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"You really think a string quartet is going to stop us?" By Harrison Smith
The Spread Love Band just wants to play. Skadden Arp says go away. Photo by Harrison Smith.

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:

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Posted at 01:36 PM/ET, 05/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Originally meant to commemorate Union war dead, its purpose has widened. By Will Grunewald
A stereograph image shows President Grant and General John Logan at a reviewing stand on the first Decoration Day, 1868. Photograph by J.F. Jarvis/via Library of Congress.

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.

An 1885 cover of <em>Puck</em> shows James G. Blaine and John Logan standing next to a grave as Whitelaw Reid places a wreath labeled "To the Memory of Discord." Via Library of Congress.

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.

Posted at 01:15 PM/ET, 05/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Rating has risen since 2013. By Emma Foehringer Merchant
Somebody left the lights on! Photograph via Shutterstock.

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.

Posted at 12:30 PM/ET, 05/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
But DC power types still use them at a greater rate than others in the US. By Andrew Beaujon
Photograph by SGM/Shutterstock.com.

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."

Posted at 05:30 AM/ET, 05/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The District will give out its first film production incentives in five years. By Benjamin Freed
Veep is set here, but filmed almost entirely in Maryland. Photograph by Patrick Harbron via HBO.

Five years after it cut its last check to a Hollywood production company, the District government is finally back in the movie business—for a little while, at least. The city has made $1.2 million in tax rebates available to film and television producers who bring their projects here, the first time since 2010 that the District is offering to underwrite the movie industry.

The District has stayed away from handing out film incentives—which local governments around the country use to compete for the investment of big Hollywood productions—since the making of James L. Brooks's 2010 romantic comedy How Do You Know?, a critical and commercial failure that received $2 million from the DC government when it filmed some of its scenes here. A study released in late 2013 found that for every dollar the District spent on film incentives, it got back only 44 cents.

Since then, almost all of the commercial movie and television business Washington has attracted has been by productions getting quick, establishing shots of the city's skyline or interstitial scenes of fictional presidential motorcades rolling by, while most Washington-set titles do the bulk of their work in states with robust incentive programs. (House of Cards and Veep are filmed almost entirely in Maryland, which will have given the shows more than $60 million between the 2012 and 2016 fiscal years.)

But producers have stayed away from DC for the most part because there are no givebacks from the local governments and because filming in Washington often involves wrangling permits from local and federal authorities. (To say nothing of the fact that audiences and critics often don't end up caring that much when the role of "Washington" is played by Baltimore or Atlanta.)

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Posted at 01:55 PM/ET, 05/18/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
No more parties at the once-popular party house. By Benjamin Freed
The pool at Doug Jefferies's house, currently not listed on Airbnb or any other vacation-rental site. Photograph via Airbnb.

A judge in DC Superior Court ordered local fitness magnate Doug Jefferies to stop listing his spacious Dupont Circle townhouse on vacation-rental websites like Airbnb after numerous complaints that the Q Street, Northwest, residence was operating as an illegal hotel and entertainment venue.

The District government sued Jefferies, founder of Results Gym and Stroga yoga studio, in late April after frequent complaints from neighbors that groups who rented his 5,700-square-foot house used it for loud, heavily attended parties that often dragged into the late hours. The house played host to a May 7 corporate party with more than 400 guests that featured a performance by early-2000s rapper Ja Rule, attracting at least two visits from the Metropolitan Police Department. The suit was made public the following day, and the company that booked the house has said it was unaware of Jefferies's legal entanglements.

In the 125-page lawsuit, the city contended that Jefferies was using his house as a residential housing business, public hall, boarding house, and bed and breakfast without the proper city-mandated licenses. Before yanking it down from Airbnb and similar sites, Jefferies charged $1,200 a night for the six-bedroom house, which includes a spacious game room, multiple roof decks, and a rooftop pool. He marketed it on vacation-rental sites as the “Celebrity House Hunter Mansion,” based off its appearance on the television series Celebrity House Hunting. In an interview with Washingtonian last week, Jefferies said he used revenue from renting the house as often as 15 times a month to finance an international-relief charity he runs.

Judge Maurice Ross ordered Jefferies to stop all business activity at the house, schedule an home inspection to determine whether the house is suitable for hosting group rentals, and if it is, limit groups to no more than eight individuals at a time. Jefferies must also pay $8,000 in fines and obtain the proper licenses if he wants to rent out his house again.

In a press release DC Attorney General Karl Racine mostly tows the line his office put out last week—that the case against Jefferies was about a single house that produced a raft of complaints from ticked-off neighbors. "Assuming Mr. Jefferies abides by the terms of the consent order, this agreement will bring an end to the dangerous, illegal, and troublesome use of this property to host large and noisy events," Racine says.

But Racine's statement continues with a potential hint for everyone else in the District who offers their home on Airbnb. "Today’s action sends a strong message to individuals who seek to unlawfully conduct lodging and entertainment businesses without proper licenses," he says. "Such activity is illegal, is a nuisance to law-abiding residents, and will be investigated."

