DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Film Look Inside the DC Beltway Sniper Spree

Whenever there is a horror that displays the darkest sides of human behavior, there is always the question why.

Eleven years ago this month, the DC area was terrified by a series of coordinated shootings that left 10 innocent people dead. That rampage was perpetrated by one man, John Allen Muhammad and one teenage minor, Lee Boyd Malvo. The pair drove from murder site to murder site in a customized blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice that allowed Malvo to fire unseen from inside the car trunk.

This past weekend a new film Blue Caprice, inspired by the Beltway sniper attacks, premiered in Washington. The 93-minute movie attempts, in a surprisingly tasteful way given the subject matter, to reveal the social and psychological flaws that drove Muhammad, who was executed by lethal injection in 2009, and his protege Malvo, who is serving 6 consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole, to commit their hideous killing spree.

Following a Saturday night showing at the West End Cinema, lead actor Isaiah Washington appeared in a Skype interview call to answer questions about the film from the media and audience members.

"Today we all are suffering from cultural violence. Everyone is victimized; we are all touched by it and rendered powerless," Washington said. "There's nowhere to run and hide. We want people to watch this film and go home and talk about it. Violence happens over and over and over and over again. We have to talk about it. We can't walk away shrugging our shoulders".

Washington said everyone involved with the film wanted to present an accurate portrait of the perpetrators of violence, but not glorify them or even create sympathy for them. He said that when he was researching the real John Allen Muhammad he found many psyche flaws and personal traits that would "chill you to the bone".

There are many themes examined in the film, but 5 stand out. They are:

  • the horrific actions that can come from alienation and isolation
  • the damage to a young person victimized twice, first by no parenting and then even more drastically by bad parenting and leadership
  • what can happen when the psychologically damaged feel they are completely powerless
  • the desensitizing impact of a gun culture
  • and the effects that ensue when people become complacent with that cultural violence
Washington on the Skype screen
Only half-jokingly, Washington said that playing such a dark role left him "on a psychiatrist's couch for a few weeks". He said one of the most difficult scenes for him to play was leaving his protege and film "son," tied up and abandoned in the woods. "What you see in the film is an actor running away to cry. I told the director that I would only do that scene once," the actor said.

Washington was effusive in his praise for 20-year-old Tequan Richmond, the actor who convincingly plays the severely damaged, fictionalized version of Malvo. "This is a 20-year-old who gets it," Washington said. "I felt like I was curbside watching a star being born".

The decision not to show any of Muhammad's Islamic affiliations was deliberate on the part of filmmakers.  
"We didn't want people to go down that rabbit  hole," Washington said, explaining that the film is about characters, not any views of Muslims.

"We wanted to speak on some very difficult subjects. And if we got it right, if we told the truth, we might change some minds ... maybe even save someone," Washington said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
As with any movie based on real-life events, the impacts are somewhat more personal than a story of pure fiction. For example, our son Michael was living in the Washington area at the time.  He even got gas at one of the sites of the shooting. I will always remember the worry for his safety I felt at the time. Even though she is an avid movie buff, Barbara Rew spoke for many area residents when she said "I don't think I can see this film after having lived through the experience". Even non-DC-area residents who had some connection share Rew's view. "I won't be watching this movie. I was terrified when we went to Maryland. We used Rt. 40 instead of 95; it was too scary. Very few news reports have scared me like this one," says Jersey resident Karole King.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Crier Creates a Humorous Look at DC Headlines

There is no question that writing clever headlines is an art, but can the headlines themselves be considered art. Well for DC-area artists Natalie Campbell, Bryan Minnich, and Martine Workman, the answer is a resounding yes.

Working with a group of fellow artists, the trio has produced the satiric, tongue-in-cheek newspaper (in different size versions) The Crier.  Half artist mag, half local rag, the issue was edited and assembled via submissions, and a series of prints were produced at Pleasant Point Workshop in the Shaw-Howard section of the city to create an interactive installation that was unveiled this weekend.

With headlines like Excuse You Is That My Bag (a takeoff on the ubiquitous DC Metro message - Excuse me, is that your bag?), Tourists Disappointed Washington Mall Is Not a Mall, and The Four Best Conspiracy Theories About the Scaffolding on the Washington Monument, The Crier cleverly pokes fun at DC, while at the same time capturing the zeitgeist of the nation's capital.

To add verisimilitude to the tiny paper (whose banner proclaims Free In DC, $1 elsewhere), the inaugural issue (3 are planned), includes ads, classifieds, maps, cartoons, and other items you might find in a street paper.

Part of the project was a playful attempt at "reducing the news to a manageable personal size" that could then be distributed, says Campbell, who explained that both she and Martine had been using tiny newspapers in their art displays. "We wanted to do something hyper-local that played with different forms," she added.

When she lived in Washington state, Martine actually published a small art paper for the 800 residents of that tiny community called Twisp. "People loved it," she said with a laugh.

Minnich, a graphic designer, is no stranger to humorous publications. He actually produces his own magazine Popular Demand. But then, he also publishes a 2nd magazine, Brute, which is designed to despise and comment negatively on everything Popular Demand publishes. "Brute is a bully, but it lets me get all my hate out," Minnich explained.

