million dollar bonuses three months ago for Christmas/Hannukah. Somehow the denial of bonuses is one of those things Wall Street regards with the same displeasure as bad breath, and traffic tickets. Since we all helped pay for it, or at least guaranteed it, it would be worth noting what the company did with their LAST spendable hundred million. We’re just sayin...David

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Bad Week Doesn't Begin to Describe It

Barack Obama had a bad week. Hillary’s wasn’t so great, but Obama’s was worse because of the Reverend Wright—someone he obviously cares deeply about on a spiritual and emotional level. Here’s the question. Should the candidates be responsible for what their supporters say? Both Senators have had to distance themselves from people who they thought would be helpful to the campaign—at least that was the case with Ferraro. But what was Barack thinking? Some people say that everyone knew about the Rev. Wright and his church. If everyone knew, I guess that included the Obamas—and they chose not only to remain members of the congregation but to have a very personal relationship with this man who, at least in sermons, hates the United States, White people and Jews. This makes a great many White people uncomfortable. (I can’t separate the Jews from the White people). This is a big problem during a general election.

I have been forced to ask myself, ‘what do I think?’ Mostly, I hate thinking, but not as much as I hate asking myself questions. However, in this case I think Obama needs to do more than say, “He’s like an old Uncle and I don’t always agree with him.” He needs to tell us what, beyond deplorable, he does think about the statements that were made. And I would suggest he do this by talking about his faith and love of this country. He needs to start defining the terms being used in the campaign and get back on his message of hope, faith and courage. Especially with women – Jewish or otherwise. Because for women it’s all about keeping their families safe—in our homes as well as in the world. Women want to be assured that Senator Obama will make the kind of changes that will make them safe through good health care, good schools, and a healthy economy. But they won’t participate in an issues discussion until they get beyond Reverend Wright and know he has a strong faith and loves the country.

It is getting impossible to read anything nice about Hillary or Barack. First of all... forget it. There’s no first of all. No one is looking for good news. It’s all about who said what to whom, whenever, wherever, whatever. The new term, and it may not be so new term, but in the last few weeks has become the ‘new’ way to talk about the Democratic campaigns, is to talk about ‘identity’ politics. Closest I can figure that means the exploration of one’s heritage, personality, leadership ability, and inner core, by discussing their color or gender. This discussion is, of course, specific to the Democratic candidates. McCain has no identity except the one that has recently attached him to George Bush. And while we’re on the subject of McCain—which maybe we were not, what about the McCain supporter Minister Haggee, who said (and this was the good stuff) Catholics were the anti-Christ. McCain did nothing to distance from him.

Back to ‘identity’ politics which I think used to be ‘constituency politics. I spent a long time trying to define the concept of identity and here’s what I found. One’s identity, according to Webster’s is: “the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another.” Whatever does that mean? It sounds like you need to take a philosophy course or maybe sign up for Weight Watchers in order to identify your identity. Can you create an identity? Sure, but I am always more interested in from whence these people come because it explains a great deal about who they are. For example, I was quite moved by yesterday’s N.Y. Times story about Obama’s mom. Without making excuses, I am trying to understand the identity of this person who wants to lead the nation.

Much like my connection with Michelle, both our dads had MS and both struggled to make a living so they could take care of their families, Stanley Ann (Barack’s mom) was also person with whom I connected. We were both people who followed our careers – maybe at the expense of our families, although neither of us felt that way at the time. We both wanted our children to remain with us but that didn’t happen. And although the distance geographically was not as far, I’m sure the emotional distance was equal or greater. There were differences, like Seth stayed with his dad, not his grandparents. He was a white Jewish kid with a white Jewish parent in a white Christian community—not too many discrimination battles to fight. It was painful to be without him but he had two parents. Of course there were also other differences. Stanley’s parents were supportive of her decision to marry a black man and in her absence they raised her bi-racial child. (a point not to forget we talk ‘identity’). My mother would have put her head in the oven and turned on the gas. Or probably she would have put my head in the oven and turned on the gas. I don’t think any of us who have not been children in this situation can understand what it must have been like for Obama. However, losing a parent, regardless of reason must have an impact on a child—especially a boy when he loses an ongoing relationship with his dad. We’re just sayin.... Iris

Friday, March 14, 2008

Don't Make Me Stop This Car!

When my kids were little and they would be in the car fighting with one another making it impossible to concentrate because the noise was so intrusive, I, like millions of other parents would threaten, “stop fighting or I’ll have to stop this car.” Over the last few days, when I listen to the news, all I want to do is yell the same thing. “Don’t make me stop this car!”

