Friday, November 28, 2008

No Need to Be Lonely

The idea of celebrating the holidays when it's convenient and without stress remains terrific. However, there is one problem. Everyone you know is celebrating and gone and you have to struggle to find something to do. Well, not exactly struggle – because you are unstressed and able to watch everyone else rushing around trying to have fun, if they didn't go somewhere else. This is such a circuitous predicament, but Jordan and I solved it by finding a way to have an enjoyable day – without cooking and visiting with family and friends – who may very well be somewhere else. (Here we go again).

Moving on... We were sitting around the apartment—David on his way to China – and we thought we would look in the Zagats guide for a place to have lunch. Unless they were Asian, most were closed. Finally, we found a wonderful place that was open. The York Grill, where I had been before but to which Jordan was a stranger, was open and happy to have us. But not at a table. They were totally booked but said we would be able to sit at the bar. The food was the same and there was no discount on the price, but it was pretty empty and they were happy to accommodate at whatever time we appeared.

About 1:00 we rolled out of bed and headed uptown. The weather was great and the walk from Lex to York was really pleasant. For many people sitting at a bar for a meal is not what they would choose. That is not the case with me. I love to sit at the bar anywhere that isn’t a dive. For example, one of my favorite things to do is go alone to the Reservoir Tavern, in Boonton, New Jersey. When you sit at the bar for dinner, you are never alone for long. People make conversation about many different things and if you can’t find commonality in topic, there’s usually a game on TV—does it matter what kind. I don’t think so.

The difference between most of my bar dinners and yesterday’s lunch, was that Jordan was with me. I am happy to report that she loved it as well. Just FYI, Jordan is a certified bartender and mixologist. Additionally, she is no stranger to the joys of making friends. In fact, from the time she was a little girl she thought it was her job to make friends with everyone we encountered anywhere. Yesterday was no exception. The bartender, Gerry, was delighted to share his holiday with us. He made the most glorious martini and was happy that we appreciated his talents. Charlie, the owner tried to find us a table, was impressed that we didn’t care, and kept coming back throughout the meal, just to chat.

The menu was prixe fix -- $44 without booze – not bad for appetizer, entree and dessert. We enjoyed our stay so much that in addition to the tip we bought him a drink – for later, which he thought was a fabulous gesture.

When we left, after three hours of gorging, we considered going to a show or a movie but decided we were too tipsy to sit through any venue where there was actual entertainment. We walked for a while and then caught a dreaded 2nd Avenue bus to 54th Street. We were a bit giddy with holiday cheer and made it up the three flights and directly into bed. I think we awoke a few times to watch a free movie, but we actually didn’t get out of bed until this morning when we joined friends for a lovely brunch.

All in all, our Thanksgiving continues to be memorable and without incident. And now we have to figure out what to do about moving Christmas Eve. We’re just sayin...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You Can't Have It Both Ways

Let’s be honest, (maybe a radical change for some of us), you can’t have it both ways. This is a reference to the ongoing conversation about the new Obama political appointments.

Here’s the dichotomy: Although this may turn out to be a somewhat bipartisan Administration, the reality is that the new President wants to appoint a significant number of talented and experienced Democrats. In order to do this he has to look at people who know how to operate in government. The cry of “Too many former Clinton people,” when combined with the call for “Experienced people”, is somewhat schizophrenic. Of course there are going to be people who worked for Clinton ,and a number of the Clinton people also worked for Carter. They could have worked for Kennedy but if they did, they are probably dead. So it would be hard to get them confirmed.

This is not a time for novices running Departments or Agencies. In order to get anything done the people in charge will have to understand how the system works and what to do in order to move things ahead. While the Civil Servants ordinarily want to maintain the status quo, that is not the case at this point in history. They know that in order for things to change for the better, they will have to help rather than hinder the new people in charge. And let’s not make any mistakes about this, Civil Servants know how to stop progress but in the end, they are public servants, many of who could have opted for much higher paying positions in the private sector but they chose to serve their country. The last eight years have not been easy for them They have been witness to catastrophic mistakes (like the disasters at FEMA) but were powerless to do anything about them -- short of resignation. And even Colin Powell, who might have made an important statement with his resignation when they lied to him, chose to remain the good soldier. After all, a job is a job and having health care is no joke.

Back to the new appointments. Rahm Emanuel worked at the White House as a Special Assistant to President Clinton. He knows what works. In a previous blob I talked about how I thought it was a brilliant appointment because, even though I was never crazy about his interpersonal skills, it does send a message to the Hill that they won’t be able to screw around with this President. That is very important. If the Congress thinks they can get away with anything they will try to do it—if they know they can’t they will do what they can to march in line. As witnessed by the standing ovation Senator Stevens received, there is no slime too sticky for the Senate to applaud. And regardless of the chatter, the Republicans will try to make trouble. They want to blame the Democrats for all the crises and they don’t care how they do it. Am I being unfair? Well it’s a game of wait and see. But, when I see television ads talking about the greatness of Sarah Palin, I have to wonder what these people are thinking. Just a note. My good friends who are Republicans, and yes I have many—that’s how you stay alive in Washington, are at a loss to explain any of this – and are hopeful that the party will be rebuilt in a way that makes sense – but again, it’s a wait and see.

Actually, I would like someone to explain to me why anyone would underwrite a series of ads that look to Sarah Palin as the future of the party. All you have to do is look at the her remarks and the kind of press in which she chooses to participate to realize that she has little or no judgment. You can say that she will learn about being media savvy over the next few years and that’s true. However, I’m not talking about being good on camera—which she is. I’m talking about thinking about what you do. In case you haven’t seen the latest Youtube video about pardoning the turkey, allow me to share with you.

Ok, I digress and I didn’t mean to get off the track. It’s natural for the media to complain about the new transition and specifically appointments. This one is good, that one is bad, this will help, that one won’t. If they didn’t do this they would have nothing to say and the airways would be devoid of talking head crap. Perish that idea. The bottom line is that you have to look for experienced people who will be loyal. In order to do that you have to look at people from your own Party who have served. It’s not easy to find people (good people) willing to give up lucrative careers to go back into government. (In Washington the question is framed “Are you going back in?” Like it’s a jail term). And when you do identify those people you need to remember that, if they agree, they are serving the public and deserve to be lauded rather than derided. You simply can’t have it both ways. We're just sayin'... Iris

Monday, November 24, 2008

Finally... David's Olympic (Beijing) pictures in a gallery

Sorry this took so long.. but I'm just getting the hang of this gallery thing... enjoy...

Reflections on Fotoweek DC

At the middle of last week (the 19th) I joined the wonderful documentary photographer Eugene Richards for an evening of shared pictures and comments in conjunction with Fotoweek DC, the first annual (I'm sure this will not be the last) photography festival held in recent years in Washington. The nation's capital is one place which has exhibited serious pent-up demand for such a cultural event: the first weekend alone more than 5000 people passed through the headquarters and (across the street) Contact Press Images / Contacts show, as well as some wonderful archival material from the Black Star files, going back to the 30s. On Wednesday, Gene and I spoke to an overflow crowd of nearly 300 at the Navy Memorial Auditorium on 7th St, downtown. It's heartwarming, in this age of internet/Youtube/Facebook to see that people are still interested in photography, and photojournalism/documentary in particular. Both Gene and I have made our lives all about following and reporting on what's gone on in our world in the last four decades. We had chosen different paths to do it, but essentially, we are looking to tell stories with our pictures. (a picture of us..) Gene's stories tend to be very personal, very much him placing himself in an intimate situation, and coming away with pictures which demand to be looked at. In almost every case, he is the only photographer present, and he relates on a very personal level with his subjects. Much of what I have done is the polar opposite. While I do plenty of individual projects (i.e. me alone with the subject), in large part what I do is cover the big event. The ones with photographers coming out the wazoo. Political campaigns, the Olympics, life in Washington D.C. to name a few.

