Monday, December 16, 2019

Aun Tirene

Aun Tirene, (Auntie)

If anyone asked me to what or whom did I owe my love of theater, the answer would be easy— my Auntie Irene.  When we were kids we simply called her Aun Tirene which somehow developed into Auntie. The first Broadway show I saw was either, Fiorello, Bells are Ringing, or Milk and Honey.  I’m not sure of the order, and that was only three of the many, but even as a kid being with my Aunt was always a treat.  We would usually have lunch first at an automat or some fancy restaurant where we would eat little white bread sandwiches trimmed without crust, and filled with cream cheese and something green.  

Aun-tirene & Iris   ca. 2015
Sometimes we had a fancier lunch where she would instruct me about critically important rules, like breaking my bread before I ate it and which fork and spoon to use, and when. I thought these rules or instructions on manners were interesting. It wasn't until I was invited to fancy international dinners years later that I was grateful for all the lessons.  Important to remember,  you start with the silver on the outside and work your way in.
Irene, Milton, Rose
It might help to understand how important my relationship was with her if you know that growing up my dad had MS and my parents spent lots of time traveling to find a cure.  My brother and I felt somewhat abandoned, which now we know helped us to develop our independence and also to build our character, but without members our family we would have been incredibly lonely. My Aunt Irene was an intricate part of making sure we were schooled in  cultural growth.  For example, she took my brother to DC to learn about the capitol and government, and as I said our NYC adventures have a prominent place in my memory.
Irene and Milton, ca. 1927
She was a little younger than my dad but as kids, my parents were sweethearts from the time they were 16.  It made sense that after her husband died she was a part of my mothers family as well.  One of the things that comforted us at the cemetery  was that she was buried right next to mom and dad.  The pictures of them as kids are phenomenal.  Both she and my mom were gorgeous, and dad looked like Tyrone Power.  The three of them together took your breath away —and I am not exaggerating.  

Auntie  was always there for me.  She supported my career and personal choices, she reveled in my accomplishment and she loved all our kids and their accomplishments. There were many times that I felt closer to her than any other human being.  

When we moved back to NYC I saw her for lunch at least once a week if not more.  She had a great sense of humor and was always entertaining with her stories about travel to ports and parts unknown, steeped in adventure.  There were also stories about my grandmother and my biological grandfather, who was a tailor on Broadway.  Everyone loved her.

When we realized her short term memory was going, and her friends were deserting her, it was painful, but there were still family events which she always attended and enjoyed.  As I said she was loved and I was there to make sure she was OK.  Not that she needed me because she got up, dressed and ready to go until she was 94. At some point, she no longer wanted to go to the beauty salon, nor did she want to get ‘dressed’ up.  Her friends thought she was not being cared for, but on the contrary she had me, family and her companion Lauren who saw her everyday. They went to the movies, out to eat and on nice days to the park to watch the children play.  It was difficult to get her to go to the doctor or for that matter, any place she didn’t want to go.  Her friends reported me to NJ Social Services because they thought she wasn’t being cared for. But that was never the case. She wanted her independence and we tried to respect that.   I guess for her friends, to see Irene not coiffed and dressed to the nines, meant she was suffering from neglect, which was certainly never the case.  The saddest thing for both Lauren and myself, was that she got sick and was incredibly unhappy.  All she wanted to do was to be left alone. For someone who was as social as she was, the desertion by her friends was the most painful for her.

Thankfully she died peacefully in her sleep. We had a gravesite burial, which is what she wanted.  “Don’t fuss,” she told me, “when I’m gone, I’m gone.”  It was just family, and Lauren, of course, the child she never had, who we and she considered family.  

Going through all her things was an education about who she really was. Totally organized, beautiful clothes and shoes and diaries about her travels and adventures. .It was sad beyond imagination because she was the mom who said I was terrific and filled all the gaps in my life.  The last thing she said to me, which was the day before she died, was “please Iris, I’m begging you, just make them all leave me alone.”  

She died the day before we were moving her to assisted living.  We had moved her from her apartment, to the hospital, to rehab. In my heart I know she just didn’t want to move again.  She made the choice to assert her independence and not to go anywhere but to join her husband, and my mom and dad. We will always love you Auntie and as we always said to one another, “I love you, more.”    We’re just sayin’… Iris

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Saying Good Bye....

Mom weighed about 80 pounds, having been 160 when she went into the rehab facility. They almost killed her.  I called my sister-in-law, hereafter referred to as my sister, and she said there was a retirement home on Bainbridge that they thought would make sense for Mom.  After a number of days and details, we flew her First Class to Seattle.  It was not without issues (to be discussed in another blob), but she seemed to settle in. We stayed for about a week and then it was time to say goodbye.  Given her condition I never thought I’d see her again. We had a long goodbye, got back to Seattle, boarded the plane and I proceeded to cry and drink bloody Mary’s across the country.   She lived there happily for five years, and I saw her any number of times. That kind of “saying  goodbye” was OK, because  it turned out to be short term — because it wasn’t really a Goodbye. 

The other kind of Goodbye, not so much.

“Thanks, this is great.” I said pulling my things back together.
"Where are you staying?"   Jane asked as she eyed my duffel. 

“On 6th and East Capital.”

“Who do you know that lives there?” she asked.

“No one.”

Her stare was intense. 
"I’m staying in my car,” I admitted, without a trace of expectation. "I'm looking for a … "  

Jane didn't let me finish.  “Are you nuts!?  Do you not realize how dangerous that is? Iris, you cannot be that stupid!”

“Smart, smart, stupid,” I could hear the voice of my mother.

“You will stay right here with us until you find a place to live.”  She turned around and yelled "Wes, Iris is going to say with us for a while.”

Without exaggerating, Jane saved my life. 

I had no job, (although there was a letter from Rosalyn Carter asking me to come work for her), no place to live, and no money.  The letter turned out to be irrelevant.  It didn’t matter what Rosalyn wanted, White House Personnel was making the decisions and I wasn’t a priority.  In those years I was driving back and forth from DC to Boston every weekend in a Fiat 500 station wagon.  It served me well, but was hardly a nice house on Capital Hill.  My wonderful life with Wes and Jane, and their daughter Laurin, lasted for about a year. Long after I got my job at the State Department, which Jane found in the Plum book. (It’s a list of all the jobs available for political appointees and includes ‘the plum’ jobs.)

After I left them I went to live on 4th Street NE, with a woman who I loved but was not easy. 

At some point when I was whining to Jane about where i was living,  she said,  “Lets go for a walk on Dupont Circle, I love that area.”  

There was an open house at a 100 year old greenstone on Q Street NW just off 17th st.  The walls were painted brown so it felt like a cave. But Jane said, “We are buying this house.  I’ll talk to Harold, it’s a great investment.”  

I thought she was nuts, but I never argued with her.  Jane and Harold each put  in twice what I did to buy the place,  but I managed the property and rented every available space.  If it hadn’t been for Jane who knows what would have happened to me and to Seth, my son.

