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Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Peep at the Peep Show

I have to admit I was surprised when my usually PG wife said we were going to view a peep show. From my  shady teen years and hanging out in the early 70s in New York's seedy Times Square, I had familiarized myself with the term which meant 1) a small box with a peephole through which a series of pictures, especially of erotic poses, can be seen or 2) a booth from which a viewer can see a live nude model for a fee.

Live nudes. I still remember that warm July night at the Cumberland County Fair when as a 16-year-old I secured a fake ID and realized a long-held fantasy by sneaking into the Coppertone Review to watch a scantily-clad Miss Chili Pepper ("She's Really Red Hot") writhe on a tiger-skin rug. But I digress. We were talking about peep shows.

So, anyway, I was in a confused state when my wife called me to the computer.

"Now, let me get this right. We're going to view a peep show?" I asked.

"Yes. It's really cute," she said.

My wife? Peep show? Cute? Well, I should have known better. It turns out we were indeed going to view a peep show, just not the one I had conjured up in the X-rated part of my mind. This peep show would be featuring real peeps - you know, the marshmallow candies molded into the shapes of once-all-yellow, but now brightly colored chicks and bunnies that make an appearance every Easter season as basket fillers. The same peeps that serve as the main ingredient in the annual Peep Show sponsored by The Washington Post in which DC-area residents demonstrate their artistic talents by creating dioramas using - you guessed it - peeps. The Post had just concluded its 7th annual Peeps Diorama Contest and announced its winner - Peeps Mourn Their Peeps: Twinkies, Rest in Peeps”
And this year's winner is - Peeps Mourn Their Peeps:  Twinkies Rest in Peeps
So for the next few minutes, my wife and I scrolled through the creative contest entries. One of my favorites was based on what I though was one of the best movies of 2012, Zero Dark 30. Of course, the name of the diorama, which along with 3 other finalists and the winner would be displayed in the front window of  The Washington Post building for the month of April, was "Zero Peep 30." 
Zero Peep 30 depicts the demise of Osama bin Peepin
As you know if you are a regular reader of my posts, I really like to eat. (Although for the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that peeps are not on my like-to-chow-down list). That's why it's not surprising that another favorite of mine (and also one of the 4 finalists) was a peep diorama of DC's iconic U-Street eatery Ben's Chili Bowl.

All this peep show viewing had piqued my curiosity for a more comprehensive peak at peeps. So I did some peep research. I found out a lot. For example:
  • Peeps got their name because yellow chicks were the original form of the candy, which began to be massed produced in 1953 in Bethlehem, Pa. where they're still made
  • Peeps are made from marshmallow, corn syrup, gelatin, and carnauba wax
  • Jokingly, peeps are called indestructible. A few years ago, young scientists at Emory University tested that claim. Using agents such as cigarette smoke, boiling water, and liquid nitrogen, the scientists found that the eyes of the peeps "wouldn't dissolve in anything."
  • Competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi holds the record for fastest peep eating: 25 peeps in 30 seconds.
  • Ryan Shannon set a world's record by balancing 20 peeps on his i-Phone.
  • The Washington Post was not the 1st newspaper to host a peep show. That distinction  belongs to The St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Peeps are no longer for Easter only. In fact, the company that produces peeps has an advertising campaign "Peeps - Always in Season" and you can now find the candies in forms for Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine's Day.
  • If this post didn't tell you everything you need know about peeps, you can check out the peeps FAQs page by clicking here
I find the peep contest kind of cool. And all this peep research has inspired me. I think I will enter the  contest next year. It's clear that peeps are nostalgic. And a part of Americana. And what is more nostalgically American than a county fair? So I think I already have my theme. In tribute to the summers of my youth, I will create Live at the County Fair: The Peepertone Review featuring Miss Red Hot Peepin' Pepper.  Now does anyone have a tiny tiger-skin rug I can borrow?


Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Of course, this being DC, many entries into the peep contest had a political theme. You can check those dioramas out by clicking here. Unfortunately, the peeps pictured remained silent on the Sequester.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Sunday Service: Now at a Cinema Near You


If I remember my Bible correctly, Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, not the Sermon in the Movie Theater. But, of course, in the historical times of Jesus, technology as we know it was entirely lacking. Jesus and his contemporaries were not that many years removed from the written-on-stone-tablets phase of communication.

That isn't the case today. Technology is everywhere. And that's why it makes perfect modern sense to hold Easter Sunday service, the biggest church going day of the year, in a theater complex equipped with 3-D screens and pulsating Dolby digital surround sound, and announce such services in direct mailings, the internet, and various forms of social media.

I found out about this type of service when a postcard addressed to occupant and heralding DC's National Community Church - One Church, Six Locations - arrived in our apartment complex mailbox. A quick check showed that all 6 church locations - Georgetown, Kingstowne, Potomac Yard (just down the street from our apartment complex), Ballston Common Mall, Columbia Heights, and Barracks Row - are movie theaters.

I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I grabbed my iPad and headed to the National Community's Church website.

Clicking on the Who We Are tab, I discovered this story from lead pastor Mark Batterson:

On January 7, 1996, a blizzard left record amounts of snow on Washington DC. Only three people showed up at our first Sunday: my wife, Lora, my son, Parker, and myself. Of course, the upside is that we experienced over six-hundred-percent growth in one week when 19 people showed up the next Sunday! During the first nine months of 1996, a core group of twenty-five people gathered for weekend services at Giddings School in southeast Washington, DC. That September, a voice-mail proved to be a defining moment for NCC. I was retrieving messages during an out-of-town trip. In one message, the individual in charge of leasing DC public schools informed me that the school where we met was closing due to the fire code violations. NCC was on the verge of becoming a homeless church, but God opened an amazing door of opportunity. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill of Congress allowing for the creation of Union Station on February 28, 1903. It simply stated: A bill of Congress to create a Union Station - and for other purposes. A Century later, Union Station was serving God's purposes through the ministry of National Community Church. The church held its first public service in the movie theaters at Union Station on November 17, 1996.

The Union Station theaters eventually closed. But  over the years, other theaters began to be utilized as churches. As you might expect, the NCC - which has been dubbed the theater church - utilizes the full range of current technology to spread its message. You can get email church updates delivered directly to your computer, tablet, or smart phone. Both webcasts and podcasts are offered. The church employs Twitter and Facebook in its ministry. There is a special Help and FAQs site (just imagine how busy such a site would be if Heaven had one?)  Pastor Batterson publishes a blog. One of his most recent entries is entitled "SFSG"     ( So Far So Good) and talks about Ebeneezer's - a former crack house which the church turned into a coffeehouse with a cause and which served 65,516 cups of coffee last year.

