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Monday, August 21, 2017

While Not a Total Eclipse of My Heart, A Shared Block Does Gets Some Sunny Smiles

This striking shot of the eclipse in DC was captured by our friend and noted area photographer Bruce Guthrie
Sometimes, I don't get what makes things so popular with so many people. The most recent example was today's solar eclipse, which seemed to have captivated most of America, but left me relatively unmoved.

However, my wife, Judy, had a mild case of eclipse fever, so I agreed to watch the rare phenomenon with her.

There were several viewing options in DC. Judy chose the National Archives building (believing rightfully that it would be less crowded than the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum).

The program outside the Archives, which would let viewers see the eclipse through one of the two telescopes there , was scheduled to run from 1 until 4 p.m.

Judy checks out the eclipse
We arrived at the Archives about 1:30 to encounter an expected long line spread along the sidewalk on the Constitution Avenue side of the building. While I held our place, Judy went to pick up the special glasses the Archives was providing so we could look directly at the eclipse without danger. While I waited, I reflected on a Library of Congress article I had read earlier about how the city of Washington had handled a previous eclipse in 1925 when Calvin Coolidge was president.

Now as residents of the DC-area for more than 5 years, we were used to long lines. We just did what we usually end up doing in such situations - talking to those around us as a way to pass the waiting time more quickly.

Actually, there was an advantage to our wait time. The most dramatic view of the eclipse in DC was projected to be at 2:42. Observing the movement of the line, it appeared we would be near the viewing telescopes around that time.

The viewing was one for the ages
I divided my waiting time among chatting, observing the eclipse through my special glasses, and watching the crowd sitting on the Archives steps periodically viewing the event through their pair. Looking at the diversity gathered outside the Archives in this divided city (which, of course, is a microcosm of our current divided country) and the friendly sharing going on, I was struck by the thought that, while extremely difficult, maybe someday humankind could actually learn to exist in a more civil, empathetic, peaceful way.

At 3:05, Judy and I finally stood in front of a telescope which would allow us to more closely see the first eclipse to involve the entire United States in 99 years.

And I must admit, as is so often the case when I listen to my wife, I'm glad I did. Could I have lived without seeing the eclipse? Of course. But the shared viewing reinforced something we had heard Washington Post chief movie critic Anne Hornaday say two days earlier when she appeared on an Inside Media program at the Newseum to talk about her new book Talking Pictures: How to Watch Movies. Hornaday contended that some movies were best viewed with crowds of others. I now believed that true of eclipses, too.

Oh yeah ... one other thing. As members of the National Archives, we have come to know several people who work there and as we began walking down Constitution Avenue after our viewing, a pair of them said we should keep our glasses. They said the glasses should still be good to use when the next major eclipse is viewable in DC in about a decade. And based on my experience today, if I'm still here on the planet, I think I'll do just that.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

'The Mark of Cain' @SyneticTheater

If you live in the DC area, it's hard to escape the influence of Donald Trump and the effects of our new Trumpian times. One recent example occurs in the final part of Synetic Theater's latest world premier, voice-silent production entitled The Mark of Cain.

Created by the award-winning, extremely talented Crystal City theater company, The Mark of Cain begins with the traditional Biblical story of creation, with Adam and Eve inhabiting the Garden of Eden. Just like in the Genesis story, the two are eventually exiled and Eve gives birth to sons Cain and Abel.

After their parents' death, Abel turns his grief into artistic expression, but Cain descends into despondent brooding. The two brothers fight, and Cain kills his sibling. Placing a mark on him (thus the title), God condemns Cain as as an outcast.

But the newly condemned criminal is not completely alone. A slithering, devilish, dark angel, portrayed here as female (Kathy Gordon), escorts a bearded, long-haired Cain (Ryan Sellers) out into the world and across time.

Bent on unleashing devastation and death, the pair appear together in the four remaining scenes. First, Cain is seen as a depraved Roman emperor engaged in orgy, then a wicked medieval king, manipulating his rivals into destroying each other. Next, Cain morphs into a 20th Century fascist dictator ushering in genocide.

