The Outsider

In the not-for-the-faint world of D.C., you do not exist politically if you are not loathed by at least one group. But David Frum is in an elite category – he is hated by both sides of the fence. A stalwart speechwriter of the W regime, no friends on the left. Then excommunicated by the right when he dared to suggest that Republicans were blowing it in their blind opposition to the healthcare bill, a posture he has maintained vociferously regarding the current Republican posture on the debt ceiling, “you don’t play chicken with default.” “Yes, my views put me in a minority these days,” he admits bedecked in a blindingly white jacket befitting the tropics that have descended on D.C. But what ATM was curious about is how Frum, lawyer-schooled-journalist-resumed-formerly-White-House-employed, turned being suddenly on the outside into something of a personal media empire. His website, Frum Forum, has become the voice of the less uncompromising (but not necessarily moderate) right, he is omnipresent as a political analyst for CNN, he gives about 20 speeches a year and he is finishing up his 7th book – this latest one a novel about D.C. In the age of the new media, Frum has done what so many are trying unsuccessfully to do. He has created an identity on the web, attracted readers and kept people’s attention. And he doesn’t want to talk about it. “Media is the plural of medium. Medium is just the conduit. It is like wanting to talk about electricity – you want to talk about where it comes from and how; not about the poles and pylons. We are pylons.” Instead, what Frum wants to talk about is his fear; his fear that well-meaning people in power are about to drive this nation off a cliff. “Frum Forum is not about making money, it is not about me. It is about responsibility. My goal is to be heard. We have the responsibility to be heard. To be part of the conversation. And I think we are.” For an hour, despite repeated determined ATM attempts to steer the conversation to his journalism pedigree (he worked as a freelance writer in Canada, as an editorial editor for the Wall Street Journal and is the son of one of Canada’s most famous journalists), Frum deflects the attention from himself to why he is doing all this media. Each thrust at discussing his empire is parried into a guided tour of some of today’s most intransigent political issues adding shades of grey and the occasional primary color to the issues being hashed out in public in black and white. Global distribution of wealth is indeed skewing to the ultra-rich. That is wrong but just taxing the ultra rich will not work because they will always find a way around it. Rather than take away from one side let’s find a way to help the other – for example in the last 20 years we have reduced crime plaguing the poorest citizens. Today’s financial issues stem not from war but from the voracious leveraging a relatively few bad loans (multiple bets being made on the same few chips). Unfair to blame Obama for the economic woes even if you don’t like how he is handling them. The country is not as partisan as it seems – the current angry tone is rather the product of Congressional rule changing and gerrymandering. Our system of government cannot work if the “opposition” just exists to oppose. Party affiliation should play no role in local community politics; candidates should stand on their personal integrity. For the self-made outsider (“I am still firmly a Republican”) who put the words into the mouth of a president so loathed by many, here was the surprisingly considered discourse that we all claim we pine for. In Frum’s world, those who disagree are not depicted as lepers to be despised or worse and hence banished to a desolate wilderness; rather their ideas might be viewed as wrong but not mean-spirited. “Are you at least having fun?” There is a pause on this. The thought of fun seems to have not occurred to Frum. A journalist turned pol who is now the journalist-pol, why wouldn’t this be fun? He has a website, a following, a voice that is being heard, if not always welcomed. The pause lasts a bit longer as he seems to search for something hidden in a corner. “Our current situation is too perilous to be having fun.” Frum seems to have forgotten that today’s evolving new media has reached a stage of the cult of personality where individual Twitter feeds, blogs and even by-lines are increasingly about the self. And his self has a higher profile today than ever before, partly because he seems to relish sticking his finger in so many eyes. Yes, that should be fun. And yet there is the distinct sense that Frum would be just as happy, perhaps happier, if he didn’t think his voice was needed quite as much right now.