Those are very different types of work, and require very different approaches. Gene described one situation where he just hung around with a family for three days, never taking his camera out, becoming, in essence, part of the woodwork, before they finally relented and invited him in. Very few photographers have the patience, energy and concentration to understand that presence is perhaps the key element. That you need to become a non-threatening part of the landscape, in order to be able to enter that landscape, and begin observing with your camera. I find Gene's work quite amazing, in that he never flinches from a tough moment, and somehow has a sense of what it will take to bring back a picture which tells the story he sees.

I was quite pleased that there wasn't a single question about technique. Nothing about f-stops or favorite lenses. In our attempt to speak frankly about how we work, I think the audience understood that it is – to paraphrase Lance Armstrong -- not about the bike. Cameras – and technique -- can help you land a picture, but they will never substitute for the raw, elemental eye of a photographer, who sees what must be seen first, and uses that camera to bring the picture back for others to share. One of my favorite expressions was thrown out years ago at some cluster-esque event. Just take a camera, one lens, and be ready, and if need be, “zoom with your feet.” That's why you have two of them. They can be amazingly handy as zooming tools. Forward, backward, left, or right. Go where the camera pulls you. That IS the place to be.

I'm very glad the Fotoweek was such a success, as there are a combination of interest and talent in the DC area which is seldom given a chance to flourish. I hope that next year's event will have an even greater pull, and support from the local folks. This is the kind of Art which can really make a difference. We're just sayin'....David.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Giving Thanks Whenever

As is often the case, we celebrated a major holiday on a day that was not actually the holiday. This started a few years ago when Jordan wasn’t going to be available for the day of whatever celebration—I think it may have been Hannukah. Hannukah has always been a time we loved to party, but without Jordan making the latkes (traditional potato pancakes) for just us, it seemed a waste of time. I think we celebrated Hannukah sometime during the Christmas break. The year before we changed the day of celebration, we started a tradition of doing a Karaoke Hannukah. We had the karaoke machine but I’m all for participatory karaoke, and thank God for Oriental Trading, where you can purchase massive amounts of anything (in this case, woodwind instruments) for mere pennies.

Jeff with Cooper (Cooper is the one with four legs)
This kind of buying, or supporting the Chinese economy may be questionable, but whose fault is that? And it is, after all, Hannukah. The selection for musical instruments was surprisingly vast, but when I assigned the items to the invitees it became much easier. In other words, I assumed that no one who had been invited, (despite their theater training) was fluent in any actual music producing instrument, and I wasn’t going to drag the piano from the sunporch into the kitchen (our stage for any event -- you have to see it to understand why).

Anyway, I bought lots of percussion, a few flutes, some whistle-like things, and of course, tambourines. In this way the audience could accompany the singer and if necessary, drown them out. The kids were as happy about the possibility of entertaining as they were about the food—but most are theater kids and they always want to do a show. They did want to take their instruments home but I explained that because we were establishing a tradition, they would have to leave them at the door. But they would see them again at the next event—no matter the date.

Last year we had two Hannukahs. One in November in DC for those friends and one in January for our NY friends. Of course, I was not going to schlep the basket of musical items to NY, but I replaced them with something almost as entertaining. They were sing-along poppers. You know the kind they have in England, that never actually pop, but which include a neatly folded paper crown for every person, as well as some cheap gift items. They are the English version of a piñata. The difference between these and the ordinary popper was that each, in the box of twelve, gave the participant a different part to sing in any one of ten silly songs. Kind of like “Row, Row, Row, your Boat”, but you didn’t sing at the same time. Hard to explain but much fun to do. I have looked in every store where I might possibly have found them—so we would have a NY stash for the upcoming Hannukah, (whenever that works out) but I can’t find them anywhere.

This year we started a new tradition. To have Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving. We decided that it was simply too difficult to travel the week of Thanksgiving and additionally too frenetic to shop or deal with the crowds. Equally important was that David was not going to be around and my mother didn’t care about the day as long as we were all together. Jordan and I traveled to Seattle last Tuesday and David met us out here on Thursday.

Mom scopes out some pictures
Mom isn’t actually in Seattle, she is on Bainbridge Island—a mere 30 minute ferry ride away. The Northwest is beautiful and you can actually see that when it’s not raining—which is not as often as I would like. Els and I shopped for most of what we needed on Friday.

Turkey, stuffing, French cut greenbeans to use beneath the true delicacy-- french fried onion rings, squash, potatoes (mixed with buttermilk and butter instead of cream), vegetables for the stuffing, lots of butter and broth and juice for the gravy – and wine.

Oh, and we absolutely had to have a gingerbread house for Jordan and Devin to build. It turned out this one was pretty much built before they did anything to it, and the candy was a bit sparse, but they were both so consumed with “Twilight” the new book for kids about vampires (little kids, so there’s no gore or sex), that they didn’t care about construction complications—or the lack of M&M’s. It didn’t matter, it was cute enough to use as a centerpiece and Mom thought it was gorgeous.

David’s cousins, Ernie, Diana and Nora came from Seattle and joined us for the festivities. It was delightful and without stress. I think this idea, about celebrating holidays when it’s convenient rather than everyone else does,

the cousins, Jordan, Devin, Nora
can help with a few things, not the least of which are those dreaded traffic jams. What it also does is to make you realize that the holiday is important and should be celebrated whenever you can do it with the people you love. We’re just sayin…..Iris

Jordan tries her self out as a blonde (Devin supplying the blondes)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Disappointed Expectations?

The question of the day for the pundits seems to be: If Obama doesn’t expressly say, “I can’t do everything at once, so lower your expectations,” will people be disappointed in his ability to make change the first week out. Boy, are they stupid.

This was a campaign that inspired people to hope for a new world, a different direction. This is a candidate who brought young people out to the polls where no other candidate ever could. Here’s what the pundits don’t seem to get because they are still doing ‘old’ think. He’s not going to say, “Oh, don’t expect too much from me.” He’s going to say, “Of course we can do it, and don’t let the nay sayers tell you any different.” The nay sayers, being who they are and having the power of TV—or rather the luxury of only talking to other pundits, will go on and on about how the economic crisis didn’t disappear on January 22, and there will still be troops in Iraq on the 23rd. But that does not in any way diminish the hope we all have that despite the reckless and careless – some would say selfish and heartless, policies of the Bush Administration, all those horrible problems will eventually be dealt with.