Finally, a red-tie wearing, tweeting, Trump-faced Cain appears as a media-savvy demagogue literally programming his followers into triggering an apocalypse. (Talk about timely. With Trump and North Korea, you really have to pray that this isn't some unholy prescient example of art imitating life yet to come).

As is most often the case with Synetic, this powerful, Dali-esque visual performance is under the guidance of founding artistic director Paata Tsikurishvili, who says the innovative, symbolic play stands as a surrealistic examination of innocence, evil, and the inherent ability of power to corrupt.

"In The Mark of Cain we are striving for a spare eloquence (think Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot) that allows one to realize the mind's full potential and exceed expectations through the use of fantastical, mystical imagery and symbolism," Tsikurishvili explained.

Although each viewer can decide what messages to take away from the production, there is no doubt that the theme of evil is what is being explored. The director also admitted that "many surrealist artists regard their work as a subversive art form, an agent for social and political change".

And in that regard, The Mark of Cain definitely achieves its goal. Unless you're  a confirmed, committed, I'll-never-change-no-matter-what devoted Trump supporter, it would be virtually impossible to witness the production and not re-examine your ideas of evil and its relationship to power both over the centuries and today.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration @TheLibraryofCongress

The Baby Boom generation and television grew up together. That means that we saw many historic events in our formative years on TV - the killing of Jack Ruby and the funeral for President John Kennedy, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the War in Vietnam, man's first walk on the moon.

But, if the event were a huge trial, we didn't see any video on the screen or even still pictures in the newspapers because cameras and photographers were banned from the nation's courtrooms at that time.

This banning gave rise to both networks and newspapers employing talented sketch artists to capture the personalities, atmosphere, and intimate details of important trial proceedings in courtrooms around the country.

Currently, Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration exhibition at the Library of Congress is showing highlights of the Library's extensive collection of  drawings of the theater that happens in the courtroom during trial proceedings.

Here is a sample of what you will see if you visit the exhibition:

Defendant Jack Ruby at his trial for killing President Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Activist Bobby Seale, one of the Chicago 7 defendants, bound and gagged by judge's order.

Charles Manson and helter skelter in the courtroom during his trial.

"Deep Throat" testifies at one of the Watergate related trials.

Son of Sam breaks down in the courtroom.

The exhibition is divided into 9 categories. They are:
  • Significant and Landmark Cases
  • Assassinations and Murder Trials
  • The U. S. Supreme Court
  • Political Activists on Trial
  • Terrorism Trials
  • Race-Based Crimes
  • Crime, Corruption, and Cover-ups
  • Federal and Special Courts
  • Celebrity Trials
If You Want To See Drawing Justice:
     The exhibition will run until December 30.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Celebrating National Hot Dog Day @Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben's Chili Bowl at National Airport
If it's National Hot Dog Day and if you like hot dogs, what should you have for lunch? Why hot dogs, of course.

At first, I though my hot dogs on this day might be free. I had seen where the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council was sponsoring a hot dog and sausage luncheon on the grounds of the Capitol. But that special luncheon was only for Congressmen, their aides, and invited guests, so it would be no free lunch for me.

When you live in DC and you think of non-free hot dogs, your mind invariably goes to Ben's Chili Bowl, one of the District's most noted eateries.

1 half-smoke, 1 hot dog
Opened in 1958 on historic U Street, Ben's (as residents here call it) features what might be DC's only iconic food -- the half-smoke. A half-smoke is similar to a hot dog, but is larger, spicier with more coarsely-ground meat, usually half pork and half beef. At Ben's, a true DC half-smoke is covered with onions and then smothered with specially-made chili.

Over the past few years, the wildly popular eatery has expanded, opening locations in Roslyn, on H Street, and in National Airport. Since we live in Crystal City and the airport is only a 45-second Metro ride once you board the train at the Crystal City station, I talked my wife into lunch at Ben's.

Of course, arriving at Ben's, I faced a dilemma. It was national Hot Dog Day and Ben's had hot dogs. But then there were those half-smokes, which, while technically not a pure hot dog, are definitely members of the hot dog family.

