DC at Night

DC at Night

Sunday, July 31, 2011

All We Are Saying Is ....

For the 1st time since the anti-war rallies of the late 60s and early 70s, I found myself on The Ellipse in DC yesterday participating in the national Save Our Schools (SOS) rally and march on the White House to end injustice in education.

According to organizers, the culminating event of a 4-day call to action was to express the organization's belief that:

As concerned citizens, we demand an end to the destructive policies and rhetoric that have eroded confidence in our public schools, demoralized teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation. A well-educated society is essential to the future of the United States of America. Our students must have access to a fully funded, world-class public education system, and it is our responsibility to hold our government accountable for providing the means to achieve it."

Of course, there were speeches, stars, singing, signage, and swigging of bottled water to try to stave off the boiling July heat. In fact, as in all good rallies, the verbiage was as fiery as the temperatures. And while the following posts present the day in more detail, here, in no particular order, are a half-dozen  personally chosen high points::

--- Strong support from actor Matt Damon's to the 1,000s assembled

--- A pre-taped message of support from The Daily Show host Jon Stewart which was shown live at the rally on the stage's jumbotron.

--- A delivery by Slam Poet Taylor Mali of his powerful poem "What Teachers Make" Click here for a printed copy of the poem or below to see a previously recorded YouTube version.

--- Noted writer and advocate for education for the poor Jonathan Kozol calling Fox News "sociopaths" for their handling of educational issues and contending that Dr. Martin Luther King would be appalled by the shoddy education offered today in the inner-city and poor rural communities. Dr. King's dream did not call for "kids to pass a test" but for equal educational opportunity for all, Kozol reminded the crowd to thunderous applause.

--- A Houston school superintendent who said "I will not race to the top (a slogan of Arne Duncan and the White House's educational plan). Like the Good Samaritan, I will stop and help those who have fallen by the wayside."

--- Several speakers who transposed the normal mike check "test, test, test" into "no test, no test, no test."

This I'm a Fan of Public Education cooler provided by the Washington DC Teachers Union was greatly appreciated on a scorching July day.
So, after all the calls and all the responses, how did the event shape up with those of the 60s I attended? Well, first off, I am 59, not 19 and all that brings to perspective. At my age, I don't think I  could handle being maced in the DC streets as well as I did back in the day and I know I would miss my grandkids a whole lot more than I did my college classes if my protesting led to my arrest now.

But, most of all, it was greatly reassuring to know that while Congress and the Senate diddled and dathered and damned each other a few blocks down the street, I could still join a group of concerned Americans who, with both voices and feet, demonstrated that a moral message can still be delivered.  And that is an American civics lesson I hope we never forget.

Getting the News

Of course, I attended the Save Our Schools (SOS) rally and march to show my displeasure at the way American education is handled today, as well as to hear what others had to say on the subject which I believe is one of the most vital issues facing America today.

But since I also had spent 10 years of my life as a news reporter and editor in the the mid 70s and early 80s, I was also fascinated to get a close view of how the modern media operate at a large national event.

In some ways, little has changed since my reporting days - it still comes down to seeking out good sources, asking meaningful questions, and eliciting insightful responses. Overheard: a TV reporter talking to his cameraman "I think we've got some good stuff, but I think we need someone from Wisconsin. Hey, anybody here from Wisconsin?"

But there were several changes, most brought on by rapidly expanding technology.  First, while most print reporters were using those old reporter's notepads, cell phones and laptops were equally ubiquitous.

In fact, newspapers today have their stories on-line often many hours before they appear in print. This morning, I read the account of yesterday's rally in The Washington Post that I get delivered to my doorstep every morning.  However, last evening I read a 1st version Post story online and I just re-read an updated version seconds before typing this passage. Such things were impossible in my day and my initial impression is that each of the 3 very different accounts prompted much different reading responses.  You can check out the latest Post article by clicking here.

And in the continuing pressure of getting it first, several of the highlights of the main speakers,were available as tweets on line just moments after the words left the speaker's mouth. To see the transcript of such Tweet reporting for the remarks delivered by award-winning author and social critic Jonathan Kozol click here.

So what did I learn from my examination?

There's no question that with technology, news from anywhere, be it the DC Ellipse or the darkness of Darfur, can be reported much more quickly today.  And it's true that, armed with a cell phone, anyone can be a reporter today and have their reports online in a matter of minutes.  However, does all that speed and ease make for better reporting? I think we will leave that question for another day.

Matt Damon on DC Ellipse Creates Quite a Stir

The moment Matt Damon arrived backstage at the Save Our Schools (SOS) rally and march, he was a beseiged man.  Educators and fans wanted to snap a picture..  But the dozens of reporters and camera crews who surrounded the actor wanted to find out exactly why Damon, who appeared with a head shaven for his current role in a science fiction movie he is filming, was devoting this ungodly hot July Saturday day to supporting teachers and calling for an end to unjust educational practices.