This could put DC on track to follow the lead of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who said in October that 75 percent of New York City's Airbnb properties were operating illegally.

"If complaints come to us about illegally operated businesses that endanger public safety and operate unlawfully, we’ll check into it and [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs] will check into it," says Racine's spokesman Rob Marus.

Airbnb says it offers regulatory guidance to its property owners in the District, where there are more than 1,000 listings.

Posted at 05:21 PM/ET, 05/15/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Image via Shutterstock.

For the second year in a row the District received the highest distinction for installing the most green roofs in North America, according to a survey by the nonprofit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

The District blew away the competition with 1.2 million square feet installed in 2014. The second place city, Toronto, installed around 775,000 square feet.

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Posted at 02:50 PM/ET, 05/08/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The case could affect many who use the house-sharing service. By Benjamin Freed
The rooftop pool makes Doug Jefferies's house one of DC's most popular Airbnb rentals. Photograph via Airbnb.

The District government is suing the owner of a Dupont Circle townhouse over its frequent use as a lodge and events space booked on Airbnb. The case, filed last week and made public Friday by DC Attorney General Karl Racine, charges Doug Jefferies, known to many as the founder of Results Gym and Stroga yoga studio, with operating a residential housing business, public hall, boarding house, and bed and breakfast without the proper city-mandated licenses.

Much of the suit concerns a year's worth of noise complaints against Jefferies's residence. The 5,700-square-foot house, located at 2220 Q Street, Northwest, is frequently rented out by large groups that use it to host parties that often go into late hours. Among its amenities are a spacious game room, multiple roof decks, and a rooftop pool. While the suit specifically mentions 14 responses by the Metropolitan Police Department for noise complaints, it also reads that police were dispatched to the house more than 100 times over a nearly one-year period beginning in April 2014. The suit also mentions noise complaints that were filed with the mayor's office and DC Council member Jack Evans, who represents Dupont Circle.

An affidavit signed by a neighbor states that a party on April 12 with between 40 and 50 guests went until 3 AM the following morning despite repeated police visits:

MPD returned at 12:30 AM, and asked the host to turn down the music or face the prospect of having the party shutdown. The young man pleaded with them, stating that he “was military” and shouldn’t have the party shutdown because of this issue. Police issue a warning and the party continued with loud music. The young man tells one of his friends that using the military excuse “was a good line” for having sure the party continues on. People in high-octane motorcycles began to leave the party, making a loud commotion.

While the suit against Jefferies leads with the noise violations, it could set a much greater precedent. The case appears to be the District's first against a property owner for doing business on vacation-rental sites like Airbnb, thrusting DC back into the murky legal atmosphere created by the so-called "sharing economy" as it was in 2011 when city officials originally took an oppositional stance toward car-hailing companies like Uber.

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Posted at 11:56 AM/ET, 05/08/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Courtesy of the city's tourism bureau. By Benjamin Freed

Apparently not content with its Forbes-issued ranking as the coolest city in the United States, the District is making another gambit to assert its trendy, youthful image. Courtesy of Destination DC, the city's tourism office, iPhone and Android users can now download a set of DC-themed emojis, those colorful graphics that millennials enjoy using in text messages to replace words.

Among the symbols are familiar landmarks like the White House and Jefferson Memorial, an outline of the District's boundaries, and, in keeping with the latest food trends, a cupcake topped with a miniature DC flag. There is also one that reads "DC Cool," taken from Destination DC's marketing campaign.

However much locals might want to chuckle at the slogan, Destination DC has numbers to back it up. The bureau reported that a record 18.34 million domestic tourists visited the city in 2014 and spent an estimated $6.8 billion while in town.

The emoji set is a free download that integrates with the rest of the phone, but these aren't standard-issue emojis like panda faces and eggplants. To access them, a user must first add them as a keyboard the phone's settings. And instead of being entered directly into the text field, the DC symbols work as "stickers," meaning a user has to tap their selected emoji to copy it to their phone's clipboard and then manually paste into a message.

While bulky and cumbersome, it is kind of neat that you can now send your text buddies the DC flag or an outline of the city's geography in a text. Then again, there's no guarantee the oversized novelty emojis will actually make you seem that cool.

Posted at 05:48 PM/ET, 05/05/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
DC's police operate under more constraints, for one thing. By Harry Jaffe
Photograph by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.com.

Could the civil unrest, rioting, burning, and looting that swept through some Baltimore neighborhoods this week happen in the District of Columbia?

Of course.

It’s possible that a DC cop or US Park Police officer could shoot or abuse a suspect, as cops manhandled Freddie Gray in Baltimore. And the images could go viral, and people could take to the streets.

But that situation is highly unlikely in the nation’s capital, not because we don’t have poverty and heavy-handed police. We have both in certain neighborhoods. But cops here operate under a bureaucratic discipline system that’s more heavy-handed than most U.S. cities.

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Posted at 07:30 AM/ET, 04/30/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()