Monday, September 29, 2014

Sunday Morning

 It is always a pleasure to watch the Sunday morning shows. For the most part they are not news shows, in the shooting, rape and fire sense.  they seem more relaxed and a show such as Sunday Morning gives each topic/issue the time it needs to be interesting.  The story seems to have a beginning middle and even an end.  The talking heads are still trying to entertain rather than inform but every once in a while the viewer does learn something, such as, even the highest ranking elected official can be a moron. And if mean that in the nicest possible way.

Take Speaker John Boehner..... Please. (That's an old joke, but so is he).  Yesterday in an interview he actually said, "if they wake up dead".  Let's take a moment to do a rhetorical analysis  of that particular statement.  Wait, there is no need. Just FHI (for his information), if you are dead you will not wake up.  Maybe that is part of the problem with the war he advocates.  He thinks that all of those lovely young people who die, are going to get up.  It's like a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was a man who thought he was much more powerful than he really was.  In fact, he and his friends thought that they had God like power to make decisions about life and death. When he and his friend were little boys they overloaded on toy soldiers. They would knock them down, pick them up, set and rest the game. Of course, he would clean up, and then the next day repeat the process. Over and over the little warriors (the plastic ones) would fight, die, and then miraculously live again.  It was an exhausting play time, but someone had to do it. As years passed the little boys continued their play. And they grew up believing that all soldiers would get knocked down, but not to worry, they would surely get up.  Forget shipping the bodies, and the funerals -- it was all a game.

Anyway, sometimes I wonder where I would be today if, instead of changing careers every four years, I had just stayed in one job.  Could I have been the Dean at a university. The foremost non profit guru in the country. The head of a tv network. Or a Senator who had the ability to send people into a war zone to fight, die and wake up dead.  Nevermind, even without an expense account, lots of power, and the ability to make life and death decisions,  the way I spent my days was pretty great.  We can always win the lottery or tell another fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was a precious little girl, with a feisty spirit and a big mouth. What made her the happiest was wonderful children, a delightful family, super friends and a puppy.  Even as a simple little child she knew you didn't wake up dead. So she tried to live happily ever after. 

We're just sayin....Iris

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The New Year....

It’s the Jewish New Year.  It happens every year about the same time.  When we were kids it was the time when our mothers would take us shopping to buy something special to wear to services. It was great to buy new clothes. Especially when, as part of the kiddie choir, we would stand on the bema and sing all the prayers Rabbi Krantz taught us.  In those days, Tina and I had to stand back to back because if we looked at one another we would laugh instead of sing. This back to back thing was silly because we could feel one another laughing and it was still hard to get through a prayer.  But the Congregation was small, mostly family, and they knew what was going to happen when the Rabbi pointed to us to begin the prayer. 

We didn’t quite understand the concept of “this was the week to be particularly well bhaved because this was the time God decided if we would get written into the book of life for another year.”  No, this was the week we got out of school, went to the temple, cut out as soon as we could, and get into some kind of trouble. One year we stole the keys to my Uncle Charlie’s car and, while the parents were in temple, we drove his car up and down the driveway – eventually driving it into the house.  We were nine.

Over the years our behavior became more sophisticated and instead of driving we would hitchhike to wherever … because we never knew where we wanted to go.  Oh the good old days.  If my kids ever did the things we did I would, as my mother said, “beat them to a pulp”. We weren’t afraid, probably because we had no idea about pulp – the idea of orange juice with or without pulp was still years away.

Flash forward to our lives as Jews for thirty years in DC.  We couldn’t find  a service that we liked, or wasn’t too expensive or with whom we could relate. So for years we went to Georgetown U, and we prayed with the students. We weren’t crazy about the Rabbi. Then someone said we should look into Fabrangen. It was a congregant directed service where they did things like pass the Torah from Congregant to Congrgant.  There were lots of li li li’s and boy boy boy’s, and it felt like home.  We even took Mom and Aunt Irene and they loved it. Mostly we loved the Yiskah service, which was always about real people losses. 