I for one intend to be hopeful for the next few years, and with good reason. Obama won this election because, not only did he believe that he could make a difference, but because he surrounded himself with a strong team of people who, together, are absolutely capable of identifying, outlining, and dealing with the issues. McCain never did that. When Obama was endorsed by Colin Powell, McCain said he, too, had been endorsed by five Secretaries of State—not a one of them still alive. Yes, they are breathing but as my son used to say when I talked about the “good old days”, “So Ma, when you were alive was there electricity?” So I mean ‘alive’ in the nicest possible way.

Changing the subject a bit: so what do we do about GM? Tom Friedman says that GM’s idea of being visionary is to give gas tax breaks to people who own Hummers. He says that before we give GM one penny the Congress better make their expectations about change—very clear. And speaking of GM, they have a Youtube ad that explains their position about why they should be part of the bailout. The thing about Youtube is that you watch and enjoy. The successful Youtube videos are not about reading something. That’s what newspapers are for. I guess their PR people are desperate to get their message out and they heard a rumor that Youtube was the new way to advertise—but I think they missed the point (could this be the first time?) I could be wrong (and that would be rare) but vision is not words – it’s about seeing.

Time for another ‘change’. How about those Obamas on 60 minutes? Didn’t you love the fact that they are so obviously in love and normal? Maybe being in love isn’t that normal but it is certainly what we all hope for. Wasn’t the part about his awful apartment absolutely where we’ve all been with boyfriends at one time or another? I remember when David and I finally made some kind of commitment and I decided to clean up the apartment he rented and loaned to anyone who happened to be passing through NY. It didn’t matter if he knew them or if they had washed in a month, they were welcome to trash the ‘pad’ The first thing we had to do was to change the locks—or in this case get the keys back from about 3,000 wandering photojournalists. It was months before I agreed to sleep over, because it was so dirty and I never knew who would walk in. So when the new First Lady (that sounds terrific doesn’t it) talked about how she visited his apartment but refused to sleep there, I could certainly relate to it. Did you not love it when he talked about taking a walk, and how he wanted to take her for a walk, and how they wanted the kids to have normal lives. If you heard, actually listened, what they were saying, (and it was all the morning shows talked about), then you understood that these are people who had a dream, worked hard, and were able to convince enough people that they should live that dream with them.

OH MY, I’m starting to sound like someone who is not a cynic – we can’t let that happen. The Congress needs to take a lesson from the President elect. They need to say “yes we can” make rules about how all that money, that belongs to the taxpayer, is spent. They need to say “yes we can” make this a better America. They need to agree to work together and say “yes we can,” and make that American dream a reality for so many more people. The nation will have disappointed expectations only if the Congress plays those stupid partisan games. Then we’ll have to rid ourselves of those nay sayers even if it isn’t on the 23 of January. We’re just sayin... Iris

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Which Would You Choose?

When George Bush and Dick Cheney get together just to shoot the ‘dreck’ (it’s Yiddish and needs no explanation), do you think they say, “gee we really screwed things up”. Probably not. Dick Cheney is too arrogant and George Bush was never good at taking responsibility for anything.

Well just thinking about this is so depressing I cannot bring myself to blob about it right now. So let’s turn to a much more interesting subject. If you had the choice of being a Senator or the Secretary of State, which would you choose. Here’s my pithy analysis.

The job Secretary of State takes the ‘Principal’ (that’s Washington talk for the person to whom, as a staffer you cater, and at whose beck and call you always are) to many foreign and exotic lands, where there is excellent shopping. This may not be at the top of any priority list initially, but eventually it is worth consideration because, not only can you buy remarkable products, but you don’t have to declare them at customs. Well, you do have to pay something—just for show—but it isn’t nearly what you would have to fork over as a tourist. As Sec State (that’s an abbreviation without using an acronym, which I hate), you fly on your own plane, which leave from a military base and you don’t have to wait in line or, if you happen to be wearing a bra with wires, be strip searched by some nervous Security Nellie or Ned ...if you get lucky.

When you arrive in the foreign land, you are greeted by your counterpart, (who is a VIP in that country), a pretty child with flowers, and sometimes, if you get really lucky, a military contingent who get all dressed up in uniforms, with guns and they salute with great frequency. Once on the ground, you get to go to breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions where you hob nob with the hoi polloi (I think that’s how you spell it – or maybe it’s hoi paloi like in France). In between the eating, there is often a meeting – with the hois and pollois -- although not necessarily the same ones. But there is no pressure for the Sec State do anything except look and sound authoritative, because some Foreign Service officer has already tended to the logistics and details of whatever needs to be done. Like if the Sec wants to sign a treaty or alter a policy that will have enormous impact on the fate of the world, they don’t have to do anything except insist on the correct kind of pen – hopefully embellished with a feather.
Then there’s the furniture. If you don’t like the office décor left by your predecessor, you can go to the US Government furniture store (some would call it a warehouse), and pick out whatever you like. There may even be a little something George Washington once used – granted it will be old, dirty and probably bug infested, but if you want it you can have it. I remember when I was at State as an Office Director. My job title was not commensurate with my Foreign Service level, so although I had picked out some whacky red modern Danish stuff, the GSA (people who really run the government) told me I could not keep it and tried to take it away from me. Needless to say, I was beside myself (picture me, and me being hysterical) and I rallied the troops, who physically blocked the door. The GSA personnel decided that the furniture was so ugly no one else would want it and they left, -- it was not worth the effort. Anyway, my point is the Sec State can have anything they want from anywhere, anytime, any place. The drawback is that when the President goes, so do you –could be 4 or eight years. But it is not a lifetime appointment like the Supreme Court.
What about the Senate? A Senator is one of 100. To get anything done requires compromise, negotiations and sometimes threats. While the job may last longer than a Presidential appointment, you have to reapply every six years. And that means raising millions of dollars, hob nobbing for the votes and the bucks, rather than the a glorious international agreement, and never being certain if you are making a difference until you’ve been there for many years. There is a certain amount of visibility – if you want it, and the scrutiny about finances is a bit less stringent.
So, just for fun, put on your thinking cap and look at both jobs and decide which is more appealing. Or maybe you should do it while you’re on line at an airport waiting to go through security. We’re just sayin.... Iris

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And If You're In DC this Friday

The first Annual DC Fotofest kicks off this week, with a number of gallery shows, and actual photographers who took those pictures, at places all over Washington DC. Yours truly is taking part in a wonderful expo of giant Contact sheets: Contact's Contacts: 25 enlarged contact sheets by various Contact Press Images photographers over the last 30 years, including several of mine. This one was done on a trip to rural Bolivia a dozen years ago. The great thing about contact sheets (which you can duplicate in digital, but it doesn't have quite the same "I'm Not Lying" truth to it,) is how you can plot the thinking and working process of the photographer, and see what they did to make THAT image happen. In each case, there is a blow up accompanying from the contact sheet, and some of these pictures are ones you already know. The show is at 3333 M st NW, in the heart of Georgetown, Washington DC. It should be quite a kick off. As Ken Jarecke noted in his blog (Mostly True), even if you dont have an official invite, show up and say you know him (or me).. I am also speaking at the Navy Memorial Auditorium (7th and Penn) next Wednesday night with Eugene Richards, the great documentary photographer from New York. Here is the schedule for the week.. catch some of the events! We're just sayin'.... David

Peasants attend Health Clinic, Bolivia --

He Was A 'Great'

I’m visiting Paris for a couple of days this week. (It probably sounds like City-dropping, but there was a time in my life when I would just hop a plane and be here the next day without a great deal of planning or forethought. It still feels very much like home or if not home, at least a place where I feel comfy, and in whose language, after a decaf’ or two, I’m pretty much up to speed in.) And lest there be any doubt, NO, you cannot wear Jeans to a Presidential event at the Elysées Palace. But that aside, and forgetting for a minute that while the chic French have more chic people per hundred units of populace, the signature look of the decidedly unchic – (or do I need to redefine chic?) – the 4 day growth of beard, carried with masterful Gallic insouciance – is also a big seller on the streets of Paris. My suspicion is that Warren Buffett didn’t buy into Gillette based on razor sales in France. England, Germany? Maybe, but certainly not here.