Last week Marthena called to say that Jane was in hospice care. Do you go into hospice for dementia? That’s what I thought Jane had.  I called her daughter Laurin and it turns out she also had Ovarian Cancer.  I got in my car and drove to Williamsburg because there were things I needed to say to my pal Jane.  When I arrived and walked into her room, she lit up.  She may not have remembered my name, but she knew just who I was, and asked me to tell her stories, which I always had done in the past.  We spent an afternoon talking about the “the old days.” To tell the truth, I’m not sure if she remembered anything we talked about, but  it didn't matter.   We laughed and had a delighful time. 

The next morning I went back to hospice to say my final Goodbye.  When I arrived jane was sitting in the lobby with another woman. 
 “I have a long trip and I have get started.” I told her.  

She looked at me and said, “but promise me we will stay connected no matter where we go.”
“Of course we  will, we love each other,” I said.

“No matter what happens,” she said.
She stood up and hugged me for a long time.

 “I”ll see you on the other side,” I said.

“…and we’ll tell more stories, won’t we?”

“Yes we will, my dear friend,” I said kissing her goodbye.

I walked out to my car  and sat there for twenty minutes, and cried my eyes out.

All I could think was, ‘Yes, Jane, we will always stay connected.’

We’re just sayin’  …. Iris

Sunday, July 28, 2019

the Squad...

For whatever reason, calling a group of women of color “the squad” is not to my liking. Maybe it’s my age and I keep thinking of the old TV show, “The Mod Squad”, (one black, one white, one blond..).  That could be it but it’s really diminutive and does not give these women of color enough credit for being individuals as well as some sort of group that Trump wants to make the face of the Democratic Party  — which hopefully will not happen.  There are many faces of the Democratic Party, it’s what makes us interesting and to hopefully be all broad based.  We stand for respect, diversity, strength and hopefully, kindness.   

From we hear  “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib have been outspoken in their criticism of Israel, often veering wildly into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in their zeal to demonize the Jewish state. As part of that effort, the Squad has put their support – both rhetorically and legislatively – behind the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which aims to punish Israel economically for “occupying” Palestinian territories.” 

Omar did, however, say that if there is no outlet for nonviolent protest there is always the unfortunate possibility of violence.  Omar also said “Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee”.  This is what she thinks Congresspeople who support Israel are doing.  

Sara Ehrman, one of the best people who ever lived, hoped that she lived to see peace in the Middle East. She did not. But most of her life was spent trying to find a way to achieve it.  She talked about compromise and the in your face tactics of the Israeli government against the Palestinians.  She always talked about the history and injustice for the people because the governments were ridiculous, ours included. Trump did not have Sara to explain why we shouldn’tn have moved our Embassy to Jerusalem.  But people heralded the move even though it is a religious place, not only for Jews but Moslems and Christians.  Sara was patriotic beyond reason, but she did not suffer fools, whether they are pro Palestinian or pro Israel.  

Omar’s words are foolish as are so many words uttered by Congress people,  but no different.  She thinks things that she probably needs to be more careful about, because support for Israel is emotional for too many people.  The Squad, and God knows why they determined how they wanted to be called something that lumped them all together like they represent one constituency, they do not.  They all talked about how they were elected to bring change about, and that is true.  But they are different people who represent people with different ideas, concerns and beliefs. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is my daughter’s Representative.  Jordan loves her and is happy that she wants change. It’s what we all want — positive change.  The right wing media like Brietbart, are writing all kinds of lies about these women.  They are after all, female, young, and women of color.  What right-wing idiot would target them as  anti-everything.  It is simply not the case.  This blob will not defend any stupid and less than thoughtful rhetoric, no matter who blurts it.  But we do “the Squad” a disservice (something I’m afraid they are doing on their own) if we lump them together and do not support them as diverse Democrats. As was said before,we are Democrats —  we stand for respect, diversity, kindness and strength. 

We’re just sayin’  Iris

Thursday, July 25, 2019

And Furthermore....

Who ever would have thought that people read our blob? But last week at least 10 (and that’s  not an exaggeration), people of value commented on the  fact that there had been no blob for a few months. They were right, there has been blob since April. Well we’re about to remedy that.Let’s start with silly and move to the absurd.  

There are so many new rules about what is politically correct or acceptable that it is impossible for a person, even with my experience, to keep up.First of all there are now “safe” spaces for people on college campuses. For years the college campus was the safe space. It was a  place where you were introduced to all kinds ideas. Some you agreed with but many you did not. Isn’t that the point of academic study — that a student is exposed to a wealth of information. In college we learned about human rights, civil right, women’s  rights and the Vietnam War. And we got off our asses and went into the streets to protest. There was no safety in the streets but we had a purpose, a goal, and it felt great. What a shame that kids who are looking for safe place will not have the same opportunities to put themselves in uncomfortable situations.

There is a movement eliminate gender identification pronouns, yes like he and she and replace them with they and them— even if the reference is to a singular person. So you would not say, “Richard did you buy apples for that girl” No you would say “Richard did you buy apples for them”.  Him and her are out. MY brother often refers to some women as gals. David does that sometimes as well. He says he thinks it’s nice like when someone refers to him as a guy.. Not so fast, for women it’s diminutive.  It’s just as easy to say woman,or young woman.  But now even that is politically incorrect. My mind is having a fight between what is sensitive and what is grammatically correct. My 8th grade english teacher is turning in her grave.  Help! It is important to be up to date and sensitive but for all the old english teachers it just seems a little silly.

Is it possible to be all things to all people. No, there has to be some compromise. Last night we were at a wonderful dinner with some good friends we hadn’t seen in months.  When we started to talk about the issue of politically correct and being overly sensitive, I said that it was more important to deal with real issues, liken control and women’s rights.  Personally, the term abortion is horrible and there is no reason not to say terminated pregnancy.  Yes, it’s merely a word but words can be provocative. It’s impossible to argue people who are “pro-life”. For the most part none of issues the term pro-death. But the right has defined the terms of the argument and that has to change. Once you start to argue about what kind of abortion is OK, you lose the argument. Terminating a pregnancy is legal— end of conversation.

Today, Robert Muller testified before Congress. Maybe a better description of the events is Robert Muller sat in front of many opinionated Congress people and listened to them spew forth what they thought, what they knew, and what they wanted the public to hear. Trump, of course said “no collision” as many times as was possible within a given amount time.  OK, we have reached the ridiculous.  

