Thursday, April 30, 2009

I hope they all came out okay.

On Day 98 of the Obama administration, something unremarkable yet remarkable happened. The government spent a couple hundred thousand more dollars. That’s incredibly small change compared to billions, I know, but still, someone should keep track of this, right? Not to mention, the recent expenditure didn’t create any jobs and it didn’t stimulate a thing, unless you count several thousand people in lower Manhattan on Tuesday. But not in a good way.

According to, a photo shoot involving Air Force One flying over lower Manhattan was not only ill-advised and poorly executed, it was costly. In fact, an Air Force spokesperson estimates this exercise cost $328,835. Yes, an additional government expense at a time when we have exactly no money to spend. Three hundred thousand dollars to take pictures of the most famous plane on the planet. As it flies low over the Manhattan skyline. That's the remarkable part.

If you need that figure broken down, we spent about $300,000 on Air Force One itself, which flew for about three hours, and another $28K each on the two fighter jets that accompanied it and flew for just under two hours each. It also includes fuel, ground equipment and crew, aircraft prep and ground maintenance.

Luckily for us, the President is a take charge kind of leader. He did what he has done a few times already in his first one hundred days. First he got furious, (or “incensed,” according to The New York Times), he told us he wasn’t informed, and then he apologized, and said it won’t happen again. I would hope that last bit goes without saying. I ask you: How many times do we need to take fresh new shots of Air Force One during one administration?

Turns out, fury was the feeling of the day. Obama was furious, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was furious, many people were furious. If I worked in Manhattan, I’d have been furious, too.

Here’s what confuses me. (Well, several things confuse me but we’ll take them one at a time.) The Bloomberg story calls this a "photo shoot," but also indicates that it was a “training session” for Air Force One personnel. They quoted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who described the incident as “two training missions that became in the end a picture mission.” The New York Times makes no reference at all to a supposed training session and in fact their headline refers to it as a “photo-op gone wrong.”

So which was it? A training session for a photographer to shoot the images or a military training session for the pilots who also happened to also have a photographer and all the appropriate equipment on hand? How could this one thing have turned in to the other? That makes no sense. It was one of them; not both of them.

And by the way, if you’re training pilots, do you need to do it over lower Manhattan? Isn’t that why we have Air Force bases and training facilities?
Never one to let mysteries like this go unchecked, the President has asked Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina to figure out and report back on “how the decision was made to conduct the flight.”

I can save Messina some time. According to both Bloomberg News and The New York Times, the director of White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, was called out for this activity by Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, who “conveyed the president’s anger.” That doesn’t sound so good. Caldera subsequently issued an apology and “took responsibility for it.” In his memo, he apologized for “any distress” the incident caused.

The other thing that makes little sense to me is why the government refused to let New York authorities notify the public about the planned photography. According to the article in the Times, the NYPD were told that the exercise “should only be shared with persons with a need to know” and “shall not be released to the media.” It should be noted, however, that the NYPD had no understanding that the plane would fly as low as it did.

But here too, the story makes no sense. Bloomberg News notes that “federal officials took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey..” Why Mayor Michael Bloomberg wasn’t one of those local authorities is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, the “mission created confusion and disruption.”

I would think that anyone living and working in lower Manhattan is on that “need to know” list. Anyone visiting New York that day would “need to know.” In fact, given the impact a day like September 11, 2001 had on this entire country, I think we all had a “need to know.” But maybe that’s just me.

Both sides of the aisle displayed snippets of common sense we see very rarely in Washington. Senator John McCain (R) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D) both expressed their disbelief about the decision. McCain indicated that the “disruption and panic should have been foreseeable.” Schumer, representing the people of New York, stated it more bluntly when he said “…someone at the FAA should have had the foresight to realize that New Yorkers would see this stunt and think back to 9-11.”

Here’s my favorite part of the story and my favorite part of our government. Press Secretary Gibbs assured us that the investigation of the entire incident wouldn’t take more than a few weeks. And after that, President Obama would review the facts and figure out what to do next.

A few weeks? A few weeks?? What makes anyone think the facts, such as they are, will get even more clear as time passes? You have to wonder in this time of austerity, how much time and energy and money the investigation will cost us.

