The Spread Love Band has been playing on DC streets for about nine months. They play McPherson Square, Gallery Place, Metro Center, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown. But the best spot of all—a "gold mine," as their drummer says—is just outside the Treasury building, at 15th and New York Avenue, NW, where tour buses park and many out-of-towners see street musicians for the first time.
On Friday afternoon, you could hear echoes of Lonnie Shepard, Stixxx, and Country, three members of the band's five-man lineup, from the North Lawn of the White House, two blocks away, and catch some of their words inside White House Gifts, right across the street:
Nino (above) is a six-year-old, 65-pound American Staffordshire terrier-mix. Nino was surrendered to the Washington Humane Society in March after his owners moved and didn't take him along. Since he's already an adult, he has great manners—but don't worry, he also has plenty of pep, too. Nino is part of the WHS People and Animal Cardio Klub (PACK) and enjoys going on runs or long walks. His favorite thing is getting massages from his human friends and then crashing on the couch. You can meet him at the WHS Georgia Avenue Adoption Center.
John Branson is the current rector of Christ Church Episcopal in Old Town Alexandria, where Robert E. Lee worshipped and where 34 Confederate soldiers are still buried. Every year on May 24, the local branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, wearing their grays and bearing rebel flags, would hold a Confederate Memorial Day service. Branson says the rector before him put an end to the tradition. “The church has suggested that they take their ceremonies elsewhere.”
One member of the Confederate group calls the change of policy “intolerant.”
The parish still permits the group to hold a quiet wreath-laying ceremony in the churchyard but prohibits any display of Confederate regalia. “They have a full, formal color guard that they’d like to use, but they continue to display the Confederate flag, and we find that offensive,” Branson says.
Organizers of the National Memorial Day Parade, which will draw an estimated 300,000 people to the Mall on Monday, have taken a different tack. Among the many parade participants: veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, a high school marching band from Opelousas, La., Gary Sinise, the current Miss America, and a troupe of Confederate re-enactors marching to fife-and-drum tunes of “Dixie” and “Bonnie Blue Flag.”
The parade is a cornerstone of a holiday that honors Americans who died while serving in the military and, unlike, say, Columbus Day, it’s generally free of controversy. But whether Memorial Day honors Confederate soldiers in the same way it does, say, paratroopers who landed behind German lines on D-Day, is a question complicated by history.
Having the rebel vanguard in a procession of troops that fought for--not against--the United States, simply represents another chapter in “American military history throughout the generations,” says Tim Holbert, executive director of American Veterans Center, the organization that puts on the parade.
J.J. Smith, a member (rank: adjutant) of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Alexandria-based R.E. Lee Camp 726, had a great-great grandfather who served as a captain in the 45th Alabama Infantry. Smith will march in civvies on Monday -- a seersucker suit if the weather turns hot -- and sees the parade as an opportunity “to honor our ancestors, who were veterans in the armed forces, and what they stood for, which was independence.” He recalls one year marching past the Washington Monument when a spectator called out a “Three cheers for Jeff Davis.”
But the notion that Confederate soldiers belong in the pantheon of the United States military didn’t exist when Memorial Day took root after the Civil War. In 1868, Gen. John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union veterans, formalized the day of remembrance by designating a date in late May, then called Decoration Day, for “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country in the late rebellion.”(A statue of Logan stands today in the center of the eponymous Logan Circle park.) His idea of a commemorative holiday didn’t leave room for Confederate nostalgia. As originally intended, it would commemorate only “the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion,” Logan wrote. “Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms.”
In a complete reversal of public attitudes, it’s nowadays remarkable just how unremarkable the honoring of Confederate history has become. “Wherever we’ve marched with the color guard, the response has always been very positive,” says Jay Barringer of the Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans (rank: commander). “Only an occasional person turns their back or flips us off.”
A description on the Maryland group’s website of the National Memorial Day Parade as their “march on Washington” is an unfortunate appropriation of Civil Rights verbiage, intentional or not. But National parade organizers aren’t making a particular statement by allowing Confederate re-enactors to march; rather they’re keeping with a prevailing way of thinking about the Civil War as a conflict between two sides with competing but reconcilable visions of American liberty.
Still, disagreement over the role of the Confederate legacy in Memorial Day celebrations flares up.
Early in President Obama’s first term, a group of academics that included prominent Civil War historian James McPherson asked him to end the tradition of sending a Memorial Day wreath to the Confederate Monument in Arlington, which they felt represented “the nadir of American race relations” and “a denial of the wrong committed against African Americans by slave owners, Confederates, and neo-Confederates, through the monument’s denial of slavery as the cause of secession and its holding up of Confederates as heroes.”
Obama opted instead to send wreaths both to the Confederate memorial and to the African American Civil War Memorial in the U Street neighborhood.