So how does Batterson feel this theater and modern social media approach is working? "Jesus told us to go into the highways and byways and compel people to come in. That's what we're trying to do," the pastor says. "The message is sacred. The medium isn't. We want to use every tool at our disposal to share the good news."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial
Of course, NCC isn't the only unique Easter service in DC. All the services at the must-have-a-ticket-for-entry-on-Easter-Sunday at the National Washington Cathedral were closed out weeks ago. So if you want to attend next year, make sure to get your request in early. Of course, for early risers, there is always room at the sunrise Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial. Each year, more than 6,000 attend that service which begins at 6:30 a.m.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The White House Falls Again ... And Again ...

The White House under attack: Images of DC destruction
When it opened last week, director Antonine Fuqua's new movie Olympus Has Fallen was accurately described by many critics as Die Hard in DC. But apparently a lot of people like to see terrorists kidnap the President of the United States, lay waste to the White House and other surrounding monuments, and then get their comeuppance. The movie, with Gerard Butler as the fearless, innovative, wise-cracking lone Bruce Willis-type hero, was the #2 movie in the country, grossing $30.5 million during its opening weekend.

We got to see a special screening of the movie here in DC before its official opening. (You can read that post about the event by clicking here). The day after the post appeared in The Prices Do DC, I got an email from my friend Jimmy Overstreet telling me that the movie's premise strongly resembled the story line in Transfer of Power, a novel featuring covert government CIA operative Mitch Rapp by best-selling author Vince Flynn.

Apparently, Jimmy wasn't alone in his observation. So many fans tweeted and Facebook messaged Flynn that the author responded to the similarities in the latest issue of the monthly newsletter he publishes online.

"My team and I have noticed the similarities as well," Flynn wrote. "It is very difficult to prove where a producer, director or screenwriter gets an idea, or to prove how their ideas may have been inspired. It is exceptionally difficult to prove in court, costs lot of time and money, and usually amounts to a great deal of frustration."

"My team and I have decided to stay focused on the Rapp franchise - writing one great Rapp novel a year -  and getting American Assassin (which, in an interesting turn of Die Hard fate has Bruce Willis signed to star) made into a movie," he added.

"I appreciate you looking out for me and your concern for my intellectual material. In many ways, your comments have allowed me to stay calm and focus on what I love most, which is writing a kick-ass Rapp novel," Flynn concluded.

But there are even more coincidences on the horizon. This summer director Roland Emmerich, who, if there were an award for such things would surely get the title of The Director Who Most Often Destroyed the White House (by aliens in Independence Day, by ice in Day After Tomorrow and by a tsunami in 2012) plans to release White House Down, which features lone hero Channing Tatum rescuing Jamie Foxx as the president when domestic enemies topple the White House.

There is apparently even more idea borrowing going on. Emmerich admits his film was influenced by Seven Days in May, the 1960s political thrilling novel about an aborted White House coup by military leaders. "It (White House Down) is not only about taking over the White House; it's actually doing a coup d'état. It's like Seven Days In May, which I always felt was a movie I wanted to do," Emmerich says. "I really believe that, as Lincoln said, the only way that America can destroy itself is from within."

Without (Transfer of Power - Islamic terrorists or Olympus Has Fallen - North Korean terrorists) or within (White House Down - domestic enemies) one thing is clear - it's proving to be a rough year for the White House and its fictional occupants.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
You can make some of your own comparisons to the 2 movies and the Flynn novel. Click here to see reviews for Transfer of Power. Click here to see a trailer for Olympus Has Fallen. Click here to see a trailer for White House Down.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Robert Frost


Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.        

Fans of poetry will probably recognize the above 9 lines as written by Robert Frost, one of America's most studied, admired, and well-known poets. And, according to poet and former chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia, a recent survey has named "Fire and Ice" as the favorite poem of American college students.

Gioia, a poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellow poet Eric Pankey, also a professor at George Mason University appeared at the Library of Congress of March 26 to celebrate what would have Frost's 139th birthday.

Frost is unique in that his poems appeal so strongly to writers, scholars of literature, and average readers, Gioia said. "His shorter works still seem fresh if you've heard them a hundred times," he added. 

Gioia talked at length of  Frosts's impact on his writing. "It was 1975. I was 24 and dropped out of Harvard grad school to pursue poetry in the evenings and weekends. The poet I studied most was Robert Frost. He changed the way I wrote."

The poet discussed the 4 main lessons he learned from his New England mentor, who also dropped out of school. "First, you should leave something out of every poem. That absence invites the reader to make the poem partly their own," Goia maintained. Secondly, Frost's poems were personal, but not overtly autobiographical. Thirdly, there is always "a shadowy subtext" in Frost's work. "The surface of the poem is only the beginning," Gioia said. And finally, the poem left arguments unfinished. "He left the central question hanging in the air. His poems don't conclude, they end."

For his own Frost-influenced work, Gioia recited "The Apple Orchard," "Pity the Beautiful," and "Majority."

Pankey, meanwhile, said that when he first began writing serious poetry in the 1980's, he would have said that he really had no strong connection to Frost.  "I had read very little Frost," Pankey said. However, on one of the blurbs on one of his 1st poetry volumes, a writer described Pankey's work as "not unlike that of a young Robert Frost. "I thought I better dig deep into Frost's work. I found that he had had a real hand-me-down influence. Almost all the writers who had influenced me had been influenced directly by Frost," he said.

Both Pankey and Frost employ meandering walks in many of their poems. "Frost was master of the meditative poem and these were not hikes; calculation is no part of the 1st stage of any of these walks," Pankey said. 

Pankey read Frost's "The Woodpile" which contains "the kinds of lines that makes one want to be a poet."
The DC author then read 2 of his walk poems "A Walk with Father"" and "A Line Made by Walks."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Although he was most closely associated with New England, Frost had several connections to Washington, D.C. For example, he served as a writing consultant (a post today which is called the national poet laureate) to the Library of Congress. However, Frost's most known tie to DC centers around his selection to read a poem at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, the 1st time a poet had ever been selected for such an honor. Frost intended to read a new poem "Dedication," that he had written, but the sun's glare on that snowy January, 1961 day prevented him for reading his new work. Instead, he recited another of his poems, "The Gift Outright," from memory. The manuscript of that unread poem was on display as part of the Frost celebration.    
 