Probably the most interesting piece in the installment is the setup with printed sheets of The Crier that seem as if they are actually coming off a printing press. And if you like it, it is for sale. All you need is $1,000 and a big vehicle to get it home.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Campbell, Martine, and Minnich, all agree that the Pleasant Point Workshop is one of DC's most happening art operations. To learn more about the kinds of things that go on there, click here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Flashback - The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

This post 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC on Sept. 28, 2011. Enjoy our back in time trip

In this modern era of spoiled superstars, greedy billionaire owners, and crazed, alcohol-fueled fans  who think it's OK to assault someone simply for wearing the jersey of an opposing  team, it's difficult to remember why I once made sports such a cornerstone of my life. Then something happens to temporarily restore that lost magic, the idea that that anything - even the impossible - can occur on an athletic field. And tonight provided one of those times.

It began with a call from my former college roommate Steve Ferrara, who, like us, lives in the DC area. Now for the purposes of this story, there are 2 things you need to know about Steve - he pronounces a sentence like park your car in Harvard yard as "pahk your cah in Hahvard yahd" which, of course, means he is a die-hahd Boston Red Sox fan

Steve's Red Sox were  going to to be playing the Baltimore Orioles in that most exciting of sports situation - win or be done: capture the last game of the season and they would still have a chance to be in the Major League playoffs; lose and they could be going home to live with the stigma of the greatest collapse in baseball history. So when Steve suggested that Judy and I join him in Baltimore at the game, I readily agreed, especially since he said he would pick up the tab for the tickets.

My warm feelings for my former roommate soared when he asked if  we would mind, since the game meant so much to him, sitting directly behind home plate in the $99-a-ticket section. Object to those seats? Yeah, right.

So that's how I found myself sitting in prime home plate seats on a night that would make baseball history. Although all the 6 divisional championships had been decided, there was still a question of who would be the wild card teams. In the American League, it would either be the Red Sox or Tampa Bay, who were playing the Yankees in New York. The National League wild-card would be decided in games between the Philadelphia Phillies (my team) and the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis and Houston. In short, the setup meant that fans across the country would be watching the action on the scoreboard as intently as they would be watching the action on the field.

In Baltimore, the action on the field see-sawed; first the Red Sox were up, then the Orioles, then the Sox again. Initially, the scoreboard story was a different matter.  The Yankees stormed to a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 lead over Tampa Bay.  It looked Steve's Sox were headed to the playoffs. But then, as can happen is sports, the baseball gods decided to change the story line.  Miraculously, Tampa tied the Yanks, sending  the game into extra innings. 

And just to prove that their powers were not limited to 1 city, those same gods decided to intervene in Baltimore, too. The scene was set. The Red Sox were 3 outs away from victory. Their ace relief pitcher was on the mound. First batter; 1 out. Second batter, 2 outs. Steve, along with the 1000s of other Red Sox fans in Camden Yards, jumped to their feet , shouting, pleading, imploring their team for just 1 more out. Next batter.  A double to center. That's OK, no harm. Next batter ... oh NO, back to back doubles, game tied. Still, it's OK. One more out and we'll go to extra innings and win there.  The pitch ... the batter swings ... a sinking drive ... the left fielder, glove extended, flys toward the ball ... he'll get it ... he'll get it ... he's got it ... no, he doesn't ... a single ... the winning run scores .. game over ... Sox lose.

Stunned, slumped, but still standing, Steve listened to the explosion of joy from the Orioles players and fans.  He looked at his dejected Red Sox as they slunk off the field and back to the locker room.  It couldn't happen this way; it shouldn't happen this way. But it did. No matter how many televised replays, the outcome would always be the same - Orioles win. And, in a manner of minutes, it got even bleaker. Word began circulating around the stadium - Tampa Bay had accomplished the impossible; they had come back to beat the Yankees in extra innings.  The Rays, not the Red Sox, would be playing another day.

So, for Steve and the rest of the Red Sox nation, there was only one option - wait until next year.  But then that may be the true lesson of the night.  In sports, unlike life, there is always a next year.

Travelers' Tip:
If you ever attend a season-ending game at a stadium and you plan on eating, you should be prepared to amend your foot choices. When we ordered hot dogs, we found out that the dogs were fine, but the concession stand had run out of rolls. No problem - we switched to burgers. Then we ordered sodas and discovered the stand was out of diet drinks, but did have root beer. And, by the end of the night, there were no cups. Oh well, there is always next year for those first-food choices.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Midnight in Mexico: Death, Despair, and Hope

Corchado reads from his book
Can a broken promise lead to a personal death threat? Well, for journalist/author Alfredo Corchado it not only could, it did.

When Corchado first started covering Mexico in 1994 for the Dallas Morning News he promised his mother he wouldn't report on the Mexican drug trafficking and its deadly cartels, which have been blamed for more than 100,000 deaths and disappearances in cities, towns, and villages south of the border.

But as bad financial conditions began to reduce the Texas newspaper's Mexican staff, Corchado found himself unable to fulfill his promise. He had to cover the drug industry. But he kept that news from his family. "For the longest time, I didn't tell my parents what I was doing. I didn't want them to worry," Corchado says.

However, the cover-up unraveled abruptly in July of 2007. Corchado remembers exactly what he was doing when the call came that would change his life. He was preparing for a dinner celebration and watching people outside his apartment. A light rain was falling. The Eagles hit "Hotel California" was playing in the background.

