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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Touring DC: In the Steps of the Civil War

July annually means the start of the summer tourist season in DC. This year, 4 historic anniversaries are being celebrated in the nation's capital: the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To commemorate the 4 events, The Prices Do DC has designed a full-day tour featuring monuments and museum exhibitions selected to help you know more about the people and events of the times. Today's tour:  DC and the Civil War.


Morning

Arlington National Cemetery
Your main stop here is the Arlington House, the former home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. To learn more click here. Free. (Metro - Arlington Cemetery Station - Blue Line)









Fort Stevens
Throughout the Civil War, only the width of the Potomac River separated Washington from enemy territory. Yet only once - on July 11, 1864 did the Confederate Army enter the city limits and it was repelled in a 2-day battle here. To learn more click here. Free. (Metro - Takoma Station - Red Line)

Afternoon














Library of Congress - The Civil War in America
The Civil War in America assembles more than 200 unique items, many of which have never been seen by the public, to commemorate the sesquicentennial of this nation's greatest military and political upheaval. To learn more, click here. Free. (Metro - Capitol South - Blue Line)


Newseum - Blood and Ink
Blood and Ink: Front Pages From the Civil War showcases more than 30 historic front pages from the Newseum's collection spanning the length of the war, from the birth of the Confederacy to the death of President Abraham Lincoln. To learn more, click here. Admission fee good for 2 days.  (Metro - Yellow Line - Archives)

Early Evening














African American Civil War Memorial
Throughout the course of the American Civil War over 200,000 African American soldiers and sailors served to keep the United States whole and to free permanently over four million people in forced servitude.  The memorial honors the service and sacrifices of the more than 200,000 African American veterans who fought to free more than 4 million of their people enslaved in the South. To learn more, click here.  Free. (Metro - Yellow or Green Line - U Street)

Related Dining Experiences for Lunch or Dinner
  • Old Ebbitt Grill (DC's oldest ongoing restaurant established in 1856)
  • Southern cuisine: Georgia Brown's (low country meals - our favorite restaurant in DC), Vidalia (upscale southern - on many best 10 in DC lists), Acadiana (Cajun/Creole/New Orleans)
Tales, Tidbits, and  Tips
Here are some suggestions to help you get the most from this, or any, DC visit.
  • Consider staying in Crystal City, which is just across the Potomac, or a hotel/motel in Maryland near a Metro line. It is usually less expensive than staying in similar lodging in DC.
  • Leave your car at home or at your hotel/motel. We have lived in the DC-area for 2 years and have never driven in the district. Between the Metro, buses, and taxi cabs it is safe and easy to get around the city. DC is also extremely walkable.
  • You will have to be inspected and screened at most all museums and attractions. To save time, carry only what you absolutely need with you. 
  • In the summer, DC is hot and humid. Dress accordingly.
  • It doesn't hurt to download some DC apps on your smartphone. Our 5 top recommendations are DC Rider, Go Out from The Washington Post, Smithsonian, National Mall, and Yelp.
  • For more valuable suggestions and tips,check out our The Prices Do DC blog and website.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

NSA Leaks: What's Fact and What's Fiction?

The telephone and internet surveillance program being conducted by the National Security Administration (NSA) is vital for national security, conforms to the law, and violates no privacy rights of any Americans, according to the General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

However, attorney Kate Martin, who has frequently testified before Congress on national security and civil liberties and has brought many lawsuits challenging government actions, believes that the secrecy surrounding the surveillance program makes its difficult to ascertain the validity of such contentions.

General Counsel Robert Litt and Martin were both members of a recent panel at the Newseum examining the topic NSA Surveillance Leaks: Facts and Fiction. The event was co-sponsored by the Newseum and the American Bar Association.

The issue exploded onto the national agenda after 29-year-old Edward Snowden  revealed top-secret details about U.S. surveillance programs.  Snowden, who is seeking foreign asylum for the espionage charges against the United States he is facing, worked as a security guard at the NSA, then in a computer security job with the CIA, and finally as a NSA analyst with government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii. Depending on your view, Snowden is either a heroic whistleblower or a traitorous leaker who should be severely punished

Snowden's revelations that the government was obtaining metadata about the phone and computer use of Americans sparked a firestorm of controversy. Supporters of the administration like Litt contend the authorized program offers no threats to Americans' freedom. However, opponents of NSA's extensive spying have likened the surveillance program to the draconian Big Brother measures employed in George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984.

"We are always sensitive to the rights and privacy of citizens," Litt said. "We did not collect the identity and conversations." The administration says that in metadata collection only such information as location and length of calls is culled, which is much different than eavesdropping on personal phone or online conversations. Such information is vital to protect the country from terrorists and has actually been used to thwart attack plans on the United States. President Barack Obama is on record as saying "you can't have 100 percent security and 100 percent freedom."

"We cannot target Americans without a court order," Litt told the large crowd attending the special Newseum event. "We need to get an individual order. There must be reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity.

However, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the targeting of non-U.S. citizens outside of the country without obtaining an individual warrant. "But you can't target outside to get inside," Litt said. "Nobody has ever found that there has ever been any intentional violation of the law".

The General Counsel maintained that the United States would be at great risk without the surveillance. "If you want to find a needle in a haystack, you must have the haystack," he said.

Litt also maintained that Snowden's leaks are going to cause problems for the United States. "These disclosures are going to have consequences," he said, although he did not specify the exact nature of those consequences.

However although she admitted that the government  has to "keep legitimate secrets secret," Martin said she was not convinced by Litt's contentions. "If the government had been more open, there would be less public distress. You need to tell us," she said

"You have 2 problems here. Number 1, the public has a right to know what the government is doing and number 2, there are the privacy rights of American citizens (as outlined under the Bill of Rights)," Martin noted.

She said that the rules outlining the restrictions on electronic data collection may be outdated considering the vast communications changes that have transpired since the law was enacted in 1976. "Looking at metadata may be more revealing than listening to the conversations or reading the email of an individual," Martin proposed. "Right now, we have an incomplete picture of what the government's authority is to collect information about American citizens."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The controversy over the NSA surveillance and Snowden's leaks show no sign of abating soon. It may take years to truly understand where it fits into the American story. Click here for  a quick look at this incident and 9 other spying issues in American history.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Symphonic Dead

Haynes performing symphonic Garcia show in Pittsburgh.

Even in his most surreal acid trip or heaviest heroin nod, I doubt Grateful Dead guitarist and counterculture idol Jerry Garcia ever imagined the National Symphony Orchestra performing 2 full sets of his music at their summer Wolf Trap amphitheater home.

Garcia's guitar "Wolf"
However, that was the case last night as Allman Brothers and Govt. Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, whose own following is a mini-version of Garcia's devoted fan base, joined with the NSO to present the Garcia/Dead symphonic show. In an even more fitting tribute to Garcia, who died in 1995 just 8 days after his 53rd birthday, Haynes, who has toured in Garcia's lead guitar spot for the Dead, used Wolf, one of the Garcia's favorite personal guitars for the event.