Frost reads with Kennedy and Eisenhower to his left

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Supreme Court Takes on Same Sex Marriage - Day 2

While no one knows how the Supreme Court will rule on the 2 cases involving same-sex marriage it heard this week, it seems gay marriage will eventually become the law of the land no matter how the 9 justices decide in those cases. At least that was the consensus of a prestigious 3-member panel of experts which discussed the controversial issue today at the Cato Institute.

In fact, one of the participants in the especially timely talk entitled Law, Politics, and Same-Sex Marriage actually arrived at the event directly from the Supreme Court, where he had been listening to oral arguments just moments earlier.

"I guess if there were ever a good reason for being late this was it," joked attorney Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow at Cato's Center for Constitutional Studies who presided over the institute's legal brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage.

Shapiro was joined by 2 of that nation's best-known advocates on the issue - Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, who is widely seen as the major strategist behind the movement for same-sex marriage and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, a key figure pushing Republican rethinking on the topic.

Although much of the discussion focused on the constitutional challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was heard today, the panel also shared opinions on the challenge to California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.

"The jurisdictional arguments (today) made my head hurt and this opinion is worth exactly what you paid for it (the CATO program was free), but it seems like DOMA is not long for this world," Shapiro said, explaining that although reasons might differ, he believes Justice Anthony Kennedy will join with the 4 more liberal justices - Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan in ruling against the law.

Wolfson indicated he was optimistic that the court might find in favor of gay marriage, but he said his group will continue "doing what we have been doing - winning more states and winning more hearts and minds."

"Clearly we have the momentum," Wolfson, who had to leave the panel early to discuss the issue on Fox News, said. Polls now show that for the 1st time in history more than 50% of  American people favor same-sex marriages.

Mehlman believes that the belief change, in large part, is coming about because same-sex couples have "so galvanized the public with their stories." He said "the public sees folks trying to do the right thing and they are punished for it."

"It's no longer a concept about those people. It's now a concept about my people. It's happening to their children, to their friends, to their neighbors," Mehlman maintained.

Shapiro said the issue facing the court is clearly constitutional in nature. "A marriage license is different than a morality issue," he said. "It's a question of treating different people differently under the law. For example either California is violating the law or it is not violating the law."

But while the legal arguments may be so complex they can make even a well-trained constitutional  lawyer's head hurt, the essence of the issue is simple - fairness, Wolfson contends.  "We should have what you (heterosexuals) have," he said.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
The 2 days of oral arguments before the 9 justices have been completed. The protesters outside the Supreme Court have finished making their message known with signs, speeches, and singing. People, some of whom began camping out last Thursday to get inside the court and hear at least some of the proceedings, have packed up the make-shift tents and sleeping bags and returned home. So what happens next? This article, which you can access by clicking here, attempts to answer that question.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Many Voices of Marriage

With Bible and sign in hand, an argument is made by some...

... and rejected by others.
Inside the Supreme Court today, 9 justices were hearing oral arguments on the 1st of 2 cases in 2 days that could define marriage in America for generations to come. Outside the court, supporters and opponents of the central issue in those cases - should members of the same sex be allowed to marry - engaged in a day of vibrant, vocal street theater, trying to make sure their voices and positions were heard.

While the language inside the packed court room involved the serious, formal words employed to decide the laws under which we all are governed, the language outside was much more direct. "If God hates gays, why did he make them so cute?" "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." "Legalize Love."  "Get It Straight. Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman." "I Do. Support Marriage Equality." "Kids Do Best with a Mom and a Dad."

The distribution of the crowd reflected the divides on the controversial issue shown in national polls on the issue, which now shows that for the 1st time in the country's history more than 50 percent of Americans favor marriage between men and men and women and women. On one side of the street, a huge group of well-dressed, sign-waving Black Christians prayed and sang hymns imploring an acceptance of God's will and a rejection of sin. Directly across the street, a wall of mostly younger protesters let their signs show their displeasure with that position.


TV and print reporters along with their cameramen (and women) scrambled through the crowds, trying to capture the perfect quote or picture to dramatize the day's story. While they didn't outnumber the protesters, they certainly swelled the crowd.
The whole world is watching: A reporter for Telemundo  
Obviously, the highly controversial cases now before the Court have created tremendous interest in the nation's capital. People began camping out last Thursday to try to get a seat inside the hall to watch the historic cases. Even this week's freak spring snow storm didn't deter them from keeping the precious spots in line they had staked out. People were planning to continue the overnight vigil again tonight to be ready when the Supreme Court convenes again tomorrow.
The waiting is the hardest part
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
So exactly what are the 2 same-sex marriage cases now before the Court? And how will the justices rule on them?  Of course, the answer to the 1st question is complex, while no one can say with certainty what the answer to the 2nd will be. However, here are some questions and answers that should help you better understand exactly what is going on. Click here to read the CNN article on same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Smithsonian Shows Off Its Teapots

Decorative tea pots in the Smithsonian collection
 Tea. It is the 2nd most-consumed drink in the world ranking only behind water. People began first brewing the drink some 50 centuries ago. The ancients believed, and research today is confirming, that tea not only is a thirst-quencher, but also provides a myriad of health benefits. In fact, until the 5th century A.D., tea was primarily used as a remedy.

However, China's upper class soon adopted the fashion of presenting packages of tea as highly esteemed gifts and of enjoying drinking tea at social events and in private homes. At around the same time the Chinese tea ceremony began to develop, the tidings of tea began to spread to Japan, which soon adopted green tea as its national drink.

The connection between tea and Japan made tea the perfect topic for the Smithsonian American Art Museum to examine last weekend as its event to kickoff the National Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual weeks-long Spring celebration to commemorate the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. The event was co-sponsored with Teaism, a local tea shop located just blocks from the museum.