The republicans have declared a victory over Mullers testimony yesterday.  If you consider welcoming Russian interference in our democracy OK, and that the President lied repeatedly about the election, what he knew about interference, that he was not cleared of obstruction and can be indicted after he leaves office, than  it’s a win.  Today  the White House has repeated their lies and it’s just making everyone tired no matter the gender.  We're just sayin'... Iris

a Bad Trip.... They Just Keep Getting Badder Sometimes

Today was a traveling nightmare. It began with a trip to Middletown to buy peanuts. Peanuts have become a food source that I seem not to be able to go without, even for one day. Anyway, my trip was successful until I went west instead of east on route 17. When I passed the fly fishing museum it was clear I was headed in the wrong direction.  Did my GPS lead me home. Not a chance. After hours and hours of driving in a continuos torrential downpour, I saw a sign that said 17 east. This road took me back to exactly where I made the initial mistake. It was still raining.  All of this to say that I reflected about another memorable trip. Although it is over thirty years old, here’s a memo I wrote about that trip. It was addressed to my “White House Advance Team” (WHAT) hero, Harvey Buffalo.
     To:       Harvey Buffalo 
     From:  White House Advance Team  
     Re:  Changes required to make First Lady trip more                 appealing.        
the Abbey at Melk
     As you know the White House Advance Team (WHAT?) has been searching for event opportunities in  and around Vienna for the last six  days.  We have only four days left before the President arrives and not all the  decisions have been made.  Here are several things which I think show potential in terms of their   visual and political appeal -- but are not without problems.   As always I need your help to resolve those problems.   I am confident that you, as my mother would say, can make it, "all better."
     1.  The  arrival site is a touch boring.  Just a plain  old airfield/tarmac without any character.   I thought some decorations would be nice.  But please, nothing standard. People get so tired of the same old arrival.  You know -- black landing field, chain link fence, airplane as backdrop, flags, and lines of soldiers  for color. Uniforms, and soldiers with weapons  are alright but it's always the same, same, same, same, same, everywhere we go.  My imagination appears to be on hold,  my brain is temporarily empty,  and my sense  of  drama has been  drained and  beaten into submission by the bureaucrats.  Please  please please please please, (if I appear to be whining your perception is correct and it's always worked in the past so don't make me search for another approach,)  see what you can come up with.     
     2.   The street in front of the Ambassador's residence is very  narrow.  As you know, everyone who has ever met the President in their whole life -- even casually, will  be staying  with him in that residence.  At one  point there will be five  motorcades arriving and departing.   Unfortunately, the motorcades include buses.   It is  going to be very difficult to manipulate those hundreds of cars and buses.  Since we know absolutely no one will be willing to forgo a vehicle , there's bound to be some dreadful accident unless the street is wider.   Please see what you can do.     
     3.   There is a little church in a little village about twenty five kilometers north of Vienna.  I think it's north,  it may  be south,   (I'll  check  before  you  make  the  trip.)  North or south it is incredibly picturesque.  I believe it's known as the Abbey in Melk.  It seems a perfect place to spend a few hours -- local  color,  villagers in costumes,  children presenting the Mrs. with flowers -- and this wonderful meaningful church with ions of historic  value.   Here's the  problem .  There are several bodies, they call them Relics, decomposing in the church.   At first I didn't know what Relics  were.   The  only Relics Jewish people have are antique cars and their parents.  The guide was, however,  kind enough to explain  that these Relics were decomposed and preserved old bodies.  To be honest it was incredibly  gross. There are alot of these moldy old bodies incased in glass and on display.   We of the Jewish persuasion bury our dead.  We do it in  the ground where they can rest in peace and so no one can bother them.  I feel sure no one wants to see even a tastefully decomposed Jewish person and I would venture to guess that no one wants to see a decomposed Christian person either. No matter how important they used to be.  
I think it is safe to say that Mrs. President is among those no ones.  It seems unnecessary for the Austrians to have left these decayed and rather unattractive  bodies laying around  a perfectly lovely church spoiling the  view  for  all  the tourists.  Anyway, I'm not sure how to explain a 55 minute drive to see "person dust". Furthermore, if she is asked what she thinks about them what does she respond. "Oh I just love to look at dead people. I can remember once Jimmy took me to a wake for our anniversary.   It was just as wonderful as it could be. Of course that body was newly dead.  I have always prefered to see bodies which were decomposing for hundreds of years."     
     Could  you  find  a way to cover or rearrange them  without causing an international incident?    
     4.    New problem, same church.  Needs to be lit for cameras and photo ops.  The people who are in charge of the church seem a little reluctant to disturb anything, to make any changes.  Even when I explained that the lights were critical to the success of the picture, the trip, the Presidency,  they were not particularly interested -- they muttered something about Philistine -- but I know you can make them understand.  
     5.   We will need to pave the vineyards outside of Durnstein.  Ordinarily they would provide us with good color and a good visual we find in this instance it is best to use the space they occupy for press platforms.   
     6.   You will need to install 400 or 500 yards of escalator in order for the First Lady to have the best possible view of the countryside.      
     7.  Along the Danube there are many beautiful sights.  There is, however, a bridge which is a terrible eyesore.  We need it removed.  We might consider using it in lieu of the escalator if we turn it on its side and put it up against the mountain.   We do not wish to appear wasteful.   If constructed correctly it could also alleviate the problem of the nude bathers.  Then we  wouldn't have to move her from one side to the other side of the boat during the trip.  
     8.  The sun will need to be moved so as not to interfere with the perfect picture in the courtyard at Durnstein.  It need not be an enormous move -- just enough to have the sun at the rear of the press platforms which have been provided.