The Haynes/NSO collaboration was filled out with rockers Jeff Sipe on drums, Lincoln Schlrifer on bass, and Alecia Chakour and Jasmine Muhammad on background vocals.

The crowd was an interesting mix of NSO aficionados, Haynes followers, and, judging by the abundant amount of tie-dye in the crowd, mostly Grateful Dead fans. NSO conductor Emil de Cou even got in the Dead spirit by wearing a tie-dye T-shirt for the 2nd set.

The night began with an abbreviated version of "Dark Star," a Dead jam instrumental classic which the band would sometimes play for half-an-hour. The 1st set highlight was a funky (now there is an adjective you don't usually associate with a symphony concert) version of "Shakedown Street." Judging by crowd reactions, the set 2 highlights were "Terrapin Station" and "Uncle John's Band".

Even with his reputation as a guitar star and his time with the Dead, much of the crowd voiced pleasant astonishment at Haynes' spot on channeling of Garcia's signature guitar sound. If you closed your eyes, it was easy to believe it was Garcia, not Haynes, providing the lead.

Haynes solos away.

The show was the 1st performance at the Wolf Trap this summer for the NSO. And I'm fairly certain it set many symphony records including:
  • the most tie-dye ever at a National Symphony concert
  • the most, and the most sustained, noodle dancing
  • the longest drum solo and
  • the most pungent wafts of marijuana smoke
The DC concert was one of about a dozen symphonic Garcia shows Haynes is performing around America. The guitarist was asked to come up with the shows by Jerry Garcia's estate. Although he said he was honored and agreed to do it, Haynes told The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month he is no expert on orchestral music, but knows what he likes (the avant-garde of Stravinsky and Stockhausen, "the heavier, weirder stuff that influenced [Frank] Zappa"). He said he was anxious to sink his teeth into the power, dynamics, and range a full orchestra offers: "Great symphonies go from a whisper to a scream and everywhere in-between."

Knowing he'd have 90-piece symphony orchestras as his backing, Haynes, with the help of Dead bassist Phil Lesh, sought arrangers, found songs of the Dead and Garcia that lent themselves to the sort of angular orchestration he favored.

"We even went back and orchestrated some of Jerry's improvisations, so the effect is this layered wall of sound," Haynes told The Inquirer.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Here is the complete song list for the concert.
Set 1
  • Dark Star
  • Bird Song
  • Crazy Fingers
  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Ship of Fools
  • Shakedown Street
  • China Cat Sunflower
  • Morning Dew
Set 2
  • Mission in the Rain
  • High Time
  • Russian Lullaby
  • Uncle John's Band
  • West LA Fadeaway
  • Terrapin Station
  • Slipknot
  • Terrapin Flyer
Encore
  • Patchwork Quilt
  • Stella Blue

Monday, June 24, 2013

Making Mosaics: Art from a Tiny (2) Band of Gypsies

The Breitingers critique their work
When Kevan Breitinger developed serious health issues about 8 years ago, she realized she would have to make some big changes. She had always liked working at physically demanding jobs, the latest being a cleaning service she operated in their Ocean City, NJ seaside community with her husband, Paul, who also ran a construction business.

"I didn't know what I was going to do. We still had 2 (of 4) kids to get through school. I was in a bit of a panic," Kevan says. But then karma, kismet, serendipity, fate, divine providence or some such force intervened. "I just happened to be in Philly and I picked up a book on mosaics. I said to myself  'I can do that.' So I took other books out of the library and I sort of taught myself."

But despite her best efforts, the initial projects Kevan designed didn't look like the ones in the book. "They were very pristine and precise and I'm not that kind of person. Mine were coming out rowdy and explosive," she says.

However, people she showed her 1st works to liked them and Kevan made a decision. "I told myself I'm just going to follow this and see where it goes," she said.

Today, she and Paul  travel to about 40 arts and crafts shows a year where they sell the colorful, funky, folksy mosaics they make together. "We're like a Band of Gypsies," Paul says with a laugh, a reference to both their nomadic wanderings and their art work, which evidences a definite 60's vibes reminiscent of the era of Hendrix, hippies, and happenings.

Often completing each others thoughts, the affable Breitingers explained their art process during a lull in customers this past weekend at the annual Arlington Arts Festival. There are basically 2 types of pieces. The 1st are large mosaics in 1 of 2 themes - the sea (mermaids, turtles, fish) or music (guitars or keyboards).  The 2nd are smaller framed pieces, usually with a snippet of a saying or song lyric as a focus. The sayings show Kelvan's leanings. All You Need Is Love by the Beatles. Imagine by John Lennon. Forever Young by Bob Dylan. There are also lyrics from current musical artists who have a social conscience in their music such as Dave Matthews or Jack Johnson, as well as popular maxims and words from other noted figures.. 
A  closer view of the work pictured above.
 "I let the quote set the theme. I use something that speaks to me, but also can appeal to others," Kevan says. "A lot of them are iconic. Teenagers will come up, see the work, and begin singing the Beatles or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Young people seem to like stopping into our tent. Maybe it's my hair."

In their studio, Kevan begins by creating 100's of colored clay tiles. She then begins fashioning them, along with other objects such as beads and tiny metal shapes, into a themed design. "We use a lot of peace signs," she says. Meanwhile, Paul is cutting and putting together frames. After the design is finished, each piece is lifted up and glued by hand on the finished work. "She does all the design work, but I help with the gluing," Paul explained.

While the large works vary in price, the Breitingers sell the small pieces for $55 each. "I really do want to keep the work cheap," Kevan said." I like to make it affordable, especially these days."  Paul agrees. "Look we're in the same (economic) boat as everyone else."

The Breitingers now spend about 10 months of the year in St. Augustine, Florida and 2 summer months in Ocean City. As soon as they completed the Arlington show, they were headed to the Jersey shore to get ready for another exhibition next weekend. "It will be in Jersey so there will be plenty of (Bruce) Springsteen," Kelvan promised. She said she tries to regionalize her work for shows (a lot of Jimmy Buffet for Florida, for example), but that only goes so far. She aborted an attempt to produce sports-themed works for sports-crazy fans in Philadelphia. "I'm just not that into sports. I have to believe in what I'm creating. Really, it's not all about the money," Kevan said.

The couple, who married 32 years ago, said they enjoy spending so much time working and traveling together. But they admitted that setting up and taking down shows can be stressful. "You hear a lot of husbands and wives go at it and we've had our moments," Kevan said.

Both enjoyed the especially care-free years that came with coming of age at the Jersey shore in the 60's and early 70's. In his teenage years, Paul surfed competitively ("I still surf, a lot," he says). His surf boards were made by Tinker of Asbury Park, another Jersey shore town. At the time, Tinker was also serving as Bruce Springsteen's manager. "I got to attend surf shows and hear Springsteen," Paul fondly recalls. He also became friendly with the Hamid brothers (their father George owned the famous Steel Pier in Atlantic City). "I spent a lot of time there. Heard the Stones. The Animals. The Turtles," Paul said. "My father was a jazz drummer so he used to take us there to see all the big bands, too."