"Since the original purpose of Memorial Day was to commemorate the Union war dead, it does seem a bit inappropriate for a Confederate group to participate," McPherson tells Washingtonian. "On the other hand, since the holiday now honors all Americans who have given their lives in wars, and (most) Confederates and their descendants have rejoined the Union, perhaps it is appropriate after all."
How exactly to handle Confederate history and the people who constituted it -- how to “remember their sacrifices for the cause for which they fought” as Barringer puts it -- is always unsettled. But maybe the best measure of whether Memorial Day is now a Confederate holiday, too, would be to see what provokes more general outrage: a Memorial Day parade presenting Confederate soldiers as heroes, or a church forbidding the Confederate flag to fly on its grounds.
Less than 15 pages into Mislaid, a novel by Nell Zink, our heroine, Peggy—a white girl growing up in small-town Virginia in the 1960s—has realized “she was intended to be a man,” come out to her pearl-clutching mother, headed off to fictional Stillwater College, and met Lee Fleming, the all-women school’s infamous gay poetry professor, with whom she falls into a torrid affair and ends up “fixing to have a baby.” Another 15 pages in, Peggy has morphed into a disgruntled housewife who vengefully drives her husband’s VW into a shallow lake. To say Zink careens through her characters’ lives is an understatement.
The pace noticeably slows through the rest of this comically named (Mislaid—get it?) domestic novel gone wild, but not before Peggy reaches a breaking point: She flees her marriage, leaving behind her son but taking her toddler daughter, Mireille, and assumes new identities for them both—as African-Americans.
Zink presses on her readers a strange narrative conceit, albeit one based in a disturbing truth. Racial identity in 1970s Virginia, despite the civil-rights agitation of the time, wasn’t an individual’s prerogative (unless you were white).
As Zink writes, “Maybe you have to be from the South to get your head around blond black people. Virginia was settled before slavery began, and it was diverse. There were tawny black people with hazel eyes. . . . Blond, blue-eyed black people resembling a recent chairman of the NAACP. The only way to tell white from colored . . . was the one-drop rule: if one of your ancestors was black—ever in the history of the world, all the way back to Noah’s son Ham—so were you.”
Anyone who raises doubts as to the authenticity of Peggy and her daughter’s race, such as the registrar at Mireille’s school, quickly gives in to innate prejudices: “The daughter was one of those pallid, yellow-haired black kids you sometimes see. . . . Probably anemic and undernourished—a lot of rural black kids had worms . . . .”
As Peggy and her daughter settle into a community they can’t possibly understand, her estranged husband and their son, Byrdie, float through life as shabby blue bloods, occupied with yacht-club dinners and boarding-school high jinks.
It’s only then that Mislaid reveals its fundamental preoccupation—with the unexpected, grievous intricacies of life in the post-civil-rights-era South. More particularly, it’s an examination of Virginia itself: a resolute bastion of Southern sentiment, a verdant landscape that simultaneously harbors horseback-riding patricians and the nomadic hallucinogenic-mushroom dealers Peggy falls in with. It’s a world of don’t-know-better racism where the school “like[s] to know who’s black so we can help them out with affirmative action and a free hot lunch” and considers a class with only two African-American students properly desegregated.
Zink’s sly banter about these serious topics will leave readers gasping at her insouciance but gripped by the realization that her fiction is not, alas, stranger than truth. Racism is personal and anecdotal, as in Peggy’s father’s pride “because he was descended from a family that sheltered John Wilkes Booth,” but also structural: Lee Fleming’s fight, in his cozy, white world, is with college feminists who want to take over his poetry magazine, while Peggy battles to become the artist she wishes to be in a culture of getting by: “As a writer, she was struggling. As an accomplice to the wholesale drug trade, she was setting new benchmarks for excellence in felony crime.”
Bizarre as its plot is, Mislaid is more damning than any straight-faced, shame-inducing diatribe could be. Changing our attitudes about race is slow and unsteady, as often absurd as it is sad. But evolution in hearts and minds, Zink seems to say, can and does take place.
This article appears in our June 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Washington, DC, is the third-most energy-efficient city in the US, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reported Wednesday. DC finished behind New York and Boston but beat out San Francisco (No. 4) and Seattle (No. 5!).
DC also tops the group's list of most improved cities. The city rose four spots since the last ranking in 2013.
"In the District, we know that being energy efficient is one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve our ambitious energy goals, cut carbon pollution, and create good paying jobs that put more residents on a pathway to the middle class," DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement accompanying news of ACEEE's report.
Energy efficiency, the report's focus, means a building can maintain the same levels of cool and heat or lightbulbs can emit the same amount of light while using less energy than traditional heat systems or incandenscent lightbulbs.