Instantly, I reached a decision. "Give me a half-smoke with everything and a hot dog plain," I confidently told the young lady at the cash register.

My wife gave me one of her wifely, just-what-in-the-world-do-you-think-you-are-doing looks,

"Hey," I responded. "Relax. It's National Hot Dog Day."

The homemade sides at Ben's are good, too. I couldn't decide between potato salad and cole slaw. The cashier suggested the potato salad.

And I have to admit, that on National Hot Dog Day (or just about any other day for that matter) a half-smoke, a hot dog, potato salad and sweet tea from Ben's makes for a tasty, but often messy lunch. Today's dining experience was a 5-napkin feast. Next year, however, I think I'll try to snag an invite to that free Congressional chow-down. And, if I don't, there's always Ben's.
--- By Dave Price

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
Here are 10 fascinating fast facts about hot dogs:
  1. 71 percent of Americans put mustard (yeah) on their dogs, while 51 percent use ketchup (boo).
  2. Americans devour a lot of hot dogs. On July 4th of this month, it's estimated that 150 million hot dogs were consumed. In fact, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans annually eat about 7 billion hot dogs. In 2015, U.S. supermarket customers purchased $2.5 billion worth of hot dogs.
  3. It's claimed that the average American eats 50 hot dogs a year.
  4. The nation's 7-11 stores sell the most hot dogs annually. Their total is around 60 million. 
  5. The most expensive hot dog on record sold in Seattle in 2014 for $169. The cheese bratwurst was smothered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, wagyu beef, foie gras, shaved black truffles, caviar, and Japanese mayonnaise on a brioche bun.
  6. The record for competitive hot dog eating currently stands at 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
  7. Hot dogs were among the first food eaten on the moon. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate hot dogs after the 1969 landing.
  8. Hot dogs, like beer, just seem to fit at baseball games. An industrious German immigrant named Chris von der Ahe is credited with first selling hot dogs in the 1880s at the St, Louis Brown Stockings ballpark.
  9. Hot dog styles can be confusing. Michigan hot dogs are popular in upstate New York. Coney dogs are popular in Michigan. Texas wieners are popular in New York and Pennsylvania, but not in Texas.
  10. The world's longest hot dog wasn't constructed in the United States, but in Paraguay in 2011 to commemorate that country's 200th anniversary. At 669 feet long, the large dog was cut into 2,000 4-inch portions and distributed to celebrants.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Forum Flashback - Stop the 'Savage Inequalities', Kozol Pleads

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC (7.21.11)

When Jonathan Kozol speaks, we all should listen
While a live appearance by actor Matt Damon and a videotaped message from comedian John Stewart provided star power, I thought the most poignant voice of the DC Save Our Schools (SOS) rally came from noted writer Jonathan Kozol, long a critic of American education and one of the nation's most vocal voices on behalf of poor,underprivileged, under-served children.

Kozol, speaking within view of the site where a National Memorial to slain Civil Rights Dr. Martin Luther King will be dedicated next month, said Dr. King would be appalled with the conditions in poor and urban American schools today.  Dr. King's dream did not call for higher test scores, but for an America where all children receive equal educational opportunities, he said. "What we have today is a perversion of his dream," Kozol told the crowd.

As did many of the day's speakers, Kozol attacked President Barack Obama for failing to get rid of the No Child Left Behind law, which critics contend has imposed unfair penalties on poor schools; narrowed curriculum to make test-taking, not knowledge and critical and creative thinking a prime purpose; led to more and more schools being labeled as failing; and now is encouraging the use of test results to determine good teaching.

"We had reason to believe from his campaign promises that Obama was going to reverse the damage this law has caused.  He has betrayed us," Kozol contended.

Kozol, a former teacher who spends much of his time in inner-city classrooms as research for his award-winning books, said he constantly witnesses marvelous teachers in classrooms around the country teaching in deploarble conditions brought on by horrible decisions by those in power.

"I was in California and I saw this marvelous history teacher teaching 42 kids. 42 kids. So I asked her right in front of the class 'How the hell does someone teach 42 kids' Well, I shouldn't have asked that question. She smiled, handed me a piece of chalk, and walked out of the classroom," Kozol said. 