His cell phone vibrated. It was bound to be work, Corchado thought. He answered the call. "And that was the last time I felt completely safe in Mexico," he says.

On the other end of the call was a high-placed American source well-known to Corachdo. "They (a cartel) plan to kill an American journalist within 24 hours," the always-reliable source said. "You are one of them. Stop pissing them off." The journalist says his first thoughts were to rush to hide in the bathroom or in the nearest closet.  "Had I been betrayed?" he wondered. He then figured he could "get to them and tell them this isn't personal. This is just journalism". Finally, he decided to leave the country and take a residency year at Harvard University. While there, he came up with the idea for his first book titled Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness.

Corchado appeared at the National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress last Sunday to talk about the book and the future of Mexico.

While Cochardo writes about the drug problems and his death threat, the book is much more. "It's really an argument between a mother and her son," he said, with Corchado having more faith in Mexico's future than his mother who was born there.

It is also an account of a struggle for identity, Corchado, who was born in America, admits. "It is written by someone who feels hopelessly American in Mexico and hopelessly Mexican in America," he said.

Then there is the universal theme that has been explored since Homer's epic The Odyssey - the search for home.

And finally, the book is "a poem to the tragedy and beauty of my homeland," Corchado maintains. The title refers to the idea that no matter how dark it is at midnight, there is always hope for a brighter morning. "Day by day, you see the best of Mexicans. You see their resilience," Corchado said.

Corchado firmly believes that it will be the women who will save their country. As proof, he cites the example of a group of mothers who used tragedy to bring promise. In one town, cartel gunmen burst on to the grounds of a wrong home, massacring all the teenagers who were having a party there. After the burials and with hearts broken, the mothers of the town banded together to create an American-style football program. "They were going to try to build a community with the blood of their own children," Corchado said. "They were going to use the football league to get kids away from the reach of the cartels". And, so far at least, they have been succeeding. With rag-tag equipment and a quarterback who had been shot 3 times, the town's team has been able to compete at a championship level.

"Stories like this is what gives people hope. You see people go through the lowest moments of their lives and then go on," said Corchado, who told the crowd that by using common sense and the power of his U.S. passport he will also go on reporting on a Mexico he has grown to love.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
This report on a first-time author concludes our 5-part series on the National Book Festival. We hope our series captured some of the flare and flavor of the annual 2-day event. But of course, with more than 100 authors attending there is so much we couldn't see and report on. If you are a book lover, you really should try to make the festival next September. If you do, stop me and say hi. I'll  be the one with a notebook beaming that, as an avid reader, I get to write about such a great event.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Vet Dishes on the National Book Fest

Brad Meltzer
With almost a dozen New York Times best selling books, many of them set in Washington, Brad Meltzer is no stranger to the National Book Festival, sponsored annually by the Library of Congress, and the DC area.

That was why, when he appeared at the Book Fest last Saturday, he felt like it was a homecoming of sorts.  It was also why he wanted to let his fans, hundreds of whom crowded into the Fiction and Mystery tent, in on the real reason why so many authors always attend the 2-day celebration on the National Mall of all things books.

And the secret?  Authors are offered a special breakfast at the White House. Meltzer recounted his first 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue dining experience. "I was sitting with (British fantasy writer) Neil Gaiman and Salmon Rushdie. And Neil and I are such geeks we were talking about Superman".

Meltzer said he did participate in one White House tradition. "The napkins disappear like crazy and I still have mine," he said.

Later, Meltzer was invited to a special lunch in the residential part of the White House. He found himself seated next to Barbara Bush. On the table in front of him was a beautiful, hand-written seat assignment card embossed with White House designs. Mrs. Bush leaned toward him and told Meltzer that first-timers often made off with the cards. "Oh, those novices," Meltzer said he told Mrs. Bush. "Hey," he called out while pointing, "Look, there's Ruth Bader Ginsburg". As Mrs. Bush turned, Meltzer pocketed his name card. "Still have that, too," he said.

Meltzer in a one-man media empire. In addition to his political thrillers, he has written two best-selling books for young people, one entitled Heroes for My Son and the other Heroes for My Daughter. He has worked on Green Arrow, Justice League of America, and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer comics. He also hosts the History Channel series Brad Meltzer's Decoded.

The prolific content producer was also one of the 1st authors to fully utilize the internet for promotion. Since much he has placed on line goes into far more depth about his writing than he had time to offer in the 45 minutes allotted to him at the Festival, we will use some of his own website postings to tell more about Meltzer and his books.
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
While I like Meltzer's thrillers and am looking forward to his 10 greatest mysteries Decoded book coming next month, as a former teacher, I am most appreciative of his Heroes for My Son. In my last year of teaching, I used the book in my classes for seriously at risk students, some of whom were repeating 10th grade for a 3rd time. Most of these students were engaged and inspired by the stories in the book. I'm sure your children or grandchildren would be, too.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Hilarious Take on Titles Rejected for Tall Tales Told

When Chris Buckley speaks, everyone laughs
Author Christopher Buckley has a big problem. Recognized as one of America's most humorous satirists, he says it is getting harder and harder to make stuff up that is funnier than what is really happening in America today.

For example, take one of Buckley's latest book tours. Here is how he described one incident from that tour to a tent full of fans this past weekend at the National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress.