     The first time I met Harvey I knew I was in the presence  of Advanceman greatness.  I was working in Paris on a Presidential Advance.  Harvey was sitting in the corner surrounded by paper. He was the control officer and had all paper, all the numbers, and all the answers.   None of the White House Advance Team were paying any attention to him because he was the dreaded  Foreign Service Officer (FSO).  FSO's are usually not popular with political appointments and visa-versa. (It's the same attitude National political people have about local political people).  While it is true that FSO's don't know everything it is also true that they some information  about the culture in which they  have been submerged for years -- foreign or domestic.  The fact that Harvey had all the paper and all the information and all the cars, cables, keys and money, should have sent a signal to all the very important representatives of the  President of the  United  States, that Harvey was the key to the trip.  It did not. But he immediately became my  best friend.  He knew how to get things done.  There was no request too large or too stupid  --  on these trips there is always an abundance of stupid.  Anyone who was aspiring to do great Advance would have recognized Harvey's greatness immediately.   As I said, there was some flood of stupid -- but certainly a drought of great Advance.    
     There are a number of qualities necessary to make  a  great  Advance  person.  The  most important of which is  achieving the impossible.  In my mind there have  been only two extraordinary advancepeople.  Count Potempkin and Harvey Buffalo.  There have, of course, been better than good Advance people, exciting Advance people, and imaginative Advancepeople,  but Harvey and the Count were in a  class all by themselves.      
     Just for a few fleeting moments let's pretend it is Russia in the late 1700's. The reign of Catherine the Great will provide us with a backdrop for the incredible talents of Count Potemkin.  Advance, was not really a career in the 1700's. One had a career as a military person, as a diplomat court jestor, or perhaps royalty.  One did what the Empress wanted them to do. Potemkin, however,  was also able to get her to do what he wanted her to do. 
     He was not born royalty.   His meteoric rise to  Countdom was preceeded by some mundane positions -- chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, (the  supreme body for dealing with  church matters), military paymaster, and an officer in charge of two detachments of Horse Guards.  Let's cut to the quick,  By 1770 he was in St. Petersburg having an affair with her highness.   Even in those days when one has an affair with one who happens to be the Empress, it did give one certain priviledges not extended to the average employee. 
     A personality sketch of the Count, while not complete is interesting. For example, we know he was not an "early to rise" kind of guy.  But we also know that once up his energy was endless. He resettled the Cossacks in areas where he could  watch them; moved peasants, prisoners, army deserters and serfs to areas which needed to be populated and developed; banded  together  new  armies; and orchestrated the trip for which he became famous -- Catherine's journey accross Russia to visit what we now know were "Potemkin's villages".     
     Let's pretend, for a brief time, it's 1790 and Larry King has decided to  interview the Count.
     Larry: So Count, you and Cate had a pretty long journey. That was quite an accomplishment for you wasn't it ?  Can you give us some highlights while its still fresh your mind.        
     Count:  Well, yes it was Larry.  You know Catherine and it took a long time to convince her that it was a good idea.  She  didn't understand why she needed to see so much of Russia.  She  did, after all, have people she paid to see it for her.   Empresses are not good at understanding why they should be the   slightest bit inconvenienced.      
     Larry:  But you did convince her, how?    
     Count:  I never really convinced her that she should see   the country.  I did convince her that it would be good press.   You know Larry,  we weren't having an easy time of it.  I  don't   need to go into detail but the news of Russia's glory was getting the short shrift. So that's what we set out to change.  You know how we did it?    A "DipDel," we took a delegation of the international diplomatic corp with us and, of course, some  writers.  But the Dips did most of the reporting back to Europe.        Anyway,  selling  her on the idea of good press was a lot  easier  than selling her on the idea of visiting peasants.   She's never had any real interest in serfs you know.  She thinks you've seen one serf, you've seen them all.  She's probably right -- they do  hardly differ in size, shape or the way they  dress.
     Larry:  Journalists are a tough lot. Do you feel you had some success with them.
     Count:  Yes Larry,  I do!  And  Catherine deserves the credit for that success.  She is her own best press chief. She spent a lot of time with the  diplomats and writers.  She made sure that before they reached a region they were properly  briefed.   They always got all the necessary information about the people and the culture the were about to encounter. She  really watched what they wrote home so she could correct any  mistakes they made.  Of course there were no mistakes but she still felt it was necessary to oversee the information that went  out.  She was very busy.  The trip cost us about 10 million rubles -- but worth every penny.     
     Larry:  Can you give me an idea about what the daily schedule was like for the Empress?      
     Count:  Wake-up 6:00am. 6-7 she took care of all her correspondence.  7:00 was breakfast.  From 8:00-9:00 she had meetings with diplomats and couriers.  And then at 9:00  the travelling party departed on sledges for the next village or Russian highlight. At 2:00 they stopped for lunch and then back on the sledges.   At 7:00 they were  RON.  (Rest  Over   Night).     
     Larry:   Sounds  mighty tiring.   What were you doing while the journey was in progress.     
     Count:   Just making sure everything was on  track.   Checking the sledges, lighting places of glory, delivering food to lunch  and  dinner stops and of course making sure that there was the building material at each designated RON so the villages could be completed.     
     Larry:  When did you actually start planning for this journey?      
     Count:   I  guess it was about 1780.   It started during some visits I made to the south.  I wanted Catherine to travel to the Port of Kherson to see a village I had built.  We had done  some incredible things down there.  The south was inhabited by pirates  and bandits.   Generally speaking I have nothing against  pirates  and  bandits but I didn't want them in Russia.   So I got rid of them.   In  all  fairness I gave them a choice.   I told them, "Remain here as pirates and bandits and die or help settle the country  and live prosperously."  Anyway, most stayed and it permitted Catherine to annex the Crimea.
     I thought she  should  see  what we annexed so while  I  was there I met  with local authorities.  It's always tactically important to meet with the local  folks.   I looked at sites, checked out places for festivities,  determined where we would do  horse changes,  and decided what palaces should be built for the  people traveling with us who needed them.      
     Larry:   How did you keep track of all that information?      
     Count:   I write things down.  By about 1784 I had a lot of terrific ideas.  So I put all my notes in order and sent a  guidebook directly to the Empress.  None of this  "from   Potemkin,  through  the Duke, to the Empress, the way the other   bureaucrats do it.   And I gotta tell you she was impressed. I  described towns and villages and districts she should visit.  I included distances to be covered each day. I gave her maps and diagrams and all kinds of interesting information. Catherine  loved it.
     Larry:  So, by 1787 you were ready to go?      
     Count:   Yes.  Fourteen great sledges were at the palace door in January.  124 smaller sledges were to follow  and  40  sledges were kept in  reserve  in case of emergency.   Each of the big sledges was drawn by 30 horses.  The large sledges were the size of a house.  Catherine's sledge had a drawing room,  study, library, and bedroom.  It took 30 horses to pull it. I had to be prepared to keep changing horses.   I guess I left about 560 horses at each station stop -- as well as the blacksmiths,  stable boys, and carpenters to service  them.   
     Larry:   Sounds  like  lots of work.   What were  the  biggest problems you encountered?      
     Count:  There were no biggest problems -- all the problems were of equal size. You know the weather in Russia is a bitch. In fact, before we boarded the galleys in  Kiev we were held up for weeks in a storm.  I'll tell you  about the galleys in a minute.       The people were a problem.  When you invite all those foreign  dignitaries and writers it takes a lot more work then  people from  your own court.  These folks had to carry on their own diplomatic duties as well as report on the progress of the trip. You  know we took the Ambassadors from France,  Austria,  and England with us...  and they are fussy!   They expect to be treated like royalty. You can't just shlep a Count or a Duke from  place to place.   They have to be waited on and catered to. I don't have to tell you Larry, you know VIP's.  To be honest Lar, the biggest problem was finding good help. You just can't find  good help anymore.  For example, we had to repair and recontruct towns and villages.  Each one had to be different.  That was part of the picture we were trying to create -- a Russia with great strength and diversity.  As I mentioned we  had to build galleys for the sea voyage.  And I mean Galley's!  Seven huge red and  gold Roman galleys headed the procession.   Then, just like with the sledges, they were followed by seventy three galleys in an array of sizes.  It took three thousand sailors to man the  ships.  And I'm talking ships. They were beautiful, luxurious, enormous!  Each one has it's own  orchestra.  The  orchestra on  Catherine's galley was conducted by the maestro Sarti.  Can you imagine the maestro conducting on a boat.  It was fabulous.  But  he's not easy I can tell you that -- without telling tales out of court.  I  mean  we're  talking  multitudes  here.  Just try and find a someone to repair a galley on a weekend.  But it worked and as a bonus we scared the hell out of the Turks.        
     Larry:   The  trip got good press but you personally took some pretty heavy hits, Count.      
     Count:   You mean the garbage that Saxon diplomat Helbig wrote.  I read it.  The part I found most entertaining was where he says everything was a sham.  The people and villages were all set-ups.  The concept of "Potemkins villages," ridiculous. It was   flattering but not accurate. Just read the chronicles of Comte  de Segur and Prince de Ligne,  people who  actually travelled on the journey.   They'll  tell you what really happened.  Truth is I make things look too easy.   It's certainly not easy to do what I did but I do make it look easy.   Helbig also accused me of taking the three million  ruble advance and keeping it for  myself.  He  clearly does not understand the cost of travel nor the importance of organization.  I don't want to waste your precious interview time discussing that envious bastard.  He was angry because we didn't invite the Prussian Ambassador to come along.   I've heard they are more then just good friends if you know what I mean.
     Larry:   What would  you  consider the highlight of the adventure.      
     Count:  The  celebration  of Catherine's 25th year as reigning monarch.  I built this fabulous house and garden on the banks of the river.  We prepared a banquet with national  dishes and wines I had  developed  - the white Sudak from the Crimea was especially good.  We had a concert and entertainment and as darkness fell 120 cannons fired salvoes to begin the fireworks display.  Launched thirty thousand rockets!   When Catherine went to bed I told her to look out her window at the mountain. And when she did she saw her initials spelled out on the mountain side, used 55,000 candle lights for it, just incredible!      
     Larry:   You're pretty incredible.  Any plans for  the   future?      
     Count:  I've been on the road for a long time.  Right now all  I want to do is go back to the palace and rest.  Then there was some talk of extending our borders, settling  more territory, moving more serfs... the usual.      
     Larry:   I  know how busy you are Count and I appreciate  your taking the time to talk to me today.      
     Count:   I enjoyed it Larry . The next time we decide to go anywhere I'll make sure you get an invitation.        
     There are no more counts or Harvey. Today everyone wants  to be the boss.   Everyone wants to be a humma humma before they learn to hum. 
     Just remember Phillipe de Segur's  description of the Count, and if he had known him, of Harvey.   "He knows in a fantastic way how to remove every obstacle in his path and to discipline nature, shorten distances, disguise misery, dissipate boredom, and impart an air of life to the most sterile deserts...."
     Oh well, as my mother says "What is -- is."

