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Editorials and Opinions

Evil Act at the Tree of Life: Remember These Names

The Oct. 27 attack in Pittsburgh, which shook and shocked the nation, took place in a national political atmosphere already rife and ripe with hostility, violent riffs, debates, rallies and incidents.

John McCain: The Long Goodbye

The presence and participation of the two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was practically an ode to embracing bipartisanship, as opposed to a eulogy for it, as well as a kind of affront to the absence of President Donald Trump.

Remembering APRIL 4, 1968: The death of Martin Luther King Jr.

A bulletin had just come in reporting Martin Luther King’s wounding by a sniper in Memphis. Shortly after, a second flash told the world of his death.

All About Politics: Doug Jones, Mayor Bowser and Ballou High

Should Tuesday, Dec. 12, have been a national day of jubilation? Our columnist looks at the election in Alabama and what comes next, as well as at two issues in the District.

All About Politics: Virginia Governor’s Race

Virginia voters came out in big numbers on Nov. 7 not to vote for Ralph Northam, a Democrat and the lieutenant governor, but to vote against Donald Trump.

2 of the Best Things About the U.S.

Over the past week, scenes of incredible rescues and help for victims by volunteers during the storm of the millennium in Texas reminded me...

The Music and Life of Prince: Beyond Category

When news came April 21 of the death of Prince, the 57-year-old  rock-funk-jazz-soul ageless music dynamo through the course of the day and night, the response here in Washington, D.C., seemed especially electric and full of shock. A Hispanic bank teller looked unbelieving and asked, “How, when, what happened?"  A black woman, pacing back and forth, replied, “Today, this morning . . . We’re losing our icons. He was an icon. I mean whom do we have left?” As his name, given to him by his father, another Prince and musician, indicated, he performed from the get-go as some kind of special royalty — not in any kiss-the-ring fashion, but in a way that set him and his multitude of gifts apart. He was an original, who could play all the instruments that any sort of music required. He was a gem and something of a genius, a songwriter, a movie star in his own movie based on his life, a live performer who was brazen, colorful and full of color, a thin, small African American who cast a large shadow on America’s music.  He was a chameleon of independence. He changed bands, identities and clothes, styles and ways of walking and talking and writing.   To America’s black funkadelics and soul-searchers, this was a hurtful loss because it seemed to come out of nowhere. The cause of his death — he was found unresponsive in his Minneapolis compound — has yet to be determined, although there have been rumors and speculations swirling that he had several days ago perhaps overdosed on the highly addictive pain killer drug Percocet and that he had been in serious pain for some time due to hip problems and the fact that religion forbids the blood transmissions required for such surgery.   Whatever the cause, the end result will be only sadder for all the loss. To youthful and also memory- and music-driven African Americans, his death is a heavy blow, every bit as painful as the deaths of the legendary Whitney Houston — and perhaps more to the point, Michael Jackson.  Prince embraced — and then often improved upon, and  certainly embellished just about every form of American pop music that he encountered.  He jumped into those waters gleefully, confidently, even arrogantly early on and just stirred and muddied the waters, singing with a certain rawness about sex and love, and also a adding a considerable amount of soul-searching content, especially in “Purple Rain,” which was the title of his best known album and a movie about himself in which he starred. The film grossed around $80 million — not a bad outing for the times and for what it was, plus an Oscar for musical score. The youthful generations of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s embraced him, including young white people, while others were baffled by him and underappreciated him. That could include many of us who didn’t bother to explore the depth and range of the body of work which placed him — and continues to — in the top ranks of rock, pop, soul and jazz musicians.  Some folks scoffed at his attempts to put almost every kind of music into one album, or one song—but he did it anyway. Duke Ellington’s phrase “beyond category” appears created for him. He pressed issues of his identity — including his much speculated-upon sexual identity. On stage, he managed to project a kind of direct, male sexuality that could also be at turn androgynous, driven by a feel for costume and style, and his forays into high-pitched vocals.  Girls — and boys — loved him. Boy George claimed he had an affair with him, but then so did some high-profile female sex symbols like Kim Basinger and Madonna.  His appeal seemed to defy category, gender, ethnicity and race, while embracing all their aspects. His younger self party-inducers were explicit. In his later years, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness and toned himself down a little.  He seemed always to be searching: so much so that for a time he dropped the name Prince and instead went by his own love symbol symbols or as “the artist formerly known as Prince,” partly in a fight with his record company. The musical beat this year has been darkened by sadness. The world has lost David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles and recently one of country music’s most authentic voices, Merle Haggard. And now, Prince, and doves cried.

