On Easter weekend in Washington, the president became an avatar of spring, a burdened man who still led the way, like a pied piper, to greet spring with joy and a burst of activity. In Washington, the tourists, too, are our avatars of spring, dropping out of the sky as the cherry blossoms did their magnificent thing. But President Barack Obama showed the way, taking himself and his family not across the traditional way to St. John’s Episcopal in Lafayette Park but out to Southeast and Allen Chapel AME Church for an Easter service. The visitation at a church, very much like the one he used to attend in Chicago, moved the congregation, the ministers, deacons, women, men and children there to the core. This is an area of the city where shootings are a regular part of the daily diet of woes that includes astronomic unemployment and a feeling that political leaders, from the mayor on down, had forgotten them. But the president had not, and by attending and interacting, although not speaking, he brought with him — besides the circus of Secret Service and gawkers that go with him everywhere — some measure of renewed hope and energy. “This is a monumental moment for us as a community,” Church pastor Rev. Michael E. Bell Sr., said, as reported in the Washington Post. Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, a frequent visitor, and Mayor Adrian Fenty, not so much, sat quietly. The president, like us, like the tulips, like the tourists, embraced spring, and dove into its duties with gusto — jump-starting egg hunt races at the White House were thousands of guests brightened up the lawn and the day afternoon on Sunday. No doubt, he forgave the children for getting a bigger kick out of teen rock star Justin Bieber, who sang and performed. Later, he headed to the Nationals Ball Park, donned a red suit, and threw out the first pitch, a lob to the left, proving again that basketball was his game. On YouTube, you could hear a lone boo somewhere, but this was no tea party. This was baseball, the season initiated by the president, and the fans, who bring hope and begin their spring-summer-early-fall-to-October daily ritual of perusing the box scores as if they contained the baseball equivalent of Bible verses. And that was spring in Washington, where the president lives by our leave, as do we. The Nationals, by the way, lost the opener 11-1, which does in no way diminish the fact that many, many games remain.
-Since November 2008, Georgetown University has met with community leaders and residents more than 10 times to discuss ideas and share information relative to the University’s proposed 2010-2020 campus plan. Unfortunately, and to the disappointment of everyone engaged in this process, the proposals discussed at the latest meeting on April 26 yielded little agreement on two primary points: graduate enrollment proposals, and on-campus housing for full-time traditional undergraduates. The University’s 10-year plan does not propose any enrollment growth for full-time traditional undergraduates or medical students — the two student groups most likely to live near campus. It does propose modest growth of 104 nontraditional undergraduates — a group that includes students not likely to live near campus, such as commuters, veterans, students over 25years old, and second-degree nursing students who have returned to school. The plan also includes targeted growth of 2,475 graduate and professional students. Critics of the plan have predicted dire consequences if this growth is approved. They claim this will lead to a new market for graduate group housing. We believe these concerns are unwarranted. 1370 of the new graduate students would come from the School of Continuing Studies which attracts professionals with full-time jobs, families and homes outside the surrounding area. The average age is 31 and, in 2009, only 77 SCS students lived in ZIP code 20007. The other graduate programs are projected to grow by 1095 over the 10-year period of the plan. The total number of graduate students living in ZIP code 20007 has remained relatively constant since 2000, even as enrollment increased. In West Georgetown, the number went from 75 in 2000 to 58 in 2009. Again, in 2009, only a fraction of the graduate students in these programs reported living in ZIP code 20007. Their average age is 28, and many live alone or with one other person. Our decision not to build additional on-campus undergraduate housing came after serious study and consideration. Because we can currently house 84 percent of the traditional full-time undergraduate population on our campus, and we aren’t proposing to increase this population, we felt that our resources are better focused on athletic, library and student activity facilities. Moreover, the last few 10-year plans have focused largely on additional student housing, adding nearly 3,000 beds to campus. In relation to these proposals, our plan acknowledges and includes proposals to address traffic caused in the area by graduate students arriving after 4 p.m. It also includes proposals to strengthen off-campus programs to enhance the University’s ability to manage the impacts of students who live near campus. Georgetown University’s campus plan is an honest and informed assessment of the institution’s needs and objectives that reflects a genuine interest in collaborating with our neighbors toward the betterment of our community. Over more than two centuries, the University has made significant contributions to the economic, cultural, intellectual and social fabric of both local neighborhoods and the larger Washington, D.C. region. These relationships are an important part of our identity and tradition and we take our role as