Catching Up by Ron Steinman

Catching Up by Ron Steinman

It is summer and blogs may not be on your mind. While you were sleeping, on vacation, bored, lazy or otherwise engaged to dive into the good stuff on my Notebooks blog at ronsteinman.wordpress.com, here are some recent posts of mine you may have missed. Take a minute, if you have one, imbibe, enjoy, love or hate. No matter. Thanks for your time. Twitter

Citizen Journalism

The Curse of the Selfie

The Day the Printing Stopped

Amy Who

Hey Snapchat

Saigon on Wheels

Dog Story

Campaigning: Day One

Because I do a slow blog on different subjects, I am aware that not all I write has wide appeal. But try a few of these. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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Filed under Blog Posts, Citizen Journalism, Dogs, Memoir, Newspapers, Politics, Saigon, Selfie, Snapchat, Summer

Campaigning: Day 1 by Ron Steinman

Campaigning: Day 1 by Ron Steinman

There is much to tire a person during this too long campaign for president. For starters, I am tired of the Day 1 in the Oval Office syndrome. It seems when a candidate opens his or her mouth in an attempt to show the voter he or she is sincere and will exercise the power they believe comes with the presidency, they always refer to that so-called sacred first day in office. The candidate says that he or she will change this or that, that they will get rid of one law or another and they will certainly overturn any lingering executive orders, those if the new president is a Republican who unseated a Democrat, in this instance, Barak Obama. Do candidates really believe the electorate is so dumb to believe a new president has the power to do what he or she wants? Maybe that is the case for many voters. Sorry to discourage you of that notion. But wake up. The president rarely has the power to do what he wants without the consent of or agreement with Congress. Worse is, that for whatever reason, be it laziness or ignorance, the press is complicit is the silly use of Day 1, never questioning the candidates, never doubting the reality of what a candidate so blithely claims. My feeling is that the only thing a new president can and should do on his or her first day in the White House is to find the quickest path to the bathroom.

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Filed under Politics, Democrat, Republican, White House, Oval Office, The Press, Congress, Day1, Voters, President, Barak Obama

The Dance Goodbye: Reminder by Ron Steinman

The Dance Goodbye: DVD by Ron Steinman

This is a reminder that my film, “The Dance Goodbye” DVD is still available on Amazon and all other platforms. Now is the time for you to purchase this fine film about the life, struggles and success of New York City Ballet principal dancer, Merrill Ashley. The film is the story of one of the great ballet dancers of the late 20th Century, the last of the Balanchine dancers, her retirement and her struggles as she moves into a new life after her many years dancing in front of audiences around the world. You should not miss this dance film, a mixture of wonderful dance, interesting, provocative and informative interviews and new footage.

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Filed under Amazon, Ballet, Dance, Dance film, Film, Film DVD, George Balinchine, Merrill Ashley, New York City Ballet

A Dog Story by Ron Steinman

A Dog Story by Ron Steinman

This is about identity, memory and loss. The three are not the same, but when woven together, they often form a single, unbreakable braid.

I live in a 39-story apartment building with three towers and upwards to a thousand residents. It is easy to get lost among those who live here and to rarely see the same person twice, unless you have a dog. The other day I ran into someone I had not talked to for more than a year. Startled on seeing me, she said, ” I haven’t seen you for a long time. I didn’t know you were still here.” Meaning, probably, that I was still alive. Without blinking, I responded that I am still here in every way but one. I said, “Lacey is long gone. ” There is a saying that you are known by the dog you keep. I never thought I “kept” Lacey. She in her way “kept” me. In doing so, she gave my life and my time with her special meaning.

Take a moment so I can tell you about Lacey.

Lacey, a pure bred Shih Tzu with a genealogy longer than mine, died March 21, 2014, more than fifteen months ago. At 18 years and four months, she had had a long, fruitful and mostly happy life. The two years before she died were difficult for her. Her hearing had been gone for years. She had lost most of her sight. From her best weight of about 13 pounds, she had pretty much stopped eating and at the time of her death, she weighed less than 8 pounds. Her hind legs were so weak that she could no longer jump on or off my couch. She slept most of the day on that couch in my living room and shared my bed at night, hardly ever moving from the spot where she first settled.

After cooking for her for many years – broiled chicken beast, fresh carrots, yams, sometimes a baked potato — in her declining years I switched her to a diet of special food to help her nutrition and to keep her alive. Never much for treats, toward the end she even declined those when offered. Usually not very demonstrative, she did not like pugs, big, longhaired dogs, and sometimes when meeting a stranger for the first time she showed her displeasure. That quickly dissipated after she accepted, in her way, the person in question.