Primarily Yours: Past New York to California — But Time for Home, D.C.

It looks as if we’re going to be in for another round of non-stop political noodling, Trump-o-mania, Hillary-Bernie battles, and who will clinch the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. It will be presidential politics 24-7, right up to the California primary in June which ought to settle things — if they haven’t been settled by then. The roller coaster ride, which once used to feature a whole slew of candidates, but now contains only three Republicans and two Democrats, begins, well, yesterday. As far as Donald Trump is concerned, he’s won already, which is maybe why his victory speech sounded a little like a national victory speech.   In the big New York primary for both parties, Trump won 60 percent of the vote in the Republican race, leading him to claim that Ted Cruz was technically eliminated.  This isn’t quite true, but let’s face, when you finish third in a race to John Kasich (I know, we forgot again) as Cruz did, your chances are on life support.  Hillary Clinton also did well, stopping the onrush of victories that Bernie Sanders brought to New York . She won convincingly, with 57 percent of the vote. Sanders had 42 percent, which, while not entirely crush-worthy, was impressive for her and disheartening for the Bern, who had thought — as did the polls and the media, which dashed out a 52-48 exit poll — that he would do better here, what with the proximity to his home state and such.  But New York is Clinton’s home state, too.  The more Sanders won, the more he seemed to lose.  This was also the case with New York.  If you look at a map of the counties in New York, he won almost the entire state — except for the big urban areas, except for New York City jurisdictions. Now, we’re off and running — five major primaries will be held next week in Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut.   This will spark — as it already has — another round of speculation, predictions and the meaning-of-it-all articles like this one.  The media — and this is especially true of the television media of all stripes — and objective non-objective persuasions have been reduced to cheerfully congratulating themselves on being wrong every time out when it comes to the fate and progress of Donald Trump.  Some weeks past, when Cruz won an unlikely victory in Wisconsin as well as Colorado — victories which sparked a Trump cheating tirade which he’s never entirely abandoned — the media had Trump finally stopped, wounded, all but derailed and predicted that soon enough the mysterious GOP establishment would rally around Cruz or the other guy, whomever that might be. Didn’t happen.   Trump did a showy reshuffling of his staff, added some veteran strategists, a mixed bags of effective pros, old-timers going back to the Dole campaign, foreign policy advisers that included Cold War warriors and so on.   He made some policy speeches that did include complete sentences and were read from prompters.  Gone were all but a few rallies and clashes with demonstrators and free-wheeling claims about history and events that did not happen.  True, he whined about the delegate system, saying it was rigged. This was like a guy cleaning up all the chips, and claiming that the other guys had cheated. Of course, the danger of an ur-Trump who doesn’t behave like Trump is that he may become boring.  His victory speech was something like that: Trump light.  “Huuuge” has been replaced by “amazing.” Gone was “lying  Ted,” replaced by Senator Cruz who, of course, doesn’t stand a chance any more.  Trump will still get rid of Obama-care. He’s still going to make “amazing” deals, with the help of other dealmakers like him. “The economy, we’re going to fix it. It will be amazing, you watch.” The idea that Trump — and less so Clinton — might sweep the next batch of states is not as viable as it might sound, especially since that’s what media types are positing.  They have been known to be wrong.  Pennsylvania is not New York, and neither is Maryland, for that matter. Trump's message to the forgotten working class will resonate in troubled mid-sized cities like Scranton, where for a time “City in Crisis” seemed like a permanent headline in the local newspaper. The thing of it is we’ll be talking Trump morning, noon and night again.  Trump said the media was wrong about his chances, but added, “I don’t mind. As long as they keep on talking. Just keep on talking.” Maybe Washington, D.C. — the center of the world, not necessarily Trump’s world, at least not yet — will escape the political immersion that will visit other states and cities.  This time of year, there are other things happening here that reminded you that there is a life after primaries and elections.  This time of year, we’re invested in modest and celebratory things like house tours, and the not so modest operatic extravaganza of Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Kennedy Center, which begins the same night of the also im-modest and out-of-touch-with-the-reality-of-daily-life White House Correspondents Dinner. This dinner and parties before and after are where elected officials, the Washington establishment of politicians and media go kiss-kiss without trying to bite each other.  That other surreal world showing up at those parties will be the denizens of Hollywood — at the tables and on the red carpet. Daily life here is different in the city and in the neighborhoods removed from Trump and Clinton land.  Here, we have neighborhood parties and neighborhood issues — liquor licenses in Georgetown, a homeless shelter plan for all the wards still being chewed over, a June 14 election which may see the return of  Vincent Gray to the District Council at some point, no matter what the Washington Post may opine.   We live in a city that is still defined by the people who live in it, although we live in a rapidly changing city that is also redefining its demographic identity.    We have a mayor who is faced with the unusual task of making prosperity work for everyone.  We live in  a city that still has little or not enough say in some of its critical concerns — such as its budget, guns and civil rights. But we live in a city of people, nonetheless, a city that, besides its monuments, has some unique qualities that are common to small towns and the great wide world all at once.  I was present at a celebration, a Sunday afternoon party in Adams Morgan attended by a group of people that fought long and hard and won a zoning battle on the issue of pop-up housing projects.  There was music by a rock band headed by a veteran diplomat, playing “Mr. Tambourine Man.” There was beer, paella, strudel and conversation about dogs and neighbors and schools and crime and news of an impending grandchild. There were, as it were, dogs and children present, and the realization of neighbors and neighborhood. More recently, on the evening of the New York primary, there was a musical offering with the aid of the Embassy Series of Chopin and Jewish prayers at the Embassy of Poland, commemorating the 1943 uprising of Jews against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, fought bravely by Jewish resistance fighters. The uprising failed militarily but triumphed morally in history.  There were Holocaust survivors in attendance along with the writers and diplomats. There was a lighting of menorah candles, and the music was as sweet as spring incense. Now, that afternoon and that evening were amazing.