When we moved to Newburgh we went to Services at Agudas Achim and it was fine. The Rabbi is wonderful. And we were surrounded with famly—which is great. But most of the time we look for services on line. Because it’s much more personal for us.  Until today.  Today I went to services at the Westchester Reformed Temple.  I went because a Team Gefilte actor’s husband is the Rabbi. And our adorable Kelly McCormick is the Rabbitzen. There has never been a more adorable Rabbitzen, or a Rabbi with a God given voice.  All I can say is that between the Cantor, the Rabbi, and Kelly it was like being at a New Year Broadway show.  And it was a joy to be surrounded by people who wanted to be right where they were. The tunes to the prayers were unfamiliar, but I recognized all the prayers Tina and I memorized and stood back to back to sing.  The service too me to a place I haven’t been for 50 years—maybe more. 

For many of us there were things beyond new clothes that were special. All my Aunts and Uncles and Cousins sharing in the joy of one more year was something that still makes me smile. And yes, they were all there with me today, singing, and laughing and wondering why we hadn’t found a service like this years ago.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, September 21, 2014


There are some things in the news about which I am totally confused. Where should I start?  That’s one of the confusions, since starting in the middle is what I usually do. Anyway, when I was a wee lass my major in college was (this actually existed in prehistoric days) Speech Arts.  You can laugh if you want, or even guffaw, but it served me well. Among the many things I did to earn money to pay my college bills, was to teach young women who were secretaries but wanted to be management, to get rid of an accent that said “uneducated”—even though they were not.  I did speech training for years with everyone from corporate executives to my wonderful friend Tony Snow,  who wanted to transition from print to electronic media, but he didn’t like his voice.

What has all this to do with my confusion?  It has become clear to me (despite the confusion), that no one knows how to pronounce the name of our newest enemy,  How do you conquer an enemy whose name you do not know.  Is it Isis (pronounced ‘eyesis') or Isol (pronounced eyesol)—or is it Isol (pronounced with a short I as in is). Or perhaps Isil, as in is sol)?   When Diplomats speak of the evil it is usually with the short “i”.   And they swallow the “el”.   Maybe they do it that way because it’s less common, less known. And diplomats always want to know more than real people.  They want to have a secret that nobody who is not a diplomat can know.  So everytime I hear the enemy described, the name changes.  Well the name doesn’t change but it sounds like it does. 

First they were AlKaida. But then this one guy got mad at Alkaida, and decided that there needed to be a more terrifying terrorist organization.  Sure it was terrifying when women and children were tortured and men were murdered. But not as terrifying as chopping off someone’s head – which I guess was terrifying during the French Revolution but the French became sophisticated and this particular way of getting rid of someone, seemed distasteful, even barbaric. And nothing makes the American public angrier than a barbaric beheading.  Personally, I think that a person who murders a whole lot of little kids in a school is equally barbaric, but no one cares what I think.

Moving right along in my confusion.  There is something wrong with the National Football League.  How stupid can one organization be. Just further proves that the amount a person gets paid for the work they do has nothing to do with the amount of smarts they pretend to have in their brains.  And speaking of barbaric (OK they probably wouldn’t make beheading a career), but they do not need to beat the crap out of their female partner or beat their four year old with a stick.  If they know they might use their fists to brutalize a friend or relative, they have so much money they can hire a body guard for their beloveds.  And why would a woman stay with a beast…. It’s all about the money, the security, and the status – if they live.  You see why I am confused. The rich get richer without apologies or a moral core, and the terrorists, be they Isis, Isol, or an overpaid athlete who has also never been civilized, are probably as confused as am I, but for different reasons.   We’re just sayin’…Iris

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Missing VA

When we lived in Virginia/DC, we often just took a ride around to look at gardens, houses, monuments, etc. and my pal Marthena (as in "Oye veyismere! Marthena"),   talk about how fortunate we were to live in such a beautiful place.  And we were. For the most part living in DC is terrific. The weather is great. There are maybe two or three major snowstorms a year. It is always terrible because there is no plowing. So trying to get anything done is impossible. But since no one can get anything done, it doesn't really matter. Unless you are essential personnel in the  government. In that case you have to get to work. Once you get there and since there is no one else working, all you do you is answer the phone.

Moving on.... When we visit people always ask if we miss living here. Not an easy question to answer. We miss our friends, a lot. We miss the beauty of the spring and the fall. There are plants I wish would survive in upstate NY. But you can't yearn for things that you can never have or you will drive yourself crazy. So we plant what we can and the deer eat everything.