People who knew Lacey, named because as a puppy she untied everyone’s shoelaces, loved her for her beauty, temperament, gentleness and loyalty. She had been my late wife Josephine’s best companion when we lived in Rockville Centre. After Josephine died in 2003, I moved into the city. Of course Lacey came with me. She settled nicely into my one bedroom apartment where she became my dearest companion. I could say anything I wanted to her and in return she licked my face and cuddled very close. I could not ask for anything more in our relationship.

As many apartment dwellers, I walked her three times a day, in good weather and bad. She hated rain, loved the snow and panted in extreme heat. At her best weight she was small. I could carry her to go from point A to point B. She loved being in my arms.

Lacey did not die suddenly. Her life ebbed away slowly, it’s quality severely diminished. After her death, my life changed. I was no longer the person I had been when Lacey was alive. For some, or perhaps many who knew her and me, she was out of sight, and, so, out of mind. I no longer existed in the eyes of the small world of dog owners in my building because Lacey, too, no longer was a presence. Once identified by the dog I shared a life with, almost no one in my neighborhood dog fraternity recognizes me for the person I am. That is okay with me. Just think: I have become a non-person without even trying. I can tell you this, though — I miss Lacey more than I do my fellow dog owners. I hardly recognize them, too. I can live with that.

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Filed under Dog Story, Dogs, Memoir and Journals, Shih Tzu

Saigon on Wheels by Ron Steinman

Saigon on Wheels: A Review and Remembrance by Ron Steinman

As someone who reviews photographic exhibitions, I should be clear-eyed and without much sentiment. I should throw any romantic feelings and nostalgia out the window and revert to my analytical mind, rather than succumbing to the beat of my heart. But I failed to do that when some time ago, I visited Ed Kashi’s exhibit, Saigon on Wheels, at the Anastasia Gallery on New York’s Lower East Side. His exhibition served to highlight the many images in my mind that I cannot forget. Formed during the more than three years I spent covering the Vietnam War for NBC News, Kahsi’s photos are reminders of what life in Saigon was like for the people who lived in the city as the war raged mostly in the countryside. Also note that though Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City, for me, as for many Vietnamese who live there now and elsewhere in the world, it will always be Saigon.

This is not an ordinary review. I have too many memories, fond and otherwise from my days in Vietnam. I want to thank Ed Kashi for giving me a few moments to relive selected recollections from my life in Saigon. Interestingly, and equally intriguing, though Kashi took his photos in 1994, the scenes he captured are in many ways little different from those I knew in the late 1960s, the early 1970s and in 1985, my last trip to Saigon.

During the war Saigon was an overcrowded city filled with refugees, piles of garbage on street corners, people sleeping on sidewalks and in alleys often under makeshift lean-tos. The air was fetid, dominated by a variety of smells from rotting garbage, the makeshift fuel that created its odor, burning charcoal, the smells emanating from street side food sellers and a total lack of sewage. After all, Saigon was a war zone.

Motorcycles, scooters, cars of every shape and make, foot powered cyclos and bicycles clogged the streets, making them passable only at personal risk. There were rarely working streetlights, so one crossed at one’s own peril against unregulated traffic. My one quarrel with any of the photos in the small but effective exhibition is with the impressive shot of traffic heading directly toward the viewer. Because of the war and the use of ersatz fuel in generally poor engines, the result was heavy smog that at times made it hard to breathe. Traffic in the 60s and 70s was horrible. In 1994, the streets seemed to be more cluttered and equally chaotic, but nothing for me will ever match the density and pace of traffic at the intersection of Tu Do Street and Nguyen Hue in Saigon.

In the war, people survived as best they could, sustaining themselves through ingenuity, guile, cleverness, dexterity, being ruthless when necessary, and always working hard. In Ed Kashi’s depiction of 1994, most of those attributes seem to remain. One of my favorite photos shows Vietnamese schoolgirls in white ao dais (their traditional dress) on bicycles heading off to school, something that despite the war was a common sight. What I call a companion photograph shows several women riding on a motorbike heading only they know where. That, too, was a typical sight during the war. Vietnamese women always had a strong sense of who they were. Even with war on all sides of the city, they never lost their sense of self.

Despite Vietnam being a Communist country where the central government tries to control every aspect of the economy, free enterprise obviously remained strong in 1994 as we can see in the evocative photo of a cyclo driver manipulating a load of ice on a Saigon street. I hoped he would hurry and reach his destination before the ice melted along with any profit he sought. So, too, is the photo of a farmer in from the countryside equally reminiscent as she, in a cyclo carrying her geese to market, makes her way through Saigon’s streets. As I wondered in the war years, I wondered still as I viewed Kashi’s photos, how the Vietnamese in rickety cyclos, often held together by bits of wire and mechanical inventiveness, managed to balance what they had to sell along with their personal possessions, and, of course, themselves. It seems that some things never change.