Nationals Home Opener: It’s Not Just the Game. It’s the Community

The Washington Nationals lost their home opener to the Miami Marlins 4-6 on Thursday, April 7 — after both an exciting opening day program and a rain delay. The loss will be dwelled on for a day or two, and analysts will debate what went wrong and why the Nationals couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position. But the game itself is unimportant — there will be 159 others this season to discuss and break down, many more exciting than this one. This opening day was about celebrating the community that makes baseball so special. Prince William County, Virginia, police officers Jesse Hempen and David McKeown threw out the honorary first pitch in front of a crowd of more than 40,000, the memory immortalized for them in the baseballs signed by pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. On Feb. 27, Hempen and McKeown were injured while responding to a domestic altercation. Their colleague, Officer Ashley Guindon, was also shot and fatally wounded in the incident. She and first responders Officer Jacai Colson, Officer Noah Leotta, Lieutenant Kevin McRae and Officer Brennan Rabain were remembered in a moment of silence before the game. In collectively remembering the slain first responders, in hearing the crowd chant “MVP” as Bryce Harper emerged from the dugout, in watching young kids with their gloves on eagerly awaiting a foul ball, we are reminded of how this sport brings people together. Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia joined Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lynn Lanier down on the field. After he received his MVP award and a Silver Slugger award, Bowser presented Harper with a key to the city, a symbol of how much this team and its success means to Washington, D.C. Fans left work early, braved narrow and congested streets and rode Metro’s crowded Green Line to see their team begin the 2016 quest for glory. Anyone who read the weather report knew it would rain and the game would most likely be delayed. They came anyway, and they celebrated together. The emcee announced that this day was the beginning of “our annual right to hot dogs and high fives” (a right you can enjoy for the bargain price of $6.25 per hot dog!). He called this season’s mission “our one pursuit.” Our. Baseball is a business. It’s about making money, selling tickets and hoping for the ultimate payoff in a World Series title. But it’s also about uniting fans behind something that inspires them. It’s about making sure that the community that supports the Nationals can count on the team to have their back on and off the field. It’s about the feelings of hope and possibility that come with every new season. That feeling could be captured during a special moment yesterday. The sun was shining brilliantly as it does after rain. The United States Army Chorus Quartet sung “America, the Beautiful,” whose words rang throughout the stadium: “O beautiful for spacious skies …” The cast from “Jersey Boys” at the National Theatre then sang, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem, joined to baseball more than a century ago in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The songs ended. The crowd roared yet again. The umpires arrived. Play ball. [gallery ids="102404,122609,122634,122624,122618,122630,122585,122577,122561,122569,122593,122601" nav="thumbs"]