Web 2.0, I remember that…

It was not so long ago that the buzz in media was all about Web 2.0 – the sharing, the interactivity. It seemed so stimulus-fresh. And now, like the stimulus, it now seems to have been such a good idea – back them. But 2.0 doesn’t even have a Facebook page! So what is the media buzz now. Web 3.0? Sorry numbers, you are out of fashion, too. The word today is Mobile. We are, apparently, all Goin’ Mobile. Not just tweets, or texts – everything is mobile. Mobile is your 2.0 “on you.” And it’s not just the iPad or the tablets or the next generation of smart phones which are really mini-tablets (the new Samsung has a 4.65 inch screen, almost as big as some old televisions…. remember those?). It is what those micro devices do. With new free mobile apps like Audioboo, which allows you to record and post audio or QIK which does the same for video – you are your own walking production studio. It was barely pre-Obama that “remember when you made calls on a cell phone?” was the “haha” moment. Laugh no more. AT&T’s latest promotion: free calling when you sign up for a texting plan. Texting is where the action is – talking is so Neanderthal (and not worth charging for, apparently). So a thought… just like National Public Radio changed its name to NPR because it is more than radio, perhaps it is just time to drop the phone – as in “Have you seen my new cool Smart?” And if journalists were not having enough fun over the last few years, this means yet another shift. Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the Washington Post, noted at recent conference at the University of Maryland that the problem with journalists today is they do not respect the readers. He didn’t mean it in the traditional fashion of “we shall decide what you need to know.” Instead, he was referring to a more sophisticated concept of producing content in a way that reflects how readers are consuming news. His example was a great story with a dynamic opening tale that lost its readers because they had to swipe seven screens before they got to the point of the story. Some are already predicting that the stationary computer is already obsolete. But for all us dinosaurs out there, it is good to know we can still roar, even if unconvincingly. In a delicious twist of timing, this Halloween, NBC rose like the undead and inaugurated a new newsmagazine, Rock Center - designed to be a fresh “60 Minutes.” Stacked with a pantheon of legends such as Brian Williams, Ted Koppel and Harry Smith, true giants of the network age, it felt like an old-timers game. They wrote the book – in their day. Note to Mr. Williams: leave the banter to your Twitter. Comedian/journalist John Stewart turned up for the end of the show and summed it up. “This is why you have test shows.” But can it go mobile?

The Daily Caller: Leaving Bruises

In the book and then movie Money Ball, a contrarian baseball general manager defies the sport’s orthodoxy to build a winning team, if not a champion team. Welcome to the journalistic equivalent: the Daily Caller. Founded by the orthodoxy-dismissing journalist Tucker Carlson, of the old CNN Crossfire, MSNBC and later Dancing with the Stars fame, and his college roommate Neil Patel, the two-year old online publication delights in its sharp elbows and its unconventional style. Certainly the legacy media reaction – that the Daily Caller is more up-start than Start-Up – couldn’t please its founding figurehead any more. He relishes in discomforting the comfortable, as he did with his hiring six months ago with David Martosko, a man with a blunt style, no formal journalism experience and a track record as a PR hit man for conservative causes. And yet, they both exclaim, look at the numbers. “Somebody out there likes us,” referring to the online unique viewership that has exceeded 3.5 million a month – beating the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. But what is most interesting about the Caller today is not the is-it-or-is-it-not a right-wing political rag as common consensus proclaims; what is interesting is that it has staked its place on the edge of journalism. From the kinds of stories and the willingness to call out names (the publication is a politically equal-opportunity burner), it has the feeling of a place in a hurry to get some sharper elbows back in the journalism fight. Its offices in at L and 17 certainly feel like they are in a hurry. The Caller’s home is more bullpen than newsroom, and looks like it was furnished from a used office furniture warehouse, encircled by a few offices and a ping pong room complete with a working keg. It’s the journalistic equivalent of an Internet start-up, which it is – a journalistic Internet-start-up. And just two years in it’s very close to profitability, according to Carlson. And despite a few regrettable journalistic faux pas, they are pushing themselves onto the dance floor, breaking stories and relishing in doing anything journalistic that will make the old school wince. But in an adamantly journalistic fashion. The focus, editor Martosko says, is to cover politics in a way that non-political junkies will find “compelling.” But the non-journalist Martosko loses that mischievous smile of someone about the pull a prank when he starts to talk about how they do that. While, he says, they are intent on throwing out the old tactics, the Caller is more committed than ever to accuracy and objectivity. Carlson adds “truth and fearless. All, I hope, with a sense of humor.” Many are not buying it and question the Caller’s term, “objectivity,” (they milked the Congressman Weiner story in a way some called unseemly) and some complain their headlines tend towards the National Enquirer. Tucker dismisses the criticism with “the beauty of journalism is everyone gets to judge and vote with a cursor. And our traffic keeps going up.” But perhaps the biggest mark they may be arriving at is a recent long, critical article that appeared in the new Beltway bible - the Politico. Better to be attacked than ignored. There have been mistakes, and Carlson says there will likely be more but they try to correct them as quickly as possible. But so far there have been none of the cataclysmic journalistic disasters of the type that have befallen the Post and the Times over the years and which many in the traditionalist ranks hope befall the Caller. Some pointed out the staff turnover when Martosko arrived as a sign of real journalists fleeing the sinking ship, but in many ways the former PR-maven seems to embody exactly what Carlson is trying to do. Martosko brings that “make sure it grabs attention” ethos from PR and a guerrilla mentality that the Caller needs to produce more, more quickly. He proudly points at the near empty bullpen as evidence that he reporters and editors are out reporting. (An author’s note – The Daily Caller is a client of the Medill Graduate School of Journalism’s DC News Service where ATM is a professor.) And Carlson is just getting started. His self-professed grandiose goal is to replace the media that is dying – the average daily newspaper that is “crap.” And this fall, the Caller staffed up a video team that it hopes will add videos as pugilistic as its words. There are no checked swings from this ball team, and it’s not clear whether Carlson or Martosko would mind if some furniture got broken in the process. Author’s note: The Daily Caller is a client of the Medill Graduate School of Journalism’s DC News Service where Amos Gelb is a professor.