"Well, you know those book blurbs. Sometimes, I just make them up. I had written that I had worked for every president since William Howard Taft (1909 to 1913). So I had an AM drive-time interview. Now, AM drive-time is not really the occasion for Socratic dialogue. You have kind of a sliding scale of interviewers.  At the top you have Terry Gross of NPR and then, down at the Jurassic level, you have AM talk show jocks. I got to the studio and I saw the DJ speed reading my book jacket for an in-depth interview."

Before they went on the air, the radio jock asked him: "So, you used to work for William Howard Taft?"

"I thought, oh what the hell, so I said, yeah."

"Can we talk about that?," the DJ asked.

"And we did," Buckley said, as the crowd laughed uproariously. "Needless to say, I wasn't asked back on the show, but it was worth it."

Buckley said that with so many books coming out each year (400,000 he said, with half of them written by Joyce Carol Oates, who was speaking after him) it was becoming more and more difficult to come up with a good book title. He said he was having such a problem with his new book, which he promised, although he wouldn't talk about it, "was very reasonably priced and attractively packaged".

Titles are supposed to mean something, Buckley contended. "Like when I saw 50 Shades of Gray, I thought it was about decorating. Boy was I in for a surprise," he said. Then there are the foreign sales to be considered. When John Steinbeck's classic Grapes of Wrath was released in Japan, the English title translation said Angry Raisins. "I wonder how Moby Dick made out?" Buckley rhetorically asked.

For the next 30 minutes or so, Buckley took the crowd through the process of trying to come up with a name for his new work of previously published essays that his publishers would accept.

His 1st suggestion was Want to Buy a Dictator? That title came from an article that he wrote for Forbes magazine. Here's how Buckley tells the tale.

"When the Soviet Union was breaking up and Russia was in financial trouble, I thought about (their former leader V. I) Lenin, who was displayed in his tomb. You know, kind of the Sleeping Beauty from Hell. So I decided to write a false story about them (the Russians) trying to auction off Lenin's corpse for hard currency. First, of course, I had to come up with a reasonable price for a dead Commie dictator. $15 million seemed about right"

"When we published the story, the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree so we went home so we wouldn't have to lie. That night I was watching Peter Jennings (on the nightly news) and he was talking about (the Lenin story)"

"The next morning, I got a call from ( uber-rich magazine owner) Steve Forbes. Now this was the guy who signed my check. It was pretty early for Steve to call. In fact, Steve Forbes had never called me. He said the Russians are going ballistic. They were calling me a brazen liar and an international provocateur ... and I thought ... cool."

But that wasn't the end of the story. In reality, the Kremlin became deluged with offers for the dead Lenin. One Dallas, Texas multi-millionaire offered $37 million. "I have talked to our designers and I have been told that Mr. Lenin would make a fine addition to our lobby," he was supposed to have announced.

"So you can see it is pointless to use satire. You're in a losing competition with tomorrow's front page," Buckley said, telling the crowd that the publishers would print the story but not use the related title for the entire book".

At this point Buckley digressed to reaffirm his contention that real-life is far more funny than any satire he could create. "I was in Dallas, Texas (must be something about Texas and Dallas) where I was speaking to a group of women and this lady introduced me as a satyrist. And she didn't just say it once, she kept on saying it. And I couldn't help thinking that this crowd of nice, blue-haired old ladies were thinking - why had the (speakers) committee chosen to have a sex pervert address them at 11 a..m?"

Then Buckley returned to his titling tale. His next suggestion was Bassholes. This came from an article he did about the growth of interest in fly fishing. "I told them there was a hunger in the land for a book called Bassholes. I have done the market research.." Unfortunately, the publishers didn't share that hunger and rejected that title also.

Undaunted, Buckley turned to an experience he had as a young 29-year-old English major chosen as a speech writer for then vice-president George H. W. Bush. He wanted to title the book Look Out, President Park.

It seems that when Buckley was hired, he was taken for training in what to do if he were on the scene of an attempted assassination. "Of course, John Wilkes Booth had killed Abraham Lincoln to avenge the entire South and John Hinkley had attempted to kill President Reagan to avenge Jodie Foster, which kind of speaks to the trajectory of idealism in American assassinations".

Anyway, Buckley was taken to a room where he was subjected to a series of what he called America's least funny assassination videos. However, one video was much different. It was an actual filming of an attempt on the life of then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee. Here is how Buckley describes the filmed scene.

"President Park was giving a talk and this guy walked up toward him, pulls out a .357 magnum. He takes his time and then you hear blam, blam, blam. And you see President Park sink down behind the podium as if this happened all the time. You could see him thinking - I hate this part. I'm dying up here".

Suddenly the guards sprung into action. "They began spraying the front row with machine gun fire. One of the guards rushed to take cover behind Mrs. Park. He was using the 1st Lady as a shield".

At the end of the session, an extremely serious official told Buckley he had 2 choices - you either duck or take the round.

Buckley said he had a quick response.  "What was that second part, again?," he said he asked. "I was reasonably sure if it came to that, I would take the duck, but I did want to hear the second choice again".