Given that background, it's not surprising that a 21st Century lifestyle that includes the sea, the shore, music, and the freedom of traveling appeals to the Breitingers.  "It's great," Paul said. "It's kind of like we're going back to our roots. It's just that we are at a different age now. Actually, I think it's much better this time around."

Tales,Tidbits, and Tips
For the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you my wife and I bought one of the Bretinger's pieces. Since Judy spent 33 years running an art gallery and custom framing shop I'll let her tell you what attracted us to the contemporary folk art pieces and why we liked them so much. Judy: There were a lot I liked but the the one we bought was my favorite.  First, I liked the saying from Homer Simpson (by way of his creator Matt Groening) in the middle, "Remember,as far as anyone knows, we're a nice normal family." The colors of the tiles and the shapes and expressions on the handmade ceramic pieces, along with the tiny charms, really caught my eye. Every piece had a reason for being in the mosaic. It was so relevant to us.  Everything from the Save Our Planet to Frankenstein reflected who we are. And it looks great in our bedroom! To learn more about Kevan's creations, click here.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Legacy of Bob Marley

Bob Marley the man and masterful reggae musician is gone, but his powerful messages of love, peace, freedom, and social justice still reverberate on concert stages around the world. And nowhere was that more evident than tonight at the Kennedy Center as the facility hosted a Grammy all-star tribute to Marley, his music, and his legacy.

The artists came from as far away as Ghana and as close as neighboring Virginia. Most played Marley songs that had special meaning for them. A few performed originals that had been directly influenced by the Jamaican songwriter, who died of cancer in 1981. Before and after their selections the artists praised the man they called their mentor as a preacher, teacher, and reacher.

"Sometimes a musician is more than a musician," said the night's emcee, Dermot Hussey, a friend of Marley's and current host for Sirius/XM's all-reggae station The Joint. "Sometimes they are the social conscience of their times. Bob Marley was one."

Much of the credit for the music, which kept the sold-out Kennedy Center crowd dancing, swaying, and bouncing throughout the night, had to go to the solid back-up band, the Roots Radics, who have been turning out hits for themselves and Jamaican artists such as Bunny Wailer and Yellowman for 30 years. For much of the night, the Radics were joined by Bob Marley and the Wailers guitarist Junior Marvin, who played on many of Marley's greatest recordings and has fronted the Wailer's since Marley's death. Simone Gordon and Hassanah provided backup vocals.

International artists included Rocky Darwuni, who has been called the Bob Marley of Ghana, and David "Dread" Hinds, whose revolutionary lyrics create much of the draw of the British band Steel Pulse.

Several popular young performers on the summer festival circuit joined the tribute including Matisyahu, Citizen Cope, and Jacob Hemphill and Trevor Young of SOJA. One of the night's strongest performances  came from talented Toshi Reagon, who is originally from DC but is now based in Brooklyn.

Some of the loudest applause was given to Speech, the leader of the Atlanta rap group Arrested Development whose lyrics deal with the same social and political concerns as Marley's. Accompanied only by his guitarist from Arrested Development, Speech delivered a haunting acoustic rendition of "Redemption Song."

As you would expect, the 3-hour concert focused equally on Marley's songs of love and songs of protest. The crowd, obviously well-versed in reggae and Marley, sang along with hits such as "Get Up, Stand Up," "Stir It Up," and "No Woman, No Cry."

All the performers returned to the stage and swapped verses on "Exodus" and an anthemic "One Love/People Get Ready."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Marley concert concluded a 3-day The Legacy of Bob Marley event of the Kennedy Center's free Millennium Stage. On Friday, DC native Akua Allrich offered a jazz, blues, and soul show that included  2 Marley songs. Saturday night Southern Sudanese hip-hop artist and former child soldier delivered a show dedicated to such career-long Marley concerns as peace, social justice, and human rights. On Sunday, 2 hours before the Marley concert, the Grammy-winning hip-hop Arrested Development performed before a crowd of more than 1,000 fans who danced, bounced, and waved their hands in the air to such hits as "Tennessee" and "People Everyday."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Guitars, Cadillacs, and Hillbilly Music

As is the case with most northern boys with Texan Dads, my Father introduced me to country (or country and western as it was then called) music. In the 1950's, whenever my Dad  had control of the turntable, you could expect a lot of Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline. In the 1960's, his list was augmented with the sounds of Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, and Roy Clark. But, as is often the case with fathers and sons, I rejected my Dad's choices. Instead, I opted for the rock records of the Stones, the Animals, and the Rascals. However, country rejoined my playlist in the late 1970's with the outlaw sounds of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and the stylings of Dolly Parton, all of whom I still listen to today. In the 1980's, I finally found a country performer to rival my top-all-time-two favorites: the Stones and Bruce Springsteen.  Interestingly, that talent, Dwight Yoakam from Kentucky by way of Ohio, produced turbo-twang music that was a true cross between the Buck Owens music of my Dad and the early British invasion sounds of my youth.

Last night, the 56-year-old Yoakam appeared at the 9:30 Club here in DC, delivering a 2-hour-plus show that could satisfy both pure country fans like my Dad (although for a more complete picture, he did like and play Fats Domino and some Elvis Presley) and classic garage rockers like me.

Yoakam, now supported by a new group of energetic young musicians in their 20's instead of his long-time back-up band led by his former guitarist/producer Pete Anderson, took to the stage in his usual light cowboy hat and poured-into jeans with a Nudie designed jeans jacket and an untucked white shirt. Frequently switching between acoustic and electric guitars, Yoakam, often employing his unique boot-scootin' twist and shuffle moves, led the group in a 28-song and 2-tune encore set that alternated between his older country classics and his more-rock influenced newer tunes, especially those from his latest album Three Pears.


As you might expect, the biggest responses from the all-age crowd came for the older songs. But most of the crowd seemed responsive to the new songs, too. "Thanks for supporting the new stuff," Yoakam told the audience. "I promise I'll play at least 1 old one for every 3 new ones."

That formula was in place for about 3/4's of the show. Hits such as "Streets of Bakersfield," "I Sang Dixie," and "Ain't That Lonely Yet," were surrounded by trios of  new tunes like "Trying," "Blame the Vain," "Waterfall" and the title track of his latest CD. But the new tunes were abandoned for a show-closing run that included "Honky Tonk Man," "Guitars and Cadillacs," and my two all-time Dwight favorites "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere" and "Fast as You."

Yoakam told the crowd his DC appearance was a homecoming of sorts. "I was talking to the owners before the show and I told them I played the old 9:30 Club about a billion years ago when I was 1st starting out and it was named for where it was located," he noted.

He also paid tribute to his varied roots with the 3 covers he included in the set - "Little Sister," a hit for Elvis Presley; "Act Naturally," a Buck Owens original covered by the Beatles and sung by Ringo Star; and a reworked, blistering version of  the Johnny Cash signature tune "Ring of Fire."