Ari Shapiro & Pink Martini

If the world had a house band, it would be Pink Martini. This 12-piece band from Portland can perform in so many languages that it was no surprise when Srgjan Kerim, the former president of the United Nations’ General Assembly, ordered 30 copies of Pink Martini’s second album, "Hang on Little Tomato," and planned to share it during an official UN meeting.   Bandleader and pianist, Thomas Lauderdale, says “Pink Martini draws inspiration from the romantic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s or ’50s . . . with a more global perspective.  We write a lot of songs, but we also champion songs like Ernesto Lecuona’s “Andalucia” or “Amado mio” from the Rita Hayworth film “Gilda” or “Kikuchiyo to mohshimasu (My name is Kikuchiyo)” made famous in the 1960s by the great Japanese group Hiroshi Wada & His Mahina Stars. In that sense, we’re a bit like musical archeologists, digging through recordings and scores of years past and rediscovering beautiful songs.” Lauderdale met China Forbes, Pink Martini's lead vocalist, while they were both in Harvard.  Three years after graduating, Lauderdale called Forbes who was living in New York City and asked her to join Pink Martini.  They began to write songs together for the band.  Their first song “Sympathique,” with the chorus “Je ne veux pas travailler” (“I don’t want to work”), became an overnight sensation in France and was even nominated for “Song of the Year” at France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards. “Both China Forbes and I come from multicultural families,” says Lauderdale.  “All of us in Pink Martini have studied different languages as well as different styles of music from different parts of the world.  So, inevitably, because everyone has participated at some point in the writing or arranging of songs, our repertoire is wildly diverse.  At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment you’re in a French music hall of the 1930s or a palazzo in Napoli. It’s a bit like an urban musical travelogue.  We’re very much an American band, but we spend a lot of time abroad.  And, therefore, have the incredible diplomatic opportunity to represent – through our repertoire and our concerts – a broader, more inclusive America, comprised of people of every country, every language, every religion.” Pink Martini has performed its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Australia, New Zealand and North America.  Pink Martini made its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 and its orchestral debut with the Oregon Symphony in 1998 under the direction of Norman Leyden. Since then, the band has gone on to play with more than 25 orchestras around the world, including multiple engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the Boston Pops, the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, and the BBC Concert Orchestra in London.  In 2011, Pink Martini performed at the Kennedy Center and at the Strathmore in Bethesda.  Unfortunately, China Forbes could not make either trips since she was recovering from vocal surgery.  She's been performing a few shows since then, however, including the time when Pink Martini was on Jay Leno's show. For most of the year, vocalist Storm Large filled in.  She has the voice worthy of singing the multi-lingual songs that Pink Martini has basically trademarked, and she can grab your attention with her sultry moves and playful old hollywood vibe. Despite their differences in style and personality, Storm Large worked very well on stage with Ari Shapiro. When Pink Martini performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center earlier this year, Ari Shapiro, the White House correspondent for National Public Radio, also made his Washington, D.C., debut.  Shapiro has been moonlighting with the band for the last couple of years.  He is included on the band's fourth album, "Splendor in the Grass," as a guest vocalist on the track, "But Now I'm Back," as well as the band's holiday album, "Joy to the World".  When he first glided on stage at the Kennedy Center, there was a bit of surprise from the audience.  "Yes, I am Ari Shapiro,"  he quickly quipped to the crowd. "And you don't look like what I expected, either." While living up in Portland and before he even had a driver's license, Shapiro actually snuck in to see a Pink Martini performance.  In the following years, Lauderdale heard Shapiro's voice and invited the reporter to sing with the band.  Shapiro made his on-stage debut at the Hollywood Bowl in 2009.  