What are these Presidential candidates thinking? Don’t they get that everything they say now, will be repeated in the general election. Don’t they get that this is just, as my Alaskan friends have been known to say, “the tip of the iceberg”. If they think the attacks have been difficult to this point, they have no idea how savaged they are going to be by the Republicans. But for me, (and I like all of the talking heads and the bloggers do make it all about me), the most unattractive off-putting tactic is the whining. What ever would have possessed the Obama people to whine about Saturday Nite Live? “ Boo Hoo, they like Hillary better than me”. Well, who wouldn’t when that’s the approach you take to a good natured comedy sketch. Here’s some sage advice to my friends in Chicago. “Get over it!” The SNL people are going to do what they do, and as long as they spell your name correctly, kids will be attracted to the election—and isn’t that what we’re all about. Oh God, I hate political whining. It’s so unPresidential.

But back to me. On my way back to DC today, I sat with a 25 or so, year old guy who was on his phone for three out of the three and a half hours. Most of his conversation was with some friends who apparently were interested in what this guy did before and after a trip. The conversations went like this: “yeah, so last night I was making out with Tiffany. She was so hot for me it was hard to leave, but I had other things to do.” Then the next conversation was: “ Claudia was so hot for me that she said she wouldn’t take a shower until I got there so I could wash her back.” The next discourse was much more graphic and not quite so interesting. And I asked him to cease and desist. “Please,” I begged, “I’m an older woman and my heart can’t stand it.” I thought that would be more effective than, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to throw up on you.”

The technology today has made it such that conversations with/among strangers is inevitable. And some of those are about politics. (OK, I know it’s a leap from the last paragraph – aren’t you perceptive). So when this guy started to talk about the campaigns (again to a friend who might have had more than a third grade education) I was glued to my adjacent seat. First he talked about how great the Spitzer ‘bimbo’ looked. Her boobs were ‘mamazing’ (cute huh). Then his 2 minute attention span turned to Obama. “Yeah I thought I’d vote for the guy. But look at what his minister said. Maybe he is a Muslim plant.”

You may say, consider the source. But even very smart people are asking questions about how a guy like Obama – someone who wants to be the President , can be associated with anyone who uses the kind of divisive and racist, anti American rhetoric that this minister used and uses. While I am sure the explanation is not difficult—there has to be a public explanation. I mean. I get it. My Uncle Phil and I used to fight about Communism, the war in Viet Nam and the Chinese. He was a fighter pilot in WW2 and as a youth, he, like every Jew in NY, was a member of the Communist party. He was embarrassed about the association and he was angry about the war in Viet Nam. He was right about the Chinese but I was inflexible in my thinking and one day, in an angry confrontation, I said he was stupid. He was visibly shaken to the point of tears. He never finished the argument because he was so hurt by my characterization of his intellect. And I was so ashamed about what I had done that I left his house without goodbyes. Eventually, we made up. But it took a long time and many earnest talks in-between. I think this is how Obama must feel about his spiritual mentor. He loves the guy. He can’t turn him away emotionally, but he’s a different generation and he has to turn him away intellectually because it is a different place than it was in the 60’s.

I have been thinking about this all day because I didn’t see a way out for the candidate. But now I do. The good Senator from Illinois has to say, without any qualification or apologies that he loves this country. He chose, (as a young boy) to stay here when his mom left to go to Indonesia, and he loves it more than anyone can imagine. I believe this is the truth. I believe that there is no downside to loving the country you want to lead. I believe that while Republicans can find unimaginable ways to attack the Obama candidacy, they cannot possibly wage war on a candidate who says they love the United States and want it to be the best it can be. It’s not an enormous leap from what he’s been saying all along. This will work. Whining won’t. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Some Day My Prints Will Come

This past Sunday we had first ever meeting of an august group to be known as the Bokeh Vista Social Club. The Music may not have been as good as the Buena Vista SC, but the chances for photographic amusement were much higher.

Drawn together by our love for photographic things pre-digital, we vowed about six months ago to try and have occasional meetings and discuss things like the Scheimflug Theorem, bellows draw, and the efficacity of fifty year old front surface mirrors. If you think this sounds hideiously boring, you would be right if you were a normal person. But there is still a fairly strong desire by some of us to keep our technique honed in the ways of the past.