good citizen seriously. It is with this in mind that we have developed our 2010-2020 campus plan. We invite everyone to read it and contact us with questions or concerns. For more information, visit community.georgetown.edu/campusplan.html. Linda Greenan Associate Vice President for External Relations Georgetown University --- On Monday, April 26, Georgetown University presented their final campus plan for 2010-2020. Without substantive changes, the plan is bad for the community and the District of Columbia. GU’s 2010-2020 campus plan doesn’t resolve existing objectionable conditions and will continue to negatively impact the surrounding communities. Specifically, GU states it plans to add 3,205 additional graduate students from 2009 to 2020, reaching a total graduate enrollment of 8,750. Currently, approximately 1,130 graduate students rent in ZIP code 20007 and, using GU’s numbers, we can reasonably project that at least 465 more students will seek housing in the nearby communities. This enrollment increase is likely to result in an increase of rental group homes and further compromise the housing stock and character of Georgetown and Burleith. We also have significant concerns about the University’s enrollment projections, since GU has greatly exceeded the enrollment numbers that it presented to the community and to the D.C. Office of Planning back in 2000, when it predicted a graduate student total of 3,873 in 2010 versus 6,275 actual students today. Nothing in the plan addresses the impacts of the wrong projections set forth by GU in the 2000-2010 campus plan submissions. Community improvements and neighborhood conservation are nowhere to be seen in the plan. Instead, GU is planning to build 80 apartments and demolish townhomes on the 1789 block. This block was added to the campus in 1973. Finally, most issues raised by the community have been ignored or addressed by palliative solutions. The D.C. city council adopted a new Comprehensive Plan in December 2006; it became effective in March 2007. According to the Comprehensive Plan, D.C. encourages the growth of universities in a manner that 1) supports community improvement and neighborhood conservation, 2) discourages university actions that would adversely affect the character or quality of life in surrounding residential areas, 3) requires campus plans to address issues raised by the surrounding communities, 4) encourages on-campus housing in order to reduce impacts on the housing stock in adjacent communities, 5) promotes the development of satellite campuses to relieve growth pressure on neighborhoods. Georgetown University has been an integral part of Georgetown for many years. It’s an important and reputable academic institution. They plan for longer than just 10 years. The question for all to consider is how we, as residents and voters, GU, the city council and mayor envision the future of our neighborhoods. GU cannot grow to the west or south and they are left with only two options: comply with the Comprehensive Plan and help improve our neighborhoods, or keep increasing growth pressure on adjacent communities, which could ultimately turn Burleith and Georgetown into college towns. GU should reduce the number of students in the residential areas (starting from GU-owned homes outside of campus), re-adopt their goal of housing 100 percent of undergraduates on campus, desist from demolishing houses on the 1789 block, limit new construction to administrative offices, commit not to increase emissions from their smokestack, limit the traffic and parking impact on the neighborhood and link all enrollment increases to housing availability on campus. Visit www.cagtown.org to learn how you can help ensure responsible growth for our neighborhood. GU Relations Committee Citizens Association of Georgetown
-Remember that big, rollout announcement that the Washington Teachers’ Union and Chancellor Michelle Rhee had finally reached an agreement on the teacher’s contract? The pact announcement was a big feather in the caps of both Rhee and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who are joined at the political hip in their quest for reforming District schools. So what’s happened? Well, nothing, sort of. The pact, which would need to have the approval of CFO Natwar Gandhi and the city council, as well as ratification by the teacher’s union membership, remains in limbo. The problem — actually, make that problems, are: Among other things, the pact calls for 20 percent pay increases over 5 years for the teachers. Part of that money was supposed to come from private funding, the rest from DCPS. Except it appears — and appears is the operating word — the money isn’t there. Not according to Gandhi, who’s also objecting to the private funding. Initially, Rhee had stunned everyone by announcing that there was a surplus in the budget, which led to a lot of acrimonious revisiting of the firing of nearly 300 teachers last fall. But Gandhi says there is no surplus, and that there is, in fact, a deficit. Both Rhee and Gandhi testified last week, but could only offer uncertainties. Councilmembers complained that no one seemed to have a handle on the numbers. Gandhi complained that the private funding comes with unacceptable conditions and allows the funders too much control. Rhee and some council members blamed the CFO’s office for not providing accurate numbers. Union leaders fretted over the confusion, which holds up a contract vote. All parties are searching for ways to cut the DCPS budget, and to find additional moneys. Meantime, there’s recrimination — again — blame gaming and confusion. That’s certainly not a healthy way to conduct either contract negotiations or budget planning.