I cannot speak to what life is like in 2015 for people living in Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City. It would not surprise me to learn that in many ways the pace of life is unchanged. There is timelessness about Vietnam that I believe evades change. As the country moves into the 21st Century, I sense that it is struggling for an identity that harks back to a bustling past and tries mightily to enter a bright, but uncertain future. Ed Kashi’s photo essay captured the essence of a people in perpetual motion, always on the move, looking ahead to the next possible venture whatever that may be.

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Filed under Anastasia Galley, cyclo, Ed Kashi, Ho Chi Minh City, Photography, Photos, Saigon, Vietnam, Vietnam War

The Curmudgeon: Hey, Snapchart– Three Cheers for Nothing by Ron Steinman

The Curmudgeon: Hey Snapchat — Three Cheers for Nothing, by Ron Steinman

Hey, I have a great idea. We should create an app that allows anyone to send a message that will self destruct in one to ten seconds after it arrives at its destination. That means anyone, myself included, but especially the young who do not yet have any moral standards, can say what they want in words or in pictures that might be rude, angry or obscene. Poof, just like that, there will be no record of what I sent. Oh, great day. I am now free to be as ugly as I want without leaving behind any crumbs. Wait. I hear some background noise that says that someone else has that idea and it is already working. They call it Snapchat. Sadly, I am late to the party. Sorry that I mislead you into thinking that I am that creative. Now that I know that Snapchat exists and has made multi-millionaires out of s few smarty-pants from an elite university, I can relax. Snapchat’s success is overwhelming. I see that more than 700 million photos and words each day die almost as soon as they are born, probably good for what remains of an already eroded American soul.

Here are some things we know. All information is disposable. All deep thought these days is short-term. The attention span of people is fast approaching zero. Even multi-tasking, once a sign of high modernity is under attack because it does not work. Fear not, Snapchat has a plan to remedy all those problems. Snapchat is not resting on its success about furthering nothingness. Called Story, the plan is to cover events and spew out unlimited information about a story over a twenty-four hour span in short bits, and, once complete, whenever that is, then have them disappear never to be heard from again. So much for helping us understand the important issues of the day. Sounds like great fun, especially for the journalists who sign up to work that latest of beats. For the working journalist it beats unemployment.

It comes down to this: I can hardly wait, especially knowing that soon all information will be in the negative zone. Those who run Snapchat will be the richer for it and, here’s the rub, we, the consumers will be even poorer than we now are.

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Amy Who by Ron Steinman

Amy Who by Ron Steinman

Even in death the hype about Amy Winehouse continues. The recent documentary about her is making a lot of noise. But I have to ask, Amy who? I have never heard her sing. I have never seen her perform either in person or on stage. If I heard her voice now I could not identify her. I have seen her ravished face, except for her eyes in the ads for the movie. I know that addiction to drugs and liquor killed her, wiping out what had become a fruitful and supposedly legitimate career despite the mental and emotional lapses she struggled with and faced most, if not all, the days of her life. According to critics and fans, she had a future. But her addiction and her failure to overcome her demons relegated her to a wasteland of uncontrolled dependence. Well and good but in the world of entertainment and celebrity, her predicament was nothing new. Between the fan hunger generated and fueled by social media and her seemingly terrible inner life it is not surprising that a young woman succumbs to what free flowing drugs and alcohol bring to the party.

She had an addictive personality. It seems apparent that she could not cope with reality, with stardom, with fan fervor, with the ability to wake the morning following a performance and smile because of success. That is nothing new for entertainers, especially in the world of pop that feeds off emotional disability. The film about her life gets good reviews for its thoroughness, detail and revelations. I am sure it does its job well. But that does not mean we should ascribe to it a magic understanding of how the mind and soul of a pop star falls onto the scrapheap.

Winehouse lived badly. It is that simple. We usually say a person such as she was self-destructive. Her passing surely affected those who loved her and those who profited off her, all who think they failed her. That is nothing new when someone who seems to have a promising future dies a bad death. Realistically, though, is there ever a good death?

I am a naysayer by temperament. The power that pop culture has over the masses often eludes me. I am not a cultural philistine. But Amy Winehouse was a pop singer. Nothing more. Nothing less. Good music, from Bach to the blues to bop, or of all kinds has always been a part of my life. There are very few musical wonders, geniuses if you will, who changed the canon by the power of their creativity. Amy Winehouse is not one of them. I do not intend to hear her sing. Her voice, however good it may have been, will have no effect on my life. Her lost life means little to me. The hype surrounding her life and the film that documents it mean little in the broader context of life.

As an individual, I have other more important things to do that require my attention than to wander in the hype surrounding the poor soul of Amy Winehouse. I have to wonder, though, with the Amy Winehouse phenomena and hype, is it genuine concern for an artist some think died too soon? Or are we witnessing the curse of the prurient that drives much of society today?

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