At this Sunday’s meeting, we were four (Chris Usher ...& partner Adrienne Dearmas who took the team photo, Robb Scharetg, Matthew Girard, and myself.) A small yet talented ensemble whose work stretches across the photographic landscape: portraits, advertising, documentary, sports... pretty much everything is fair game.

In a manner befitting a really nerdy group of men, meeting to discuss short wave radios in the 1950s, we waded through an assortment of gear which was brought to share, took a few polaroids of each other with several different cameras, and talked about more esoteric stuff still being offered on eBay for those of us who don’t feel we have bought quite enough gear that is older than we are.

It is pretty much the defining point of the group that we use lenses and cameras which are older than we (I have a longer tenure) and that makes it kind of exciting to even imagine what the press photographers of the 20 and 30s used to make pictures. It is amazing, looking back at what can only be considered very primitive equipment, that they made any pictures at all. And the fact that they made great pictures provides, for myself at least, a sense of wonder, in trying to apply some of those age old techniques to modern day life. Until you have shot sports with a Graflex camera (where everything is backwards in the viewfinder) you don’t know what real fun is. It would be like trying to navigate through the Harris Teeter parking lot using ONLY your rearview mirror, and only going backwards, It can be done, but there must be a simpler way.

Shooting 4x5 polaroid print film is perhaps the single easiest, and certainly the quickest, way to learn by doing. It’s not as fast as shooting digital, but almost so. Inside of a minute, you are looking at what you just shot. You can try and figure out what went wrong, where you screwed up (and there area dozens of possible pitfalls on even the simplest of pictures)and then try it again. In the rather spoiled age of pointAndshoot, the fact that shooting with a vintage camera challenges so many of your senses doesn’t go unnoticed when you are the one trying it.

I once showed Alfred Eisenstaedt, the wonderful & famous LIFE photographer, a new Canon A1 (this was 1980.) It was the first camera to have a LED light inside the camera to tell you your exposure. It was bright and red and all lit up and said something like 250 F8 , or whatever it THOUGHT the exposure would be.

A young Eisie
Alfred looked at it a moment, looked inside the finder, and when he pushed the button half way (it’s just what we do...we push buttons to see what happens next) the lights went on, and he was sold “UnbeLIEVEable... I wish I could have one....” And of course all Alfred would have had to say is “I’d like one” and a dozen o f them would have appeared the next day on his desk. He just usually forgot to ask, and kept using his Leicas. But at that moment a wonderful thing happened. Almost as if he were transported in time, he put down the shopping bags he was carrying home on the subway, loosened his raincoat, and started to reminesce about his early days. In that wonderful light German accent he spoke with reverence and enthusiasm: “We never went anywhere without a tuxedo or tails. We were always dressed up.” (This was Berlin between the wars.) “I’ll never forget it, with all the glass plates we carried for the Plaubel Makina (a vintage German camera) they were so heavy.” He patted his left side ... “This side Unexposed....” , and the patted his right side “.. and this side, Exposed. We walked in like this,” (he said, leaning to the left), “and walked out like that...” (leaning towards the right.) “And taking pictures with that Plaubel Makina wasn’t so easy.” And then he proceeded to recount just what is necessary to take a photograph with a vintage camera, and it goes something like this:

“First you must open the lens, and open the diaphram [to let the light thru], then you open the back, look on the groundglass, compose your picture, focus the lens to the right distance, close the shutter back up, cock the shutter mechanism, load a plate holder into the back of the camera, pull the darkslide, and then, finally, take the picture.” And in words that have only come to mean so much more to me since I heard them nearly three decades ago... “ ... and by then, the sonuvabitch had usually moved. That’s why we had so many blurry pictures....” All of a sudden there it was, a very simple explanation for the reason that so many of their pictures just didn’t turn out. I had wondered why I had been having so many of the same issues. With a big Speed Graphic, for example, if you get one in 4 or 7 or ten pictures that you like, you’re doing well. You must wait before just shooting. Patience is a virtue. But when it works, it really does work. It’s not like anything you can get with a digital camera, and until they make a 4x5 digi camera, I suppose we will all be luxuriating in film. It keeps the labs busy, and as we say when we pick up our contact sheets after a job... “Someday, my prints will come.”