-To the editor: I generally look forward to useful and interesting information regarding local real estate in your publication, but was surprised at the similarly dismissive responses from Darrell Parsons to consecutive readers' questions, published in the 24 March 2010 "Ask the Realtor" column. Responding to a reasonable question from Tenleytown's Norma T. regarding recommended areas to focus her house improvement investment, Mr. Parsons seemed to go out of his way to avoid the question, while instead offering a rebuke to the reader, basing his negative remarks upon his own assumptions. Mr. Parson then added a bit of unsolicited interior design advice. Maureen C. of Cleveland Park provided another chance for Mr. Parsons to make assumptions, while he again ignored the reader's central question, which in this instance was about house design. Sight unseen, Mr. Parsons first assumed the price range of Maureen's home, then suggested (twice) that she reduce her asking price! Although I can certainly appreciate Mr. Parsons personal experience-based point of view, I can't help but empathize with the readers, as they might have hoped for a more sensitive ear and positive direction. My suggestions might seem novel to the realtor: First, respect your readers, and if making any assumptions, assume that the readers are taking the time to ask because they really seek advice, and not because they wish to be made an example of Mr. Darrell's assumptions and following conclusions, or that wish to be entertained rather than informed. Second, when tempted to provide advice outside one's area of expertise, refrain, and instead provide the reader with a referral to a knowledgeable professional who might better address the reader's concerns. If a question requests facts regarding return on investment, answer that, and leave the interior design advice to interior designers. If a question is about house design, perhaps a referral to an architect or residential designer would be more appropriate. Just as realtors hope to enjoy referrals from other professionals, realtors should know that sometimes, the best way to serve is through a wise referral to, or consultation with, someone who can directly address an issue. In summary to Ms. T., Mr. Parsons promises future answers, if the readers can just "hang in there", and signs off: "Good Luck!" I can't wait. Shawn Glen Pierson Georgetown The author is the founder of Architétc, a D.C.-based architecture and design firm. --- Dear Mr. Pierson: My answers to readers are subjective of course, but they are offered with the utmost respect and sensitivity to the situation of those asking the questions. Of necessity, the length of the answers is limited by the amount of space which can be devoted to these written answers. As a result, the answers are not as thorough as I would like them to be, and a certain amount of generalization is required. I can see that this might come across as making assumptions and/or being insensitive, so I will be more tuned into that as I answer future questions. One of the downsides of writing rather than speaking face-to-face is that voice inflection and facial expression are left out. In answering Norma T., I was attempting to inject a little humor in the response. I can see that the “humor” came out like a bit of a smart-aleck. Not my intent, of course. Despite those things, my basic underlying advice is sound, and is very clear that it is important to have the work done by appropriate professionals. I disagree that suggesting neutral colors is straying into the area of “interior design advice.” As I re-read my answer to Maureen S., I can see that she might have received my comments as dismissive. What I intended was to give her reassurance that though her house hadn’t sold yet, she shouldn’t despair, because it is taking longer for properties to sell in this market. Unfortunately, I had to guess at what she meant by “unusual design.” That required either a generalized answer or making more assumptions than I had already made. However, my attempt at relating her situation to music still raises a valid point. The more “unusual” a house is, the narrower the field of potential buyers. I did not suggest that she redesign her property, or that one design is better than other. My answer had to do with getting her house sold, and it is a common observation that a larger percentage of buyers are not looking for houses with unusual designs. Regardless of the state of the real estate market, when the potential buyer pool is smaller for a given property, it takes longer for that property to sell. This could be related to floor plan, exterior appearance, paint colors, amenities, or any number of other possibilities. My comments are not, for example, about the relative value of one color paint over another, but rather that there is a much larger field of potential buyers for a house painted in a “neutral” color than for one painted in bright orange. Skilled realtors know this sort of thing, and part of their job is to communicate it in a sensitive way to sellers. I welcome any further comments or suggestions. Darrell Parsons The author is a Georgetown-based realtor and is the author of our biweekly "Ask the Realtor" column. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.
