Sunday, July 31, 2016

Wrinkled Knees (No! Really!!)

This political year has been a combination of my dream come true and my worst nightmare.  Who would have believed that Donald Trump would be the Republican Candidate for President of the United States of America?  And why hasn't anyone told him that a his hair is simply   Ridiculous.  And how does he get away with not releasing his taxes? This blob has become a broken record of Trumps inadequate preparation for anything other than TV host and bully.  It will take some discipline, but I'll try to move on.

In the category of  things your mother never told you, yesterday when I looked down, I saw that my knees were wrinkled. Everyone knows about the hanging skin under your arms, and the veins in your legs and arms, but wrinkled knees?  She also forgot to share her wisdom  about how to remember names. Actually she never remembered anyone's  name, and it never mattered. Once she decided what your name was, that's what it was.  It seems I have started to do the same thing. It doesn't matter how many times I have been told a name, it still happens. At which point, ‘darling’ or ‘honey’, come in handy.

She never told us about how to be stylish, because her sense of style embarrassed my brother.  For example, she always wore a fur coat to the supermarket, winter and summer -- with curlers in her hair. All my Aunts did the same thing, but because she was my mother I thought it was terrific.  One evening, I am not sure of the occasion, Tina put on all of mom’s bulky gold jewelry. She was covered, jutting gold in every direction. All of us thought it was hillarious, and my mother thought it was Perfect.  Even when I was young, I knew she set her own style, which she did not pass on to me, but Jordan got it.

The other amazing quality she had was getting people to take care of her. Don’t get me wrong, she took good care of my dad who was disabled, and that was a full time job, but she knew how to get people to take care of her. Whatever she wanted or needed her sisters or friends provided. Like when she played cards:  it was never at our house.  Someone else did the entertaining.  But she’d love to go out and have fun.  Whether it was cards, mahjong, or dancing, she loved it all, and she had to be the best. Even now everyone who remembers her says, she loved to dance, and won every contest.

It’s not her birthday or any somewhat related holiday, but when I looked at my knees I was surprised about the wrinkles there. For whatever reason that reminded me of a sentence from a Judith Viorst essay, when she says that, if your husband is late, you know he has either been hit by a truck, or he’s having an affair. And you pray he’s lying bloodied on the street.  You ask yourself, what does that have to do with Judith Viorst and the essay? It doesn’t but she has written other books about aging, and I didn’t want to go there.

Back  to my mother and politics: when I worked at the 1980 Convention as the Director of Security (Editor’s Note: the only woman EVER to have been Dir. of Security for a National Convention),  mom came for one evening.  She and her friend Cynthia sat with the President — of the United States.  It made me so happy to be able to show her what an important political person I had become.  She even had a room in the hotel that was strictly limited to Political VIP’s. She didn’t think they, or I, needed to pay for a whole night since it was so late, and they were only staying half the night.  OH NO. Instead, these two characters from N.J walked, in the middle of the night, to the bus station and took a bus back home.  They never told me they were leaving, so I figured they were hit by the same bus that didn’t hit my husband, and were lying dead on some NYC street.  The story goes on, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say, my mother loved Hillary. She ate at the White House Mess during the Clinton Administration, and hated Donald Trump on TV because, “who did he think he was”. That pretty much says it for so many of us.  We’re just sayin’…Iris

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Convention 2016!