Besides, I know what to do next. Stop taking pictures of the plane. Don't fly it unless it's transporting the president somewhere. And the next time someone has a harebrained idea like flying a jet over Manhattan with two fighter jets trailing it and not telling many people about it, he or she should be forced to watch tapes of 9-11 and then re-present the same idea the next day.

And stop having five or six or seven or eight people respond to the media about a story like this. Aren't there more critical issue to manage in Washington?

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Cute outfit!!!" Raise your hand if you've ever said that....

...and look around. All the raised hands belong to women. And possibly to one or two guys who work in fashion.

Androgyny will not be complete until we purge one more word from the English language: "outfit." Ask yourself this: When you have a party or a business meeting or a "something" is coming up, do you always think to yourself, "I need a new outfit"? Or like me, when I realized we might be attending a friend's rehearsal party and his wedding, I immediately thought: "Fun ... but now I need two outfits."

Men never buy outfits. They buy a shirt. Done. Or shorts. Or a pair of pants, at which time they also announce the size of their waist in public to God and the clerk and anyone else standing around.

Or men buy an entire suit. And they know, just as surely as they know linen will never hold up in July in Pennsylvania, that the suit on the rack will not fit and will absolutely need to be altered to whatever bumps and slumps happen to exist on their bodies.

Women diet when clothing doesn't fit. And feel miserable and horrified about not fitting into their "size." I sometimes wish I had entered a profession that requires a uniform. Any kind: flight attendant, Dunkin' Donuts counter person, brain surgeon, and so on--it doesn't really matter. I'm at the point where I can barely stand the idea of choosing what to wear to work.

Why is it wrong to wear the same thing every day even when you don't have a uniform rule to fall back on? Men do it all the time. Check out any casual office and the men are wearing one of the following: khakis and a blue shirt / a white shirt / a blue and white shirt / a golf shirt (in summer).

My own personal mission is to start thinking "clothes," not "outfits," but it's hard. "Outfit" sounds as feminine as lace or ribbons or control top pantyhose. It's kind of a fun word to use. But women should realize that until we stop referring to our respective wardrobes as outfits, we won't fully take each other seriously as we address the shortfall in profits this quarter at the board meeting or the delay in shipping last month with our clients.

Understand this as surely as you understand which color nail polish looks best with your summer tan: Some woman, in some meeting, some day will be listening to you and thinking, even as you speak your effective business-speak and make your powerpoints extremely well, "Cute outfit!" Or worse, "Yikes! Who's her designer? The San Francisco 49ers?"

It's funny and disturbing at the same time. I love the fact that I can count on other women noticing my outfits, good or bad, and that kind of bonds us somehow. I hate knowing that men never sit in a meeting and wonder where another guy got his tie.

Is this a bad thing? Is it true that we've come a long way, baby, but now we take note of someone's Manola Blahniks instead of her apron? Maybe it's better news than that. Maybe women regularly process two completely distinct thoughts at the same time: "Jeez, Amy is really nailing all those fixed costs that management keeps screaming about, and isn't her oyster white blouse and skirt with the chunky gold necklace a great combination"?

Gloria Steinem notwithstanding, it's no fun to go buy a pair of slacks. The end. You may as well turn me loose in Macy's with a single spotlight above a solitary rack of slacks and cloak the rest of the store in inky blackness. It would be that weird a shopping experience.

It's no accident that Ann Taylor displays the scarves and jewelry and "everything else" right by the checkout: "Do you need a scarf to go with that?" Do I need a scarf? Does anyone need a silk scarf?

I have a baby shower coming up this weekend. The peach outfit? Or the khaki skirt / blue blouse outfit? With the black sandals. And the dangle earrings. That'll do it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dream Angels

A few months ago, I read an article titled "How to Talk to Your Guardian Angel." I'm not kidding. It was literally a step-by-step guide to how you can talk to your guardian angel.

I read it but I don't remember one single step outlined in the article. Not one. I do remember that the last time I spent any real time concentrating on anything to do with my guardian angel was when one of our third grade nuns reminded us to leave room for them on our bench seats attached to our desks. I was always one of the good girls - naturally I scooted over every day and made room. I never even questioned how the heavenly body of an angel needed actual physical space.

But what about dream angels? I have no earthly (or ethereal) idea what dream angels are. I do know that Victoria's Secret now offers a "Dream Angel Push-up Bra," which is "their softest push-up ever." Well, if their marketing and advertising can be believed, it would have to be the softest bra ever because it's not only a dream, it's an angel and as such, it holds up your boobs in complete comfort.