In the 1st part of the program, experts from Teaism explained the history of tea and answered questions about the drink. The information included:
  • all tea comes from the same plant, the Camelia Sinesius, which is native only to China and parts of Japan
  • the flavor of tea depends on factors such as location, altitude, climate, and the plucking and processing methods
  • there are 4 types of tea - white, green, oolong, and black
  • there is no such thing as herbal tea - what most people call herbal teas are really herbal infusions and don't contain any tea leaves
In the 2nd part of the program, museum guides explained the history behind the institution's collection of artistic tea pots. While some of the teapots are fully functional, others were created for beauty only. As you might expect, many of the colorful, ornate tea pots feature Japanese elements and design. Pictured below are 3 of our favorites.



Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Despite the unexpected Spring snows and colder-than-average temperatures in much of the Northeast, the DC Cherry Blossom is underway. Forecasts now call for the peak bloom to be some time around April 3. If you are interested in attending any of the events associated with the celebration, click here for a calendar.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

El Anatsui: From Trash He Brings Treasure

El Anatsui inspects one of his creations
Where some simply see piles of waste, others see discarded trash that can be transformed into exquisite, emotion-provoking art. You can definitely put African artist El Anatsui in that latter category. But don't call him a recyclist. He will upbraid you by pointing out that when you recycle metal it stays metal and when you recycle paper it remains paper. But when Anatsui, or El as he prefers to be called, creates his works from bottle caps and other such materials, he is, in his words, "taking something regarded as humble and transferring and uplifting it into something  more ethereal."

Last weekend, as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival, the short documentary Fold, Crumple, Crush was shown at the Dillon S. Ripley Center. The film, directed by June Vogel, captures both Anatsui and his art as it follows the artist from a major exhibition in Venice back to Nigeria. After the viewing, Vogel talked about the artist, his extraordinary art, and her film.

In the film, Anatsui says he wants his art, much of which currently consists of colorful, huge, flowing metal curtains, to reflect life. ""Life is mystery and I want my art to reflect that mystery," Anatsui explains.

Vogel concurs that there are elements of the mysterious in Anbatsui's art. "He wants you to dream, to wonder, to question," she said.

Anatsui was born in Ghana, a country long known for its distinctive textiles, and many see the influence of that art in his works. In fact, Anatsui once used the vocabulary of textiles to describe what he was creating. Now he rejects such labels. "He says it was a mistake using those names. He's now interested in something much broader. He is making art for a modern Africa, a new Africa," Vogel explained.
El and his art
Vogel says her subject has led "a very solitary life" Yet he terms his creations "gregarious," a word that suggests he wants viewers to have a conversation both with and about his art. He himself says "I'm married to art and the objects are the children."

Anatsui creates his work in his studio in a small city in Nigeria, where he has helped create an enormous recycling market. At his studio, as many as 20 assistants shape aluminum bottle caps and other material  into  forms including rings, squares, and chains. There are more than 30 forms made, some created for color combinations and some for specific shapes. "He composes with the materials they make for him," Vogel said.
Anatsui lays pieces out on the floor, trying to fit a finished work to the vision he sees in his head. It may take 4 months or longer to complete a single project. If you want to see more about the process, click here.

Outside of Africa, his works are much sought after and command a high price. So you might assume he would be a major celebrity in the small city where he works and taught at the university for 30 years. But that is not the case, Vogel says. "I don't think most of the people there know what he is doing, even those right across the street," she said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The showing of  Fold, Crumple, Crush could be considered an early kickoff of the Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa exhibition which is coming to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. That show, which will open on Earth Day, April 22, will showcase approximately 100 African artworks in 5 thematic sections -- the Material Earth, Power of the Earth, Imagining the Underground, Strategies of the Surface, and Art as Environmental Action. As you might expect, Anatsui's work will be part of the exhibition.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dissident Blogger Hopes to Hear Freedom Ring in Cuba Some Day Soon

As part of a 2-day DC visit, Sanchez greets Sen. Marco Rubio
When, after decades of iron-fisted rule by Fidel Castro, freedom finally comes to Cuba, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez is convinced it will come with words, not weapons.

Sanchez, recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and called the most famous living Cuban not named Castro, appeared last week at the Cato Institute as part of her 1st ever international trip out of Cuba, a journey she has been trying to make for more than 20 years.

The world renowned blogger, whose diminutive size and quiet demeanor belie her fierce passion and determination, says her goal is to bring information to the Cuban people, information that she is sure can lead to freedom for all those living on the Communist island just 90 miles from the Florida coast.

"There has been a silence about what's happening in Cuba because the government has had complete control over mass media. But there are new voices using new technologies demanding to be heard," Sanchez said, speaking in Spanish which was then translated into English.

Sanchez with her weapon of freedom - the computer. 
Sanchez praised the power of more open communication brought about by technological innovations such as Twitter and on-line blogs.  "Not by itself will it (social media) bring democracy to a country, but it has an important role to play in the democratization of Cuba," she told the crowd, most of whom had given her a standing ovation when she entered the auditorium to deliver her remarks.

She likened the "wall of censorship" established in Cuba, where the Castros disseminate all information,  newspapers are banned, and TV and radio are government-controlled, to the Berlin Wall. "In Cuba there is a wall of censorship. But we are creating little cracks and little holes in that wall," Sanchez contended.

In her remarks, Sanchez said she believed the economic embargo the United States established for Cuba after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis should be lifted. She said the ban hurts the Cuban people, while the government can still get all "the tear gas and billy clubs they need."

The embargo also plays into Castro's long-held plans for total domination. "The embargo is always used as an excuse. It presents itself like a Big Bad Wolf. The government couldn't function without this Big Bad Wolf. They blame it for everything from the lack of food on our tables to the lack of freedom on our streets."

She says she hopes the new, mostly younger voices speaking out against decades of doublespeak and silence will help "Cubans lose their fear. The country belongs to them and it is their struggle." For years, faced with shortages of all types of items, Cubans have resorted to the black market for purchases to survive. "Just like mothers used the black market to get milk for their children, we also must enter into the other black market - the market of information."

She said Cubans are moving in that direction. "It took me 10 years to see real images of the fall of the Berlin wall. But my daughter was seeing what was happening in Eqypt (Arab Spring calls for freedom) almost exactly as it was happening," she noted.

Sanchez and her fellow bloggers have been subjected to spying, character assassination, and short-term detentions in an unsuccessful effort to silent their voices. She says she is not exactly certain why, after 20 years of denials with no justification, the Cuban government finally let her leave Cuba.