Unlike previous times I had seen him live, Yoakam seemed quite comfortable on the 9:30 stage, joked and talked to the audience throughout the night. He went though a whole series of starts and stops with a line from "Streets of Bakersfield" which actually goes "Spent some time in San Francisco." Yoakam took the audience on a quick tour of America with his revised lyric lines. Spent some time in old Chicago. Stop. A few cheers. Spent some time down in Atlanta. Stop. More cheers. When the boos reigned down on the line Spent some time in Philadelphia Yokam indicated he knew his baseball when he quipped, "now, I understand you might have a little rivalry with that city that doesn't let you show your brotherly love." Of course, all this was prelude to the explosion that came when he finally sang Spent some time in Washington, DC.

After the song, Yoakam said, "Where I come from, we would say Warshington. But y'all say we talk funny." But on this particular evening, the hundreds of standing Yoakam fans packed into the sweaty off-U Street club didn't care if it was Washington or Warshington. They didn't care if it was the old 9:30 Club or the newer venue with the same name. They didn't even care if the songs were from the 80's or as new as this week. All they cared about was after a long absence - Dwight Yoakam - their Dwight Yoakam - was back in DC playing for them. And that, and a few beers and a Cowboy hat or 50, was more than enough.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
For all you Dwight Yoakam fans who weren't at the 9:30 Club or for those of you who have never really  listened to Yoakam, here are YouTube links to some of the songs he is playing live on this tour.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Right Wing Speech Under Attack, McConnell Claims

Conservative Republicans, Tea Party supporters, and right-wing Evangelicals are under attack from the Obama administration and government bureaucrats who are trying to harass, stifle, and vilify all those who disagree with their liberal positions, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell charged today.

"There is a coordinated assault from groups on the left and a White House that is determined to shut up dissent," McConnell (R-Ken) said. "And just because McConnell is pulling the fire alarm doesn't mean there isn't a fire."

The Minority Leader said he didn't believe President Barack Obama was directly issuing orders for the attacks on conservatives, but added that the president didn't have to. "I don’t believe that the president ever actually picked up a phone and told someone over at the IRS to slow-walk those applications or audit anybody. But the truth is, he didn't have to. The president has been demonizing these people. The CEO has laid out the game plan," McConnell contended. "We have a president that simply can't accept the fact that the public is not going to applaud everything he does."

Following his 40-minute presentation at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an emotional supporter pleadingly asked McConnell if there weren't some way to impeach Obama for his actions.

"We need a thorough and complete investigation and let the facts take us where we are supposed to go," McConnell replied.

McConnell's remarks came just weeks after revelations that the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has apparently been targeting Tea Party and political groups pushing conservative agendas by delaying their requests for tax-exempt status and ordering audits.

"There is a culture of intimidation," McConnell said. "They (leftists and bureaucrats ) are trying to vilify and harass anyone who has formed a group for conservative causes. The goal was to win at all costs. And that meant shutting up the the opposition. You can get an audit for questioning how the government is being run? The IRS is thumbing its nose at the American people. It's pure arrogance"

But McConnell contended that the IRS was not the only federal agency targeting conservatives. Others were using similar practices, he said. "It reflects a culture of intimidation that spreads throughout the government. They can make your life miserable and, even worse for Democracy, they can force you off the political playing field," he said.

Returning to the IRS, McConnell said he believed that the agency should be granting more, not fewer,   exemptions for social cause groups. "The government should not be in the business of micromanaging a status that should be relatively easy to obtain," he said.

McConnell proposed that the IRS targeting and similar incidents highlighted the biggest difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. "They are the party of government and we are the party of the private sector. This is what you get when you elect a government that thinks (more) government is the answer," he proposed.

"They (Democrats) are desperately trying to prove that nobody at the top was involved in these scandals, but the IRS (situation) puts the lie to all this posturing," McConnell said.

"It's clearly an uphill battle. But if we are to take these assaults one by one, I am confident we will beat them back. The only way to beat a bully is to fight back. Be wise to the ways of the left. Never give an inch on free speech," he added.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Although McConnell declined to comment on NSA surveillance on private citizens, he did briefly discuss 2 issues he thought were related to the overall theme of threats to political free speech. Claiming that unions support government growth, McConnell said "I support unions in the private sector, but I question the appropriateness of unions in the public sector." McConnell also issued strong support for the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United, which determined that corporations people and allowed them to contribute unlimited amounts of support and money to political campaigns. "It is a good, fair decision of leveling the (political) playing field," he said. He claimed Democrats' calls for more disclosure of  campaign contributions were  attempts "to get their hands on the names of people who oppose them. Disclosure is nothing more than going after donors. These people were talking about the Koch brothers by name so much that you would think they were running for president."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Stones Are Still Rolling (and Rocking Too)

Mick and Keith 1969

More Mick and Keith 1969
I first saw the Rolling Stones live in 1969 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. I paid $6.50 for my ticket. Of course, it was an outrageous price (still it wasn't the most expensive ticket - that was an astounding-for-the-time $8.50), but they were the Stones and I would be pretty close to the stage. I loved rock and roll and, to me, the Stones were the epitome of what that music was all about. I admired their talent and especially their swagger - their literal we are the Rolling Stones and we'll piss anywhere we want attitude. I don't think I was obsessed , but I was definitely influenced. Some examples. In the 60's and 70's, I played in bands whose main source of material was the Stones. I was once an hour late for a Villanova University final because one of my friends, using a toothbrush as microphone, spent most of the night pretending he was Mick Jagger and was too stoned and hung-over in the morning to find his contact lenses. At my 1973 wedding, I wore a 3-piece suit very similar to the one Jagger had worn 2 years earlier when he had married Bianca. I convinced my wife to name our son Michael (Jagger) Keith (Richards) Price. (In my defense, she wanted to name him Zarba. Remember, it was a time of great experimentation)..
The Stones today in 2013


Last night, 44 years after I first saw them, the Stones and I returned to Philly for their 50 and Still Counting Tour. It would be the 12th time I would be seeing the Stones perform and much had changed over the years, nothing more dramatically than the cost of concert attendance. I had picked up 2 tickets off StubHub that let me sit in my favorite concert spot - directly in the middle of the stage behind the sound booth. The cost for those 2 seats (which, while perfect for sound, were about as close to the stage as Baltimore is to my current home of Washington, DC) was $500. But these were still the Stones, and even if Keith Richards could live forever, I didn't think I could. This tour could be the last time and I didn't want to miss it.

So at 8 p.m. on a rainy Philly Tuesday night, my wife and I found ourselves sitting in our $250 seats, waiting for Mick, and Keith, and Charlie, and Ronnie, and the rest, to take the stage once again. And at exactly 9:02 (remember we're talking about the we-can-do-what-we-want Stones here) the lights dimmed, a brief relive-the-years retrospective was shown on the giant screen, and then came the announcement the crowd had been waiting to hear "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones." And for the next 2 hours, in an age-defying feat of musical mastery, the Stones demonstrated why they are still the world's greatest rock and roll band. Here's a song by song report of the night.

Get Off My Cloud
The 1965 opening song established from the start that the Stones were offering rock n' roll history here. I would have preferred "The Last Time." But the Stones might not have wanted to deliver that message.

It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)
Jagger prances and dances as Richards and Wood demonstrate how to work a perfect 2-guitar weave.  It might only be rock and roll, but the crowd loved it.