Monday, April 15, 2019

Words So Matter

Rhetorical importance, or words, matter.  Here’s a little something from Shakepeare.  ™“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred within their bones”  and  the Democratic Nat’l Committee, (DNC), their new campaign is called “The War Room.”  Here’s another case of, “what am I trying to say?”  

This morning on “Morning Joe”, Tom Perez, the genius who decided not to have a debate on Fox News network, (why talk to the outlet for Republican voters—voters who have realized Trump might not be the answer to all their prayers?), also introduced their new campaign. And what is it called?  The War Room.”  Why does everything have to be about war with these nudniks? Call it, “Here’s the truth,” or “Everything you need to know about the last 2 years.”  Even, ”The bigger the lie…”    Having worked in the Clinton War Room, it just doesn’t make sense for today, now, the next generation.  It’s very old white male and it doesn’t matter what his ethnicity might be.

There is no need even to mention Trump.  Why give him anymore attention than he deserves— which is none.  In fact, one of the reasons he became a candidate was because early on no one in the media took him seriously, so they gave him endless air time. By the time they realized he was not just a clown but a serious contender, it was too late.  He had made inroads with the hate mongers and people who don’t read — like the man who would represent them as President. 

What about the Shakespeare quote?  We simply cannot afford to have any more evil left in this great nation after the next election.  His Presidency has been devastating to that office.  He has no respect for the office. He has no respect for government or government employees. He has no interest in people who might need government services like the poor, immigrants, women, children or veterans.  (While I never served in the military, I did serve on the National USO board  for eight years.)  It is incredible that he  and his family and friends could be as indifferent to suffering as they seem to be.  How do you separate children from their parents?   How to you eliminate health care for people who cannot afford private health insurance?   Remember the line from a reporter in the movie “Gandhi”… “And still the evil/ violence goes on and on.” 

When they were organizing the Hillary for President campaign in 2008, I was invited to a session with the message mongers, after which I promised to write an evaluation of what they had presented.  The message was arrogant and elitist — thank you Mr Penn.  They talked about non college graduates instead of high school graduates.  There was nothing that made anyone think they cared about any real people.  It was a message about money and those they considered important, however you defined that. This was rejected in their two campaign offices which were separated into Senior Staff and Volunteers.  They didn’t care about the people who were the heart of the campaign. In 2016, “Brooklyn” as they called it, didn’t have a communication system, so that the people at the desk downstairs could talk to the people upstairs in the senior staff offices.  I’m bitching about the lack of a message and critical thinking, but those are two important elements in a campaign. Woe is us.

Anyway, no message and lingering evil are not good for the health of our nation or the people who live here or may want to live here. Still I go on and on…just can’t help it.

What can we do? First of all we need to understand we are not fighting a War, we are not Fighting.  We are Looking for the truth. we are Looking to move forward with new younger leaders, and have to realize we have a new generation in a new era.  So where does that leave OWW (old white women)?  It leaves us in a place where we can give advice, and share our experience and invaluable contacts .   We need to take a step back and the younger generation needs to take a step forward— we do not have time for ego or arrogance.   We’re just sayin’…Iris

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Seder and The Garden

Passover and the Democratic Convention, are and were two events that have kind of defined my life.  Maybe defined is not quite accurate.  But there is not really another way to describe them except maybe to say momentous. So substitute momentous for defined.  

In 1980, and just because no one could believe I would do it, Bill Dixon asked me if i would consider being the Director of Security for the Democratic Convention at Madison Square Garden. It sounded like a fascinating way to spend what would be the end of the Carter Administration.  Additionally, being in New York in that position would open doors that would have remained closed to any woman in that era.  Having taken political jobs throughout my political career that were traditionally male was something I had done before but certainly not on that scale.  

It took, as Paul Dacre wrote in the Daily Mail, “it took four check points, 11 passes and two metal detectors to get to Iris Jacobson.”  Friends have described that time “as harder to get to me than to the mayor.” The giant phones/radios connected me to Madison Square Garden Security the Secret Service, the FBI and NYPD  and could we have all been on one channel?   Probably, but but no one wanted to share information.  As was described in the Dacre piece, I was “spitting orders to anyone in the area who was not paying apt attention to what needed to be done.”  What a hoot.  Me and 28,000 men — good odds right? At that time there were no women security personnel assigned to the convention.  

Before we built the Garden, (once the Ringing Circus left, and we got the smell under control), we were Headquartered in the hotel across the street. The office was so small we had to credential VIP’s in the bathtub, which made Chris Matthews, Tip O’Neill’s aide, none too happy.  As I recall, until Tip said it was fine to climb into the bathtub, Chris yelled and screamed about how that was not going to happen,  It did.  How I wish we had video of that encounter, but it wasn’t yet available in those days.  

The article went on to say that in my hands were the lives of Kennedy (Ted)  and Carter (Jimmy).  Maybe or maybe not,  but my mother was in my care and I lost her for several hours. In fact, while the police should have been concerned by protestors and terrorists, they were out looking for my mother and her friend Sylvia. This is another story in the “Rose refuses to pay for a whole night in a hotel when she’s only going to be there for a few hours.” 