Being NPR's White House correspondent surely has its perks like being on Air Force One and spending time with the president. Still, with Shapiro's GQ looks and silky butter-itone voice, he most definitely belongs on stage.  In an ironic twist, radio killed the video star. At the Strathmore, Shapiro performed several songs on stage with Storm Large and Portland cantor Ida Rae Cahana.  In addition, Pink Martini also brought out a special guest: Japanese singing legend Saori Yuki, whom Lauderdale introduced as the “Barbra Streisand of Japan.”  And Saori Yuki did not disappoint.  In Pink Martini’s latest album, “1969?, Saori Yuki is the lead singer in most of the songs.  In the album and also during the performance, Saori Yuki sang a Japanese version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” as well as a Japanese version of “White Christmas.” Lauderdale explained that it was only recently that “White Christmas” was allowed to be performed in Japanese.  Considering what happened in Japan in 2011 with the earthquake and that the performance was one week removed from the 70th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor, the significance of her performance was felt by everyone. Since 2007, author Walter Grio has raised more than $100,000 through his philanthropy photo project, Shoot for Change, which has benefited numerous nonprofit organizations.  He is a regular attendee at the world renowned Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, Berlin, and Miami, photographing the fashion runways of many of the top designers in the world.  When he’s not taking photos, he works full time managing software implementations for Oracle.  For the record, he has seen Pink Martini perform in Paris, London, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and in a couple of New Year's Eve shows in Portland.  He thinks they're all right.

NPR: Eyes on the Prize

There is a new level of irony in Juan-gate at NPR. Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss, who spent nearly three decades at NPR, recently "resigned" over the issue, and for CEO Vivian Schiller withholding her bonus. Journalist Juan Williams, whose mishandled firing led to these actions, built a career on brilliant journalism, including a nomination for a Pulitzer and his seminal work on civil rights in “Eyes on the Prize.” The irony is that his case has become a distraction from keeping the eyes on NPR’s true prize. Lost in the accusations and responses about a news organization gone awry is the bigger existential threat to NPR. Although NPR’s listeners are abundant and loyal (bigger than the combined nightly network broadcasts by some measures), and its endowment flush, we should remember that Vivian Schiller took over an organization with a business model that is fundamentally broken. Schiller’s task is nothing less than reinventing the NPR business. Here is the problem. NPR is not a broadcaster. For all its own fundraising and other undertakings, it relies heavily on local public radio stations to pay to air its programs. But NPR sees a major part of its future online. Yet if the “big money” broadcasts, such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered, are put live online, then there is no reason for listeners to tune into local stations or their websites to hear them. Obviously, that would eat into the listener loyalty to, say, WAMU (DC’s public radio station) and effect how much listeners will feel compelled to send into the legendary pledge campaigns, which make up a sizable part of their annual budgets and ability to pay NPR’s fees. Furthermore, these local stations control NPR’s board, a development after the stations saved NPR from shutting down in bankruptcy in the 1980s. Schiller has a history of building new successful media business models, from CNN, to Discovery-Times documentary network, to leading the New York Times newspaper into its current online incarnation. But this is her biggest challenge yet. To be successful at NPR, she needs to find a way to reconcile seeming mutually irreconcilable needs and get the local stations to go along. Withholding her bonus and forcing management changes because of this one personnel issue doesn’t help in that crusade. NPR has long had a checkered past in its handling of human resource issues. But wherever one stands on Juan-gate, if you are in any way invested in NPR’s existence, there is a far bigger prize to be focused on today. Survival. [gallery ids="99586,104913" nav="thumbs"]