It finally happened.  Someone told Debbie Wasserman Shultz she couldn't open and close the convention. Or it was perhaps when the Florida delegation booed her in their caucus.  It just seemed to drag on and on.  It was real politics, with no one making the decisions that made sense.  Where is Evelyn Lieberman when we need her. I guess God needed her more. With what's going on in the world, it makes sense.  
backstage, Philadelphia with "Team Convention 2016"
And speaking of politics, I am on my way to Philly to catch up on the campaign gossip and see who's taking credit for so many things we did in the olden days.  For example, there are now a vast number of people taking credit for the Counter Events Operation during the ’92 general election.  When we designed the operation, no one wanted any part of it because, "what if someone called us the dirty tricks effort."  We never did dirty tricks.  The Clinton campaign told America why he should be president, and we told America why George Bush shouldn't stay in office. We were a carefully crafted effort to make the Republicans responsible for what they did in the White House. Oh yes, there were people dressed as Chickens at the Presidents events, and Pinocchio's and a Harry Truman Truth Squad, as well as the Witch George Bush effort. But we were always respectful to the President and in fact he wrote one of the chickens a note that said, “what you are doing is in the best spirit of American politics. “  Sully and I raised the money and designed what was a successful communication campaign. So now, we will set the record straight and I have witnesses.... No one but me and Sully and Kim and Sue and Caroline and Mark and the comedy writer from all over the country and Alicia and Ron Brown had anything to do with Counter Events. 
I should mention that Michael Elliot, a wonderful writer for the Economist who sadly died recently, did write a piece about us -- without mentioning names. We were at Annie Groer’s for dinner and he was so fascinated by what we were doing (Counter Events) , he snuck away from the table into the bathroom and took notes.  It wasn't too long but he got it.  I wish I could find the story.

My latest disappointment is that Conventions just aren't what hey used to be.  OK, it's hard not to be in charge of anything when you are used to being in charge of everything, but that is not the point.  The credentials were very specific. If you had a Guest Floor Pass, you couldn't leave the floor to visit friends in any delegation. And if you have a podium credential, you can get up on the podium but no where else. That's no fun. So I found a place at the door to the podium and saw all my friends, who were speaking from the podium.   That was fun.  

For someone who can build a crowd of 100,000, but can't stand to be in a room of more than ten, there were times when it was frightening.  But I lived to see another tomorrow.  And I'm on my way to Chicago to open Gefilte Fish Chronicles the Musical.  Yes, I am torn between my two loves, politics and the theater, and now I realize that there's no reason to only pick one, I can do both while avoiding having to be in a crowd.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Monday, July 25, 2016

Forty Five Years On...

I sometimes wonder if our parents thought about time, and the passage of time, in the way we do. Though I can’t recall any conversations with my folks about it, I suspect they were more concerned with just trying to deal with the next day, week, or month, and didn’t have the time or inclination to ponder their aging world and how they fit into it. My whole adult life has been spent taking photographs, for the most part for magazines, as a story teller of the most-decidedly analogue variety. For most of the five decades I’ve been working, film and the necessities it demanded were part of the picture (literally!). But tonight after dinner, I had one of those moments when all of a sudden, the date gave me pause. It’s July 23, 2016, and being a former math major I started doing the obligatory backtracking, and realized that this week is the 45th anniversary of my first TIME Magazine cover story. Forty five years. It’s not Diamond, nor Silver, and probably not even Tin. But it might be The Plastic Stuff Film Cans Were Made From. Yeah, forty five.
A man carries his mother through the rain to a refugee tent cover, W. Bengal
That summer of 1971 I had been living in Saigon for the better part of a year, had more or less become one of the TIME photographers working that bureau, and that is when news started flowing out of West Bengal about the refugees fleeing persecution in East Pakistan. (Six months later, following a war between India and Pakistan, East Pakistan would re-emerge as Bangladesh.) David Kennerly, then working for UPI out of Saigon had just come back from spending a week in India working on the refugee story, and told me it was one of those stories which really needed to be covered. People needed to know this was happening. I had sent a note to Timepix New York for approval to head to Calcutta to cover the story, and the next day a telex came confirming that I was on assignment.
a young boy clings to someone close, Refugee camp, W. Bengal
I arrived at DumDum airport late the next night, my first time in India, and soaked up the amazing, unforgettable sights, sounds and above all, smells. The woody smoke from cook-fires mixed with the myriad sounds creating that first impression that still remains. I took a room at Grand Hotel, and though it wasn’t as Grand as Garbo’s, it was a great place to operate from and featured a bar whose denizens of the Fourth Estate gave unending combinations of fact and fiction over Pimms and Gins. I hooked up with a Bengali photographer from the Statesman (Symadas Basu) and we roamed the border areas for the better part of a week, searching for photographs. You didn’t have to look very far or very hard to find something. There was a virtually unending stream of people, on foot or oxcart, slowly but inexorably heading West. I remember looking at the faces of those people as our paths crossed, thinking that what they were fleeing must truly be awful. Millions would not simply give up all, and move, unless there was something very terrible on the other end.
crowds of refugees seek space to lay down, to sleep, in a W. Bengal camp
Each night when I’d return to the Grand, I would make a packet of film (Ektachrome 64) for New York and through the miracles of modernity, 30 hours later my cassettes would be on John Durniak’s desk. Captions were always rather broad and hazy, but the pictures for the most part would speak for themselves. It was still very much the age of Telex (look it up!) and when I received word that the next week’s magazine would feature my picture on the Cover, along with a four page spread inside, I felt I had done right by the story. It was truly a different time, and while today’s weekly magazines are a slim notion of their former selves, at the time there was satisfaction in knowing that in the week following, some 20 million people would see your story. (This was still a decade before the founding of CNN!)
D.B.  age 24, Khe Sanh, VN  1971  (*photo © Chris Callis)
When you have worked for nearly fifty years as a photojournalist, almost every week offers some modest or major anniversary of some kind. Most are forgettable to all except the few that lived them. I noticed in the last few years that too, too many of my discussions with friends would start with something like “…that reminds me of a story I did 35 years ago,….” and I think that perhaps I’m the only one finding those moments so prescient and full of vibrant memory. We Baby Boomers were given much, perhaps too much, but perhaps the one thing we might be worthy of are our memories of the 20th century. I have worked long enough to see many of my stories morph from journalism into history. That alone has reminded me that a life with camera in hand was perhaps a worthy one. But I’m sure I’ll keep doing the math here and there, finding some little anniversary which will let us focus again, if briefly, on a moment of our times.  We're just sayin'.... David