It was a turbulent week in the world, the country and Washington. We saw a spreading oil spill and the sight of birds covered in oil. We saw grossly wealthy bankers raising their hands to testify blankly on Capitol Hill. Grief continued for a murdered teacher, the storms of heated political battles built locally over disputed school funds and nationally over immigration and financial reform. Through all that week, the life-affirming passage of Dr. Dorothy Height, a kind of coming-out and going-up processional celebrated all over the city, steadied this community and shone the light on the best of humankind and the best kind of human being. The life of Dr. Height, the renowned leader and champion of civil and women’s rights who passed away the previous week at the age of 98, was remembered, memorialized, and finally enshrined all week, not with great grief and sorrow, but with stories, music and warm, fond memories. The passage took place among the gatherings of her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters at Howard University. It took place on a day full of people who stood in long lines for a long time at the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women on Pennsylvania Avenue, the organization which Height had led with ever-increasing effectiveness and influence for decades. The journey continued at Shiloh Baptist Church in Shaw of a Wednesday evening, where over a thousand people gathered, many of them aging figures from the civil rights movement of which Height was a critical, if often unacknowledged, member. That night, the spirit was as big as the sound made by a huge choir, and it was proud with memories and with the presence dignitaries, from the Clintons to the King family, to local luminaries. And finally, people filled the pillared depths of the National Cathedral for her funeral, with President Barack Obama, the brisk-walking, living fulfillment of her dreams, the first black president of the United States, delivering a eulogy, calling her “Queen Esther to this Moses generation.” All these places comprised the world she lived in, prodded with her insistent courage, made better for African Americans, for women, for all of us, with a dignified, moving-forward persistence of will, and unchallengeable moral vision and embracing, graceful warmth. These places were signifiers of sisterhood, of calling and profession, of duty and accomplishment, and, here in Washington, of community and the home that she made here. If the Shaw church celebration rocked with music the final stop had a more stately cadence. The National Cathedral is the church of the nation, where, by ceremony, service and prayer, a person is certified as belonging to the ages. Not that Dorothy Height needed verification. If many Americans did not know her fully or enough, every one in the pews, front back and center, knew her, many with real memories of her. Reverend Willie T. Barrow, chairman of the Board of the Rainbow Push Coalition in Chicago, called her “my mentor, a pioneer, she led the way for all of us. She led the way for civil rights, and women’s rights, our rights. All of us are forever in her debt, because she was there long before there was such a thing as a civil rights movement. Yes, she was.” Virginia Williams, herself something of a pioneer in many fields, including music and being an unofficial mother for the District while her son Anthony Williams served two terms as mayor, said “she towered over everybody. She was the guiding spirit of the fight for justice.” A woman at least two or three generations removed from Height who had worked with her said that “we all learned from her: never stop, keep on moving forward, fight hard, don’t quit. She had that fighting spirit and she had grace.” President Obama said she was always welcome at the White House. “And she would come over. She came over twenty times.” “She was born when slavery was a living memory, and she fought for justice when nobody else did. She was humble. She didn’t care about credit. She belonged in the pantheon. ” “She was a righteous woman,” he said. Poet Maya Angelou recited a psalm, opera great Denyce Graves sang and the Clintons were there, as were the Cosbys, boxing promoter Don King, a portrait in flags and bling, senators, congressmen, mayors and movie stars. Her nephew, Dr. Bernard Randolph, remembered meeting her in New York where she had come to stay with their family. He recalled a stirringly gifted young girl and was admonished to be “at our best behavior” for Miss Dorothy. It was a bright sunlight, stately morning, and it was as if Dorothy Height, with all her long life done, had come into the light of glory for all of us, revealed for all the things she had done in her life, for all to see. The moment might have been when gospel legend BeBe Winans moved through “Jacob’s Ladder” as if it was lament and salve, all at once: “After you’ve done all you can … you plant your feet, and square your shoulders, hold your head up and wait on him,” he sang. “After you’ve done all you can, you just stand.” It’s what Dorothy Height did all her life, squared her shoulders, stood up. At the end, everybody stood, and there was this sea of hats. Glorious hats. Dorothy’s hats. Purple, black, large and round, imposing or flirtatious. There was a movement of sisters in hats of all colors, feathery and strong all the same at once, exiting down the stairs, some to touch the funeral car, walking past a prophetlike Dick Gregory, out into the sunlight. You could hear women’s voices, girl’s voices and hats, standing on the street corner and at bus stops, young and old, talking about Dorothy Height come to glory, looking forward. [gallery ids="102604,102597" nav="thumbs"]