The Player: Linda Levy Grossman

Linda Levy Grossman is reviewing photos for this article with WTOP’s Bob Madigan and me at RIS restaurant. Grossman, the Helen Hayes Awards president and CEO explains one of them. “We wanted the recipients of the awards to have something that would distinguish them,” she says. “One of the staging assistants brought out Victoria’s Secret bags and I said, ‘I’m going to tell you right now, on behalf of the Helen Hayes awards for all you recipients: you’re all going to get lei’d.’” Winners received, “lovely 68 cent leis from Oriental Traders – no expense was spared,” she says, as we laugh. “The Victoria’s Secret bag cost more.” The night when the organization bestows awards on the finest actors in DC – this city’s answer to the Tony’s – is one of Grossman’s most inspiring and challenging ventures. “Immediately after the presentation the curtain comes down and I’m wandering around and hearing people say, ‘Gosh. I wish I had seen that,’” she recalls. “And I ask myself how can we lasso that energy and get them to the theater?” The evening brings out the verve and creativity with which Grossman pilots the organization at the helm of the region’s performing arts. But it also demonstrates her demanding mission. While she sees more than 100 shows each year, she strives to ensure others also invest their money and time. The Evolution of Helen Hayes For the last year and a half, she has been working with consultants on a Compass foundation grant to identify the 27-year-old organization’s true potential. A major focus: to translate her oft-quoted challenge of putting “butts in seats” into a loftier goal of branding. The CEO of two years wants to define Washington theater like Broadway or the West End. “Before you go to London or New York you think: What am I going to see when I get there,” she says. “Imagine visitors coming here to go to the theater.” The evolution will encompass changing the communications, strategy, governance, programming, staffing, funding and name of the organization (although the award’s will remain unchanged). It will build on the core functions that have helped expand Washington’s 20 niche theaters to today’s vibrant 79 since she joined Helen Hayes. Grossman has spent more than two decades supporting the group, including 13 years on the leadership team. Yet she is modest about her accomplishments, unlike her friend and sometime co-worker, Olney Theatre Centre Producing Director Brad Watkins. “The Helen Hayes Awards have really created the engine for the expansion and growth of the theater industry in Washington DC,” Watkins said in a phone call. “It is that sort of a central linchpin that has given such focus to the arts that allowed companies of varying size to flourish." In its new guise, the organization will continue to promote a culture of theatrical excellence and provide a stamp of achievement to those who shine. The $1 million organization will expand their advocacy for the arts, cultivating new audiences and building on an education program that has already introduced 40,000 children in District public schools and Boys & Girls Clubs to the magic of the theater. That project has special resonance with Grossman. “I respond to that program so personally and am so enthusiastic about it because I was one of those children whose life was literally turned around by a teacher,” she says. Childhood Dreams The Baltimore resident aspired to become a pediatrician in the 11th grade, approaching it with trademark, if misdirected, enthusiasm. “I was the poster child for future doctors of America,” she announces. “I volunteered in hospitals, I was a candy striper, I audited classes in medical school, I saw surgeries.” Yet despite flagging interest and dropping math and chemistry grades, she didn’t know how to alter her ambition. That changed when one class she enrolled in was filled and she was reassigned to a speech class. “That was a