ACEEE focuses on outreach and research to boost energy-efficient policies in the United States. In its biennial report, the organization scores cities in five policy areas: local government operations, community-wide initiatives, energy and water utilities, buildings policies, and transportation policies.
This year, Washington did especially well in the latter two categories, receiving a shout-out for Capital Bikeshare and a perfect score for stringency of and compliance with building energy codes.
Despite all this energy-efficiency optimism, ACEEE says cities still have work to do, especially because data collected by municipalities is "inconsistent, sporadic, and infrequent," which makes assessment more difficult. Though DC's data collection improved from previous years, ACEEE cautions that all cities have room for improvement. But, those green roofs sure are pretty.
Georgetown University professsor John Esposito says he was surprised Wednesday morning to find that the contents of Osama bin Laden's English-language "bookshelf" included a profile of him that ran in the January 2005 issue of Washingtonian. But despite the, um, flattery, Esposito thinks it's very likely bin Laden never actually read the whole thing.
"He may not have," Esposito says.
Esposito, a religious studies professor who has written numerous books about Islamic extremism, figures Washingtonian landed on bin Laden's reading list when some al-Qaida flunky was searching for any reading material that mentioned the 9/11 orchestrator's name. But, Esposito goes on to suggest, bin Laden might have tossed the article aside when he realized it wasn't actually about him.
"What I’d be really interested in is knowing the folks who put this together," says Esposito, referring to the reading list that was first reported by BuzzFeed. "I don’t see bin Laden as giving very specific directions. When this person was throwing this together, he saw there was an article with bin Laden’s name and had an assumption the article was about bin Laden."
Although bin Laden's name appears in the sub-headline of Alvin P. Sanoff's story, the Qaida founder is mentioned only twice in the actual body, because the article was actually about Esposito's rise to scholarly prominence in an era of war against Islamic militants. Esposito, for his part, did read it.
"I was very happy with it," he says. "In 2005 it was a fair read of who I was at that point and what I was saying."
Sanoff died in 2007, but then Washingtonian editor Jack Limpert was pleased with the article, too. "Interesting that bin Laden was that interested in knowing what people in Washington thought of him," Limpert says. "And it was good explanatory journalism. But weird to picture him turning the pages of the magazine."
Bin Laden's "bookshelf" was actually a collection of PDFs. Still, as the article about Esposito was not published online until today, it does make one wonder how a version of Sanoff's story made its way to bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Esposito chalks it up to bin Laden's vanity, going by his work's previous appearances in Muslim countries. During a speech he gave at an American consulate in Pakistan several decades ago, Esposito was interrupted by someone who said, "The president wants to see you!" He was whisked away to Islamabad for a sitdown with then Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, of whom Esposito had written a critical article.
"I went into a sweat," Esposito says. "My presumption was that he read it, but what he was excited about was that his name was in the title. Neither he nor the people around him actually read the piece."
None of Esposito's own work appeared on bin Laden's reading list, but he guesses that if it had, bin Laden might not have liked it if he read it. "The Egyptian government distributed a book of mine to major think thanks and thinkers," Esposito says. "Then someone decided to read it, and they recalled all the copies."
Washington has beat its crackberry addiction, National Journal reports.
In the publication's new study of the communication habits of "Washington Insiders"--a group it defines as "Capitol Hill staff, private-sector public affairs professionals and federal government executives"--only 23 percent reported using the once-ubiquitous devices. That's down from 58 percent in 2012.
Apple has captured most of those poobahs' pockets: 67 percent reported they use an iPhone, up from 38 percent in 2012. Android use ticked up, but not as much, from 19 percent in 2012 to 27 percent today.
BlackBerry still has a higher penetration among DC insiders than among the rest of the US: Only 1.8 percent of US smartphone users reported using the devices in January. Blackberry's advantage among security-minded federal types eroded as Apple devices gained approval to handle data, Alex Byers reported in 2013.
President Obama was, as of last fall, still a BlackBerry user, and he had to borrow an iPhone to tweet from his new Twitter account Monday. (The White House tested some Android devices last year.)
Capitol Hill staffers were most likely to use iPhones, and had the highest rate of BlackBerry usage, too, National Journal found.
Another interesting finding in the report is that a higher percentage of respondents said they had trust in various sources of information than they did in 2012. Back then, 70 percent said they trusted national news brands; that number rose to 81 percent this year. "It’s counterintuitive," National Journal research director Julie Dixon says. The people surveyed "trust each individual source more, but they rely on a greater number of sources."
The people surveyed, the report says, "have largely adopted the mindset of journalists, seeking out and verifying information from a broader variety of sources in order to confidently formulate their own opinions."