And for more than an hour Damon, whose mother is a professor of education, patiently obliged, delivering monologue after monologue cogently defending quality teaching and decrying today's teach-to-the-test mentality.

"From the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything. I had incredible teachers.

"As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.

"And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested."

To read a full copy of the Damon's remarks at the rally, click here.

Stop Savage Inequalities:Jonathan Kozol

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.

Of course, I may be somewhat biased in my ratings since Kozol, along with the Dali Lama and civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center Morris Dees, form the central trinity of my living noted people I most admire list.

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," he contended

Signs, Signs Everywhere There's Signs

Of course, no protest rally could be complete with a bevy of signs heralding the cause and attacking the opposition. And the Save Our Schools (SOS) rally and march to end injustice in education was no exception.

Here is a small sampling of some of the messages portrayed at the rally Saturday

In one unique feature, protestors created a graveyard with headstones capturing the deleterious effects the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act

Friday, July 29, 2011

We're Back

Well, we have returned from our 16-day sojourn in the British Isles. As expected it was a great trip. It also marked the first time we had ever visited Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. I won't bore you  with all the details here, but if you would like to know more, you can check out the postings on our travel blog - A Priceless Odyssey: Tales and Tidbits from Our Trips and Travels 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oh Happy Day

What a great way to begin a 16-day trip to the British Isles. Just hours before we were to fly from Reagan National Airport to Shannon, Ireland, I received a letter from the State of New Jersey officially informing me that on July 7th the state Bureau of Retirements had approved my application for early retirement as a NJ teacher effective July 1.

So now, thanks to Mr. Alice Cooper, I have a new theme song: "No more pencils, no more school books, no more teacher's dirty looks.  School's out for Summer ... School's Out forever."

And by the way, speaking of time off, I won't be posting during our trip, but will resume entries when we return.  Until then, enjoy.  I know we will.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sounds of Philadelphia Heard in DC

The grounds may have been DC, but the sounds were pure Philly.

Tonight, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival held a concert to honor legendary song writers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the City of Brotherly Love songwriting team credited with creating the Sound of Philadelphia. Gamble and Huff and the record label Philadelphia International have produced 170 gold and platinum records and their sound is one of the most identifiable from the 70s.

Two of the bands linked with Gamble and Huff performed many of the team's top hits.  First up was The Soul Survivors, who brought the crowd its feet with a medley of Gamble/Huff hits including "Cowboys to Girls," "Back Stabbers," and "Me and Mrs. Jones."  But the biggest stir was created by Survivors' set-closer their 1967 smash "Expressway to Your Love," also penned by Gamble and Huff.

The night's show closed with a stellar Gamble/Huff hit after hit set by Philly's Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The highlights were a soulful "If You Don't Know Me By Now," and the 70s protest anthem "Wake Up Everybody," which the the group pointed out "has a message which is just as powerful today."

Coupled with the Phillies crushing of the Atlanta Braves, the concert capped a perfect Philly Sunday.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hello Dalai

While I was in my old home in South Jersey helping celebrate my grandniece's 1st birthday (see post directly below) a man revered as a spiritual leader by millions was speaking outside The Capitol Building as part of his extended Washington stay.

In his only free public appearance as part of the Kalachakra for World Peace in DC, His Holiness the 14th Dali Lama of Tibet addressed a crowd of thousands concerning individual inner peace and its connection with the ability to create outer peace in world fraught with division, disunity, hatred, and violence.

Now while I am sure he was not troubled by my absence, I would like the Dali Lama to know that if it hadn't been for the importance of Kylie's special day, I would have been one of those thousands seated on the Capitol lawn to hear his words of wisdom. Now, thanks to the man-made miracle of YouTube, I still have the ability to see and listen to the day's talk.  And whether you agree with his thoughts or not, I think you must agree that taking about 80 minutes to ponder peace is a worthwhile endeavor.

They Say It's Your Birthday

Kylie Elizabeth Wulderk truly takes the cake.
We all say it - boy, how time flies. Well, no event captures that phenomenon better than a birthday, especially when that birthday symbolizes someone's first year of life. And today, we were back in Jersey to celebrate my grandniece Kylie's birthday number 1.

As I watched Kylie giggle and chatter as she appeared to enjoy the attention of all the family and friends who had gathered to help celebrate her special day, I couldn't help but consider ... What will Kylie's world be like?  Will it be better than the one now, or worse, or simply different? What will Kylie be like? Will she be a shaper or more one shaped by outside forces?