"There is no way I can go back to Cuba as the same person I was before," she said.  "I was never looking for this fame. To me, it seems like a joke of life. But I will use this fame as a protective shield to found a newspaper. Maybe the government let me travel outside the country in the hopes that I would not come back. But I can declare to the Cuban government that they made a very bad bet. I will return and I will found an independent newspaper."

Tales,Tidbits, and Tips

I have been fascinated with Cuba ever since, as a 10-year-old, I had to live through the Cuban Missile Crisis, 13 terror-filled days when most of the world was convinced we were on the brink of nuclear annihilation. That fascination  only increased last year after I was able to travel to Cuba for 10 days. The photo on  the right shows my wife Judy and I with Naty Revuelta, Fidel Castro's former mistress and the mother of his only daughter. You can read about the trip my wife and I made with National Geographic by clicking here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

On Guns, Will Common Sense Prevail?

As governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy knows painfully well that the tragic killing rampage which claimed the lives of 20 5- and 6-year-old elementary students in his state last December changed the intensity of the national debate on gun control. The question, of course, is did that horrific incident create enough support to overcome steadfast NRA opposition to the enactment of reasonable gun restrictions designed to make Americans safer from gun violence.

Earlier this week, Malloy appeared at the Center for American Progress here in DC to outline highlights of a proposal he has submitted to lawmakers in his state for approval, a series of changes he says represents "a common sense approach" to make Connecticut a safer state.

Gov. Dannel Malloy
The cornerstone of the plan is universal background checks for all gun sales, a requirement that the NRA once supported but now opposes despite the fact that more than 90% of all Americans support the checks. "No weapon should change hands without a a background check," Malloy maintains.

He said his plan also would ban large capacity magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds, as well as restrictions to keep guns out of the hands of anyone convicted of a crime where force was used or threatened. There are several other provisions including ones that would call for safer gun storage. There is also one that would stop a person convicted of a drunk driving charge from owning a gun for a specified period of time. "You don't want someone to plead guilty to a DUI and then walk across the street and buy a gun," the governor said.

Malloy realizes there is no guarantee all his proposed measures will pass. For standing directly in the way, as it is in other states and at the national level, is the substantial, feared  power of the NRA.

"The NRA has been extremely effective and what we have in the United States is a system that doesn't work," Malloy said. "People make purposeful misleading statements about gun laws."

In the past, when there was a call for stricter gun control, lawmakers didn't act quickly and the moment for change passed. "The NRA has a lot of history in waiting. The NRA was even able to outwait their position (on universal gun checks)."

Malloy said actual statistics don't support the belief that guns make people safer. "In states where there are more guns in people's home, there are more suicides in those states," Malloy said. "We know that guns in houses put people in more danger, not less."

However, Malloy knows that unless the federal government tightens gun laws, a change that so far it has been reluctant to do, the situation in states will remain precarious. "For example, if you look at 95 as a highway that connects states that have very strong laws with states that have very weak laws, that still leaves states that have appropriate laws very dangerous. You can see what happens when guns from other states are brought into Connecticut."

He also knows that without changes, violent shootings will continue to claim lives. "It's going to happen" he said. "How many more malls will be shot up? How many more movie theaters will be shot up? How many more community colleges and schools will be shot up?"

The governor bristles when the idea of realistic restrictions is called an attack on the 2nd Amendment.
"We don't want to confiscate guns. What we're trying to say is that people who shouldn't have guns shouldn't have guns," he said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Malloy's appearance came on the same day the Center for American Progress called for President Barack Obama to remove all gun riders from his 2014 budget proposal. The appropriations riders, most initiated at the request of the NRA, limit federal authorities ability to regulate the firearms industry and fight gun-related crime. The Center contends that the riders:
  • limit the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco's ability to manage data in a modern, efficient manner and strips the agency of its ability to make independent decisions.
  • interfere with the disclosure and use of data crucial to law enforcement and gun-trafficking research
  • frustrate efforts to regulate and oversee firearms dealers and
  • stifle public research into gun-related injuries and deaths
"While the NRA's lobbyists claim to want to enforce the laws on the books, no organization has done more to inhibit law-enforcement functions of AFT than the National Rifle Association," says Arkadi Gerney, co-author of the Center's report on the gun riders.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Down to Earth

In his 72-year-career as a political cartoonist, 4-time Pulitzer Prize winner Herbert Block commented on thousands of subjects, but one he often returned to was the environment, more specifically the threats posed to our Earth by both actions and failures to act.

Now, 12 years after his death, several of Block's (who went by the name Herblock) most compelling environmental images are the focal point for Down to Earth: Herblock and Photographers Observe the Environment, an exhibition now on display at the Library of Congress.

The exhibition is divided up into several themes, each with 1 Herblock cartoon and then photographs dealing with the same subject. Themes include:
  • the spread of toxins
  • water pollution
  • oil drilling
  • global warming
  • deforestation
  • exploitation of wetlands
  • over-consumption
Some of the photographs are quite vivid such as a shot by Sam Kittner documenting the outrage of demonstrators in Louisiana over toxic waste dumping. Others are more subtle. One of the most chilling in that category is Olaf Otto Becker's image of a river in Greenland which actually shows the effects of global warming and acid rain.

As always with any Herblock presentation, you can spend much time examining the humor, irony, and sarcasm he so skillfully employed to provoke reactions and inspire change.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
With Earth Day (April 22) approaching, a visit to Down to Earth is a good way to put yourself in an environmental  frame of mind . However, you will have to hurry since the exhibition will be closing on March 23. However, if you are interested in showing support for the environment, you still have plenty of time to attend the activities set for Earth Day in the DC area. Click here to check out many of those events.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tagging Art: Hello my name is

Of course, they have real names, but when they produce their art work they go by their street monikers - Gator, Superwaxx, Never. As graffiti artists, their work is visible on buildings, bridges, walls, and train cars around the country. But now, for the rest of this month, you can view the art of more than 70 creative graffiti artists in the unique show Hello: my name is at The Fridge gallery.

Since proclaiming your name (or tagging) is the foundation of modern graffiti, the innovative gallery is using canvases with "Hello my name is" sticker tags in the exhibition. The stickers were distributed to graffiti artists across the country, then painted and returned for display. The show was compiled by legendary DC graffiti artists Ultra and Che KGB. In addition to 20 DC artists, the work of artists from 12 other states and 2 South American countries are in included in the show.