Yesterday was November 11th, and while like most cultures, it remains difficult for the older folks to teach the younger ones about the things which matter, the French, having almost succumbed to holidays as a way of life, still try and remind their kids why that day is important. 11/11/11:11 The moment in 1918 that the World War One Armistice took place. If you aren’t sure what that’s about, read Tom Keneally’s wonderful masterwork Gossip From the Forest. It will fill you in on what happened and what might have happened (it’s factual event based fiction) at the end of the war and makes for gripping reading. There were joint ceremonies in Verdun this year, the site of a horrible trench battle in 1916 which killed almost 300000 troops. In Paris, it was hard to find much of anything ceremonial, so in the afternoon, I decided to make my way the short distance from my hotel to the Pere Lachaise Cemetary and see what was happening. Out of ideas of what to photograph somewhere? Head to the cemetary. Life is always abundant there. Pere Lachaise is in a district in the 20th arrondisment which is quite working class, and the streets around it are filled with Moroccan, Algerian, Egyptian and African cafes. You pass by small groups of men, sipping coffee, and talking with great enthusiasm, as if they are on their home turf. Which they are. Entering the cemetary there is a large board posting the names and locations of some of France’s finest sons and daughters. Yves Montand, Edith Piaf, Apollinaire (not the water, the Poet.. and as Jordan Kai might say… “and… a singer!”) They are all there, and hundreds more. It was a place frequented by the lesser classes (to hear a docent describe the place) until the end of the 19th century when burial here finally achieved that status of chic. Then it was a race to see who could get in before they ran out of room. Happily, there is a lot of space, and though crowded, you can get a wonderful sense of the breadth of French cultural and political life with a long leisurely stroll. Which is what hundreds of folks were doing on yesterday’s Armistice holiday.

I walked past tomb after tomb, each more decorative than the last, till I arrived at Section 6. There, a crowd of 50 or 60 was huddled around a fence, a beret-covered gent speaking to them. He spoke with a very authoritative voice, as if he regretted not taking that teaching job in the Sorbonne Philosophy Dept. when it was offered fifteen years ago. And he’s been making up for it since. He’d obviously been going on for a while by the time I arrived, and I assumed he must be doing a tour of the grounds, pointing out the notables. A woman, the kind who aims her point & shoot camera, fires a frame, then turns around and departs, leaving herself with the impression she has actually seen something, asked him when he was going to finish, so she could take a picture without all the crowd. He berated her with delicious irony (even in French I got it), and kept yakking, pleased at the sonaural tones of his own voice. Then, finally, he did begin to wrap it up. “Jeeem,” he said “was buried July 7, 1971, with five people in attendance.” Like the rest of the people there, I couldn’t imagine a funeral at this location with only five people, so I waited for more. But he gathered his troops and moved on, and I was left standing there, all of sudden nearly alone, in front of the headstone of Jim Morrison, the Doors singer who died in mysterious circumstances in that summer of ’71. I was then in East Bengal (Calcutta) covering the story of the millions of Bengali refugees fleeing East Pakistan (and what was to become Bangladesh.) Rock and Roll was far from my mind, though I’d had two encounters with the Doors.

In 1967, at the Colorado College Homecoming Dance (is there a less likely candidate for a ‘hot’ band?) the Doors, who’d been signed the previous spring before “Light My Fire” made them superstars, actually showed up and played a 90 minute set. It was the only time I didn’t carry a camera my whole college career, and alas, I have no pictures. But a year later, in London, on my 23rd birthday, I saw a Doors/Jefferson Airplane concert at the famed Roundhouse. Dork as always, I had no date, but I did have a camera, and though the results are quite uncompelling, it was the beginning of a not very productive time of trying to photograph rock musicians.

The interesting thing about Jim’s gravesite at Pere Lachaise is that quite like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, the kids of today are totally plugged into their music, and carry a sincere appreciation for them. And, being France, you see wonderful little moments of romance nestled near the edge of the tomb. I suppose that youthful appreciation of these musicians is rather like that of my generation’s feeling for Glenn Miller and Ray Noble.

I wandered off and met a woman who carried pounds of documents, guides to where the famous are interred. She mentioned Chopin, and as time was fast bringing the day to an end, I followed a short route she gave me to see the Chopin monument. But just before arriving, I turned a corner, to see a very modern headstone, laid out cross ways with two names on it. It took my breath away. The jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani, a man whose music could light up a room in a singular way. He was a little music machine. And I mean a little machine. Born with severe handicaps, tiny and mal-formed, he took the body he had and did absolutely wonderful things with it. His music, fresh and seductive, takes you places you forgot to stop on the way, and lets you linger. I guess I’d known he’d passed away, but certainly had no idea it was nearly ten years ago. I stopped in my tracks and leaned forward to touch the headstone. Such a mighty rock for such a tiny man. Such a mighty sound for such a tiny frame. He seemingly never understood what he couldn’t do, only what he could, and lucky for us, there is his music to prove it. I looked around to find a stone to leave – in the Jewish tradition – on the headstone before parting. Stones were not easy to come by, but I did find one, and as I walked back I heard a French woman, shocked as I was to find Petrucciani here,

explaining who he was to her friends. “Un pianist de jazz, qui avait des enormes handicappés. Mais il etait un Grand.” Yes, he was ‘un Grand.’ This little man, barely three feet high, was as ‘grand’ as they come. We’re just sayin…. David

as always, click on an image to see it full size

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's AMAZing

On October 6, 2007, my new friend, The Amazing Kreskin, predicted that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. He revealed the prediction, which had been on display in a strong box, on November 6. Joey Reynolds, a renowned talk show host in NY, had a duplicate box with the prediction secured in his possession at the radio station. The boxes were opened in the presence of the press.

If you think back to December of 2007 you will remember that there were a plethora of Democratic candidates, including John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Republicans like Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and of course, John McCain. Additionally, it was pretty clear to most Democrats, that Hillary was the likely choice. So how does he do it?

In the best of Amazing’s spirit and an adept sense of showmanship, he was so sure of his prediction that he was willing to bet 10 people each $10,000 that his prediction was correct. Any money he won would have been turned over to charity. Not surprisingly, not one person was willing to take the challenge. Because, after all, the man is Amazing.