Paint It Black
This 1966 chart-topper with its sitar-like beginning was the 1st hint of a darker side of the Stones to come. After this hit, much of the Stones career would be colored in shades of black and red.  "I see a red door and I want it painted black." When it was released, some Stones fan contended that Jagger was singing about a (red door) prostitute. But that came later with "Honky Tonk Women" and Some Girls.

Gimme Shelter
This apocalyptic song,  forever linked with the December 1969 murder at the Stones Altamont concert and the death of the hippie peace-and-love dream, provided a chance for back-up singer Lisa Fisher to shine. It's not easy to out-Jagger Mick Jagger, but on this number (Rape ... Murder ... It's just a shot away) Lisa did just that. Definite candidate for best song of the night.

Wild Horses
Jagger tells the crowd things are going to be slowed down. The result - "Wild Horses" from the classic Sticky Fingers - possibly the most beautiful ballad the Stones ever recorded.

Dead Flowers
At each concert on this tour, the fans have been able to select one of 5 song choices on the internet for the Stones to perform. Philly's choice is this country rocker, also from Sticky Fingers. The Stones have been featuring a special guest at each show and country star Brad Paisley joins them for this tune. It is a perfect fit for Paisley, who proved once again that he is not just a pretty-boy in a cowboy hat, but a solid  guitarist. The Stones, especially Richards, have always had an affinity for American country music.

Emotional Rescue
My least favorite song of the night. But it brought many of the younger members of the crowd to their dancing feet. It also demonstrated that at 70, Jagger can still sing falsetto and drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Daryl Jones (who years ago replaced original bass player Bill Wyman) form one of the great rhythm sections in all of rock.

Doom and Gloom
One of 2 new songs the Stones are performing on the tour. Classic Stones. The accompanying video on the large screen was quite imaginative. Click here if you want to see the official Stones YouTube video for the release.

One More Shot
The 2nd of the new songs. Those who wanted only the hits they knew used this segment for a bathroom break. Those who wanted to hear what the Stones, after 5 decades, are still capable of coming up with stayed in their seats to listen. If you haven't seen the Stones on this tour or you are one of the ones who used this tune for a break, you can click here to hear what you missed.

Honky Tonk Women
Ever since the 1980's, the Stones, who have often been accused of  misogynistic lyrics and behavior - "Under My Thumb" or "Stupid Girl" anyone - have been using this song for visual fun. Remember those giant inflatable dolls. Tonight was no exception. The mascot for this tour is a gorilla (Grrr!). In a takeoff on the classic film King Kong, on the main stage screen a giant woman with exceptional breasts climbs an Empire State Building-like structure. She is then attacked by gorillas flying WWI type planes. One of them shoots off her bra, but then spins out and crashes into her breasts. Oh yeah, and the Stones delivered a strong version of this song while all this was going on. Also a chance for keyboard player and band musical director Chuck Leavell to show off with a great honky-tonk country piano ride.

You Got the Silver
For years, Jagger has been leaving the stage to let Richards take over lead vocals on 2 tunes. In previous tours, this had been the signal for a bathroom break for non-Richards fans. But tonight, whether as a realization that Keith can't perform forever (can he?) or because they had already used the new songs for that purpose, the fans stayed put. They were treated to Keith at his best. Earlier, Jagger had informed the crowd that Philadelphia was celebrating its 331st birthday. "I read it in the papers," he said. Picking up on that theme, Richards quipped "Thank you Philly. It's your birthday, not mine. I don't know which one's older."

Before They Make Me Run
As soon as the last note of "You Got the Silver" faded, many in the crowd began calling for "Happy," the most popular Richards song in the Stones repertoire. Instead Richards broke into this tune, inspired by his 1970's drug troubles in Toronto. Best version of this song that I had ever heard Keith, who really seemed to be enjoying himself during the entire concert, perform.

Midnight Rambler
This tune, along with "Sympathy for Devil," established Mick Jagger in the pantheon of evil personas. "Paint it black, you devil." It also allows him to show why he is one of the most under-rated harmonica players in rock or blues. As has been happening every night on this tour, the current Stones were joined on this number by their former lead guitarist Mick Taylor (he also returned later on "Satisfaction"), who replaced Stones founding member, the troubled Brian Jones. Taylor played with the group on their great work from the late 60's and 70's. Claiming the life of a Rolling Stone would kill him, Taylor left the group and was replaced by Ron Wood. Listening to him again trading licks with Jagger, it was apparent how much Taylor added to the Stones during his years with them. Another candidate for song of the night.

Miss You
Jagger returned to the stage with a guitar, which the most famous frontman in rock says he likes playing on stage. He told the crowd they would have to help with the vocals on this one. While some have put down  this disco-era tune, it has been a regular in the Stones set list since it was released on Some Girls, perhaps  because it works so well live. Tonight's reworked version with a bass solo also showed why jazz great Miles Davis had invited Darryl Jones to play bass with him.  And I confess, I have always loved this song. If anyone can make disco cool, it is the Stones.

Start Me Up
From here on it was nothing but some of the biggest hits in all of rock. First up was this classic which the Stones have often used as a show opener. I liked it placed here better.

Tumbling Dice
This hit from Exile on Main Street, which many critics contend is the Stones masterpiece album (for me it is Sticky Fingers, with Let It Bleed a close 2nd), gave a chance for backup singers Fisher and Bernard Fowler to take center stage. Also good horn work for long-time Stones live sidemen Bobby Keys and Tim Ries. (Side note: Usually the Stones carry 3 singers and 4 horns with them. The reduced lineup prompted Judy to ask me: "What are Mick and Keith getting cheap in their old age").

Brown Sugar
Now everyone is on their feet. Bobby Keys blasts the brilliant, ballsy sax solo that he 1st laid down in 1969. Jagger is all over the stage and the extended tongue-shaped ramp that lets him prance into the crowd. He flays his arm, directing the crowd to join in. They do. Enthusiastically. The extra-long closing whips the crowd into a frenzy.

Sympathy for the Devil
The lights dim. The pre-recorded drum track begins. Leavell adds a choppy piano riff, much different than the original recording. The audience spots a dimly-lit Jagger, wrapped in a black cloak. He doffs the cloak. "Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste." During his solos, Richards stalks the stage and circles the ramp, stabbing out single notes on his guitar. The song ends; Jagger thanks the audience. The band leaves the stage. The crowd knows there will be an encore. Those really in the know who have been following the tour even know what the 3 songs will be. But that doesn't dim the enthusiasm. A 3rd candidate for song of the night.

You Can't Always Get What You Want
In what may have been the shortest break ever in a concert (before I could even get back from the bathroom) Philadelphia's The Crossing choir, who joined the Stones for this song, were already singing the beginning notes. Solid version tonight. As he has all evening, the irreplaceable Charlie Watts (Richards is on record as saying without Watts there is no Rolling Stones) drives the beat from anthemic to double-time shuffle speed.

Jumping Jack Flash
For me this has always been the greatest rock song ever performed live. It always delivers the crossfire hurricane promised in the lyrics. The Stones extend the long ending tonight. As always "a gas, gas, gas.