"the gin game"
Which brings us to the next impactful subject in my life, Passover.  In my traditional Jewish family we gathered on Fridays for dinner at Aunt Sophie’s, and sometimes Sunday to listen to Jewish music and dance —at aunt Sophie’s. The family was divided geographically into two places, Boonton N.J. and Newburgh N.Y. Year.   The one time we all gathered was Passover. From the time we were small the highlight of our Passover was finding the Afikoman and getting in line for the silver dollars we received as payment.  Each uncle would give us ten or more silver dollars and at the end of the line was Bubbie who took at least 10% of the money for charity, or tzedakah.  We didn’t really understand because we considered ourselves our own charity.  But Zaide explained in broken English that in the shtetals the Rabbi went house to house on the Sabbath with the tzedakah box, and if you had the money you put it in the box, and if you didn’t, you took what you needed. No one knew who put in and who took out.

That was a life lesson that was unforgettable, and probably the basis of my life in public service.  But beyond that it seemed important events happened at Passover. It was a time when all my friends, Jewish or not, gathered at my house for Seder.  It was also the time when David came to my house and stayed in my life.  Passover was the time that our mothers passed the traditions and recipes from their generation to ours. When they prepared for Passover it took six weeks. When we were in charge of the preparation it took two days. What we realized was that they wanted to spend six weeks together arguing, cooking, and playing cards. Along with our family documentary, “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”, David also took a picture of the aunts playing cards, which was published in the “NYTimes Magazine’.  Special unforgettable memories were made and life lessons were learned around Passover. It was the time we realized that the power of tradition and family was not unique to us. We were merely an example of the universal family. We could have been Italian, Black, Asian, Polish, or even families without ethnicity. It’s about, as I said, the power of family.  

The importance of family, always having room for one more at a meal, and enjoying the process, no matter how difficult, is what I have continued to learn from Passover. The Convention taught me that if you signed the checks, there was no gender disparity and if you believed you achieve success, no matter how difficult, you would achieve success. Most importantly, always have a sense of humor because in both your personal and professional life,  nothing is ever going to be without disaster, so you might as well be able to laugh.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

take a look at "The Gefilte Fish Chronicles:"

Friday, April 12, 2019

Mayor Pete...

What many of “us” (baby boomer liberal/progressive counter-culture McGoverniks), have hoped for is a Presidential candidate who has the courage to say, “this is who I am, this is what I believe,” and it’s OK to get behind someone who believes in democracy, capitalism, governing experience, and serving in the armed services.  Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg  was born January 19, 1982,  is a Harvard graduate, and former Naval Intelligence Officer who has served as the Mayor of the city of South Bend, Indiana since 2012. This is a guy who is a millennial, and unlike Bernie Sanders, and so many other candidates, has ideas and policies that can actually be implemented. He has governed. True, as a Mayor, but he knows about budgets and infrastructure. I love him. Love-love-love-love-love him as a possibility for President and as a candidate who can beat Trump.  Yes, he is gay and married, but wouldn’t it be a joy to elect someone who actually reads,  and tells the truth. Can he beat Trump, yes, like Obama, he can!

While it is unusual for me to depend on Wikipedia for accurate information. Here’s what they say:  “a proponent of democratically influenced capitalism, he favors universal healthcare with retention of private insurance; dialogue and cooperation between the Democratic Party and organized labor; universal background checks for firearms purchases; pro-environment policies that address pollution and fight climate change, which he views as "a security issue". He also supports federal legislation banning discrimination against LGBT people and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for immigrants.  That being said, who couldn’t love this guy.

Trump probably doesn’t love him. What would the Liar-in-chief do in a debate with Mayor Pete?  Pete cannot be intimidated by anyone like Trump, the lies, the bullying, the conspiracy theories, the cowardice, the lack a moral core, the avid hatred for people in general — black, hispanics  and gays, in or out of the military, the hubris, the inability to read or learn. All the deplorable attributes wrapped into one person. Pete would destroy him with dignity, spirituality,  and common sense. 

Do I sound desperate for change, well it’s true.  But here’s the thing:  people who voted for trump did it because they wanted change. There are those people who have come to their senses. they actually believed Trump would change things, “drain the swamp.” Instead what they got was someone so arrogant that he is destroying rather than changing the government. He never understood the difference between campaigning and governing, because it is clear he doesn’t know how to govern. And worse, he doesn’t care.  He has no idea what people in government do, so he thinks he can fire them, as we say willy, nilly, silly. Truth is, I do want a change. The greater truth is, I am really angry about what has happened to “The Presidency” over the last two years.  How can we have elected someone who has no respect for the office he holds?

When I had the honor of working in the White House, every time I walked through the gates it was thrilling. It never got old. It is unimaginable that the entire Trump family has used it for personal gains. They have no experience in anything they are assigned to do.  People who are that entitled just don’t care. Among my favorite was when Trump said he thought Ivanka should be head of the World Bank because she’s good with numbers.  God willing we will wake up from this nightmare of corruption and stupidity and take a deep breath and elect Mayor Pete.   We’re just sayin’….Iris