So, how did he know? Did he channel the spirits and talk to Abe Lincoln. No he did not. His predictions were based on the serious crisis facing the nation including terrorism, the economy, and an Oprah Winfrey endorsement. Who says celebrity endorsements aren’t important. Well, maybe they’re not. But Oprah isn’t an ordinary celebrity. She is the voice of an enormous number of women. Some campaigns call them “non-college educated”. I think that’s very arrogant. And condescending. How about we say, “high school educated” The pollsters don’t like that for whatever reason, but it’s one of the reasons women don’t like pollsters. They don’t hear what we’re saying.

What’s also amazing (not the person but the idea), is that so many people who were skeptical about an Obama victory, are now saying that they knew it all the time. The same people who said that we needed to consider the “Bradley” factor and others who said young people wouldn’t show up – were absolutely incorrect. The Amazing looked at three factors to make his prediction. But he’s a guy who is well read, sensitive to the temper of the country, and incredibly perceptive. The media was prepared to ignore all the signs because they didn’t fit the picture. They didn’t feel the passion of the people who were tired of the same old crap—including the media crap. They blab about this thing and that. They are self assured and not hesitant to tell you what you should be thinking and doing and yet, they don’t know much more than you, and have the same ability to screw up. Like didn’t you love it when Joe Scarborough, the host of “Morning Joe” and a good born again Christian, dropped the f-bomb yesterday. He did it without thinking—like so many of us. And he felt incredibly stupid when he realized what he had done – like so many of us. The pundits and talking heads are no different than we are except maybe they don’t know as much because they don’t listen to voices that should be ringing in their ears.

I used to go to Wal*Mart, look around and wonder why these people were no longer Democrats. The answer was so simple. Our predictions about who they were was totally off base. We, like the Amazing, just needed not only to listen but to hear what people were feeling. Yes, hear what they were feeling. The President-elect understood. He realized that people wanted to be included in whatever the change and listened to about their crisis. He got it and it was truly Amazing. We’re just sayin….Iris

And Now For Something Completely Different

Due to popular demand (ahhh, ok, I asked myself this morning in the shower)... here is a link to the video I did at the Beijing Olympics called "The Olympics You Didn't See", a little travelogue about what it's like to cover a monstrous event like the Olympics. Have fun, bring a cuppa tea (its 20 minutes.....) Hope you like. We're just sayin...David

Common Sense, Not Very Common

Politics never really fails to amaze, right? I mean, look at last week’s history making victory and the way there was such good response to it. With the exception of Sean, Rush, and probably the Governor of Alaska, there was an amazing outpouring of very richly textured goodwill (uh oh, now I’m using words that the masters of the Computer world used to use in describing a rich ‘online experience’ .. sorry.) Of course for President-elect Obama, the real work is now just starting. If you thought getting elected was tough, you should try Governance! Iris’ latest book “So You Think You Can Be President” is pointed at that very gap. It’s about the realization that the skills needed to govern aren’t necessarily the same ones you might have needed to be elected. Sure, you need a coherent set of plans, you need good organization and people in the field, but beyond that, the thing which so often ends up missing, and which the book goes out of its way to point out in a rather hilarious way, is the lack of Common Sense. People become far too involved with their titles and a desire to accrue power, and whether or not they think they’re being screwed by either a subordinate or a boss, to spend proper time working on the things which matter. Such is life in Government.

Some years the ‘things which matter’ are a little more difficult to define. Jimmy Carter’s transition was seen as a breath of fresh air after the Nixon years (though Ford did do a good deal to leaven that); from Reagan to Bush I was more like an orderly continuation than it was a real change of power. From Bush I to Clinton it was “the Economy, stupid” much as it is now, though in comparison with today’s outsized distress, 1993 actually seems benign. Barack Obama, having conquered all the electoral ghosts which seemed to line up against him – age, the Bradley factor, race in general, experience – now faces the serious issues of tackling the things, limited though they may be, which a President can do to try and put things back on an even keel. It’s not as if you can’t just list the problems facing the incoming President. But let me remind you it’s not simply the incoming administration who is facing these issues. For the last 7 ¾ years, the current folks have been in charge. Aside from the obvious good deeds in Africa on Malaria for which kudos should be offered, there are a host of things which seem either demonstrably worse than they were in ’01, or simply victims of neglect. Faced with a concern about keeping the ‘base’ happy, far too much time was spent on spurious tasks (American participation in foreign birth control programs, for example) which were not only backward thinking, but showed a waste of time and energy from far more pressing issues.

This may seem petty on my part, but I did run up against one of those moments last week at the White House. And at the outset let me say I have never entered those hallowed grounds without feeling a particularly strong sense of history, and obligation to act in a manner befitting someone who reveres the institution of the Presidency, and the grounds which house it. I first went to the White House in July of 1967 as a 20 year old intern for the TIME Photo department. It was, for a college Junior, a big deal. My first event there was a South Lawn arrival ceremony for LBJ to welcome the King of Thailand, then a U S ally in Vietnam. It was a full blown State arrival: trooping the line of soldiers with military bands playing, thoughtful speeches about the friendship of both countries. It made an impression. I have never gotten blasé about going inside those wrought iron gates. Even in the difficult days of August 1974, when, because of Nixon’s desire not to be seen crossing from the EOB to the West Wing, White House guards locked all of us inside the Press Room, I felt that I was in the right place. (Ten minutes later the doors opened, but as it was just days before his resignation, we took it very personal.)

Before me, dozens of world class journalists, correspondents and photographers have worked the White House. When you walk that hall from the Press Room to the Oval Office, you can almost feel the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Grant, and FDR beside you. So, with that in mind I have always tried to comport myself in a manner befitting someone who respected the terrain. Clothes have sometimes been an issue. But I have always believed that the standard bearer in White House photographic protocol was Dirck Halstead, for twenty years a TIME photographer covering the White House, with more Presidential cover pictures than anyone else. Dirck remains a class act, even as he has morphed into video, and multi media. His hallmark threads were freshly ironed jeans, and brightly polished Gucci shoes. No one could ever say Dirck wasn’t ‘turned out.’ He actually carried the Robert Redford look better than anyone I’ve ever known. (The “Robert Redford look” is defined thus: you arrive at a semi fancy restaurant, wearing jeans and nice Gant lavender shirt. The Maitre’de informs you that you’re not properly attired. You counter “Well if Robert Redford got out of a cab dressed in Jeans, and walked in, would you have a table for him?” The answer is usually “well, perhaps…” and the next rejoinder is “Well, I’d like to have HIS table….”) But while jeans can make the stone mason, or jeans can make the plumber, or jeans can make the paving engineers, they can, if worn nicely, freshly, impart a look of serious intent. I have always felt that if I was reasonably put together, I could pass.