Kilroy on the WWII Memorial in DC
Graffiti as art actually started with the famous "Kilroy Was Here" postings in the 1930's and especially during World War II. According to one theory, the 1st Kilroy was actually a train inspector who started marking his cars to show they had been inspected.

The graffiti as art scene exploded in the 1960's and 1970's with subway art in New York City and other urban centers. While some thought the graffiti was an eyesore, others viewed it as art, a debate that still rages today.

No matter how you see it, it's clear that graffiti is centered on the ego. "The artists wanted to get their names out everywhere," says assistant gallery director Emma Fisher. "That's why there was a focus on transportation. The subway cars moved through the boroughs and the names spread."

Like all forms, graffiti evolved. At first markers were used. They were replaced by spray paint. The artists soon discovered that by using different size spray caps, they could alter the size of the lines they were producing. "It became more and more complex after the letters (of the nicknames) got obscured," Fisher said.

There has always been an underground element and sense of lawbreaking in graffiti. "It's about being subversive," Fisher explained. So how did the gallery convince the outlaw artists to participate in a museum-like exhibition? "The artists knew they could trust us and we weren't going to turn anything in to the police." Fisher said.

And the words of the subway prophets are written on the gallery walls?
Despite the common background and theme of the exhibition, the works show striking differences, some because of locale and some because of personal creativity. Most of the pieces display the vibrant colors usually associated with graffiti, but others are in stark black-and-white or monochromatic shades of a single color.  Cartoon and comic-book influences abound in many works; others take a more psychedelic or pop approach. As you would expect from an urban art form, references to both the Black and Hispanic experience are prevalent. "The artists are always looking for something new that hasn't been done before," Fisher noted.

But the question remains - it's colorful, it's creative, but is it art? Fisher maintains that it is. And she has a simple way to convince the doubtful - just come to the gallery and check out the exhibition. "When you see something like this, it's clear that this is a real art form," she says.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Although the timing of the 2 exhibitions wasn't coordinated, the Hello my name is show at The Fridge is a perfect companion piece to Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s now at the Corcoran until April 7th. If you like urban culture, you should check out both shows.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Pachyderm Parade Comes to Capitol Hill

Hey! Is that elephants on Capitol Hill?
If you were to consider elephants on Capitol Hill, chances are you'd envision those cartoon characters that have long been symbols of the Republican party. But tonight, there were literally a string of big elephants in front of the Capitol as a pack of pachyderms paraded down 3rd Street on its way to the Verizon Center, where the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus begins a 4-day stay on Thursday.

While the sparkly, blue-lit elephants were the big hit of the night, they were joined by Chinese acrobats, who will be featured in this year's Asian-themed performances titled "Dragon."

The streets near the Capitol were lined with youngsters who cheered the elephants and squealed with delight as clowns tossed trinkets and candy their way. My wife got excited when she was able to pick up 4 small rings for our 2 grandchildren. But, of course, this being Capitol Hill, only half of the rings worked. There was no word if the Sequester had caused the negative impact on the failed toys.

At the end of the short parade were 2 street sweeping vehicles to take care of any elephant droppings. Now if it were only that easy to clean up the rest of the mess on Capitol Hill.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Obviously, the youngsters and the parents who brought them to the night-time circus parade liked what they saw. But, this being Washington, the nation's capital of division and derision, not everyone feels the same way. Although it took no action tonight, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has vowed to protest the circus when it opens. Last month, PETA installed a "weeping elephant" statue outside its office on 16th Street to highlight the methods with which Ringling Bros. treats its elephants. But one woman decided to start her protest early. She walked up and down the streets in a sweatshirt bearing the slogan "If you like animals, don't go to the circus."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Once Again, It's the Madness of March Time

In life, there are all kinds of important -ologies. There's biology for the body and theology for the soul. If you want to understand people, you should look at psychology or sociology. If you want to study old things, that might involve archaeology; if old people are your passion, that could lead you to gerontology. In fact, when it comes to -ologies, there's everything from A (astronomy) to Z (zoology).

But for 3 weeks each March, there is only one -ology that really matters. And that would be bracketology, the frustratingly fun science of trying to figure out just which one of 68 (which used to be 64 which used to be 32 which used to be 16, which in the 1930s used to be 8) teams will win the NCAA basketball championship.

It's called March Madness and whether you live in Washington the District or Washington the state, it will be the big topic of sports conversation until a new national champion is crowned in Atlanta on April 8. For the uninitiated few or anyone newly arrived from another planet, here's how it works. The NCAA selection committee chooses what is supposed to be the best 68 college basketball teams in the country. They are then ranked from 1 to 68. The last 4 chosen match up in play-in games. The 2 winners join the other 62 teams in equally divided fields of 16 teams in 4 regions of the country. In the 1st week, a series of games produce what is called the Sweet 16. The second week reduces that list to the Elite Eight; then the Final 4. Those 4 teams then play 2 games for the national title.

But here's where the fan fun comes in. Using brackets they fill in and then scratch out and then fill in again, millions of Americans try to predict the winner of each of the games with the object, of course, to pick as many winners as possible including (and most importantly) the eventual national champion. These bracket sheets are then entered into national pools, online pools, and office pools, sometimes simply for bragging rights, but most often with some kind of financial reward for correct picks. However, despite your sports knowledge or luck level, the seemingly simple task usually proves to be so frustratingly difficult that you often end up believing  you should have bypassed your office pool, again won by a secretary who had never attended a basketball game in her life, and instead drowned your bracket in the nearest swimming pool.

And what makes it so difficult? It's a little thing called upsets. Upsets can, and do, happen.  A #15  seed isn't supposed to beat a # 2 seed, but it happens. In fact. it has happened 6 times over the years. Last year, it happened twice. Duke lost in the 1st round to #15-seeded Lehigh, as did Missouri to Norfolk State. And the upsetting upset situation just gets more uncertain as you move down the seeds. In the tournament:

  • 16 times, a #14 seed has defeated a #3 seed
  • 24 times, a #13 seed has defeated a #4 seed
  • 38 times, a #12 seed has defeated a #5 seed
  • 38 times, a #11 seed has defeated a #6 seed.
In fact, the only certainty in the 1st round of the tournament  is that no #1 has ever lost to a #16 seed. But , as my Mother used to say. you should never say never. Indeed, two #1 teams over the years have come away with a single-point victory, making it just a matter of time until a #16 bests a #1.