All that pondering led me back to a song my mother played so many times when I was young.  At first, I thought "Que Sera Sera," as sung by Doris Day, was just a bouncy pop song that my mother happened to like. But, as my own birthdays began to mount, I came to appreciate the richness embedded in its simple refrain: "Que sera  sera. Whatever will be will be.  The future's not ours to see. Que sera, sera."

And so, little Kylie, while your Uncle David has absolutely no idea what your future will hold, he is absolutely certain that it will come accompanied with much love. And maybe, to borrow from The Beatles (who, sorry Mom, were absolutely better musically than Doris Day) love really is all you need.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rocking (and eating) Down the Highway

Maybe it's because my Dad and his people came from Texas. Or maybe it comes from watching too many hours of The Real McCoys and The Beverly Hillbillies on TV.  But, whatever the reason, I really like Cracker Barrel restaurants.

In fact, if I need to stop and eat on some long distance driving trip, there's a strong chance that location will feature a distinctive orange and brown logo, rocking chairs on the porch, and chicken and dumplings, cornbread, and three sides on its menu. Now I don't want to appear obsessive, but I find it comforting to know that on our frequent trips between our old South Jersey home and a our new DC area apartment, there is a Cracker Barrel just before the Delaware Memorial Bridge and another one almost exactly midway through the trip at Exit 80 on I-95. (And yes, I have eaten at both of them and no, never on the same trip).

Like so many good business ventures, the initial idea for the nostalgia-steeped project was actually the idea of one man - Dan Evins, who ran a petroleum firm in the South  In 1969, Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel,based on his desire to recreate the old country stores of his youth, in Lebanon, Tennessee. Today, there are more than 600 Cracker Barrels in 42 states.

But, despite my fondness for Cracker Barrels, I am not the number one fan I know.  That distinction would have to go to my old boss, former Bridgeton School Superintendent Vic Gilson. Vic likes Cracker Barrels so much he was determined to be the first person to eat at the Delaware Memorial Bridgeton location on the first day it opened for business. However, despite a really early start, Gilson found people all ready in line for the opening when he arrived.  Ever resourceful, Vic gobbled his breakfast, allowing him to be the first person to get a bill from the restaurant which he kept as a souvenir of the experience. Now that, my friends, is a sign of someone who values his  eating.

Get Up .... Get Up ...Get on the Scene

Fred Wesley leads his New JBs as they funk up The National Mall
Tonight it was Fred Wesley and the New JBs turn to funk up the National Mall.  Wesley, the former trombonist for both James Brown and Parliament Funkaldelic, led his incredibly tight 7-piece ensemble through a 90-minute show featuring sweeping soundscapes of funk, jazz, and even a 40s swing piece to pay tribute to how "we got here with this sound tonight."

While Wesley definitely learned from watching 2 of the greatest showmen in soul in Brown and George Clinton and the sound was hot all night, the special cooking really came with the last 2 songs "Breaking Bread with Mama" and "Pass the Peas."

The encore, a tribute to the venerable Brown, definitely made sure that everyone present was treated a funky good time. As James would have said, "hit me again, Fred."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What's New at The Newseum?

Today, we headed into DC to check out The Newseum, which the website Trip Advisor is heralding as DC's Number 1 attraction.

As a 10-veteran of newspapers, the relatively new Newseum, which we last visited 2 years ago, rivals The Smithsonian's Museum of History for my favorite DC spot.  I would never tire of returning to this place (and now I can come back again and again thanks to a 2-for-one Groupon Press Membership which allows unlimited museum access for 1 year) but obviously I like the exhibits I haven't seen the best.

An actual warning from post-Katrina New Orleans home.
Two were especially impressive.  The first was a reconstruction of Tim Russet's Meet The Press office. There is no question that Russet was a special newsman and a special person.

But the most riveting exhibit on this visit was contained in the series of rooms devoted to the destructive, heart-rending story of Hurricane Katrina as told through the words of the reporters who reported it and the cameramen who captured it in both still and moving pictures.

Ironically, as were finishing the hours spent at the Newseum, word of the Casey Anthony verdict broke and we joined dozens of other visitors to watch the surprising (many would say shocking) story unfold on the facility's incredibly large screen. Now, with the advent of the internet (witness this personal blog you are reading) and the rising costs of print, no one really knows what the next chapter will be in the story of newspapers. But I do know this - whether it is the natural destruction of a force like Katrina or the sorrowful human tragedy of tiny Kaylee Anthony - there will always be powerful news and there will always be a need to both report and digest it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Oh Say Can You See

Several times during my 59-year South Jersey stay, I would skip the crowds and watch the July 4th fireworks from my front yard since all 3 houses I lived in since I was 12 were near the Bridgeton  Park where the city held its annual show.