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Stupid Candidates or Violence?

Almost Everyone in this country is asking the same question.  “Why are people killing each other?” The answer of course is that people have access to weapons. All kinds. Knives, shot guns, machine guns, machetes and you take it from there.  What are the consequences of this repeated horrific violence?  The perpetrator, (who was a vet) in the Dallas shooting of five police officers said that it was revenge for the senseless killing of all those young black men.  He was making a statement about how Black lives matter.  People who respond to that with, All lives matter, just don't get it.  Are the police shooting white drivers who have a missing tail light?  And do white 4 year olds, who have just seen their father murdered by a cop, get searched and handcuffed?  Not so much.  Yes, we do have our share of idiots with guns, but what happened to that second step -- the Taser.  Ok it goes like this: the black guy gets stopped for some violation. Maybe a broken tail light, maybe for selling cigarettes one at a time.  The next logical move for the officer is to say, “sir you have violated whatever.”  The black guy says, “really -- what did I do?” The cop says, “you get that light fixed” or “you stop selling cigarettes.”  The supposed criminal says, “OK.”  The cop, isn't satisfied with an OK, so he says, “step out of the car.”  The human being says why?  The cop, sensing nonexistent danger, shoots to kill.  As citizens, aren't we allowed to ask Why?  No, My mistake.

Along with access to guns, and thanks to grants from Homeland security and the Pentagon,  every police officer, and police department carries military weapons.  So, what should they do with them?  Kill people of course.  Have they been trained to use the artillery, or in good manners? Probably not. My son posted on Facebook this morning that the hoodlums who he grew up with became police officers.  Funny but the same thing happened where I grew up. (Except for Art Lefkowitz)   It is possible that this is what happened in every city and town. So a good percentage of these police officers grew up as racist thugs. And we armed them. This is not to say all cops are lunatics. Where they work in the communities they protect and get to know the people who are their constituents, the senseless violence is far less likely to happen.

Moving on to the Presidential campaigns. And briefly, my last cab driver was laughing uncontrollably. It was 6am, why would anyone think anything was so funny. My eyes were closed in hopes for additional sleep. That was not going to happen. "What's so funny?" I asked. "Donald Trump," he said.  " I love this guy. He says anything he wants. And he loves everyone."

"Where are you from?" I asked. "West Africa. But I've been here for 28 years. The only thing is I can't vote in the primary because I want to be independent. But I'll vote for him in the general election.  So will all my friends. He's very funny."  People have voted for candidates for stupider reasons. I don't know any, but there has got to be at least one.  What is with this election?  People ask me what's going to happen and for the first time in too many years, who knows.