Satisfaction
Despite the inspired song writing of Lennon and McCartney and Bob Dylan and the brilliance of the Beatles as a band, I think you can make a strong case to enshrine this song as the ultimate example of all post-Presley/Berry rock. Beginning with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs ever recorded, the lyrics drive home the outsider alienation with society that has always been at the heart of the rock's power, mystique, and its hold on the young. And you can dance to it, too. First recorded in 1965, this was the Stones best choice - indeed you might argue their only choice - to close a night representing a 50-year retrospective of their work. We definitely won't get another 50 years, but here's to as many more years of satisfaction as the Stones can deliver. It's only rock and roll, but we still like it.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
A quick Stones Q & A, not to be confused with their song "A Little T & A"
Can the Stones still rock?
  • Yes
What about roll?
  • Ditto
Do they legitimately deserve to be called the greatest rock and roll band in the world?
  • Yes
Are they really playing better now than ever?
  • Based on last night's show, I'd have to say yes.
How many cigarettes did Keith smoke during the show?
  • 3, I think
Did you really spend $500 on 2 tickets for the Stones?
  • Yes
Was the concert worth it?
  • Yes
Did you really name your only son after the Stones?
  • Yes
What would you have done if you had another son?
  • I don't know - maybe Ronald Charles.
Would you see them on their last scheduled American date next week in DC?
  • If anyone wants to pay for my ticket, I am so there. Same with Friday's show in Philly. (Special guest Aaron Neville).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Out to Lunch: A Brief History of Metal Lunch Boxes

Historians say you can learn a lot about a people and their culture by studying what they ate. But, as a current exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History proves, you can also tell a lot about a culture by viewing what they carried their food in.

Fittingly installed outside the main cafeteria at the museum is a collection of about 75 classic American metal lunch boxes from the mid- 19th Century until the 1980's.  Before their meal, older visitors can work up an appetite by taking a nostalgic trip down lunchtime memory lane and hear fellow visitors say "Hey, I had that one."

When America was primarily an agricultural society, there was little need for boxes to carry lunch in. Farmers and their helpers could simply return to their homes for a noontime meal before returning for more afternoon work.

But after the Civil War, as the nation became more and more industrialized, workers began carrying their lunch to work in small, plain metal buckets since they now worked too far away from their homes to break for a meal. About 100 years ago, as more and more students began attending schools, mothers began sending their lunches in empty decorated tobacco or cigar tins. The lunch boxes were joined in 1904 by their partner, the metal Thermos vacuum bottle which could keep drinks hot or cold.
First they were for adults ...

... then reused tobacco and cigar boxes for kids ...

... and finally TV and cartoons.

In the 1950's, the advent of television changed the look of the student lunch box. Studios discovered the idea
of using the metal boxes to give exposure to the TV programs aimed at young audiences. The lunch box shifted from a mere conveyance into a personal story teller. Historians point to this popular item as one of the beginnings of a sales market targeted exclusively to young people. Since westerns were a staple of this era, cowboy and western lunch boxes - Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone - were extremely popular.

In the 1960's, companies, anxious to continue sales, expanded lunch box scenarios to include music groups (like The Beatles) and athletes (like Mickey Mantle).  Girls also became a prime target with countless Barbie variations. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, older students could demonstrate their hipness by carrying lunch boxes featuring pop art and psychedelic designs. The Cold War (Get Smart, the Man from Uncle, and other spy and combat themes) were popular. By the 1970's, movie blockbusters like Star Wars ruled the lunch box field.

But in the mid-1980's, the metal boxes were replaced with ones constructed by less costly synthetic materials, which also didn't rust and were easier to keep clean. The time of the metal lunch box was over for all but collectors and exhibits of historical artifacts like the one here at the museum.

Tales,Tidbits, and Tips
If you would like to learn more about the lunch boxes on display, you can read the article "The History of the Lunch Box" which appeared in The Smithsonian magazine by clicking here. To learn about collecting vintage lunch boxes, click here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

You Are One of Them

In 1982, young Samantha Smith of Maine wrote a letter to the newly appointed Prime Minister of the Soviet Union Yuri Andropov. In that letter, Smith wrote:



My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren't please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.


Andropov answered, inviting Smith to Russia for a personal visit. Smith and her family made the trip. She became a young ambassador for peace until she died in a plane crash 3 years after writing the letter that made her famous.

In her new novel You Are One of Them author Elliott Holt, a life-long resident of the Washington, DC area, uses the Smith story to loosely inspire her tale of memory, betrayal, surveillance, and how we often define ourselves in relation to others.

Recently, Holt, who admitted to spending "almost all of my disposable income and a lot I don't have" in the noted DC bookstore, appeared at Politics and Prose to read from and discuss her new book. "I have been coming here ever since I was young," she said. of the homecoming-like event.

In her novel, Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones are best friends in an upscale part of Washington, D.C. in the politically charged 1980's.  Sarah is the product of an unhappy home: her father abandoned the family to return to his native England; her agoraphobic mother is obsessed with fears of nuclear war.  Jenny is an all-American girl who has seemingly perfect parents.  With Cold War rhetoric reaching a fever pitch in 1982, the ten-year-old girls write letters to Soviet premier Andropov asking for peace.  But only Jenny's letter receives a response, and Sarah is left behind when her friend accepts the Kremlin's invitation to visit the USSR and becomes an international media sensation.  The girls' icy relationship still hasn't thawed when Jenny and her parents die tragically in a plane crash in 1985.

Ten years later, Sarah is about to graduate from college when she receives a mysterious letter from Moscow suggesting that Jenny's death might have been a hoax.  She sets off to the former Soviet Union in search of the truth.

"Jennifer sees herself as a martyr who has been left," Holt said. "She begins fixated on friendship, but comes to understand that what is really important is her story, not her friend's story."

Holt said it wasn't surprising that her 1st novel dealt with the Soviet Union. "I grew up near the Soviet Embassy and I was always so curious about the Russians. And I was always worried about nuclear war. The threat used to be so tangible." Holt's fascination with Russia only increased when she spent time there when her mother worked in the country after the fall of the Berlin Wall. "I think I became a Russophile. I was tutored in Russian. I loved (Russian writer Anton) Chekov. My goal was to read his work in Russian. I was able to slowly do it, but I had a dictionary by my side,"she said.

After her engaging reading, several members of the audience commented on the poetic aspects of her prose. "Poetry is the greatest gift I ever received," said Holt, who admitted to writing her 1st really bad poem at age 5. She said she still picks a poem each week and then reads it every day for that week.

"I think I have a good ear as a reader. The writers I like best are those driven by voice and tone. I think most writers are readers first. I feel I will always be a better reader than writer," Holt said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
As she spoke from the lectern, Elliot Holt's young niece alternately stood, sat, and laid on the floor by her side. Holt said it was fitting that her niece be so close since she had lived with her and her mother as she finished her novel. Holt revealed a couple of things her niece had told her during the process. One time she asked, "Why do you have such a lonely job?" Another time she noticed that her aunt seemed somewhat depressed. "What's wrong?" she asked her aunt. "Don't you like the words in your book today?" Holt admitted that was the case. "Well, can't you change them," the niece simply, but brilliantly, responded.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Meet The Press

Tim Russert interviewing President Bill Clinton for Meet the Press.
Meet the Press. You probably know the Sunday morning news show, which began airing in 1947, making it the longest-running TV show in the world. And you are probably familiar with at least one of its 11 hosts, which includes such distinguished journalistic names as Martha Rountree, Lawrence E. Spivak, and Tim Russert.