Say, you might ask, whatever happened to the teacher’s union contract? What happened to that $34 million-dollar deficit or that surplus that wasn’t there? And how are Chief Financial Officer Natwar Ghandi and DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee getting along? Last time we looked, things looked mighty confusing on the budget front. Rhee and Gandhi were arguing while testifying before the city council on money matters, Gandhi arguing a) there wasn’t any surplus and b) he wouldn’t sign off on control by parties providing private funding. But now it seems everything, we’re happy to say, is fine and dandy. Sort of. On May 11, the Washington Post, the District schools and the mayor reported that the city was set to fund the teachers contract, its pay raises, retroactive and current. That agreement, which would cause $38 million in cuts elsewhere in the District budget, would pave the way for an eventual teachers’ union members vote on the contract, worth $140 million. Mayor Fenty, Rhee and Gandhi appeared together at the announcement to give the appearance of unity. The solution of cuts in the budget, shifting of stimulus funds and private funds at a later date, appeared okay with Gandhi. The agreement must now await a rank and file vote by union members. Meantime, Rhee has been busy. She announced that she will double the number of senior managers for public schools in the form of “instructional superintendents” with salaries ranging from $120,000 to $150,000. She also announced recently that DCPS would be hiring 400 new teachers. But some answers still remain hazy. Where is all this money for new hires coming from when just a week ago we heard so much talk of surpluses that weren’t there and deficits that were? If it comes purely from budget cuts, lauded as the perfect stopgap, the District will still pull funding away from public programs on an already spare pocketbook, and just might find itself in a similar pecuniary pickle down the road. The mayor’s solution may not be as elegant as he would have us believe, and it warrants closer scrutiny. [gallery ids="99130,102678" nav="thumbs"]
In the 1980s, Lena Horne, a pioneer, legend and star in her mid-60s, put on a one-woman show called “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” which became the longest-running solo performance in Broadway history. She brought the show to the Warner Theatre in Washington, and if you had the good fortune to experience it (and that’s the right word), you got the essence of Horne, and a pretty good idea of what courage and perseverance were required to succeed in America if you happened to be black or of mixed race parentage and if you happened to be born early in the last century. Horne brought all of her life experience, her humor, her still-burning bright beauty, her vocal abilities and her shazam style to the performance. She sang her signature song “Stormy Weather” twice during the course of the night. “I was young when I first sang it,” she said, and sang it right there like a naïve, lovely young girl, and sang it again, all the stormy weather she had experienced herself at full throat. “This is me now,” she said. Horne came from a mixed marriage, and was married at one time to Lennie Hayton, a top conductor and arranger at MGM when the studio’s musicals where American landmarks. When it came to civil rights and racial history, she was a little like Zelig, being everywhere: she was a Cotton Club chorine, she was both famous and half visible as an MGM starlet and star, including Vincente Minnelli’s “Cabin in the Sky” and “Panama Hattie,” in which she sang “Stormy Weather.” She was in numerous MGM musicals, but her roles tended to have the position of production numbers, which could be cut if the films where shown in the segregated South (and they were). In the 1940s she worked with the controversial and politically active singer and performer Paul Robeson, a man of huge gifts and anger. She made United Service Organizations tour stops (where German POWs were routinely seated in front of African American soldiers), a task at which she balked. She took part in the dramatic civil rights marches of the 1960s and sang on behalf of the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP. Her music, once she stopped making Technicolor movies, was beyond category, beyond jazz and completely enduring. She recorded well into her 80s. Through all the trials and tribulations, the difficulties that were part of her life, she never succumbed to such shallow notions as complaining. She just kept on doing what she loved, stood up tall, and was dazzlingly emblematic of class, as in classy, as in first class. [gallery ids="99131,102679" nav="thumbs"]