Monday, March 18, 2019

St. Vanguard's Day, 2019

61 years ago. I can't believe it. Who, amongst people I know, has any memory of something in 1958? Well I guess if you're from the high school class of '64, there are a lot of things which you remember. This weekend was one which is so full of a myriad of memory slices of what my life was in that year. I was in the 6th grade, that October night - Yom Kippur 1957 in a moment that remains crystal clear in my memory, coming home from temple in my dad's fin-laden '57 DeSoto, and on the radio we heard that the Russians had launched Sputnik 1, the first earth satellite. It was at once exciting and frightening. We definitely felt as if there was some kind of new age dawning, and for an 11 year old kid, the mere concept of 'new age' was challenging enough. A month after that, at Jack's Barber Shop on Highland Drive (I could go there after school on my bike, no one needed to drop me off...) and the launch of Sputnik 2 with Laika the Soviet dog, the first animal to orbit the earth, a new wave of thinking started to emerge from my down-to-earth neighbors, for whom the barber shop was, as it can be now, a place to exchange views and talk about the problems of the day. I was sitting in the chair on the 1x8" board he used for kids, Jack Passwater himself was snipping away at my locks, when one of the men said "well, if they can launch Pupnick up there, they can certainly send missiles over here..." It was one of those moments, like the panic associated with "Marines in Lebanon" in '58, and "Missiles in Cuba" in '62, that seemed to carry unimaginably great consequences. We were still in the era of "duck and cover," and our grade school teachers more than once led the whole of the class to the westward facing windows to see if, at the appointed hour that afternoon, we'd see a lightning style flash of the latest H-bomb tests from the Nevada test site. We never saw that flash, but there was no question that by then we were living under a nuclear umbrella. We probably would have had a hard time explaining what the umbrella protected us from, but umbrella we did have.
Having been a model airplane kid from age 8 or 9, I knew not only every plane ever built by the US, but was starting to understand rockets and missiles. My 9th grade science project was about the US missile arsenal. But back to St Patrick's day 1958. As part of the program by which the Russians outsmarted the US, there was meant to be to an 18 month international program called IGY - the International Geophysical Year, during which the US would cooperate with other nations to launch rockets into space, and eventually, with some luck, an actual satellite. For reasons only some 105 year old Pentagon veteran can explain, the US Navy was given the task of creating a rocket, the slim and elegant Vanguard, which would launch the American IGY contributions into space. It was the fumbling around with the Vanguard program, and failure to utilize all that great German know-how from the scientists we captured at the end of WW2, that led to America simply watching with gasps on our faces, as I did that Yom Kippur night, as the Russians jolted the world with Sputnik 1, not exactly waiting for any cooperation with the west. Many of the more knowledgeable German rocket experts had made a conscious decision to head west in the waning days of the war, so they would be captured by American allies, and not the Russians. Werner Von Braun was chief amongst that group, though once he made it to the US, he and his cohorts were shuffled off to White Sands to busy themselves with the post V-2 generation of rockets (leading to the Redstone ballistic missile.)
Following the shock of Sputnik, the Navy tried launching Vanguard, and I still remember the Newsweek headline showing the crumbling rocket exploding in a quite spectacular fashion on the launch pad after achieving an elevation of at least four feet - they called it the 'ill-fated Vanguard.' I may not have intrinsically known the meaning of "ill-fated" but I figured it out pretty quickly. (see that explosion here: ) In those dark days of November/December 1957, in an moment of desperation, the Army was given 90 days to convert one of the Redstones to a satellite launcher. Bless those German scientists. I think they must have been chewing on the bit, for 88 days later, on January 31, 1958 they launched Explorer 1, and in a sense, caught the US up with the Russians in one fell swoop. But I had put my time in studying Vanguard, and could even pronounce the names of the hypergolic fuels which powered the 2nd stage (hyper golic means they explode automatically when mixed, no other flame needed. And they were the following: "fuming red nitric acid" and "unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine...") So when it came that St. Patricks day morning, dressing for school, and making sure to wear something green, because, God forbid, Karen Tedrow or the Harrison twins would pinch me, I had my usual 730 am radio broadcast on the Frank Hemingway news feed. He was the dulcet toned author of "when I say coffee.... I mean FOLGERS!" The lead item that morning was that the US Navy had successfully fired a "grapefruit" sized satellite - 4 pounds and 7" across, with solar panels to power its radio - into orbit. I was overjoyed. I ran into the kitchen, with tears streaming down my face, and I'm sure Mom wondered what was wrong. "The Vanguard was successful, they launched a satellite this morning...." I repeated. I'm not sure that I was ever quite this excited in all my years of grammar school. It was a singular moment of shared success and joy. And probably one of the reasons I spent the next 8 years studying math & physics, wanting to be part of the American space program. My vision was smothered sophomore year of college by a combination of my newly found love of photography, and a calculus professor who mumbled. And while I have never wavered from wanting to be a photographer, every St Patrick's day I remember the glee which overcame me that morning. I only wish I had become friends with some of the engineers who made it all happen. The fact that spectacular failures didn't cause the to lose heart is quite amazing. And to think a mere 12 years later, the US would launch men to land on the moon. These moments, fragmented as they were, and each living on a more elevated pedestal of time, unthreatened by the drowning cascade of the 24 hour news cycle, and social media which finds a new hot topic in every breath, will stay with me forever.  We're just sayin'.. David 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Poo Poop Pee-dooo

Remember that old expression, “It’s a dog’s world.” Well, we have found that world.  It’s a little south, and warm year round,  but it is  unlike any number of places we have visited.  The community in which we rent in PGA (Palm Beach Gardens)  has about a thousand pampered puppies that are some kind of poodle and whatever mixes. Tyrone is is poopy heaven. And the best news is that everyone seems to clean up after their dog. This is not to say that everyone loves dogs here, but chances are you will not meet anyone who jumps away when approached by a 12 pound doe eyed white ball of fur— except one woman who worked at Target and didn’t see him in my shoulder bag, but then jumped.  

DB and Tyty in the Studio

Let’s take a detour for just one minute. As long as we’re talking about poop.  Drump loves nothing more than to be the center of attention. The best way for him to do this right now is to keep all of us guessing about whether or not he’ll keep the government open. He is like a six year old who says “mommy I’m not happy,” and continues to whine about his fucking wall, while children remain separated from their parents (for who knows how long) and contractors who work for the government in exactly the same jobs as civil servants, are not going to get back pay.  Let me explain, the government has a limited number of slots in each agency. When they fill those slots and can no longer  hire full time employees,  they hire contractors.  How’s that for educational poop? 

Back to puppy poop.  Tyrone, our little Prince does not know how to use the toilet. You are not surprised, right? My good friend Mush  actually taught her little dog to use the facilities. She has enormous patience and stamina which I, and most pet owners, do not.  Jordan’s dog tried once to use the people potty, but without much success.  Let’s not go there. At least he tried.  We were all proud of his attempt.

David gets excited when Tyrone poops and basically, it doesn’t matter where.  He gives updates about the poop activity and thinks it’s cute.  If you know David, you know he is a kind, sensitive and smart person, so this poopy thing may come as a surprise.  But he adores our little Tyrone, so everything he does is considered a wonder, and fantastic.  David did not know I was bringing home a puppy when my young cousin decided she needed a companion.  At first we were going to share Little Tyrone. That lasted about five minutes. David was so smitten,  the sharing was not an option.  And so, my friends, our lives revolve around this fluffy adorable little pooper.

Are you thinking that I am going to reflect for a moment and say dreadful things about Drump?  Be reassured that Tyrone is far away much smarter, more delightful, and much more personable than, as every ultra right wing conservative friend of Ann Coulter would say,  “is an idiot”.  Tyrone is certainly not an idiot. And neither are his parents. Our love for him and vice versa is unconditional. And if the package comes with a little poop, so be it.  We’re just  sayin’… Iris

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Reflection on Life - And It Just Keeps Goin'