So, do we miss living in Virginia? David doesn't miss the fact that there is no longer much access to the President. The White House made a decision to feed the news that they wanted the people to know. And mostly, there have been few complaints. Except by the press who are left out in the cold. And I don't miss the kind of PR politics conducted by a White House that has not transitioned (after five years)  to governing. There are policy people, and message people, but it is hard to find a political operative. Someone who knows how to actually get something done. Ho hum....

The reality for us, and a number of our friends who are thinking about leaving, is that if they sell their homes they will never be able to afford to come back. Real estate prices are totally out of control. There is hardly any place within a ten mile radius of downtown, that you can buy (apartment, condo or house) for under half a million dollars. And those homes are nothing special. If you want modestly special you immediately jump to almost a million.

When we were selling our house we asked for an outrageous price and thought it would take forever because we were unsure about a move. We got our asking price and it took all of three weeks. We had to move so quickly that we had to put all our stuff in storage, where it stayed for almost a year.

We love to work and visit the area we so treasured for almost thirty years.  But we can't and don't want to come back. We like the idea that we are special guests in a place where we were just residents. And we do love the fact that we can now say, "those people who live in Washington have no idea what's going on in the rest of the country."  Of course, we know everything that happens everywhere. Just ask us....    We’re just sayin’… Iris                                     

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Random Thoughts

Random thoughts from a random mind. Steve Biscotti, the owner of the Ravens is embarrassed because he was reluctant to do anything about the domestic violence in which his players are involved. Greg McKay, who was convicted, not just accused, but convicted of domestic violence is still playing. Ray McDonald is still playing despite felony abuse charges.  Any number of NFL owners have been convicted of sexual harassment.  Yeah the stink starts at the head of the fish.... Although old fish generally stink whether it be the top or bottom. Ray Rice beat his betrothed, now wife (my guess is that it wasn’t an isolated incident), unconscious. Why would she marry him? Why are women in Baltimore wearing Ray Rice T-Shirts. Yes, some people are stupid. But that's not enough of an answer. Furthermore, This is not only a sports problem, and it is not only an NFL problem. Men who beat their wives or children are ugly thugs who are not good at interpersonal relations and they have either control or power issues. This is not a psychology blob. Oh no, sure women that allow it to happen are frightened, have low self esteem, or are just idiots. I don't mean to be insensitive, in the nicest possible way.  It seems violence against women remains pervasive all over the world. The difference between violence in the West and East, Middle East, and countries in the Southern Hemisphere can be measured in degrees. And not without including a conversation about Poverty, education and opportunity.  What I mean by degrees is that in the West we hardly ever see the ceremonial burning of a widow, which some religion and culture except in a movie like "the burning bed". 

As it happens, I am at an international women’s rights conference, or as it is entitled, Women and Girls Rising. Why do organizations feel that they have to name everything they do? But, over the last two days there have been discussions about everything from violence, to torture, to rape, to religion and to the impact of resources on women around the world. There has also been a cry for the "new normal".  How would you define the new normal?  Would you have to use the old normal in order for people to understand. And then what's the old normal. Or what's normal. If only...?

Anyway, there is certainly gender inequity. That means that sexual medication for men is covered by insurance but not medication for women. Our beloved Anne Richards always said,if men had to get approval to have babies, there would be no discussion about abortion. It would exist. Imagine, Men, who have affairs, are rapists, or who have impregnated their daughters, don't have to take responsibility for the baby.  The radical right (although not limited to them), are opposed to abortion but have no desire to provide financial support for the babies, once they are born. Blah blah blah..

What I miss at this conference is a real  conversation about violence against women in the US. We know, certainly by the news this week, that it is a timely topic. We also know that it doesn't just happen in other places. The fact is that sports figures, terrorists, African kidnappers, some boyfriends, fathers and  husbands think that a woman or a girl is just a thing, a sexual object or a punching bag. Is there a way to end this ugly world problem?  Not in the near future. Maybe not ever. If only it were possible to round up all the little boys in the whole world and teach them to be kind and gentle. Yeah, that will happen in our dreams.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Another Nine Eleven

There is something quite extraordinary about today.   The numbers 9/11 (always pronounced nine-eleven) will never have another meaning for those of us who were of a certain age — anyone over 10 I suspect — 13 years ago.  Our friends and colleagues in the city have each a story as riveting as the next.  It was the day that horror visited the country on a scale not known by anyone who wasn’t old enough to remember World War II.  Listening on the radio to MSNBC’s live minute-to-minute rebroadcast of the Today show of that morning retold the story in a way that I don’t think I had yet understood.  When you know what is coming - after they speak about a plane hitting the North tower - when you know that all the rest that is to follow will come no matter how many times you might want to turn the radio off, it is chilling, even 13 years later.  There is a reality, a sense of doom which the listener brings, as if you want to yell back at Katie, Matt and Tom, and tell them what is about to happen. 