Kozol, making no attempt to keep the fire from his voice, said he found it morally repugnant that so many public educational decisions were being promulgated by politicians and rich business leaders who sent their own children to private schools where class size was 15 students or smaller.

"Fifteen in a class.  If  that is good for the kids of politicians, if that is good for the kids of businessmen, then it is good for the poorest child in America," Kozol concluded.

--- By Dave Price

Friday, July 7, 2017

Trump and Tie-Dye: A DC Philosophical Fashion Faux Pas

Now I'm not a clothing maven, but I can spot a philosophical fashion faux pas when I see one.

Today, on a sales table in the Crystal City Underground, I came upon a red, white, and blue tie-dyed Donald Trump Make America Great Again t-shirt.

There's no way Trump and tie-dye go together. Can you envision Trump at any point in his life wearing tie-dye anything? And then there's the ideological clash inherent in pairing Trump and tie-dye.

Although tie-dye as a process has been around in Asia and Africa for centuries, it exploded in America 50 years ago during San Francisco's Summer of Love. It was popularized by counterculture icon Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters and quickly adopted by emerging rock stars Janis Joplin and John Sebastian, formerly of the group The Lovin' Spoonful.

Spreading from the California Coast, by the end of 1967 tie-dye was the unofficial uniform of hippies everywhere. Vibrant tie-dye became synonymous with the hippie ideals of peace, love, psychedelic drugs like LSD, acid rock, communal living, anti-materialism, a reverence for nature, and a passion for doing your own thing, you know almost the exact opposite of the Donald Trump political platform.

In 1967, as tie-dye was emerging, Trump was a button-down, tie-wearing, limousine-riding, fledgling business tycoon at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business with his eye on fortune and fame in New York City.

Today, the continuation of the tie-dye culture rests in the hands of passionate, hardcore fans of the Grateful Dead, known as "Deadheads". In fact, attending a Dead concert is to see a veritable sea of colorful tie-dye, much as attending a University of Alabama Crimson Tide football game would reveal just how many clothing items can come in shades of red.

Many of the Deadheads follow the latest incarnation of the legendary band Dead and Company from city to city, trying to see as many shows on a given tour as they can. Along the way, to make money for food and gas, they often sell home-made items in the parking lots before shows. Some of the most popular items are tie-dyed t-shirts, skirts, scarfs, and bandanas. Can you see Donald Trump as either buyer or seller at one of those stands? I don't think so.

Now I've got it. We shouldn't be judgmental. People have a right to wear whatever with whatever slogan emblazoned on it they want. But some things just don't belong together. Tuna-covered ice cream. Oyster-flavored cereal. And in that category, I would add Trump and tie-dye.

I admit I was tempted to hang around to see what kind of person might buy a tie-dyed Trump t-shirt. But I didn't. Some things are just better left unseen.

--- By Dave Price

Can you envision Donald Trump encouraging his kids to cavort in clothes like this?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Let's Go Living in the Past: Mayday Protests in DC (1971)

An employee of the Justice Department is helped over demonstrators blocking the entrance to the building in Washington, May 1, 1971. Some of the antiwar protestors were arrested. (AP Photo)

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” It’s a phrase you often hear in action movies, when something goes inexplicably wrong. It was also an apt description of the chaotic scene in Washington in the spring of 1971.
The Vietnam War had been raging for years, and many Americans were put out with the government’s inability or unwillingness to end the war.  Thousands set upon the capital to try and make Congress and the President listen to them. Indeed, Washington was ripe with anti-war activity as various groups staged marches and sit-ins in the city (and in Arlington and Alexandria) to protest the actions of the government.
In early May, however, a new coalition tried a different tact. Under the mantra “if the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government”, the so-called Mayday Tribe sought to stop the United States government from functioning entirely.[1]Their plan called for protestors be stationed at 21 different strategic points across the city, where they would block traffic and make it impossible for federal employees to get to work.
To keep reading this article, click here
                                                                                         --- By Lindsay Durham
for WETA/PBS' blog Boundary Stones

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