I won't even go into a description of the commercial itself. Suffice it to say the woman modeling the dream angel push up bra looked adorable and innocent and lovely and about 19 years old. Why on earth a nineteen-year-old needs to purchase any garment that is specifically designed to push anything up on her body is beyond me.

Product innovations like this can be dangerous for a company like Victoria's Secret. I mean, what happens to the older model, now that it's no longer the softest push-up ever? Is it now sold as the second-softest push up ever? Perfect for when you just don't need that much softness pushing you up? Perfect for you if you want a tough little push-up bra?

There's something wrong with me, I swear to God there is. I despise this stuff - this fantasy image of perfection paraded before women across this country telling us to buy the Dream Angel Push Up Bra because it's the softest one ever. Most women I know buy a new bra semi-annually. I have a friend who buys a couple of new bras every time the country holds midterm elections. I'm not kidding. We might get a new member of Congress but she always gets a couple of new bras in her drawer.

But I'll say this for Victoria's Secret. The country is in tatters. The economy is in a death spiral. And there we have Victoria: still perky, still alluring, still
selling bras for $45 bucks. You gotta love that optimism. It's either that or they're counting on women to get the economy back on track, and look perfectly comfortable and angelic doing it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Soaring for seven minutes and seven seconds

We all have those low points, right? A moment that says reminds us that yes, we’re all flawed human beings. That tells us we all have our foul-ups and moments of insecurity and fear. That we are all not genetic specimens of perfection. That’s the not so pleasant moment of connection we all share.

But surprisingly, most surprisingly in fact, we all have our gifts, our abilities, our talents and unique characteristics. All most of us probably need just one chance to share them with others. We need just one person to appreciate what we’re offering; and that could be exactly what we need to press on, to continue to try.

Many of us never take that chance – we spend most of our time reminding ourselves of the following: what simply can’t be done; what won’t ever happen and in fact, even if we ignore the fear and uncertainly that holds many of us back from even trying, what probably wouldn’t ever work out even if it were to happen.

Very rarely do you find a moment that seems to connect millions of disparate people. Then – along comes someone like Susan Boyle. And everything we’ve ever believed about chances and opportunities and harboring a philosophy that claims, “the world is against me” starts to fade away. In about seven minutes, Susan embodied the moment we all hold secretly in our hearts: that given the chance, we, too, could show the world what we truly are.

It’s almost as if she’ll become a phrase that describes the moment everyone fears and then overcomes in triumph. As in: “I had a Susan Boyle moment during the presentation.” “Sure, it was nerve-wracking but then I got all Susan Boyle about it and it went very well.” Q: “How did it go?” A.: “Great! Any better and I would have been Susan Boyle herself.”

The reality is that the majority of us will never stand in front of a panel of judges and astonish them with our ability. We will never take a theater by surprise by shaking the rafters with our melodic voices. So where does that leave us?

For me, I find myself here: why not try? Why not banish all the demons that tell me why I shouldn’t even bother, why it won’t work out, how I won’t ever succeed, and why the odds are certainly not in my favor? I’m positive everyone who loves Susan was more than a little concerned about the chance she took, putting herself out there for the judges and the audience to see. Some of them may have even shared their concerns with her.

Ultimately, she didn’t care. She did it anyway. And she soared. For those seven minutes, she absolutely soared.

I’d love to have those seven minutes in my own life, too. And there is one person who can try to make that happen: me. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not nearly misguided enough to believe that all I have to do is try and believe and think positively and voila! It will all come true. But refusing to try won’t work either.

Thanks Susan. You have inspired millions. Next time the voice in my head tells me, “Don’t bother. It will not work out,” I’ll think of you. And tell myself this: it worked out for Susan. It may work out for me, too.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An observation - which may or may not be objective.

I've decided that the only reason things like prejudice, racism, biases, narrow-minded, dismissive behavior and otherwise exclusionary choices regarding what we say, do and think exist in our very enlightened and "tolerant" world is because people - all people - don't recognize this behavior within themselves. [We do, however, claim to recognise it in everyone around us and make quite a big deal about how bigoted everyone else can be.] Otherwise, it seems we would work to change the very behaviors and beliefs we say we find unacceptable in others in our own daily interactions and communication.