An article published about a meeting between Prince Charles and Gerry Adams briefly disappeared from the Washington Post's website Tuesday. The article, with the byline "bangshowbiz.com," included an odd statement that "Prince Charles has always denied he's a member of the IRA."
The Post pulled the piece to investigate it and later replaced it with a correction:
Correction: An earlier version of this story transposed the names of Prince Charles and Gerry Adams. This version has been corrected.
A Post spokesperson tells Washingtonian the paper has "an experimental partnership with Bangshowbiz.com, an entertainment syndicate service, to offer our readers additional entertainment news and updates." The Post "removed this post initially to investigate the issue with the vendor" before correcting it, the spokesperson says.
This is not the first piece of Charles-related content bangshowbiz.com has supplied to the Post. On May 14 it wrote about the prince calling for badgers to die and the next day it supplied a piece about him meeting regularly with British Prime Minister David Cameron. A search for the bangshowbiz.com byline on the Post's site turned up dozens of articles, with titles like "Prince Harry caught a crocodile in Australia" and "Paris Hilton held funeral for Tinkerbell." (Not the Disney character; it was her dog's name.)
Bangshowbiz's website describes itself as "the world's premier entertainment news agency providing the most exciting celebrity news to online, print and broadcast media outlets across the globe," founded by "Fleet Street showbiz columnist Rick Sky" and promises work by a "team of talented journalists writing the hottest celebrity news for audiences around the world and across the web."
"If BANG isn't running a story it isn't worth knowing," the site says.
Washingtonians' taste in vehicles is a lot different from the rest of America. We love Hondas, Toyotas, and premium cars that are classy, but not flashy. We're also an area where people are relying more on greener ways to get around: carsharing, Uber, or cycling.
So what category do you fall in? Are you driving around in a classy Mercedes-Benz, or are you a die-hard cyclist who hates to drive? Take our quiz and find out:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. Notorious RBG, attracted attention Sunday afternoon when she officiated a same-sex wedding in advance of this summer’s Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. The ceremony, between Shakespeare Theater Company artistic director Michael Kahn and New York architect Charles Mitchem, took place at the Anderson House on Embassy Row.
As the New York Times reported Monday, “With a sly look and special emphasis on the word ‘Constitution,’ Justice Ginsburg said that she was pronouncing the two men married by the powers vested in her by the Constitution of the United States.”
It’s possible the justice was hinting at the outcome of the pending court case, where a decision is expected by late June, but it’s no secret where Ginsburg stands on the issue. It’s also not the first time she’s officiated at a same-sex marriage—or at any marriage, for that matter.
Though rules vary by state, Supreme Court justices are able to preside over marriage ceremonies in most jurisdictions. Below, a sampling of weddings that sitting justices have officiated.
- Presided over NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell’s marriage to Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, at the Inn at Little Washington in 1997.
- Officiated the marriage of her friend Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for NPR, and surgeon David Reines, in DC in 2000.
- Became the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony when she conducted the Kennedy Center wedding of Michael M. Kaiser, then the arts center's president, and economist John Roberts (no relation to the chief justice) in 2013. “I can’t imagine someone I’d rather be married by,” Kaiser told the Washington Post. The wedding was just a few months after the court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
- A month later, RBG presided over the DC wedding of public affairs specialist Michael Widomski and food critic David Hagedorn. The couple told the Huffington Post that they had sent Ginsburg a letter after reading that she’d never been asked to preside over a same-sex wedding. On the day the court session ended in summer 2013, she wrote them back, accepting the request “with the caveat that she had opera tickets on the evening of our wedding and therefore had to be finished with her duties as officiant by 5:30 p.m.” After saying their vows, the couple toasted the justice with glasses of whole milk, a nod to the “skim milk marriage” metaphor that Ginsburg used during oral arguments for the DOMA case.
- Officiated former Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s marriage to school teacher Amy Petitgout, in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, in 2011.
- After a spur-of-the-moment request, Kagan officiated the 2011 marriage of her friend Philip Bobbitt, once described as the James Bond of Columbia Law School, and Maya Ondalikoglu, then a student at Columbia Law. The ceremony was held in the justice’s chambers.
- If you’re angling for a Supreme Court wedding, your best bet may be clerking for one of the justices. According to a letter signed by many of Sotomayor’s former clerks in support of her nomination to the Supreme Court, it’s typical for her to officiate at clerks’ weddings. Shortly after her confirmation in 2009, she officiated the wedding of former clerk Danielle Feldman Tarantolo, to Sean Henderson Murray, in an anteroom of the court’s official spouses’ dining room.
- Officiated Rush Limbaugh’s third marriage, to aerobics instructor Marta Fitzgerald, in 1994. The ceremony was held at Thomas’s home in Virginia. Limbaugh and Marta divorced in 2004.