pivotal moment in my entire life,” Grossman says. Ms. Ann-Michelle Bennett, the speech and drama teacher, saw potential in the shy and awkward teenager. She assigned Grossman to stage manage all the year's productions. The newly directed and confident Grossman followed her idol to Emerson College, graduating with a degree in theater. She came to DC after graduating, joining Harlequin Dinner Theatre a few years later. She worked long hours as she promoted the local touring company, living in a Germantown condominium development on a cul-de-sac with three coworkers. “Linda was a culinary genius,” Watkins recalls. “Every now and then she would make wonderful, incredibly complex dinners that were far beyond what our unsophisticated palates could appreciate. We thought we were Knot’s Landing.” The Harlequin led to other jobs, and she eventually ended up freelancing at the Helen Hayes. Over the years, Grossman has done virtually every backstage task—building sets, running light boards, stage managing, hanging lights and sewing costumes—as well as all deskwork, from communication to development. Not surprisingly, Grossman exposed her son Benjamin to the theater at an early age. But her aspirations for him revolved around her desire for devoted care and the continued status as the most important woman in his life. “I wanted him to be a gay dentist,” she quips. “He assures me he’s going to be neither, to which I say take a knife and stick it in my heart and turn it.” Four years ago, after stage managing Shakespeare productions at Imagination Stage, Benjamin applied to the Baltimore School for the Arts, making his ambitions clear. “I thought he would be an audience member,” she says. But Benjamin corrected her misconceptions. “You’ve been taking me to the theater since I was two,” he told her. “You honestly think it wouldn’t have taken?” True Appeal and Potential To make it ‘take’ for others, she has to win time from popular and often heavily marketed pursuits like Facebook, television and movies. As she puts it, a theater ticket is “a purchase that is perceived to be risky, that is perceived to be expensive, that’s perceived to be something that ‘if I don’t like it, it’s two hours I am never going to get back.’” However, she is working to combat this stigma. “There are phenomenal ticketing opportunities. It’s incredibly accessible. It’s two hours - take a risk. It’s not electronic. It’s alive, it’s real and it’s true.” For some people, plays already hold huge appeal. Surveys show that theater and art attendance tends to be shaped like an hourglass: more shows in the later teens and 20s, a drop as people raise families, and a resurgence as they come back in their 50s and 60s. The graying of the audience is a helpful trend for theater. But young audiences are a challenge, as education programs demonstrate. “When we talk to kids, we say, ‘Who has been in a theater?’ All the hands go up. Great. Tell me what you saw…and they refer to various movies. “Then we ask, ‘Who’s seen live theater with real people on a stage acting out a story, a play, a musical?’… Not one.” But programs that go behind the scenes generate long-term enthusiasm from these first-time audiences. Grossman would rather “under-promise and over-deliver” on the new organization. Yet she dreams about its potential impact. “It could double the number of people who are currently in Washington theaters from 2 million to 4 million,” she says. “It could provide health insurance for actors and artists. It could more efficiently connect the about 130 education programs that are offered by area theaters with kids in area schools through the region who desperately need them.” She pauses as she searches for a sufficiently dramatic word. “It could be dazzling.” Click here to listen to the interview with Linda Levy-Grossman February 23rd Interview with The Player Linda Levy-Grossman by Bob Bob Madigan, WTOP Radios Man About Town 103.5 FM