Another Anything-Can-Happen Season

All the harbingers of the season — cherry blossoms, the city of trees alive with fresh buds, Easter and the end of March Madness — have already come and gone. But the coming of spring really means nothing until the baseball season has begun. More than any contemporary sport, baseball still relishes its association with hope and the season. The traditional retort “Wait until next year” follows the failure to make the playoffs or win a division flag or the World Series — not an NBA title, a gold medal, the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup. It ignores not only a losing season but insane salaries, drug tests and bad behavior, instead savoring the spirit of Ernie Banks, who said: “Let’s play two.” Ernie never complained (and never won a World Series). Baseball fans — old and young, past, present and future — go against the modern grain because they trail with them, more than fans of any other sport, the baggage of yesteryear. It’s not just statistics, though baseball fans and sports writers are probably more obsessed with data than hedge fund managers, inventing new categories (see Wins Above Replacement) of achievement or failure every year. It’s a kind of tribal memory that blankets every city worthy of having a team. For years, for instance, the Boston Red Sox lived not only in the shadow of the New York Yankees, but also of the Curse of the Bambino, whereby Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest power hitter in the history of the game, was traded by the Red Sox to the Yankees. For decades, the Sox remained without a World Series title. To collector of mementos of good fortune and misery alike, whisper the name Bill Buckner and see what happens. The Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004 (in improbable fashion, trailing the Yankees 3-0 in the playoffs, winning four in a row, then sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals). But the Chicago Cubs haves not been so fortunate, having failed to win a World Series since the first decade of the last century. Guess who’s favored by many to win the World Series this year? The Chicago Cubs. This is not necessarily a good sign. Guess which team was favored by many last year? The Washington Nationals — who suffered a strange, inexplicable collapse after the All-Star game and failed to make the playoffs. But baseball hope springs eternal. At least one Sports Illustrated writer has the Nats winning the World Series, and a number of others have brash outfielder Bryce Harper, who sports a millennial beard and haircut, repeating as NL MVP. (If those initials mean nothing to you, you should perhaps stop reading.) The Nationals, who brought baseball back to Washington, have already built up enough history to create a tribal memory of sorts, one of per-usual expansion-team defeats, but also of never-fulfilled expectations. That is the way of baseball. These things hurt in a way that knowing Dan Snyder still owns the Redskins does not. The Nats already have a history of two playoff losses that defy explanation, wound the heart and survive as bar talk. In today’s world, there are as many explanations of how the Nats lost those games as there are regional beer brands, which is a lot. Like no other game, baseball has the beauty of endless hope. It has no clock, and therefore anything can happen and quite often does. Time is not an enemy and not a friend; it barely exists except as a backdrop where things like a 22-inning game can occur deep into the morning, where a kid brings a glove to the game in hopes of being the one — out of 30,000 people — to catch a home-run ball. If it’s one hit by Bryce Harper, it will be a treasure. Harper, who will be playing on a team that also includes relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, who very nearly strangled him in the dugout last year, is one of the game’s superior two young naturals (the other being the much more well behaved but equally lethal Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels). Anything can happen at a baseball game. Two years ago, I was present at an opening-day game in which often wounded pitching ace Stephen Strasburg pitched a shutout and Harper hit two home runs — the kind of game which, if it had been the seventh game of a World Series, would have made many fans feel that they could die and go to heaven right then and there. Hope springs eternal. Come next Thursday — the exhibition game doesn’t count — it starts all over again.