But Look Out, President Park was also rejected. So, even though he never had to face gun fire, Buckley's next suggestion - Thu - came from one of his most deadly days as a vice-presidential speech writer. In his writing for Vice President Bush, he had included a quote by the ancient Greek general and historian Thucydides. The speech was going splendidly until Bush got to the quote. "Thu ... Thu.. Thu," he said, stumbling over the name. Bush, certainly, as a Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, no dummy, tried again. But all that came out was "Thu ... Thu ..." Finally, on a 3rd try he got it right. After the speech, a glowering Admiral came up to Buckley and intoned, "The next time use Plato."

Despite Buckley's supporting story, the publishers said there was no way Thu worked as a title. Buckley then broke into the background for yet another suggestion, this time I Wish I Had Said That. However, before he could complete the story, his allotted time expired.

And so, while greatly entertained, the crowd never did find out exactly what the official title of Buckley's forthcoming work would be. But I'm 97.6% sure that most of them - me included - were going to buy the book, no matter what the title actually is. If we can only stop laughing long enough to get to the bookstore.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Fans and Their Fest

There are probably as many reasons to attend the National Book Festival as there are attendees. However, the avid reading enthusiasts who yearly congregate on the National Mall for one of America's largest book celebrations can loosely be arranged in 1 of 3 categories - some come for a particular type of book, others come for a particular author or authors, and still others come to grab the free reading goodies offered, which includes large, brightly-colored book bags (this year orange) to carry those items home.

Margaret Atwood prepares to take the stage
Take Anne Rhome. The 67-year-old Virginia resident could be found Saturday on the 2nd row of chairs in the Fiction and Mystery tent, where she planned to spend the entire 7 hours of the festival, which is sponsored by the Library of Congress.

"I come here to hear the authors talk about both their new books and their older books," Rhome says. "I've only missed 1 (of the 12) festivals. I stay mostly in the fiction tent because that is what I read."

So how come she wasn't in the 1st row? You could blame her late arrival for not getting the closest seats. On this particular Saturday, the book festival started at 10 a.m.with an appearance by Dom DeLillo, one of America's most acclaimed writers. In 2006, a New York Times survey of writers and literary experts chose his novel Underworld as the 2nd best novel of the past 25 years. When Rhome arrived shortly after 9 a.m., she was told the front row had been filled by 8:45.

Rhome says she never tires of the DC festival, which allows her to continue her life-long passion with books and reading. "When I was young, I loved being in the library and being surrounded by books," she said.

Then there are readers like Carolyn Hoy, a high school teacher who had traveled with 2 friends from Lancaster, Pa. for Saturday's programs. There were 2 reasons she was there - one was named Margaret Atwood; the other was Daniel Pink. In fact, we encountered Hoy as she was taking pictures of Pink, who was minutes away from delivering an engaging talk on his newest book entitled To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing, and Influencing Others.

"Don't you just love him," Hoy said as she snapped away. As a teacher, she readily agrees with Pink's contention that everyone is a salesmen and therefore should know the best ways to persuade and convince.
"I use all of his books in class," says Hoy, who teaches seminar classes to mixed groups of gifted students in grades 9 through 12. She said Pink's works are ideal for learning concepts of creativity and motivation.

As Pink prowled the stage animatedly distributing the wisdom he had gathered from social scientists around America, you could spot Hoy furiously scribbling down ideas to take back to her classroom.

Daniel Pink persuades fans like Hoy
In the final category you would be hard pressed to find a better example than my wife (and doting grandmother of our 2 grandkids, 5-and-half-year-old Audrey and 4-year-old Owen). Now while Judy did plan to see some authors (her 2 choices for this Saturday were Linda Ronstadt with her new memoir Simple Dreams and Christina Garcia, a Cuban-American writer whose latest book is a darkly comic novel featuring a fictionalized Fidel Castro entitled King of Cuba) that wasn't her main reason for her attendance.

Just a portion of my wife's free reading haul.
For much of the day, you could find Judy prowling the tents, filling her bright orange book bag with age-appropriate, reading-related materials for Audrey (who is already reading on her own) and Owen (who still prefers to be read to).

"I love the festival because they have a lot of fun, free, educational things that you can take home for your children or your grandchildren," Judy said. "And a lot of the items you couldn't even buy in stores if you wanted to".

My wife says she can't wait to bring Audrey and Owen (who currently live in suburban Atlanta) to the festival. I support that idea. Maybe then they can carry their own bags. But until that day comes, that is a task for Grandpop. Thank goodness I love books and my grandkids and I look good in orange.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
To book lovers, the National Book Festival is like a rock festival. But like the New Orleans Fest or Bonaroo, the multiple-stages setup prompts some tough decisions. Here are some I faced this past weekend ... Linda Ronstadt or Dom DeLillio? .... James McBride or Daniel Pink? ...Terry McMillan or Benjamin Percy? Alfredo Corchado or Joyce Carol Oates? Taylor Branch (whom I have seen before) or lunch? What a wonderful problem to have.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The National Book Festival In Pictures

The Library of Congress held its 12th annual National Book Festival on the National Mall this past weekend. The 2-day event brought more than 100 authors to thousands of avid book readers of all ages. This post will show you some of what it was like to be there.