The Perfect Game: As a Villanova alum I had to show this
So how do you avoid the upsets that can bust your bracket? You definitely have to have a scientific system. Here are a couple I have encountered in my 50-year love affair with tournament time. One of my friends worked out a sophisticated scheme involving uniform colors. For example, blue topped red which topped green which topped yellow etc. I always wanted to ask her what she would have done in the ancient Olympics where athletes competed naked, but she was always so mad at losing in the pool that she wouldn't speak for a month and by then I would forget to ask her. Then there was another friend who thought religion might be the answer. In her case, whenever  a secular college would match up against a school with a religious affiliation, she would pick the religious school. That meant, for example, that she would pick Notre Dame over UCLA, even if UCLA was the number 1 ranked team in the country. But what would happen if 2 religious schools met? Well, being a sometimes-practicing Catholic, my friend would choose the Catholic school over any other denomination. But what would she do if it was a contest between 2 Catholic schools (such as when my alma mater Villanova played Georgetown for the national title in 1985)? First, she would give you a look of pity for asking such a question and then launch into a discussion of why Jesuits always trumped Augustinians. So how did the divine intervention theory work? Well, not too well. In 25 years, the total number of times she won the pool was 0. But she never gave up her faith.

But what do you do if you don't have a plan and you can't spend the next 72 hours studying every aspect of all 64 teams in the tournament (assuming your pool doesn't ask you to pick the play-in teams and you have that much time)? Pressed for fast action, you could go with the selection committee's 4 #1 teams. If you followed that this year, you would have Louisville playing Gonzaga and Kansas playing Indiana in the Final 4 with Louisville winning it all. Of course, the fact that only once (2008 with Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, and Memphis) have all 4 #1 seeds made the Final 4, might not make you anxious to adopt that approach. 

In the end, it all comes down to numbers. First, there are the numbers produced on the court. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the only team to win 6 straight games will be the champion. And, in each of those 6 games, that team will have produced more points than its opponent. Then there are the odds numbers. There are 2^63 or 9.2 quintillion possibilities for the possible winners in a 64-team NCAA bracket, making the odds of randomly picking a perfect bracket  9.2 quintillion to 1. With the expansion of the tournament field to 68 teams in 2011, the odds are now increased to 2^67 or 147,573,952,589,676,412,928 (147.57 quintillion) possibilities. With numbers like that facing you, I only have a final 4 words for you --- good luck in picking.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
So, with local favorite Georgetown a #2 seed,  how is March Madness playing out in the nation's capitol? Well, tonight, at the 6th and I Synagogue, the home of lofty lectures and book talks by such prominent DC figures as Al Gore and Sandra Day O'Connor, you could have attended a Bracketology 101 program, where 2 local sports gurus were offering inside tips on how to fill out brackets. Then there is the National Park Service, which in a takeoff on March Madness, is offering its own Memorial Madness tournament where 8 Civil War monuments are vying to capture the DC Civil War monument title. (No word yet on who will cut down the nets for the winner).  Today, The Washington Post published a special 8-page section on the tournament, complete with an analysis of each of the 4 regions by noted sports writer and best-selling author John Feinstein. You can check out the Post coverage online by clicking here. Finally, DC is home to the nation's #1 college basketball fan, President Barack Obama. As he has done since he has been in office, President Obama will be filling out his bracket and posting it on the White House website.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

We Shouldn't Be Monkeying Around with Our Environment

A young Jane Goodall greets an even younger friend
In 1960. a young British woman in her 20's, with no formal college education, but a passion to study wildlife in its natural habitat, arrived in Tanzania for 6 months to study chimpanzees. Today, 53 years later, Jane Goodall is not only considered the world's leading expert on chimpanzee life, but is one of the most recognizable advocates in the world for positive change, not just for animals, but for people and the environment as well.

Yesterday, a documentary about her amazing life and incredible impacts, Jane's Journey, was shown at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History as part of D.C.'s annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capitol.
If you are receiving this post by email, click here to view the trailer for Jane's Journey

The Goodall film was part of a twin-bill of features on apes shown at the museum. The second film, Beny, Back to the Wild, portrayed the true, moving story of a young bonobo's return to the wild after he was captured and held in captivity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

To see the trailer for Beny, Back to the Wild click here.

After the showing, Beny's rescuer, Claudine Andre, received a standing ovation when she took the stage to answer questions from the audience about Beny and the other bonobos she has been helping at her Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary.

"Of course, we become very close to the bonobos we rescue and I am sad when we return them, but that is the greatest gift we can give them," Andre said. She added that while initial efforts look positive, it may be "20 years" before it can be established without question that the restoration program is a success.

The DC Environmental Film Festival, which is in its 21st year, is featuring the role of rivers in human survival and their vulnerability in a changing global environment. The festival, which will conclude on March 24. is screening a record 190 films from 50 countries. You can check out the remaining festival schedule by clicking here.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Goodall and her monkey of hope
As soon as I saw the schedule, I knew we would be seeing the 2 films today at the National History Museum. My wife loves apes and monkeys. In fact, at one point, our only son actually had 2 "brothers," as we were supporting a monkey at the local South Jersey zoo in the community where we were living and a chimpanzee at the Jane Goodall Institute's chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya. Before we retired and moved to Crystal City, Judy also had a huge collection of stuffed moneys and apes. The Jane's Journey film revealed  that Goodall also has stuffed monkeys, one of which her father gave her as a child and another that she has been carrying with her everywhere for more than a decade during her 300 days of travel a year. That monkey, a gift from a blind magician, has become a visible symbol of hope Goodall believes people need as they consider today's environmental and wildlife conditions.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dining in DC: DC-3

If you don't consider a special hot dog as celebratory Irish food, then it's clear that you are not one of the menu makers for DC-3, the specialty hot dog joint in the Capitol Hill Southeast section of DC. For their special sandwich for St. Patrick's Day weekend, the eatery was featuring a hot dog consisting of a homemade banger sausage served on a potato loaf roll with green sauerkraut and Guinness mustard.

You might think that when the DC-3 owners opened their eatery that serves only hot dogs, they chose the name for the city of their location. Well, you would be wrong. The DC-3, while indeed an abbreviation for the District of Columbia, is actually taken from the Douglas Commercial 3, the famous commercial  plane 1st used when air travel came of age in the 1940s.