I recently had a ringside seat to some of the best in political theater. (To be precise, I wasn’t actually “ringside” but in the center of the ring in the photographer’s pit, and my “seat” was the floor.) I am referring to the separate hearings this month on Capitol Hill between members of the Senate and prominent figures from Wall Street and the oil industry. These hearings represented but another chapter in the century’s old tug-of-war between advocates of free markets against those pushing for stronger regulation. Earlier chapters were punctuated by the breaking up of the big corporate trusts by Teddy Roosevelt, and the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a response to abuses that precipitated the Great Crash of 1929 (and the subsequent Depression). Both of these measures provided firm underpinnings for the long-term health and growth of our economy and society. Today, after an extended period of relaxed regulation and government oversight, another major reexamination is certainly in order. The behavior of Goldman Sachs and BP was predictable. The officers of any corporation owe their allegiance first and foremost to their shareholders, and their goal is to maximize profits to those shareholders. Nothing implies that these corporate goals have to be consistent with the American public interest. BP, of course, is primarily owned by foreign shareholders. But much of the American public would be surprised at the large degree to which foreign interests own shares in most major American-based corporations. And many do not appreciate that the oil BP will produce in deep water, for which it pays minimal royalties to our government, is destined for the international oil markets. The pollution that these wells produce, of course, stays right here in the USA. Goldman Sachs derives much of its profit from its trading desk, where many believe it uses its market-making position to unfair advantage and to the detriment of its customers. Many of these activities, while creating profits for Goldman Sachs, provide questionable benefits to the overall economy. It’s all about accountability and responsibility. An economy functions best when resources are optimally allocated, so costs to the environment must be born by the polluters. Unfortunately, ethical behavior on Wall Street often takes a back seat to the allure of big money. To quote James Madison, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Some have argued that our fragile economy cannot tolerate further regulation, but the opposite is certainly true. The author, a former mutual fund manager, contributes photographs to The Georgetowner and The Downtowner. [gallery ids="99132,102684" nav="thumbs"]
Ever feel that the times are even stranger than you imagined, full of confusion and peril? In other words, you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or move to a cave? Let’s take the recent 10-5 vote by the Texas Board of Education to do a little attitude readjustment when it comes to school textbooks. Apparently fearing that these books, which are often taken up by nationwide textbooks, have gotten way too liberal of late, they’ve trimmed, cut and added to have kids learn more in line with their way of thinking. Some historical topics that were bandied about: Jefferson Davis’ inauguration speech — the one where he assumed the presidency of the Confederacy — should have equal standing with that of Abraham Lincoln’s. Or that capitalism should be referred to in books as free enterprise — a cause already espoused by most conservatives who see the very same free enterprise under attack from the Obama administration. Wait, there’s a little bit more: the new textbooks will downgrade Thomas Jefferson’s standing as a philosophical founding father, will refer to the United States as a constitutional republic, not a democracy, suggest that the founding fathers actually did not believe in the separation of church and state, would refer to the slave trade as more of an economic, world transaction, elevate the historical significance of Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schaffly, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association, and make a martyred hero out of Joe McCarthy. It’s one thing to add things and subtract things, to move this one up and this one out. But it’s quite another to rewrite history altogether, with little basis in fact. To put, for instance, Lincoln and Davis on an equal footing is to misunderstand the Civil War altogether. To downgrade Thomas Jefferson to the point of near invisibility is to skew the founding of our country wildly. And yet, the vote and the ideas behind this could reflect the political white noise that’s heard all around the country these days, a lot of it stemming from a populist rage that’s sick of politics as usual and afraid of big government all at the same time. There’s genuine anger here, but also irrational fear of what lies ahead. It’s true, of course, that before the advent of Reagan, a certain revisionist tone crept into national history and social studies textbooks. But talking about and studying the plight of Native Americans as they faced the America’s westward push, or studying slavery or the Civil Rights movement, or labor movements or women’s fight for equality were issues that were not about ideology, but about invisible or neglected historical facts. It may be a fact that there were Communist spies in the United States, but McCarthy’s ruthless and self-serving use of his committee’s investigative powers was decidedly unheroic, and created a country-wide atmosphere of fear. Many of our early settlers here came to escape religious persecution than proceeded often to persecute their co-religionists, including Catholics. There was a good reason that the idea of separation of church and state made up part of the thinking of founding fathers. The Texas school board members who voted for the textbook changes don’t just want to fill gaps or add missing information. They want to rewrite history or expunge parts of it. Instead of burning books, they want to turn them into conservative fairy tales.