Media Watching: A Competitive Sport

As the cherry blossoms drop, All Things Media thought it might be worth taking a quick look back at the year in media so far. Only four months you might say, but what a four months. Media-watching is the latest competitive sport in town, with more subplots than a daytime soap. In the same time it took Sarah Palin to be Trumped, the Washington Media Scene has put on a fireworks display. TBD was MySpaced. SiriusXM emerged from its merger cocoon and is starting to beef up again on New York Ave. Bloomberg and Politico are rapidly becoming even more dominant players in the DC media scene and doing most of the hiring. The formally local AOL is now the Huffington Post Media...or is it the other way round. Our very own WTOP is declared the most profitable radio station in the country, throwing a monkey wrench into arguments all news radio is dead. The traditional 10,000lb gorrila of local media, The Washington Post, publishes an article implying its parent company is putting its journalistic independence at risk because its most profitable business – the Kaplan for-profit education division - relies on government loans. And then there are the sneekers: AOL’s Patch and Examiner.com (a cousin of the local paper by the same name) are both growing, online news organizations devoted to our local scene. All while local legacy media, such as this newspaper and the Current Newspapers, are becoming even more invigorated. Chinese news services plan to bring 100s of jobs to DC to improve their coverage of the US, and the recent performance of Al-Jazeera English in the Middle East turmoil may finally give it the kind of attention in the US it has been trying to develop for five years based on its DC regional hub. Reality TV has helped turn cupcakes into pastry Google. Voice of American just announced a new director. The New York Times built its own Berlin Wall. The FCC ended last year by issuing arguably one of its important decisions in years that will force open the internet to all, and Congress immediately denied funds to implement the new policy. And we are only just getting started. It may be unsettling, very unsettling, trying to make a living in this environment. But it is certainly fun to watch. Stay tuned.

The Joint that Joynt Closed

I cannot quite work out whether boarded windows on arguably the most prestigious corner in the most powerful city in the world hint at promise to come or forlornness for the passing of what had been. And what had been was a focal point of Georgetown: Nathans. The bar and restaurant on the corner of Wisconsin and M Street seemed to have been there forever, and for many regulars and others anchored in Georgetown, it was a neighborhood staple. “Happiest day of my life when it finally closed,” said Carol Joynt, the last owner. I was not sure what to expect her to say of Nathans closing almost two years ago now, but a hand slapping “all clean” was certainly not it. Joynt is no longer the owner of Nathans. She is no longer the successful booker for CNN’s Larry King Live. She is no longer even a career journalist (although she does write a society column for a New York online mag). And if you take her at her word, she would walk away tomorrow from this neighborhood that she helped define and that, in no small way, has defined her. She points to the last page of her memoir she is promoting with every bit of her acquired media skills as professional booker and rolodex-builder. “Moving On,” she noted. Her next home could still be DC, she admits, but it could just as well be any other city where she takes a job. So this is what it is to watch an era pass—the era that Joynt and late husband Howard Joynt defined from the top rung of Georgetown society. It was an era that Carol defines as one of local culture, small unique shops and local restaurants. “It had its own flavor,” she said. And Nathans anchored the corner of the main drag. Howard first ran Nathans, then Carol. However, she said, “It began to end with the building of the mall [The Shops at Georgetown Park], and then all the chain stores.” “Georgetown unique” gave way to brand-name chic. Nathans gave way to perhaps the Apple store as the place to be in Georgetown. But you won’t see Carol fretting over the loss of her restaurant, “Owning Nathans was a nightmare I would not wish on anyone.” Joynt has a reputation for being tough, and she needed every ounce of it to get through everything that happened upon the early passing of her husband. Her memoir recounts twenty years of the bruising, painful slide from living the good life to beating back the IRS after her husband left her to pick up the pieces of his sins . But even in freefall, Joynt brought her own brand of media to D.C., creating the signature Q&A Café, first at Nathans, and now at the Ritz Carlton down the street, where Georgetowners can pay to eavesdrop as Joynt talks with many of the biggest names to sweep the media. From television news anchors to the inimitable Salahes, Joynt still has the pull to get A-listers to come to her, but that pull may still be the memory Nathans. It is clear as she sits at Leopold’s Restaurant, casting looks at a haughty waiter as only a restaurant owner can, that Nathans was hardly her last act. It was Nathans, not she, that stopped breathing. In that, her memoir is an allegory to the slow death of that era when the legacy bar’s and private clubs were the place to be. It was the old Georgetown. And Joynt is clearly caught between that past and the future, in one breath severing the importance of Georgetown to her identity, and in the next diving deep to conjure up that time, defined by the Control Board and D.C.’s halting steps to be an adult city. It was a time when, at Nathans, everyone knew your name. And everyone in Georgetown knew Carol Joynt.