The Schedule 

A Sampling of Authors

Linda Ronstadt

Margaret Atwood

Brad Meltzer

Taylor Branch
Daniel Pink

Justin Cronin

Benjamin Percy

Christoper Buckley

Alfredo Corchado

Kenneth Mack

What Older Readers Did

And What Younger Readers Did

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
This is the 1st in a 5-part series on the National Book Fest.  Still to come:
  • An inside look at why people attend the festival
  • Titling a novel satirist Christopher Buckley
  • The day as seen by Book Fest veteran and NY Times best selling author Brad Meltzer
  • Festival newbie from Mexican-American journalist Alfredo Cortazar.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Zydeco Museum Dance Party

Chenier ...
If you have ever visited the National Museum of the American Indian you probably would have some difficulty imagining it as a Zydeco dance hall. But with the backing of his 4-member Red Hot Louisiana Band, accomplished 2nd generation accordionist C. J. Chenier did just that today, delivering an uptempo 75-minute show that had the crowd two-stepping both on the impromptu dance floor and in the aisles.

Chenier, whose father Clifton was one of the grand old men of Zydeco, offered little commentary, instead opting to let one song flow directly into the next.

However, in his longest stage speech of the night he intoned at one point, "This next song ... they call it old school, but I call it real school. This is one I learned from my Daddy. Now don't tell me we're going too fast. There ain't no such thing as too fast. Here we go ... Everybody do the Louisiana two-step".

For anyone not familiar with Zydeco, it is dance music that evolved in southwest Louisiana by Black Creoles, a group of people of mixed African, Afro-Caribbean, Native American and European descent. The sound is a blend of Cajun music, blues, and rhythm and blues. The music is dominated by button or piano accordion and a form of washboard played with spoons. The few slow songs in a Zydeco set are usually waltzes.

... and The Red Hot Louisiana Band
The Chenier show was the last in the free special Indian Summer Showcase Concert series held at the museum. As you might expect all the performers incorporated some type of Native American songs and sounds in their music.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
This was the 2nd Indian Summer concert we attended. To read about Rita Coolidge's performance last month click here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Here's a Bite of Baseball Fandom

When it comes to baseball fandom, whom you root for is often a matter of geography. Born and raised in Los Angeles? Chances are good you will be a Dodgers or Angels fan. Came into the world a couple hours drive to the south and you're probably a San Diego Padres fan. A couple of hours north and you could well spend your entire life following the San Francisco Giants.

Of course, the phenomenon isn't related only to the West Coast. Colorado, Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, New York, Boston, it doesn't matter - born there, attend your 1st games there, stay there, your allegiance often remains there.

The old Connie Mack stadium in Philadelphia
So, since I was born in Philadelphia and spent the next 6 decades in neighboring South Jersey, it wasn't surprising that I was a Phillies fan, just like my mother and father before me and my son after me. When I was 8, I was struck with baseball fever. I avidly collected baseball cards. I devoured every issue of The Sporting News. I could tell you more stats than you would ever need to know. I played organized Little League, sandlot baseball, and backyard wiffle ball. When no one was around, I would take a glove, a wall, and a rubber ball and create a whole series of 9-inning games. If it was raining, there was this board game with dice that would let me continue my baseball passion.

I loved going to games at the old Connie Mack stadium with my Dad and his friends, 2 of whom were pro baseball scouts (one for the Reds, one for the Pirates) and one of whom, Goose Goslin, was an actual Baseball Hall of Famer with his bust in Cooperstown, NY. They all taught me how to truly appreciate the magnificent nuances of the game.

But while I loved the game, in reality, I was only a slightly-below-average player, (my farm league team went 0-16 and my error cost my Little League team a championship). However, I remained a super fan. Well, at least until my teen years when rock and roll music and playing keyboard (the rock women who ignored me for the singers were much hotter than the baseball groupies I never had) replaced baseball as my American pastime.

Although I gave up my super label, the Phils remained a part of my life. If I watched a game on TV, there was a 90 percent chance the Phils were involved. The horrible sense of loss I felt when the Phils blew the pennant in 1964 in one of the greatest collapses in baseball history still surfaced every so often in my memory. When I took my son to a baseball game, unless we were on vacation, it was to see the Phils.

But 3 years ago we retired and moved to Washington, DC. Suddenly, it was the Washington Nationals, not the Philadelphia Phillies, who were the home town team. When I turned on the local TV, the game was the Nats and whomever they were playing. The sports pages I read were now reports of the Nats in the Washington Post, not stories of the Phils fate in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Quickly, I came to know more about the new Nats than I did the Phillies. And the Nats ballpark was only 5 Metro stops and one train change from our apartment.

The new Nationals Park in DC
All of which brings us to last weekend. My wife found us incredibly low-priced tickets to all 3 games of the 2013 final series between the Phillies and the Nationals . So I would have 3 chances to test out if my allegiance to the Phils had faded to be replaced with a new fondness for the Nats.

I decided on a plan. To test out which team I was really now a fan of, I would post different positions on my Facebook page depending on the score. I would then feel which one felt right. It would also give me chance to see if I would have any family (one of whom would be sitting next to me for all 3 games) or friends if I really did switch from the Phils to the Nats. Here is a game-by-game account of that game plan.