Former Washington Times/Newsweek editor Arnaud de Borchgrave – who spent decades scooting from one coup d’etat and civil war to the next, used to say that if he traveled with a pair of combat fatigues and a tuxedo, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t be prepared for. I accept that idea, except that most tuxedo jackets have lousy pockets for storing a lens or light meter. So, perhaps more often than we should, there are moments when some of us end up at the White House in blue jeans. Freshly laundered, yes, and usually in the company of a $60 shirt. So last Thursday, at what will no doubt be President Bush’s last cabinet meeting, Paul Richards of AFP and I were singled out of the crowd of a dozen still photographers, and refused entry to the photo opportunity in the Cabinet Room. Like Paul, I have been on the road for months doing the campaign. We were both surprised, unhappily, when we were informed that with just months to go in an 8 year tenure, the White House has decided to ban jeans from the Oval Office, and (apparently) the Cabinet Room if worn by photographers. (There is also a ban on white sneakers… not brown, blue or black, just white.) Now, I don’t really feel like I’m on very strong ground here, in terms of protesting that this seems quite arbitrary. I honor the decorum of the White House. My question is this: (and here is where the question of Common Sense enters:) if this was so important an issue, why did it take Seven and ½ years for it to become Policy? Are banning Jeans in the Cabinet room the solution to a failed housing market, falling real estate, diminished economic growth, stymied military action in Afghanistan, a resurgent Russia? Well, maybe not. But if they are, wouldn’t it have been smart to start enforcing the rule at the beginning of the term, when it could have really done some good? Here we are nearly 8 years into the new decade, and NOW we have to deal with the Jeans issue. I thought about trying the Redford argument, but I realized that even Bob might have found himself cooling his heels with us back in the Press room. At least he could have signed a few autographs. Me? I’m headed to Steve & Barry’s to score a couple of pair of chinos. In this wacky and unpredictable world, you clearly can’t have enough pairs of tan slacks. And I’m happy to do whatever I can to further the cause of (how did Miss South Carolina put it?) “...U S Americans should help... build up South Africa and The we will be able to build up our future” We’re just sayin’…..David

Friday, November 07, 2008

History in the Buffer

Barack Obama, on the campaign plane, October 2008

Most photojournalists like to feel that what they do in their work has some historic sense to it. I mean, we're photoJOURNALISTS. We like to think that our pictures are, as we often say, the “first draft of history.” They tell the story without words. It's the kind of communication which relies on the eyes, and the heart, and crosses cultural lines in ways that cause words to stumble. For all our sentiment about being historians, most of the time we focus our lenses on situations, people, events which, while important for a moment or two, might not fall into the category of earthshaking or.... historic. But the other night it was different.

These days political events.... rallies, speeches, town halls, are distinguished by the fact that at the rear of the room there is a big stand for the TV cameras and photographers. Bring your telephoto lenses, please. The platforms are usually a long ways back. Sometimes, if you have good advance people, there is a closer platform for a second TV (the 'cut' camera) crew, and photographers, too, called the Cut Platform. But in the area surrounding the stage, there is a kind of 'no man's land' called the Buffer. Doing just what it says, the buffer gives the organizers a little space between the crowd and the speaker, and avoids unsightly grasping of a candidate by overzealous supporters. But it also provides, more importantly, a space for photographers to work. “Working the Buffer” has become the default space that the travelling photogs usually work from. It creates an odd chemistry. We are usually kneeling in front of the real folks, some of whom have spent hours in the front of the hall, in order to get the best view. And aside from the photographers, they do. But that buffer is a special place. It's not always the best angle, often it just gives you a nostril shot – something few politicians are fond of, though the truth is, most of us aren't that fond of it either. Yet, it is close, it lets you really study the subject, and gives you the one chance at some kind of intimacy in a place which might have tens of thousands in attendance. We are there as something akin to zoo animals. You can get close to us, but it's not advisable to try and pet the animals. They could get ornery. They might be testy. Yet, you are separated by a 'bicycle rack' barrier from the crowds. The one thing you can do is talk. And when you know that at some point you might be blocking a viewer as you attempt to shoot pictures, you try and soothe them all ahead of time, with small talk and chat. And it's usually pretty interesting, since these folks are the ones who are the most committed, the most dedicated supporters of all. So we talk, we chat, we stroll, we move around. We are, after all, just people, with cameras. So there we all were, in the buffer, about twenty of us, Tuesday night in Chicago.

I had been full of trepidation for weeks. I work objectively or at least I try to. I spent time with McCain, Romney, Hillary, and pretty much everyone who ran this year. My mission is to try and make a great picture of whomever I am with. It's not kosher, and I certainly don't subscribe to it, to use your camera as a vicious weapon and try to portray someone as a total buffoon. That doesn't mean that if they act like a buffoon I won't shoot it. But I try and transmit what I see. I want to capture what I see, not necessarily create my own statement without regard to the visual facts of the moment. And when we found ourselves in the Second City, awaiting election night, there was electricity in the air. Sure all the polls had Obama leading. But, conditioned by the past decades electoral mischief, I thought it very possible that there could be enough messing around with results to give McCain the election, if it were close already. And somehow, I felt it would be close, Very close. Perhaps those nagging doubts were the product of a suspicious mind, one that rarely takes what Government officals say as fact. My years in Vietnam did nothing, if not power my view of skepticism. So while I thought there might be some kind of chance he could win, there was a feeling of dread that something untoward would happen.

I spent an hour photographing and chatting with those front row folks. Just before ten o'clock, I noticed on the CNN Jumbotron, that we were just 45 seconds away from the next round of Poll closings. “Hmmm,” I thought, “maybe there will be some movement then.” Boy, was there! At the moment of 10 o'clock, the screen changed on the jumbotron to something which came as a shock: “Barack Obama Elected President.” Those four words seemed to bathe over the crowd, which unleashed an unbelievable wave of cheers and screams in return. It had actually happened. Obama had conquered all those terrible stories, all the worries, all the seemingly unmanageable obstacles. The noise seemed to permeate your skin. The vibrations shook you to the ground. Flags, hundreds of them waved, in a splash of red and white. It was a transcendent moment. The world had changed. It truly was historic. For the next hour, we wandered through the buffer, grabbing a picture here or there. Tears were everywhere. So were the smiles of disbelief. And an amazing sense of satisfaction.

And as we passed each other in the buffer, we, the hard boiled photographers who have seen it all, would grab the arm of a colleague, and in a low conspiratorial voice, designed not to make public our inner feelings, we'd share the sense of amazement, the satisfaction of just being there. The power of knowing that even in the age of Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, and Larry Craig, that it was possible to find positive surprise in the world of politics. There were knowing looks. We didn't betray our objectivity, but you couldn't possibly be in that crowd of a hundred thousand partisans, all cheering their victory, without simply feeling that to be here, human, and alive was the best thing in the world at that moment. There was a richness to the moment which seemed to far surpass the photographs themselves. That happens sometimes... The opening of the Berlin Wall was a great moment in modern history. Yet for those of us there, the emotion of the moment was so much stronger than the pictures we took.

Me, working the 'buffer': by Mike Green/AP
At one moment I stopped and looked over the barrier. A few feet away stood a lovely, elegantly dressed black woman in her 50s. Our eyes met. I held out my hand to her, and she grabbed it. I squeezed; she squeezed back. “I think,” I said, “that you and I are about the same age. And I mean that in the nicest way.” The people around us laughed. “We've been through a LOT.” She nodded in agreement. “And now, we're here. Congratulations to us.” We held our hands together a few more seconds, and then let go. We each kept our smile, happily earned. That shared moment, like dozens of others that night, was like a push-pin to hold the memory up, and keep it close at hand. For once, we really had shared something historic. And you didn't have to be a photographer to taste it. It was there, it was free, it was available. And it was us. We're just sayin'.....David
as always, click on a picture to see full size

Thursday, November 06, 2008

In Case You Missed It, The Election is Over....