I think I'm finally starting to understand what my dad went through in the 70s and 80s. No one was a bigger booster of amity, friendship, and checkered sport coats than Ted Burnett. We three kids gained from him, I think, a perpetual desire to go forth into this world and make friends, and partake in the simple yet undeniable joys of fellowship and friendship. Dad travelled on the road for several decades, selling watches as a manufacturer’s rep, meaning big wheeled cases of watches in the trunk of his DeSotos. But always next to those watches was a golf bag, with a “travelling kit” of clubs, enough to play with without feeling cheated or under-clubbed. When he’d finish writing orders at, say, Molinelli Jewelers in Pocatello at late afternoon, there was always time to find a course, join a couple of guys who were starting out, and play nine holes before getting back to the hotel and writing up his sales orders. More than once I remember him saying “I’ve never met a jerk on the golf course…” He could meet someone for thirty seconds, and the bonds of friendship would begin to form. And even in his 80s, as he started to decline, almost nothing would keep him from the course and a chance to hit the ball (even if it wasn’t necessarily his…) he just loved the camaraderie. That’s why it was kind of odd when, in his 70s, he started to shy away from going to the funerals of some of his friends. I couldn’t understand what the rationale was. What could he possibly be worried about, that would keep him from making a small tribute to his buddies. But as I approach that tender age of understanding, I think I am beginning to see what it was that seemed to unnerve him. There is a period in your life, different for each of us, when you reach that tipping point: you are no longer making friends quite as fast as you are losing them. By the time you’re in your 70s, even if you can’t possibly believe that the number describes you, you will probably meet new folks going forward, but in all likelihood, it will be at a slower pace than the speed with which you are losing them. 
This past month has been somewhat jarring. Don North, the perennially ageless former ABC correspondent, who never stopped working in a 50+ year career as a writer, reporter, and TV correspondent passed away a few weeks ago. Today I learned that Steve Bell, who I knew in Vietnam in the early 1970s, passed away last Friday, after a long career in TV, and more recently as a professor of learning-how-to-really-be-a-reporter at Ball State Univ. in Indiana. It seems as if there is a long swept-out moment when those of us who made it to this point are seeing our friends and colleagues ending their run. I kind of get what dad was going through. The rate of loss is higher than the rate of replenishment, and while there is nothing but esteem and admiration for those departed souls who viewed journalism as a worthy, honorable profession, it is, on a personal level, hard to understand that, above all, it’s a way of seeing that you might finally have to acknowledge that you are a grown up. I have tried never to reach that point. Grown ups? That was a place for others, and not something which interested me. (It also causes great amazement to see 20- and 30- somethings who seem to have lived their entire lives as grownups, and consequently end up in business or government making those ‘grown up’ decisions which seem so alien to me.) 
I hope to keep running for a while. Recently I again quoted Martin Luther King Jr. from his speech in Memphis the night before he was shot, that he’d like to live a full life, and that …. “longevity has its place.” Of that there is no doubt, but what remains important is to do something with the time you have. Seeing my slightly older colleagues departing on their last story, it’s hard to put that feeling of melancholy in to a positive life force, other than acknowledging that they did great work, and as we all hope to do, have contributed to the betterment of society by explaining our world. 
One’s opinions of friends and colleagues is often based on those first, earliest moments of interaction. I can say that while there have been a few jerks along the way in my world of journalism, it has been, like dad’s golf course friends, an enormous source of joy to have covered the world with a great bunch of men and women. Tonight I’ll probably lift a glass to Steve Bell, Don North, and Barry Kalb (another recent departure, and a friend from the TIME days of the 1970s & 80s) and thank them for being nice to a young kid in the business, and for telling the story the way it needed to be told. (picture: Bob Hope & Johnny Bench, and unnamed showgirl(her desc. not mine!) at Phu Bai, Vietnam, Christmas Eve 1970. With reporters Richard Pyle (AP), Steve Bell (ABC), Morton Dean (CBS) photograph ©2019 David Burnett/Contact)   We're just sayin'.... David

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Notorious Or Not: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s raining in Florida, like it did when I was a kid, a no joke torrential downpour.  But that’s not the news.  The Drump doesn’t agree with the entire national security community. Not the FBI, CIA, and all the other acronyms.  And on what does he base his objection to their reports — nothing. No information, not expert opinions, just his skewed vision of the world and his gut.  Spare me.  In addition, Mitch McConnell calls the idea of a national holiday for voting, a Democrat conspiracy to win elections.  Spare me again.   There are a great deal of spare me’s when there is any talk about Drump and his merry band of idiots. So I will move on…

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg   1993 photograph ©2019 David Burnett
This afternoon we went to see ”On the Basis of Sex”, a movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  We had seen ‘Notorious RBG’ and the idea of seeing the Hollywood fictionalized version was not appealing but, as I mentioned, it was raining. The CNN documentary was terrific especially the part about how she tries to dress up her robes, but I’ll get back to that. The movie was terrific. It was much more personal than “RGB” but one was fact and the other, who knows. However the acting was great and the story of her beginnings was compelling.  At the end, (spoiler alert!) when you see the real Justice Ginsburg walking up the steps to the Supreme Court, we were all moved to tears.  What an incredible person she was.  Is.  She inspired a whole generation of women to have a voice and fight whenever the cause was just. We have the Justice to thank for Title IX and so many many battles that were won, even when people thought it was a waste of time to try to change the culture.

Her whole story was inspirational especially for those of us who won battles that never should have been fought. Having been a few “first’s”  in the area of changing the attitude about women in certain jobs, I give the Justice and my father a whole lot of credit for those firsts.  I was one of the first women to ever do Presidential Advance at a time when Political Advancepeople  were actually making political decisions, like briefing the candidate. That is no longer the case. Political decisions (and briefings) come from senior staff at the candidates campaign headquarters, or on the campaign plane. Now, logistics are the Advanceperson’s primary job. Decisions about where the candidate should go and what he or hopefully she, should do when they get there are no longer within the purview of Advance people. But tasks such as checklists of people and equipment, making sure all the toilets flush in the press hotel, and worrying about the backdrop are things they do unless there is a media maven or a marketing expert to consider backdrops.  My theory is that as soon as women became the primary personnel for Advancing the candidate, the substance of political decision making was taken away from them. 

The most complicated job on my resume was as the first woman to ever direct Security at a National Political Convention. That first has remained unfortunately in place. There was a Republican with a woman’s name who held this job, but he laughed at me when I said that we held the same position. He did invite me to the Republican convention at which there were no surprises. Same people, same credentials, same policies. This was nothing like the Democratic convention.  I guess it’s now the Democrat  convention.  Whatever you call it, there were always changes until the nominee took the podium.  But that’s another story.

Not to change the topic but to be just a bit personal I helped to create the White House Women’s Office in the Clinton Administration, as well as a project called “At the Table” which preceded Know Your Value, and Senator Sherrod Brown’s listening campaign.   We listened, specifically to women who wanted to be apart of the decision making process in every field.  As a Senior official at what is now the State Department, I was in charge of communication for the official delegation at the International Women’s Conference in China. Hillary Clinton was my responsibility when she said “women rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”  Justice Ginsburg said the same thing except using civil rights instead of human rights.  When I left the Administration and went to USA Networks and the SciFi channel, it was as the first woman ever to hold the title of Senior VP for Communication, Press, and Public Affairs. Television does not welcome women with “open arms”, but thanks to Kay Koplovitz the CEO, the job was mine.  When my tenure at the networks was over we created the first on-line women’s small business loan fund called “Count Me In”.  Although I have never considered myself in the league of a Justice Ginsburg, Betty Friedan, Marie Wilson, and Bella Abzug, (this is not a complete list), those women were my friends as well as inspiration. It was hard not to learn a great many lessons from all of them. They laid the groundwork and a few of us followed up. 

Back to Justice Ginsburg, for whose good health we are all praying.  When we saw “Notorious RBG,” and the Justice talked about how she likes to dress up her robes, TJMaxx provided the perfect gift for her. It was a sparkly necklace with multicolored stones (which met the gift standards for Government Officials). When David saw it, he said that he had a photo to go with it. With the help of her Supreme Court staff,  we mailed both items and a copy of “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” to her at home, while she is recovering.  Last week, we received a lovely thank you note and David’s signed picture back to us.  

What a classy woman as well as an inspiration for all of us.  We’re just sayin’….  Iris