Unlike most of my family and friends, I was in quite a different place that morning.  I had just spent my birthday a few days before in Istanbul, courtesy of ESPN the Magazine.  I was covering a cool story on how the NBA, having exhausted nearly every local American  high school gym in a search for new talent, was taking its clipboards to Europe, the setting being the European Basketball Championships.  In a large, oval-esque sound chamber, a dozen highly rated teams including Spain (Gasol) , Germany (Nowitzki) , France (Parker), Turkey (Türkoğlu), and Yugoslavia (Stojakovic) battled each other not just for the prize at hand, but to be seen and coveted by the likes of Greg Popovic of the Spurs, in hopes of landing a juicy NBA contract.   Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro….the modern break-up former republics) has for decades been a hotbed of basketball activity.  I remember the 12 year old kid in Sarajevo who, in 1980 quizzed me about a guy I don’t think I’d ever heard of (mybad, it was Magic Johnson) and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t totally up on Magic’s stats. 

The matches were held at night, usually after one of those amazing grilled fish dinners near the water, which reminded you that Turkey really was at the crossroads of the worlds East and West.  The cheering  sounds resonated in the gym like few I have ever heard.  The semi-final game, in which the Turks beat the Germans  79-78, was absolutely the loudest sporting event I have ever attended. I suspect some of my tinitis - those never ending gongs which ring 24/7 might have been seconded by those screaming crowds.  The final saw the Yugoslavs win in a close game against the Turkish hosts, and frankly, it was about the first good thing to happen to Yugoslavia in years.  Coming on the heels of the long strife of civil war, and US/NATO intervention, it gave the Yugoslavs something to be happy about.  With writer Ric Bucher (now a SF based NBA expert) we hopped on the Belgrade bound flight with the victorious team, landing in the middle of a rain storm.  But rain or not, nothing would keep the cheering Yugoslav fans away from a celebration of the victory.  It was as if that winning game had somehow allowed the country back into the fraternity of Europe.  After all, just a short two years before, NATO planes and American cruise missiles had pummelled the city in an attempt to take Yugoslav TV off the air, but missed, and hit the Chinese embassy.  Firing cruise missiles, even with their purported accuracy, in an urban setting doesn’t always produce the results advertised.

The party went into the night, and Ric and I visited the Belgrade Press club for a beer, then hit the sack after a long day.  Early the next morning we met a car and driver to take us to the  Kopaonik ski resort near the Kosovo border, where the well known and highly rated Partizan professional basketball team was finishing their summer camp before the start of the fall season.  There, amid a foggy, chilly mountain air, a dozen incredibly tall shooters were in the gym  practicing their drills hour upon hour.  I photographed a few of the players, those likely to be seen as NBA prospects, even though they were too young (mid teens) for being signed by an NBA team.  They included Nenad Krstic (who eventually played 7 seasons  for the Nets,)  Nemanja Matovic who stayed in Yugoslavia, and a 15 year old 7-foot  wunderkind, who had a special waiver to practice with the team at that young age.   We sat and talked that afternoon with the coach, one of those slow going conversations which mostly required an interpreter as his English was pretty bad, and our Serbo-Croatian non-existent.  At one point his mobile fone rang, and he picked it up, exchanging a few words with a caller before flipping the fone closed.  A few minutes later, the fone rang again, this time a more worried look coming over his face.  When he hung up, he said “a plane has crashed into a market building in New York.”  I suppose there was something in the translation of “Trade Center” to “market” which gave the meaning a diminished effect.  Hey, we know planes crash all the time. This didn’t seem to be terribly grave.   The third time the fone rang, the countenance of his face just shrunk around the corners of his lips and eyes.  This was something serious.  The conversation moved on again, and he explained that to him, though he didn’t know exactly what had happened (none of us had seen any TV yet) he wondered if it might have had something to do with those cruise missiles of two years before.  He lived across the street from the Yugoslav TV building, the one that had been targeted by NATO, and obviously still felt the angry pangs of someone who has been bombed.  Ed Murrow once did a radio report in 1940 about RAF flyers returning from Dunkirk, having been shot down over the beaches, catching a ride back on an evacuation boat, then looking for another Spitfire to fly.  He described the young flyers, in their leather jackets, looking chilled from the Channel, and responding to his questions with loud, almost screaming answers. One of the other pilots remarked,”.. you get that way when you’ve been bombed for hours.”  