Wednesday morning:

The election is over. The Democrats are back in charge – whatever that means. John McCain gave a terrific and very gracious speech. (It was the old McCain back at last. Hopefully for good.) When Jordan got up this morning she said the best thing about waking was that Obama had still won. She and her friends couldn’t have been anymore excited if I had won. (I use me as an example because they are also great fans of mine and I don’t know who else they like). The truth is we all won—America won. Jordan’s friends are a wondrous bunch of 22-26 year olds. Mostly theater majors, many gay. They had rigged a wall size map of the states—on a wall. And as the polls closed they colored in the results. It was not as sophisticated as the NBC Rockefeller Center map but it was much more meaningful, and no one needed ice skates. Jordan filled in Virginia and couldn’t stop saying “We’re blue mom, can you believe it.” There was a great deal of screaming and crying and your basic 20 year old hoopla. The only difficult disappointment was the passing of Prop 8 in California which outlawed gay marriage. None the less, it was a privilege to be a part of what they wanted to be.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the past, and the dreams I had for the future of my kids. My parents were blue collar people who pretended to be white collar class. I think that was because we had rich relatives – who actually were white collar. We lived in a small town where there were two Black kids and probably 10 Jewish kids in the school. It was not difficult to be a minority except around Christmas when the Jewish kids had to stand in the back of the room as the rest of the class sang Christmas Carols. The Black kids were allowed to sing but they did suffer some attitude discrimination because they were so few and, for many of us, mysterious.

When I was in college one of my closest friends was an elegant African American woman from Philadelphia named Angela. We met soon after we arrived at school and I managed to rid myself of my sobbing mother. I was in a room with three cot-like beds, 3 metal desks and 3 metal closets. OK, it wasn’t pretty, but it was mine. Angie was wearing long black leather gloves and a stunning cashmere coat. I had my hair in a pony tail and was wearing a cotton turtleneck to cover a hickey I had been given by a sailor I didn’t know. (that’s another blob). Anyway, when Angie’s roommate Ellen arrived, Ellen’s mother started to reorganize their room. Making certain to move the beds as far apart as possible. “What is she doing?” I asked Soozie, who was later to become my dear dear friend. “She doesn’t want the black to rub off on Ellen, I guess.”

It was absolutely outrageous and I suggested that Soozie move in with Angie and we move Ellen to other end of the hall with a rich white girl from Long Island. It was some time ago and I don’t remember how I crafted the move but I did, it worked, and we have remained friends over the years. Ellen dropped out of school to get secretly married to someone she didn’t love because her parents forbid her to marry her high school boyfriend who was not Jewish, but who she did love. (Again, it’s another blob)

Margie (roommate #2), Angie (roommate #1), Iris (Chief Roommate)
That experienced shaped my attitudes about so many things. But the most important was that I wanted my children to be color blind. I didn’t get the bigotry then and I have no patience for it now. In those years we protested for civil rights, women’s rights and against the war. We went to candlelight vigils in Boston and Washington, and had sit in’s at school and in the Boston Common, and we worked for political candidates who reflected views that were close to our own. In other words, we had outlets to protest any injustice. And yesterday, all those young people took the opportunity and actually protested in the same way that we did so long ago – they Voted. They breathed life into a political party that took forever to have the courage to endorse the need for change.

Scenes from Grant Park Tuesday night
Courage is a funny thing. My pal Barbara, who is African American was very skeptical about the Obama candidacy because, she admitted, she was afraid of what would happen if he screwed up. Michelle Obama said it most eloquently in an interview last November when she said that Black people were so used to people saying “No you can’t”, that they were hesitant to even try anything—yet alone say “Yes I can”. But all those young people who worked so hard to make last night a reality, believed Obama when he said “Yes we can” and happily, they were right.

The best story I heard about the election was today. It seems that the “Washington Post” put out a special Election Edition. A friend of mine waited at the Safeway for two hours to get her copy and then found out that the “Post” delivery truck had been stopped and robbed and no one was going to get a paper – at least not today. Yes, it was an historic and memorable election but whatever were those thieves thinking? I guess they wanted to have a lock on the news—not unlike all the networks. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Criss Crossing

Monday night….

On this, election eve, my mind turns to all those years when I criss-crossed the country with one candidate or another. It was stress producing, challenging, hard work but it had its rewards and often, much fun. Fun, of course, is how you define it. Like it was fun for the staff, but the car rental people from whom we got our cars and had to retrieve them somewhere in Mexico, probably didn’t think it was so great. It was exciting and challenging to put together an event that would draw anywhere from 10000 to 25,000 people. Those numbers seem miniscule in comparison to what Obama is doing, but at the time they were enormous.

We were political advance people – usually generalists divided into teams with an instant specialty determined by campaign and geographic need. There were two or three crowd builders, one or two press people, the hotel site person, the event site people, the airport site guy (often a crowd builder but once the crowd was built, could take on other responsibilities), the staff advance person and the lead advance. These big, last day events were often decided about 4 or 5 days out—because until then you didn’t know where there would be a political-geographic need. There was one year when I packed for Ohio and ended up in New Orleans. Travel was easier then. You didn’t have to pay $25 a bag (although we always did carryon because they would often stop the plane to pull us off and send us someplace we didn’t expect to be). The teams were smaller and more manageable, and the technology was uncomplicated—no cell phones, no Blackberrys, no e-mail. Decisions about the events were made by the lead advance in concert with the Political strategists at HQ. You depended on good gut, judgment, and talent to create a successful event. In other words, you criss-crossed the country unencumbered by all the electronic crap.

One of my favorites (what we called, crowd events) was in New Orleans. I arrived about five days out with a team already in place. At that time I was the “spouse” advance specialist. I was in charge of the candidate’s wife but I worked with the team to build the event. So in addition to my spouse responsibilities I also had to participate in crowd building. The lead was a wonderful bandit named Bill. He was primarily an organizer but had been assigned to be lead advance for this event. At that time, people were never assigned to any geographic location based on where they had lived or where they might want to return to, because the team often left blood. We had to be politically smart rather than nice when we made decisions.

There are three states in this country that are politically treacherous for any outsiders. Texas, Louisiana, and Chicago (yes, there are times when Chicago is a State!). They don’t like strangers. So it was not easy to operate in New Orleans. In fact, I got arrested at least once and physically pushed around at least twice. Curious about the arrest and do I have a record? At about 4pm, I was hanging flyers in a place we were not allowed to hang anything. I was dragged off to the police station and had to plead for my freedom with things like; “I’m someone’s mother. I didn’t know. I’m a nice girl. I won’t be bad again, please forgive me for my sins.” They let me go and I had to promise I would never do it again. And I didn’t – until 3am later on the same day. (The event posters had to get hung because we needed to build a really big crowd because we were in competition with all the other criss-crosser’s around the country.)
So why was that trip one of my favorites? Well, we stayed in the Royal Orleans Hotel. I think it’s now a Hyatt and they no longer write your names on the chocolates they leave on your pillow. The overnight was in the Royal Orleans because I told the campaign that’s where the Secret Service wanted us to be. It was not the truth, but the Service didn’t object. We orchestrated a parade which culminated in a rally – with specially printed doubloons and costumed characters. The people on the team were incredibly colorful and talented, which made every meeting a joy, and the food was always amazing—hence all these things gave it “one of my favorite” status. It was a great “hit”. Thirty thousand people crowded into the French Quarter and were as delighted to be there, as we were for them. When the candidate arrived the enthusiastic crowd went nuts and we knew we had done a fabulous job –after which we had a riotous, most memorable wheels up party. We had many parties, which I hope they still do.