As I have said before and although it is painful for the Democrats, it is possible for Trump to win the nomination and maybe even the election.  How can that happen? People are tired of same same. They are angry about the government and their elected officials’ inability to get anything done. And people like celebrity and entertainment.  It is why it's hard to find a network that hasn't decided to make all the morning shows entertainment based. It is also why the evening news struggles when there is an alternative on cable. It is also why someone like Trump ... An incredible asshole, is probably going to be the nominee.  Although his statements about the Mexican-American judge from the Midwest who had never been to Mexico,  and who Trump felt could not be unbiased, might have been a turning point. Do we really want Trump to make Supreme Court appointments? Think about that.

It is unclear about which of the items discussed here is the worse one. Violence or stupid  candidates.  The consequences for each is dire beyond belief.  We’re just sayin’... Iris

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Top Security? Take a Deep Breath! (And Hold It!)

During my first 3 months at the State Department in 1978, as the Director of the Office of International Visitors, I had Top Secret clearance. I had no idea how they knew they could trust me, but… One afternoon some Top Secret material landed on my desk.  It was frightening. I didn’t know what it was, but TOP SECRET was no joke, or so I thought.  Anyway, I put the envelope in my underwear and traveled by State Department bus over to what was called Main State.  My office was in an annex.  Once there, I located the Deputy in the Visitors  office because she had Top Secret clearance, and more importantly, experience.  She was in some half-assed meeting, which was not a rarity at State, and I pulled her out of the meeting and into the Women’s room where's I pulled the Top Secret document out of my underpants. She looked at it and started to laugh.  As it turned out, it may have been Top Secret but it was not for me. 

This is not a excuse for Hillary’s sloppy treatment of Top Secret emails, or her private server.  The hours I spent in security training were numerous, so I get the importance of respect for these important documents.  During  the Clinton administration my position demanded an even higher level of security clearance. There was never a time when I put the documents in my underwear.  This was different. The documents that came to us, all of which we read, hardly merited a top security clearance.  Usually they were delayed because of demanding  State Department clearances, and if you actually wanted to get something to someone in a timely manner you figured out a way to circumvent the system.  Again, this is not an excuse for Hillary, it is the reality about an antiquated system. The real question is, why didn’t someone on her staff tell her what she was doing was questionable.  That is the real question. 

I get that no one likes to be told they can't do something—certainly I don’t — but that being said, this “entitled” bullshit is just foolish, and can be dangerous.

That’s not what I wanted to blob about. How about having a gross  surgical procedure?   What qualifies as gross?  Certainly giving birth and absolutely having a colonoscopy – which I did today — not the birth thing but the tuchas thing. People always talk about the beauty of birth. And truthfully, the results are worth whatever but….  Here's what I remember.  Three weeks past the due date, (July 3) I marched into the doctors office and announced that I was not leaving the office until I went to the hospital. He checked and agreed.  We went to the hospital where he induced labor. For the next 12 hours I suffered from a back labor. It was like a Mack Truck running me over every 5 minutes. In those days we did an unmedicated birth—which added to the torture. When the time came they wheeled me through a hallway where a painter was on a ladder painting the wall. There I was, legs spread in the air. Nothing was humiliating when you were in pain.  When people say you never remember the pain, that is a lie. You have this precious reward at the end of the process, but the pain, nope, it’s not something you forget. 

The other procedure, a colonoscopy, is  mostly unpleasant prior to the surgical procedure.  You drink mega amounts of this gross liquid and spend the next 12 hours on the throne.  They perform this delicate maneuver at the “Endoscopy Center,” and of course my question was, “which End?”  You have to do this in order to prevent colon cancer. But how does a medical student decide that their dream job is to look up a tuchas for the rest of their lives.  You understand that the Definition of gross doesn’t always mean blood, pus and guts.  It can mean humiliation, pain, or doing something stupid, like messing with Top Secret material.  Unlike birth or a colonoscopy, that is totally  avoidable.  We’re just sayin’… Iris