My theory about invisible prejudgements and bias within ourselves has to the only reason the following makes any kind of logical sense. If I read this excerpt correctly, and heard this exchange correctly, David Gregory, host of Meet the Press on NBC, simply does not recognise bias within himself, even when it comes from his own mouth, on live television.

As published in Parade Magazine, regarding political bias and the media:

"I don't accept the proposition that I have an ideological point of view that comes through," [David] Gregory tells us. "I work very hard to avoid that. I recognize that because I succeeded Tim Russert after he died, this has not been a natural transition. A lot of viewers are taking my measure, and I understand and respect that."

Really? No ideological point of view that comes through? Then answer this, David Gregory. Recently on Morning Joe (MSNBC), during coverage of the President's trip to the G 20 Summit and other countries in Europe, Peggy Noonan asked you a question about the foreign language skills of President Obama and Michelle Obama – specifically whether or not either of them spoke French. Your (paraphrased) answer follows: You didn’t think so; you hadn’t heard President Obama speak French and you didn’t think he spoke the language. Of course, he would be much more likely to be able to speak it than his predecessor. [Italics my own.]

(…Derisive chuckles of agreement all around the crowd around the desk that day….)

I’m confused.

Did Noonan ask you about President Bush? Did he factor into this answer at all? Did she ask you to compare the foreign language skills of our last two or three presidents and I missed it? Is there a reason you had to refer – even indirectly - to George W. Bush in your answer?

I have a hot piece of news for many in the media. Perhaps you missed it: President Bush is no longer our commander-in-chief. You want to comment on his policies or his decisions that you believe had an impact on our current situation at home and abroad? By all means; but save it for your editorials, not your reporting.

You want to comment on any of his perceived social shortcomings? Fine, but save it for your cocktail parties, not the "unbiased" airtime you occupy.

And in any event, man up about it. (Another way of stating my original premise: we should recognise this within ourselves and own it.) Don't claim you have no ideological point of view and then make snide comments about people who are not on your side of the aisle, especially when the mikes are open.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Some kind of haze is lingering too long in someone's brain.

I just read about the new direction the San Francisco School system is taking. The updated education guide they’ve developed for the district has an admirable goal: to “transform the educational experiences for every child in each of our schools.”

That’s great. All school boards come out with these kinds of reports and studies to encourage and empower their teachers and administrators. But San Francisco took it a step further. In order to drive home their positive message, they’ve compared their findings to a universal experience everyone can relate to; something that will generate enthusiasm among the staff. Something that would jolt everyone who read it in to high energy excitement, the likes of which they hadn’t felt in, well, maybe about forty years or so.

Here’s their sales pitch: “Remember the first time you heard Jimi Hendrix? Our plan is as transformational now as his music was then!” The story I read goes on to say that a pensive portrait of Hendrix himself is on the cover and on every page of the document. And in order to make it even more special, each book comes with a Hendrix poster and a Hendrix canvas bag.

I’m not sure who the authors of the education guide are, but I have a message for them: 1968 called. They want their rock star back.

Let’s think about this, shall we? The first time you heard Jimi Hendrix? I have to assume the presumption here is that sometime during the musical coming-of-age of the San Francisco educational community at large, they all shared an identical come-to-Jesus moment when they heard Hendrix on his guitar for the first time.

Perhaps that’s true. It’s just that Hendrix released his last album in 1968, ended his touring in 1969 and died in 1970. So let’s assume that by the age of twenty, you were the biggest Hendrix fan on the planet, and not only purchased his music, you attended his performances and mourned his death. That would make you about 59 years old today. If you loved him while you were in your mid-twenties, you’re closing in on retirement and your teaching pension.

I hope the teachers in San Francisco are a little less egocentric that the people who wrote the new plan. I ask you: who writes an education guide in 2009 and tries to generate excitement about it by recalling Jimi Hendrix? And giving out posters and bags? The clear implication of the phrasing, “the first time you heard Hendrix” is that you listened to him at the peak of his career, during the time when his music was “transformational.” You didn’t discover Hendrix on a classic rock station or on a CD.

Teachers in the San Francisco school system who are younger than 38 years old weren’t even born until after Hendrix died for God’s sake.

I have another message of the authors of this guide: 1968 called again. It’s not all about you anymore.