Bed Bugs: Learnings from the Little Ones

A teenage George Washington quickly abandoned an infested bed in the Shenandoahs more than 250 years ago. Today, area residents of all ages are jumping in their jammies. This region is already among the top ten areas hit by the recent bed bug infestation, and it’s predicted by an exterminator president to approach the notoriously overrun New York City in a year or two. Denizens disturbed by the news, a.k.a. “Attack of the Blood Sucking Bugs,” should take something FROM the creatures for a change. A Little Perspective: Tell a formerly infested acquaintance that you might have bed bugs. She’ll gasp in horror and drop urgent work and needy kids for you, her new top priority. Bed bug crises were likely atop her and many others’ list of the year’s “Ten Worst” as they lost time, health and sleep in taxing bug battles. In the past, those pests were more common. But they were less commented upon. Poverty, war and acute hunger relegated bed bugs to a smaller part of the daily struggle for those in World War II concentration camps, Toronto homeless shelters and Freetown refugee camps in Sierra Leone. Even now bed bugs strike everyone, but they have a penchant for the poor despite their infrequent travel. So, for many of us, appreciation is in order. Commitment to Fight for Freedom: As horrifying as the experience is, the bugs disappear from many Washingtonians’ homes in just weeks with proper treatment. For many, the hundreds to thousands of dollars – explicitly excluded in home insurance policies – is costly but affordable. Not so for others. One third of DC children live in poverty (defined by a family of four earning less than $22,000 a year). Sixteen percent of kids live in families earning half that, leaving no money to spare, according to Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow. The DC government and private landlords are usually responsible for vermin issues, but often unresponsive. Many of those families devoutly scour and clean – an approach woefully ineffective in wiping out rodents, rats, and roaches from multi-unit housing. Ridding bed bugs may pose an even tougher challenge. Given the cost and complexity of eliminating them from apartment buildings, two kinds of property managers could emerge, says American Pest President Matt Nixon: “People who knock bed bugs back enough to rent the unit and those people who want to completely eliminate the problem.” Legislation pending in New York, like requiring landlord disclosure and mandating home insurance options, seems to solve only part of the problem. So stay informed and active on the issue. Save Your Stigma - The intense secrecy surrounding bed bugs may be true to the city’s huge defense presence. Tenants don’t disclose to landlords fearing reprisal, and infested individuals are silent with schools, offices and friends for fear of the stigma. Landlords sign confidentiality agreements with exterminators and may not confide in their tenants and shoppers, fearing lost revenue and liability. But such secrecy might speed the spread and deepen the shame. Destigmatization comes from awareness, education and time. The DC government has launched a public service announcement and held training. More effective than such campaigns is often the coming out and commitment of a celebrity, like Magic Johnson with AIDS. The infestation affects places more than people, so maybe the insect icon will be a building. Victoria’s Secret temporarily shuttered a Manhattan store, and high-end Bergdorf Goodman is being patrolled by bed bug-sniffing beagles. Until then (and after), be open and accepting. Plan to Declutter: Bed bugs – and all vermin – love the dirtier living conditions and hiding places that come with clutter. While cleaning up won’t prevent or reduce an infestation, it could slow the spread and facilitate treatment. Americans accumulate piles of paper and mounds of mish-mash. Adorable tchotchkes and a “really great deal” make them weak in the knees. Abroad, a more minimalist aesthetic often prevails despite less space. And in Europe, biking and walking to stores often eliminates overloading as an option. Shopping and splurging makes sense, of course, but be smart about it. Professional organizers would advise such strategies as ditching one clothing item for each purchased, and cleaning different home areas periodically. Avoid the graphic pictures of teeming bed bugs. But think about the how we can protect our sanity and our community to create constructive change from the critter crisis.

Stewart-Colbert Rally

These photos provide a sampling of the estimated 215,000 people that attended a rally organized by Comedy Central talk show hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Saturday October 30, 2010 on the Washington Mall. (All photos by Jeff Malet www.maletphoto.com) [gallery ids="99379,99395,99396,99397,99398,99399,99400,99401,99402,99403,99404,99405,99406,99394,99393,99392,99380,99381,99382,99383,99384,99385,99386,99387,99388,99389,99390,99391,99407" nav="thumbs"]