Moi, with the Mentor Reflex
The Bokeh (def: ‘the visual quality of the out-of-focus area of a photograph, from the Japanese...) Vista Social Club plans to meet irregularly in the future, and since this past meeting was held at Rocklands Barbeque on Washington Ave. in Arlington, we just might be headed back sooner than we thought. Thanks to Adrienne for the group shot: it was the first time she’d ever used a Mentor Reflex camera, and based on this shot, I’d say she’s hired! We’re just sayin... David

Some Day Your Prince Will Come.. or Maybe Not

Back to Disney World, my metaphor for the week. They say (the Disney Cast members – there are no employees, but there is a hierarchy), that the park is the happiest place in the world. Nothing bad happens at Disney World. No crime, no poverty, no dirt, and they shut the hotel phones off at 2am so there’s no bad news. At least in the middle of the night. You can’t even get that call at 3 a.m. It is a Magic Kingdom. If only Elliott Spitzer, (who, based on what all the forgiving media are saying, seems to have no friends, no network, no lack of arrogance), had been the Governor of this realm instead of NY, he could have made it all disappear. If only he had been a cast Member instead of a philanderer. Oh, and according to some reporters this morning, he probably had a prefrontal cortex that is not working properly. There are many doctors who believe that there is a direct connection between personality and this part of the brain. You couldn’t make this stuff up. And if you ask me, the only connection between personality and the brain, in this case, is that he has a serious lack of both. But that has nothing to do with the happiest place in the world—the Magic Kingdom.

Jordan, Belle, Clare
If I were the Governor of a Magic Kingdom, the first thing I would do is forbid any wife of any guy who does something stupid and humiliating, to stand next to him at a press conference. McGreevy’s wife was on this morning talking about why she did it when McGreevy confessed he was having a homosexual affair. She said it was a personal decision. “Yeah”, I said to myself—the only person I can count on to listen. “Where are you going with this? Of course it was personal—so why did you choose to humiliate yourself publicly?” She went on to say she did it for their child. “What!” I yelled at my mirror because I was in the bathroom listening to the interview with the sound turned all the way up. “You did it for your kid? You stood next to him because you wanted her to know that having an affair with another person (gay or straight) was just fine? Forget his office or obligation to his constituency to appear to have a moral core.” I didn’t actually yell all that at myself—but that’s what I would have said if I hadn’t had to finish brushing my teeth.

Fireworks in Albany? No, Orlando!
Anyway, we had a marvelous time in the happiest place in the world. We even met a cast member who works in one of the shops that confessed she never wanted to leave the park – she so loved it that even on her days off she brought her daughter back to play. I’d say that’s happy. You may wonder why we went to the Magic Kingdom—short of a wizard putting a curse on us. Well, it turned out that Jordan and Kerry’s daughter Clare, wanted nothing more than a trip to Disney World once Clare was 21. So we used Clare’s birthday and Jordan’s college graduation as an excuse to spend three days in a place neither of the adults would go under ordinary circumstances. But as it turned out, the girls only insisted we make two trips to the Park with them and then we spent the rest of the time at the pool, the gym, or the cocktail lounge. And although both Kerry and I worked for some hours, we had a fine time. It was a delight to see our daughters shedding tears of joy over Beauty and Snow White (actually Belle is our favorite heroine because she reads), at a character breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Palace.

Wait a minute. I just had another one of my famous epiphanies. Maybe the reason these women stand by their man (I really think it’s abuse not just standing), is because they are suffering from fairy tale fatigue. It’s not that they are tired of fairy tales, it’s that they are exhausted by having to play Princess to a disgraced Prince. We have spent our whole lives believing that someday our Prince will come or, if you kiss a frog, he will turn magically turn into a prince. But most of us realize that there are hardly any Princes that aren’t damaged and if you kiss a frog you will surely get warts or at the very least wet. But some girls, (many wives of powerful men in elected office), even with degrees from Harvard and Yale, never stopped believing that once you’ve found your Prince you need to remain a loyal subject no matter the cost. Once you are a Prince you may think you are above the law and ordinary peons, so you can do whatever pleases you – never considering any consequences or the effect it might have on your Princess (note I did not say Queen—because the Queen was always wicked). It is why the Prince never thinks he has to step down from the throne.

This fairy tale needs a happy ending. But, unhappily, I’m not sure there is one – except that our girls know that dreams can come true in the Magic Kingdom and that’s where all the real Princes dwell—so look for a knight, an artist, or a political activist -- anyone not wearing a crown and royal robes.

By the way, I was so distracted by the Spitzer story that I hardly remembered there was a primary in Mississippi today. Shame on me. Barack Obama will win this one and if he campaigns again like he did in Iowa, he will surely win many more. We’re just sayin...Iris