That theme is incorporated into the design of the eatery. A giant map pinpoints the locations across the country where many of the hot dogs originated. For example, you can choose the DC half-smoke, the NY Coney, the Cincinnati chili dog, the Chicago 7, or the Jersey bacon-wrapped ripper.

On our most recent visit, since DC-3 is so near the Capitol, I decided to have a full political spectrum lunch. So, for my Blue State leanings, I picked the California left-winger, a vegetarian dog that consists of house-made falafel with tzatziki sauce, avocado, and diced tomato. For my Red State balance, I added a West Virginia slaw dog which was a weiner topped with chili sauce and cole slaw. My less adventurous wife, as usual, chose a regular hot dog. Of course you can customize that choice with 16 different toppings including 2 types of mustard and 3 different kinds of relish.

In keeping with its we-only-serve-hot-dogs approach, DC-3 offers only 4 sides, all of which are designed  to accompany their sandwiches. You can choose from chips, fries, fried pickles, and frickles, a combination of fried pickles and fries.

After finishing your meal, on your way out, a cut-out of a stewardess in 1940's uniform will thank you for your business and encourage you to fly  DC-3 again soon.  Chances are, if you like dog variety, you will.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
What Others Say
The Prices Do DC Rating 
  • **** (4 buns out of 5) - 3 for quality, plus 1 more bun for the variety of hot dogs offered.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Beating Back the Mores of the 50s

Before there was Bob Dylan, before there were the Beatles, before there was an American counterculture, there were the Beats, a 1950s group of outrageous personalities who were determined to overthrow the restrictive, repressive social mores of the time through their writings and lifestyles.

"They were exactly  the opposite of the conformity of the 1950s. They really wanted to upset the apple cart. It's very difficult to believe that these people could live in the America then that was the way we know it was today" says author Ronald Collins.

Collins appeared recently at the Newseum to discuss Mania: The Story of the Outraged and Outrageous Lives That Launched a Cultural Revolution, the new book he co-authored with David Skover.

Collins said he and Skover decided to write the book after their research showed that most of the existing works on the subject were "deadly boring."

"They would put anybody to sleep in minutes. We wanted to write a high octane narrative like the way they (the Beats) lived their lives," he explained.

Of course, the work features the best-known of the literary rebels - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs. But it also sheds light on some of the lesser known figures of the movement like Lucien Carr, who murdered a young New York college student, liked to chew glass at New York parties and then spit out blood, and eventually became the Washington Bureau Chief for UPI (United Press International).

The narrative is a tale of talent, but it is tempered with the effects of lives plagued by alienation, addiction, madness, demons, and often a general disregard for others.

"These people changed the literary landscape, but there was all this carnage," Collins said. "It's very easy to admire these men, but when you see these things they did in their lives, you take a deep breath. There was a real dark side. They were fascinated by criminals, by the seedy side of life."

The Beat writers didn't have to look too far for sources and settings for their stories, essays, and poems. "They wove the facts of their lives into their fiction," Collins said. "They produced a body of work that has survived."

Collins was asked if works of the Beats will last through the ages. "I think some of it will," Collins maintained.
"'Howl' (Ginsberg's most famous poem) and On the Road by Kerouac. Was Allen Ginsberg the Shakespeare of his time? Absolutely not. But he did have these remarkable moments."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Of all the figures associated with the Beat movement, the one that clearly stands out from the others was Lawrence Ferlinghetti . "He was the only one that wasn't a madman," Collin says. Ferlinghetti was a poet, but he also operated the famous City Lights bookstore, which still exists in San Francisco. Despite the racy language in the poem, Ferlinghetti decided to publish Ginsberg's most famous work "Howl" and sell it in his store. Federal authorities seized all the copies of the book, claiming the poem was "a danger to young people who would be exposed to this depravity." Ferlinghetti decided to fight the action in court, and, in a surprising verdict, the judge ruled in the poem's favor. For his part, Ferlinghetti seemed to disregard any punitive actions that could have resulted from the legal battle. "What's the worst that can happen to me. I'll end up in jail reading poetry."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Faking It in Photos

Believe it or not, this is a photo
It has been said that pictures don't lie. But that's not true. Long before the 1990 introduction of Photoshop, in fact ever since the beginning of photography in the mid-19th Century, photographers have been altering their pictures, sometimes to make them more realistic, sometimes to make them more illusional.

And it is a wide variety of these altered photographs that make up the new Faking It: Manipulated Photographs Before Photoshop exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. 

"From the beginnings of photography, it was a question of do we believe what we see? It's a question that still exists today," says Adam Davies, a National Gallery photo expert who has been giving tours of the exhibition.

Davies said that the fact that the first photographs could only be taken in black and white caused photographers to begin manipulating their photos. "The way we see the world is in color and early on photographers wanted to make their pictures more realistic and life-like so they began coloring them in to make them more like the real world," Davies explained.

Later, symbolism and allegory swept through the photographic world, leading to even more photo manipulation. "Photographers were saying I want to create pictures that look more like my experience of seeing, even if it requires deception to do so."

But the public became confused. "People didn't know what to make of it," Davies said. "They said 'you've been telling us that photography is a science and now you're telling us it  is art.' But these photographers were not trying to document things; they were trying to get at a more accurate view of reality."

With the surrealist movement, photographers tried to emulate the creations of such artists as Salvador Dali. "Here, photographers were trying to make it (photography) real to their dreams and their fantasies," Davies said.

In the 20th Century, especially in the fields of political persuasion and commercial photography, photo manipulation became even more common and creative. "People realized that what they were being shown was not necessarily the truth. The photographer is a magician, but you enjoyed being tricked. There is a Penn and Teller quality to the work," Davies said.

The intriguing exhibition is divided into 7 chronological themes. They are:

  • Picture Perfect
  • Artifice in the Name of Art
  • Mind's Eye
  • Novelties and Amusements
  • Politics and Persuasion
  • Pictures in Print
  • Photoshop
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you have any interest in photography, you really should check out this intriguing exhibition which is running until May 5. A fun activity, as it is at any exhibition, is choosing your favorite item on display. This is mine:
In this manipulated photo entitled "The Two Ways of Life," Oscar Gustave Rejlanda captures 2 young men trying to choose either a path toward industriousness and fidelity, as depicted on the right, or wantoness and lust, displayed on the left. When it was originally exhibited the picture caused a public outcry. Of course, that furor may have also been sparked by the fact that Rejlanda's altered photo featured nude models, which shocked many viewers.


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