Game 1 (Nats 6, Phils 1)
  • My FB post - Phils up 1-0 in the top of the 1st. Go Phils
  • Replies - 7 likes
  • My post - Ramos homerun puts Nats up 2-1. Go Nats.
  • Best Comment - "Oh now you're a Nats fan. Figures. You always were slimy."
  • My post - Zimmerman homerun makes its 3-1. Nats rule
  • Best comment - "Hey, tap that guy in front of you on the shoulder (I had previously posted a picture of where I was sitting) and ask him if he thinks you are more stupid or more ugly, you turncoat".
  • My post - Nats up 6-1 after 5. I am a Nats fan. I have always been a Nats fan. In fact, I was a Nats fan before there was a Nats team.
  • Best comment (tie) - "You mean you were the Expos sole fan" (The Nats were once the Montreal Expos). No wonder Montreal couldn't keep the franchise. But what's more alarming is that you were pro-Canadian" and "You were a greenheads fan if I recall, not a gnats fan."
  • My post - Great night to be a Nats fan
  • Best  comment - "You weren't one when you went in. Are you going to change your sex, too?"
Game 2 (Phils 5, Nats 4)
  • My post - Ruiz just hit a 3-run double. Phils up 4-1. Glad I have always been a Phils fan.
  • Best comment - "Seriously, you're bordering on being hidden from my timeline with your flip-flopping bullcrap". 
  • My post - I think these Nats fans must be feminists. They keep shouting "less gonads, less gonads". 
  • Best comment - "All this flipping and flopping may be affecting your hearing. Maybe hormones? Perhaps taking their advice would help?"
  • My post - Phils win 5-4. I am a Phillies fan. I have always been a Phillies fan. I will always be a Phillies fan.
  • Best comment (tie) "You, David Price, are now, have always been, and will continue to be a fair weather Jersey/Philadelphia sports fan" and "Next thing ya know you'll be a Republican, too". 
Games 3 (Nats 11, Phils 2)
  • My post - Phils up 1-0 with Nats at bat in the 2nd. Glad I am a Phils fan.
  • Best comment - "Hope you don't break you leg hopping on and of that bandwagon. Wait, on 2nd thought, I do".
  • My post - Nats up 4-2. Let's go Nats.
  • Best comment - "Did you just turn your reversible shirt inside out again?"
  • My post - Nats up 10-2. I am glad I am a Nats fan
  • Best comment - "I wish they had a tongue-sticking-out, finger-sticking-up icon on Facebook. But they don't. Use your imagination". 
So all this brings us to the 7th inning of the final game of the series. I had tried keeping my Phils fandom. I had tested out a new Nats card. But I still wasn't certain. Time was running out. There was only one thing to do. I jumped from my seat and headed to the concession area. I stopped at the Ben's Chili Bowl stand. I bought a DC half-smoke with everything on it. Then I headed to the Taste of the Majors. I bought a Philly cheesesteak wid' onions. I headed back to my seat. If my heart and my head couldn't decide, I would let my stomach make the choice. 

My wife looked at me. "You're unbelievable," she said, reaching for the Tide Stick she knew she would soon need. I ignored the comment. I couldn't let a few stains stand in the way of a major league decision like this. I figured the fairest way was to eat a bite of the Philly steak, then a bite of the DC half-smoke (home teams always bat last, you know). In the early eating innings, it was close. They were both good. But by about the 8th bite, with cheese dripping from my chin and chili staining my pants, it suddenly became clear. I liked DC half-smokes, but I loved Philly cheesesteaks. I was, had always been, and will always be a Phils fan, for better or worse, in their sickness and their health, in their winning and their losing, until death do us part. Or until at least next season. There is always peach pie (Atlanta Braves), deep dish pizza (Chicago Cubs) Texas beef brisket (Houston Astos) and quesadillas (Arizona Diamondbacks). 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Flashback Friday: About Osama bin Laden from 2 Who Talked to Him

It's another Friday so here is the latest in our ongoing feature in The Price Do DC called Friday Flashback. Each Friday we repost a story published earlier in our blog, which began in June of 2011. So, if you have read this post before, welcome back. If you are reading this for the 1st time, we hope you enjoy this post blast from our blog past.  This one is from September, 2011.

Bin Laden and Bergen in 1997

His small tent in the secret, arid Arab wasteland was sparse. True, he wore a military jacket over his robes, had a loaded AK-47 propped at his side, and unleashed a scathing verbal diatribe decrying the infidels of the West, most especially the United States. But he spoke his words of hate in a monotone. Despite the impassioned nature of his rhetoric, he remained calm and collected.  There was much more cleric than killer commandant about him. In short, there was little evidence to believe in the late 1990s that Osama bin Laden and his handful of Al-Qaeda followers would ever be able to pull off a massive attack like 9-11, 2 veteran news correspondents who personally interviewed bin Laden told a standing-room only audience at The Newseum today.

In a wide-ranging, hour-long discussion, CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen and ABC News Correspondent John Miller, who were 2 of the only western correspondents to ever interview bin Laden, revealed details of those interviews and talked about their take on conditions in a post-bin Laden world.

"People who say bin-Laden's death means the end of terrorism are wrong," Miller, who interviewed bin-Laden in 1998 said. "But people who say his death is meaningless are also wrong." 

Both correspondents said that America's focus on Al-Qaeda and recent killing of its spiritual leader have drastically weakened the organization's ability to mount significant attacks in the United States. "So much has changed since 9/11," Bergen said, noting that, for example, where the US then had about dozen agents sorting out terror signals that group numbers more than 2,000 today. "Or take the TSA. It may be a mixed blessing, but with the TSA, those box cutters wouldn't have gotten on board."