I suppose our friend the coach had lurking in him a certain sense of deja vu as he described to us, representing the former bombers of Belgrade, what he’d heard from his friend on the fone.  He then offered me his fone, and I called Iris, at home in Arlington, VA.  “There is no more World Trade Center,” she said, saying it as plainly as was possible.  I still didn’t get what that meant, but knew that I still had work to do, and spent the rest of the afternoon shooting pictures of the Partizan players before heading back to Belgrade that night.   Once in my room, and pursued by curiosity, I flipped on the TV to see, over and over again, replay after replay, video of the planes hitting the buildings, and the towers crumbling to earth.  At that moment, I finally understood what she’d been trying to tell me.  But hearing about it from a man whose neighborhood had been bombed by American cruise missiles gave me a slightly different perspective.  He wasn’t happy, he wasn’t gloating, he may even have been in as much of a state of surprise as we were.  But I never have forgotten that in the end you need to put things into perspective, and that there isn’t just one point of view, one way to see things.  And now, 13 years later, facing another threat as ISIS becomes the public face of terror in the world we’re inhabiting, and no doubt another generation of young 7’ Serbian basketball players is trying to make a place on the world stage, it seems as if we haven’t gone very far.  Will this be the state of the world for the future to come?  Will there be no end to the ugly habit of man to take this singular planet and wrack it with ruination.  I hope not.  I’d love to see a place where the next Serbian wunderkind can find a place to play, a place we can watch him sling a skyhook into a giant arc, hitting nothing but net. 

We’re just sayin’… David

Nemanja Matovic, shooting a skyhook    Kopaonik, Serbia   9/11/01 ©2014DavidBurnett/Contact

Monday, September 01, 2014


The President needs to think before he speaks. There is no one anywhere in the world who needs to either confirm what they think they already knew, or who believes that it’s OK  for the President not to know what he is doing.  The question for many of us is when did he have a strategy.  OK it appears, that Obama Care is on it's way to success, but the strategy, I would call it an accident or a recovery rather than a strategy.

Is this ho hum business as usual?  Of course it is.  Maybe someone in the White House should have read my book "So You Think You Can Be President".  Let's take a minute and look at the greater scheme of things for a pithy analysis of what is the exact problem of the running of the entire US government. 

In order to do this we need to look way back to when George Washington was President. He did it the right way. He waged a war first and got elected after. We can fast forward to Dwight E. Who also fought a war before he was elected.  Unfortunately, this President walked into a war initiated by another President, who was not a genius. But that is not an excuse. He not only didn't end the already existing conflict, he grew it.  There is no doubt that there was no strategy involved in this decision.

So we can look high and low for a Presidential strategy anywhere. Chances are it's not readily apparent. And why not? My guess is that it is because there has never been an Obama administration transition from campaigning to governing. At first glance there were mostly people from Chicago in positions that required vast Presidential experience, which they did not have. This always happens, elected officials tend to surround themselves with old friends and colleagues.  But after some time that changes. Not so with these guys.  But that's not the only problem. There are relatively few people who are political operatives -- these are not campaign professionals. They are people who know how to make the government work. That means they need to know how the process of how government works. These are people who understand how  the personnel system works so they can take over the governing aspect of the government.  People like  the Mayor of Chicago, who was in the White House and my guess, who was so frustrated with the lack of ass kicking that he ran for Mayor of a place that was easier to negotiate than the US Congress. 

Anyway, my final thought is that it is easier to find a strategery than it is to find a strategy. And as my mother would have said, if the only thing you have to say is stupid -- then do not share it with the world.  We’re Just Sayin’… Iris