But chances are, unless you are a die-hard fan of the news program, you have no idea who Betsy Fischer Martin is. Martin, who came to work 2 decades ago as an unpaid intern, has been senior executive producer of the show since 2002. And today, she appeared at the Newseum to discuss the program and how it is produced.

Much of the discussion centered around Russert, who died in 2008 after hosting the show for 17 years.

"He was the greatest," Martin said. "I got bit by the journalism bug and the reason was Tim Russert. He was always extremely focused and prepared, but he had a lot of fun with it. Tim's mission was accountability. He was a truth seeker. He believed if you can't answer a tough question then you're not going to be able to make a tough decision"

In this time of bitter political soundbites and screaming talking heads, Martin said the staff of Meet the Press
tries to present a once-a-week news program where viewers can get "an opportunity to take a breath and hear a civilized discourse," a course of action Russert championed and has been continued under current host  David Gregory.

Fischer said that much of the tone of the show is established by the character of the host. "Tim was a lawyer by training and it was really like he was conducting a cross-examination. David is more a journalist with a capital J," Martin said.

Martin said the importance of the weekly news determines who is asked to be a guest on the top-rated show. "We want guests who are very active, make a lot of news, and want to come on the show. You don't always get exactly who you want every week. People are surprised to hear that," she explained.

She said that guests must agree to answer any questions they are asked. "They have no idea what we are going to ask. The guests know that everything is on the table. If the chief of staff of a Senator says the Senator doesn't want to discuss the little problem he is having back home, then the Senator won't be invited on the program," Martin said.

Martin admitted that the advent of the internet and social media has drastically altered preparations for the next show, which actually begin moments after the conclusion of each Sunday program. "We used to clip out newspaper clippings and put them into a booklet. Now, we use the internet. I use Twitter as a news feed. I follow a number of newspapers and journalists that I trust and now get the news as it happens," she said.

The increasing partisan politics in America has had an effect on the show. "There is less willingness for guests (of opposite views) to come on together," Martin said. "It's all much more of a debate now."

Martin acknowledged that the fast pace of important breaking news can pose some difficulty in setting any kind of rigid weekly plan. But that is actually a good thing, she noted. "It's much better than saying 'Oh gosh, what are we going to possibly talk about this week. That's like (usually news slow because Washington shuts down for vacation) August material," Martin said with a laugh.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Newseum is currently featuring an exhibition which honors Russert and recreates his office as it was when he was hosting Meet the Press. To read a previous The Prices Do DC post about that exhibit, just click here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Great Love Story or Sordid Spy Tale?

Edward and Simpson meet with Adolph Hitler
It was one of the greatest love stories of the 20th Century. Seventy-six years ago this month, King Edward VIII gave up the British throne to marry the twice-divorced American international socialite Wallis Simpson. But behind the beauty of the romantic tale there has always lurked a more sordid, shadowy story of gossip and secret files portraying the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as, at best, naive admirers of Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Empire and, at worst, spies betraying their countries.

Earlier this week, Amanda Olhke, the director of adult education at the International Spy Museum delivered  a talk entitled Wallis Simpson: Duchess of Windsor: Nazi Spy? And the final verdict? Even at the end of an engaging hour-long presentation, the truth remained unclear.

In his days as the Prince of Wales, Edward earned a reputation as an international playboy, specializing in romancing married women. In 1930, he met Wallis Simpson, a Baltimore social climber, who was then on her 2nd marriage. To use the British term, Edward became completely besotted  and decided he must have her for his wife. Some could not understand the attraction. But later dossiers made public (that many believed were faked) indicated that Simpson had picked up sexual secrets in the brothels of China that could, in the parlance of the time, "hot up men."

The British public produced an insatiable need to know all the details of the woman who had beguiled the heir apparent to their kingdom. It was discovered that she had been on quite friendly terms with both German and Italian fascists. Even after he became king in 1936, Edward continued his affair with Simpson, lavishing extremely expensive gifts on her, a move which scandalized proper British society. He demanded that he be able to marry his love, but officials and the Church of England would not acquiesce to his demands. Instead of leaving Simpson, Edward signed the articles of abdication in the same year he assumed the thrown, elevating his younger brother to the royal position.

The kingdom, by then under threat of Nazi Germany, wondered - what will happen to Edward now? First, he married Simpson in 1937. Then they began a European trip that would forever place them under a cloud of suspicion. The couple traveled to Italy. There, they jointly proclaimed that fascism "is the great way forward." At the time, Edward still was convinced he could use his power to prevent war and bring peace to Europe. However, some officials in England saw the situation quite differently. They believed the couple were giving valuable information to fascist enemies.

Next, the couple moved on to Germany. Even before becoming king, Edward had evidenced very strong feelings for Germany and "liked what he was hearing about Hitler's new regime," Olhke explained. The couple was warmly received and Edward was pictured delivering the Nazi salute. Edward was quoted as saying he was impressed with Nazi efficiency. He and Simpson met and partied with Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Hesse, and many other Nazi leaders. He even toured what would become battlefields, handing out advice on what he would do there militarily.

"Now, in England, he and Simpson were seen as a truly disabling element in world affairs," Ohlke said. "He's buying the Nazis hook, line, and sinker." For his part, the Duke was aware of British official sentiment and even joked about being considered a spy.

However, when Great Britain did declared war on Germany, Edward secured a general's commission and reported to duty in France. However, still fearing communists more than fascists and ever hopeful of peace at whatever cost, he was quoted as supporting German bombing of Britain since such a move "would make England ready for peace."

In England, the people began a cry - "who is working for whom and what is their (Edward and Simpson's) real plan. Does he want to again be king - but this time of a newfangled totalitarian England. He's a loose cannon at best. Maybe they are both spies," Olhke said.

Finally, the Duke and Duchess were ordered to sit out the war in Bermuda, where Edward was made governor and served from 1941 to 1945. However, he continued contact with Nazi sympathizers. After the war, he never served in any other official capacity, leading people to believe it was punishment for  his support of Germany, whatever that may have been. There were stories of secret British raids to recover and destroy documents linking Edward, and perhaps Simpson, directly to information obtained by Hitler. Since then, scores of books have been written about the couple, but no definitive answer to the spying charges has ever been established.