Well, even though Judy and I had just moved to Crystal City, which is only 3 Metro stops away from The National Mall known for its July 4th fireworks display, we decided to avoid the massive crowds, skip the Capitol 4th show, and watch the festivities on PBS from the comfort of our living room.

However, as soon as Little Richard and the cast of the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet concluded their rock and roll show with their last notes and we heard the first of the fireworks explode, our reclusive resolve melted. "C'mon," my wife urged. "If we get outside, I bet we can see them." And so we rushed out onto Route 1, and, sure enough, a few blocks from our complex we found a tree break with a great unobstructed view of the show.

However, I don't think the 100,000+ jamming the Mall, or the thousands at roof top parties throughout the DC district, or Judy and I in our private spot had the neatest view.  Several times planes taking off from Reagan airport flew directly over The Washington Monument and I can only imagine how cool if must have been for those passengers to see the DC sky literally light up again and again and again.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Who'll Stop The Rain?

Nat Dove rolls those 88s on The National Mall
It was supposed to be The Funk Brothers Night on the National Mall.  The Motor City tent was packed. Members of the Funk Brothers, the sound behind every single Motown record from the 60s and early 70s, were taking the stage. But then, the director of the Motown City tent approached the microphone, saying "I never speak unless it is bad news.  There's a powerful thunderstorm approaching with up to 70 mile-per-hour winds. We've got 30 minutes to evacuate the mall.  Sorry about this, but safety has to come first. We'll be back tomorrow."

But even though The Funk Brothers performance was a washout, there had still been excellent music earlier.

Swamp Doggs sways the National Mall crowd.
While my wife traveled through the Columbian craft village portion of The Folklife Festival grounds, I caught part of a set by Nat Dove. Dove, a 72-year-old native Texas and renowned blues/boogie-barrel house pianist and singer, definitely had the crowd's toes tapping, heads swaying and bodies bouncing.

Dove's stellar show was reminiscent of that of another lesser known Southern soul artist Swamp Dogg, who I saw perform earlier in the week. Dogg, a"soul genius that time forgot" according to British music critics, kept the smoldering Soulsville tent mesmerized as he performed an extended 20-minute version of the Bee Gees' hit "I've Just Got to Get a Message to You," divorcing the song from its Australian pop roots and shaping it into a gospel, gumbo, get-down.  As his band intoned the chorus "I've just got to get a message to you, hold on, hold on" over and over and over, Dogg stolled through the crowd, grasping the hands of every single person in the tent.

The Stax Music Academy sings the legacy.
Following Dove was the Stax Music Academy, a talented group of youngsters who are being schooled to keep the Memphis Stax/Volt sound alive.  As the 4-piece band, 3-piece horn section, and 4 front vocalists ran through a repertoire of company hits from Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" to The Barkays' "Soul Finger" to the Sam and Dave standout "Soul Man" it was difficult to internalize that these sounds were coming from a group whose ages ranged from 13 to 17.  The Academy was joined by Stax songwriter and recording artist William Bell to perform a series of his songs. "Aren't these kids something," Bell told the crowd. "This is what we mean by keeping the legacy alive."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dancing in the Streets ... (I mean tent)

A Motown legend - Miss Martha Reeves at the National Mall
Tonight it was classic Motown's turn at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as Martha Reeves and her band turned the Motor City Tent into giant 60s dance party.

The evening started with a half-hour sit-down  interview in which Reeves explained her relationship with fellow Motowner Diana Ross"Who? Let's just say that she has never changed" and explained that she was too busy to form close personal relationships with other Motown stars."It was pack, get on the bus, perform, come home, pack, get back on the bus perform, come home. That really was our life," Reeves said.

While the crowd enjoyed the insights into Reeves' life it was clear that they were there to hear her sing.  And she did not disappoint, performing a 90-minute hit-packed show.

Here are my 5 personal high points.
5. A cover of Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On."
4. A rousing rendition of "Jimmy Mack" which started with timed hand claps from the crowd.
3. "Nowhere to Run" (my personal Martha Reeves all-time favorite).
2.  "Heat Wave" which Reeves introduced by saying "Is it hot in here? Well it's going to get hotter."
1.  An extended show-closing version of "Dancing in the Streets" where Reeves directed the crowd through a host of 60s dances from the twist to the mashed potatoes to the funky chicken.

There's no question that Martha Reeves has talent - you can't have a 50-year music career without it. But Reeves, who will turn 70 this month, also exhibited another trait tonight - the lady definitely has class. Whether it was urging young people to stay in school so they could follow their dreams or thanking The Funk Brothers for "making all of us (singers at Motown) what we are," Martha showed a grounding in reality.  And, after finally seeing her perform, I have to agree with her own tongue-in-cheek question - Diana who?  To me, Martha Reeves is the true queen of Motown.

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