Now I’m a watcher and not sure I’m happy to be one. I would love to be a participant in all the criss-crossing, but it’s a job for twenty year old’s. It requires stamina I’m not sure I possess – but I hope I do. I’m now reduced to polling and GOTV. But this is a special time. This is a time when those of us who worked so hard for civil rights can give ourselves a little pat on the back. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who Is the Real John?

Is it possible that the John McCain we saw on Saturday Night Live is the real McCain? The one we liked in 2000, or even at the beginning of this election cycle. I mean, he was hilarious. Good humored, able to make fun of himself and his campaign, smart, and very 'today'. Once again the SNL people did not go easy on him, but his performance was inspired—and real. And wasn’t Cindy a hoot (Vanna, take note!). They were totally likeable. I wonder if it’s possible that the candidate we saw last night could prevail? That if he were the President, he would be all right. Or is that what we want to think since he might win. Or is he relaxed and good humored because he has nothing to lose—because he knows it’s all gone and now he just wants to have a good time and get back to a place where his colleagues in the Senate will welcome him rather than be angry with all he has brought to their Party.

My daughter asked if I thought it would change any votes. I don’t really know but I don’t think so. I think it might assure the people who are leaning McCain that it is all right to cast their vote for him. That he is not the negative Neanderthal we have had to suffer for the last few months. That he is wise in his years but remains in touch with young people and their media.

This is something none of us will know unless he gets elected – and despite all the geniuses at the polling firms who do not account for human nature, this could certainly happen. Am I feeling OK about that. Absolutely not. And not because of the candidate. I do not for two reasons. The first is Sarah Palin. She is simply not someone I trust to make reasoned and experienced international decisions. If I were recommending someone for a job as radio or TV talk show host, she might be on my list. But as a heartbeat away from the Presidency, I don’t think so. Dealing with the rest of the world is a complicated, shade of gray kind of job. It is not one for either a maverick or someone who responds in black and white – things are good or bad, right or wrong. It is a job that requires diplomatic finesse., not good gut. Even if I agreed with her, I just don’t want someone who shoots from the hip instead of the brain.

The other issue is the staff—the advisers who surround McCain. They are not nice people—and I mean that in the nicest possible way. They are lobbyists, political hacks corporate dweebs and ideologues. They have investments in oil, war related products, and a powerful job that provides them with income. They are the McCain big money donors. Not a one of them contributed less than $50. Despite what they say publicly, they don’t care about you or me, the nation or the future of our children. They are rich and protected. They are the people who are arguing about tax increases because they make way more than $250,000 a year. The old John McCain agreed with Obama that there should be a sliding scale on taxes. The new John is screaming 'socialism.' We all know that Obama is talking fairness not socialism—and the President doesn’t govern alone. There is a Congress that is supposed to act in the interest of it’s constituents. Anyway, their kids will be OK. Ours are inconsequential. There are those people who might think this is heartless and an overstatement, but I know many of them. I have eaten breakfast next to one of their meetings (I am usually in pajama like clothing so I look totally unthreatening and they chatter unabashedly.)

McCain’s SNL appearance was too little, too late. It will replay on every NBC station and, since he didn’t have enough money to do an infomercial (those $25 donations add up), it will be good free press. I wonder what his older handlers think. Do they think he was taking a shot at their questionable advice. Do they realize what a mistake they made trading that John McCain for the one we saw last night. Probably not. They are probably patting one another on the back and thinking, well we put one over on young Americans with that appearance. In truth, if that McCain reappears for the next two days, they could actually pull off a victory. But then, which John MCain do we actually get to lead the nation at this time of crisis. Do we want it to be too little too late, or do we pray that last night’s guy is the one who will govern? We're just sayin'...Iris

Enough, Already!

Enough already! Up until about a week ago I awoke everyday yearning to hear what was happening with the Presidential election. But enough is enough. Maybe my yearning to be free from all the commercials started after the Obama Infomercial. It was great TV. He did a spectacular job of explaining what he was about and even if It’s not what he’s about, it didn’t matter. I want him to be our leader and yes, our saviour. Too much to ask? I’m sure it is, but at this point why not ask for a miracle and deal with some disappointed expectations later.
If I hear John McCain spend one more minute whining about promises made and broken, the lack of proving Obama can do the job, or the fact that Sarah Palin is the most qualified woman in America, I will simply boycott television. And in the same way, I just don’t want to hear about anymore Change. I’m tired of hearing about what’s going to happen in the next four years, I just want the next four years to happen – without anymore chatter, yammering, or paid political advertising. We all know what each of the candidates is going to say, and of course, approve, and now they both need to do events and get off the airwaves. Anyone who hasn’t made a decision by now is not going to vote—it’s just that simple.

So last night I was trying to go to sleep and every 4 or five minutes there would be another political commercial. I started to think about how much money the candidates have spent in making sure we all understand what they think, feel, and yearn for. Then I started to think about all the people who have made a fortune delivering the message. From Mark Penn, an absolutely talent-free, but incredibly lucky PR person, who flushed Hillary's campaign down the toilet, and for whatever reason she didn't fire when she had an opportunity to recover, to the Obama team who have seemingly done a swell job in getting him to where he is - leading.
Let me be clear, I love the Obama commercials where he talks about hope and prosperity, and a future without war. I like the commercials about McCain and Bush being one in the same. I liked the old McCain, but there hasn’t been an ad which was about what he sees as the future. They are all about what Obama isn’t rather than what McCain is. I remember when I sent chickens out to greet George Bush Sr. during the Clinton campaign. I told the guys in the war room that it was their job to talk about why Bill Clinton should be President and mine to demonstrate why George shouldn’t be reelected. The candidate should never talk about why someone else is bad – they should only talk about why they are good. I fear McCain made a terrible mistake.

Regardless of how I feel about any specific political ads, I am just tired of all of them. In addition, I am sick to death of the phone calls reminding me I should vote, and the door to door canvassers who, despite the fact that I tell them I have already voted, just don’t want to go away. I thought maybe I should offer them a cup of coffee, laced with a little humor, and maybe that would encourage them to go away. But you see, it’s Presidential politics 24-7, and I have had it. I am no longer nice when I get a call, I merely hang up. I am no longer cordial when they appear at my front door—I just don’t answer it. And if I don’t TIVO a show I won’t watch it – even Cold Case and Bones, which are my favorites. In fact, I am only watching movies on TV – uninterrupted and commercial free.

I used to love setting the clocks back and gaining an hour, but now it’s just more time to listen to someone droning on about November 4th. I suppose a three day nap is out of the question, but I’d love to go to sleep and when I awake we would finally have a new President. Lullaby and goodnight. We're just sayin...Iris