At the end of her talk, Ohlke was asked what she thought. "I firmly believe they were ready to take the best offer they could get, but we may never know the truth."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Following her presentation,  Ohlke conducted an interview with Wallis Simpson (actually historical enactor Emily Lapisardi, who stayed in character the entire evening). To the delight of the crowd, Simpson adroitly  deferred Ohlke's attempts to get at the truth. She did admit that her husband was a trusting fellow, who always spoke his mind. She also acknowledged that she found Hitler and many of the other Nazis charming. However, when asked directly if she was a spy, Simpson replied that as a lady of grace and refinement she found such a charge scandalous and not worthy of a response.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Boston Crime Boss and the FBI

For decades he was Boston's most notorious, brutal gangster, possibly killing as many as 40 people. Then for years (16 to be exact) he was one of America's most wanted fugitives. Now James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger, looking more like the kindly old man next door than public enemy Number 1, is finally on trial, a trial that promises to last weeks and expose not only Bulger's horrific crimes, but also his ties with the FBI that allowed him to carry out his reign of criminality.

Recently Boston Globe reporter Shelley Murphy and Globe columnist Kevin Cullen appeared at the Newseum to discuss Bulger and his story, which they have detailed in their new book Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice.

The 83-year-old Bulger was born "an Irish Southie" in South Boston, where loyalty to family and friends is paramount and valued above all other characteristics. In fact, for a time, Bulger was considered a Robin Hood figure in the community. But as the story of his years as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation was revealed in the 1990's, support shifted to the special reviling reserved for those considered snitches and rats. In fact, even now, Bulger appears more upset about the claim he was an informant than he does about the daunting number of criminal charges against him, including 19 counts of murder.

"People in Boston are really anxious to see Whitey come to justice," Cullen said. "While everyone was loyal to Whitey, he was loyal to no one. Everybody who went near him was destroyed. He didn't care about anyone other than Whitey. He felt this was Whitey's world and we're just living in it"

There are many fascinating angles to the Whitey Bulger story. There are his crimes. There is the fact that in his early years, he spent time in Alcatraz, an incarceration that gave him special status in the Irish crime family. There is the fact that his brother Billy became one of Boston's most prominent politicians and a president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There is the fact that for years Bulger juggled life with 2 women, his wife and his long-time girlfriend, both of whom spent time with him on the run. There is the fact that for 12 of the 16 years Bulger, who in Cullen's words "looked like half my ugly relatives" and his girlfriend lived a quiet life in Santa Monica and were known as good neighbors. However, all that time, Bulger was stockpiling weapons ("not that we need background checks," Cullen says sardonically), going back and forth to Mexico to pick up cheap medicine, and buying fake identities from homeless people on the beach and others. In fact, he once supposedly paid $200 for a license and the owner also gave him his Sam's Club card and a membership card for AARP.

But the most intriguing part of the story for many is that this life-long criminal maintained extremely close ties with the FBI, whose members repeatedly tipped him off, kept him out of trouble, and allowed him to continue his murderous criminality. They gave Bulger this protection in return for information he gave them about members of the Italian Mafia and other suspects.

And while he has no use for Bulger, Cullen has even more animosity for Bulger's FBI handlers, one of whom, John Connolly, is currently serving 40 years in prison for his actions. "The FBI needs an enema," Cullen said. "It was like chess to them. They didn't give a shit. People think you have to take money to be corrupt, but when my government turns it back on the victims of Whitey Bulger, that's corruption."

For his part, Bulger maintains that he was not an FBI informant and insists he will testify on his own behalf. In fact, the trial, with its 80 potential witnesses, promises to deliver a who's who of Boston's former crime family members, many of whom are already incarcerated for their crimes. "It's pretty bad when you have to rely on a hit man to get the truth," Cullen said.

So how exactly were authorities finally able to capture Bulger and get a chance to bring him to justice? Well, like almost all else surrounding Bulger, that, too, is an interesting story. A reward of $2 million dollars had been offered for information leading to his capture. This amount was second only to Osama bin Laden's capture reward on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Bulger was featured on the television show America's Most Wanted 16 times. Finally, in 2011, authorities received a tip from a woman who was living in Iceland that Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Grieg, were living in Santa Monica. The tipster said she recognized Grieg, an animal lover, because she had been especially kind to a cat. The Globe identified the tipster as a former model, actress, and Miss Iceland 1974, who had lived in Bulger's neighborhood.

"Whitey says 'a cat got me captured'. Well, if that's the case, then they should have given the $2 million to the cat," Cullen said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Whitey Bulger's trial, which promises to be one of the great mob trials of history, started 2 days ago in a Boston courtroom. You can view The Washington Post's story about the trial opening by clicking here. To follow continuing trial coverage, here is a link to The Boston Globe.

Monday, June 10, 2013

One Million Bones: Too Many Lives Lost

photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/ AP

photo by Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

When you come from a place like my rural South Jersey area, you really don't expect to grow up with a world-changer. But if you attended the crop-field-surrounded Cumberland Regional High School in the late 1990's that assumption would be wrong.  For the CRHS Class of 1999 produced Naomi Natale, co-founder of The Art of Revolution and founder and director of One Million Bones, the 2 groups which sponsored a 3-day campaign on the National Mall in DC this past weekend to serve as a call to end genocide and mass atrocities worldwide.

Under Natale's direction for a powerful collision of art and activism, volunteers from around the country created a poignant "mass grave" on the Mall that displayed more than 1 million handmade human bones constructed from clay, plaster, and other materials.

In an advocacy video for the project, Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican   bishop who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980's as an opponent of apartheid, pointed  out the significance of the bones. "The symbol of bone attests to the impermanence of life," Tutu said. "But I believe they embody so much more. Bones are evidence of a unique individual journey -- each moment of hope and happiness, each dream and passion, each struggle experienced in a lifetime. But also the evidence of a collective journey, the stories shared and the human experience."

Tutu also explained that the grave serves as a reminder of those whose stories have been lost in places such as Sudan, Germany and the former Yugoslavia and reminds people of the collective responsibility to be one another's keeper. “Each individual’s humanity is inextricably linked to one another’s. We must raise each other up or else we all sink down,” he said.

The Mall installation was the culmination of a project begun in 2010. Since then, Natale and her groups have been trying to raise awareness of genocide and mass killing in Sudan, Congo, Burma and Somalia by taking the provoking, grisly display from city to city. In each city, local artists, students and activists were recruited to add to the growing stock of handmade bones.

Throughout the weekend, the event included speakers, performances and a candlelight vigil from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, followed by an hour of quiet reflection. Today, volunteers took some of the bones to the Capitol to urge Senators and Congressmen to join the struggle against genocide.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Naomi Natale (photo by Teru Kuwayma)
Even though she went to the same high school as my son Michael, I had never heard of Naomi Natale until my friend, fellow English teacher, and ex-Night School bandmate Bob Evans contacted me and said his former English student was now an activist artist who was bringing the installation One Million Bones to DC. "She really is an incredibly special person," Evans said. Yesterday, we caught up with Naomi at the installation site. I used my connections with Evans to get her called by walkie-talkie from whatever job she was doing. "Oh, Mr. Evans. He was just a great teacher ... my favorite. I hope he's not mad at me. He came to (the exhibition in) New Orleans but I haven't talked to him recently. I'm really bad at keeping in contact with people," she said. I assured her that Mr. Evans, as she called him, was still singing her praises. I also promised to relay the details of our brief talk to him. To read a comprehensive article about Natale and her projects, click here.

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I am a retired educator and journalist who is enjoying his new life in DC. So much to do here and so much for free.

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