Both correspondents pointed out the difficulties in originally securing their interviews with bin Laden. First there was the substantial costs of such an operation.  Then, at the time, America and American news organizations were more concerned with the the O.J. Simpson trial or the President Clinton/ Monica Lewinsky  scandal than they were with an unknown bearded leader from a little-known part of the word.

And then there were the conditions imposed by the ultra-secret, always paranoid bin Laden and his followers.  There were countless questions of intent. And more questions of motive. Locations were set and locations were  moved. Guns were produced. And guns were fired. But Bergen said he believed there was never any real danger and the benefits to be gleaned from his 1997 interview far outweighed any risks."They (bin Laden and Al-Qaeda) wanted to get the story out and I didn't think they would do anything to jeopardize that," Bergen said. Miller concurred, but noted that not everyone was blase about the danger. "After the interview aired, I got a call from my mother. I thought she was going to say what a good job, but she said 'don't you ever go to Afghanistan and do something like that again.' "

Of course, one of the great questions for any leader of hate is how do you justify the taking of innocent lives in your struggle, no matter how right you believe your cause to be.  Miller said he asked bin Laden that question and the Al-Qaeda leader, ever the master of manipulation and rationalization, matter of factly answered: "We learned from you.  Did not the Americans kill women and children at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? We are simply doing what you taught us."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Although the special speakers program centered around the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has concluded, there is still much to learn about that day if you visit The Newseum.  For example, there is a separate 9/11 exhibit with artifacts and news footage, as well as a section of the FBI exhibit that deals with the agency's handling of that da

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Story of The Star Spangled Banner

On this date 199 years ago, Washington DC attorney Frances Scott Key was being held aboard a British ship in Baltimore harbor. For 25 hours, he witnessed a fierce barrage of cannon shot pummel Fort McHenry, a stone fort being held by an American garrison determined not to allow a British victory like the one in Washington a month earlier. By the dawn's early light of Sept. 14th, Key viewed an astonishing sight - the fort had withstood the red glare of the rockets and the bursting of the bombs.  And there, high above the fort, still waved a giant American flag.

"There in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke," Key later said.

Inspired by what he had seen, Key, an amateur poet, used the back of a letter to begin composing the 4 stanzas of what would become America's national anthem - "The Star Spangled Banner". On September 20, both the Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the lyrics, with the note to be song to "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven".

The song spread across the young country. Its popularity increased in the North during the Civil War, and, by the 1900s, it was a fixture at public ceremonies and celebrations. In 1931, Congress made Key's tribute to the victory of Fort McHenry the official national anthem of the United States.

But what of the 30-by-42-foot flag that served as Key's inspiration? It was constructed by a Baltimore flag maker, Mary Pickergill, in the summer of 1813. She was assisted by her daughter, 2 nieces, and an African-American indentured servant. Pickford was paid $405.90 for her work, which was more than most Baltimore residents earned in a year.

For almost 100 years after the battle, the flag remained with the family of George Armistead, who had been the commander of Fort McHenry at the time of the British attack. The family would periodically display the famous flag and did give out a few snippets for treasured keepsakes. The flag was first photographed in the Boston Navy yard in 1873, and that photo greatly increased interest in the historic banner.

In 1907, Armistead's grandson donated the flag to the Smithsonian. Visitors flocked to see the historical item, prompting a journalist to report that the display "aroused enthusiasm and veneration as has no other object in the institution." Today, the flag remains under dark light in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where it is seen by more than a million visitors annually.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
"The Star Spangled Banner" is sung countless times Every single day. Here one music critic selects what he believes are the 10 best versions ever performed by major stars in public.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Showing Off Their Art

Patti with one of her creations
A little more than 2 decades ago, Patti Stern came up with an idea. At the time, she was an interior designer. Her husband, Bob, was a builder in charge of 75 teamsters in Cleveland. Patti was convinced that she and her husband could artistically arrange freeze-dried flowers within old vintage farmhouse window frames and Victorian door windows and then sell them. Bob's response was "Oh, Patti.."

However, he agreed to join her in the endeavor. A few years later, the couple wanted to display their creations in an art show in Chicago, but were told they had to come up with something whimsical. So they developed their people cabinets. With names like Rocket Man, Mother Cupboard or simply Ruby, the unique cabinets use such items as spindles for legs, drill bits or wrought iron fencing for hair, hot and cold water faucets for earrings, and clocks or radios for heads.

Bob and his one of his buddies
Today, Patti (who laughingly says she keeps the slogan "Oh, Patti" as her license plate to remind her husband about his initial skepticism) and Bob travel the country, participating in about 45 art shows and festivals a year. This weekend, they were at the 11th annual King Street Art Festival in Old Towne, Alexandria, where all types of art was on display in blocks of tents. For those of you who didn't attend the 2-day event, here is a sample of what you would have seen, and, if you had some disposable cash, could have bought:

Patti and Bob Stern  The Perfect View

Terry Andres    Waters Edge Studio

Jo Nelson      Nebraska (402-462-6508) & Florida (561-863-8833)

Mary Jane Piccuirro    maryjanepiccuirro@gmail.com

John Moore     The Hairy Potter

Darrin Hoover     The Vestige Collection

Mark Glocke     Glocke's Glass

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you ever attend a top-end art festival, you will find many things including:

Unique art ...

... creativity and ...

... interesting people.

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