Dennis Hopper Dennis Hopper, the iconoclastic Hollywood actor who died of prostate cancer last week at the age of 74, was famous for his groundbreaking, very un-mainstream ’60s movie “Easy Rider,” which he both directed and starred in. One or two things you can say: Hopper’s life was no easy ride, nor was he easy to work, live or fall in love with. Any number of mainstream Hollywood directors, ex-wives, shrinks and, no doubt, some drug dealers could attest to that. Yet Hopper was a flaming original, a balls-out rebel, whose work as an actor, and certainly as the director of “Easy Rider,” will outlive him and last. James Dean, the actor Hopper emulated and admired the most, would have been 79 now, had he not flamed out in a fatal Porsche-at-100-miles-an-hour crash at 24, after completing “Giant,” the last of only three major films, thus assuring him of not living the life of Dennis Hopper. Hopper appeared with Dean in small parts in “Giant” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” The latter, directed by another edgy sort, Nicholas Ray, was practically a nuthouse full of unconventional, rebellious and troubled young actors, sort of like a busload of Lindsay Lohans. There was the mercurial Sal Mineo, who played the suicidal outsider Plato, there was hep-cat Nick Adams, there was Natalie Wood, young and gorgeous, who became a big star but never quite grew up and died in a drowning accident in her 40s. And there was Hopper, who played a gang kid, who outlived them all. (Who would’ve thunk that one?) Not that he didn’t come close to running his life over a cliff several times. He acted in Westerns and became friends with John Wayne, who at one point saved his career. Still, always plagued by drug addiction, he was skidding down again when he and Peter Fonda, a troubled son of his famous father Henry and sister to Jane, got up enough money (half a million) and made “Easy Rider,” about a couple of low-life drug dealers on a journey through America in the counter-culture ’60s. Fonda played a cat named Captain America, Hopper a guy named Billy (as in the Kid). They get gunned down by rednecks at the end, but not before roaring across small town America and New Orleans in their own rolling thunder, hooking up with a drunken, young lawyer played by Jack Nicholson and drugging out to acid and acid music. It was a huge hit, and it made Hollywood feel stupid for doing stuff like “Doctor Doolittle.” Hopper had a gift, it was plain to see, and he encouraged other young directors like Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese. He made a legendary movie called “The Last Movie,” which almost turned out to be prophecy, a Western in Peru in which the hero (Hopper) ends up crucified. This kind of hubris and spend-thrifting gets punished, and eventually, he landed in an asylum, skipping rehab altogether. From then on, he was legend: he played psychos, creeps, drunks (“Speed,” “Blue Velvet” and “Hoosiers”) with elan and honesty, and revived his career yet again. His looney, whispery, dangerous voice became a little like unnerving muzak, his face got craggy and he became a beloved icon. He was in the midst of the television series “Crash,” playing a Hollywood type with his usual rough irony, when he contracted prostate cancer. True to form, even in the middle of dying, Hopper was also in the middle of a nasty divorce battle from the woman who will be forever known only as the last Mrs. Hopper. But you haven’t seen the last of Hopper. Get a bunch of his best (and worst) films for a weekend, and please include “Apocolypse Now” and a John Wayne Western. Afterward, you’ll feel enlightened, hung over, in a daze, a little fuzzy. Afterward, have a boilermaker for Dennis the Menace. 'LITTLE BENNY' Harley Go-go is pure Washington, D.C. music. You better know that, because if you don’t know that, you don’t know nothing. Ask former Mayor Anthony Williams, who, being from out of town, and wearing a bow tie, appeared not to be steeped in the lore and legend of D.C.’s go-go music and musicians, and was roundly dissed for it by those who were. Now, the D.C. go-go scene lost one of its most vital and influential members with the death of Anthony Harley, 46, who was famously known by his nickname “Little Benny” as a trumpet player and singer. Harley was a member of Rare Essence, one of the top go-go bands. If Chuck Brown is generally considered the god-father of the funk that is go-go, and endless rhythmic jamming style that keeps old hearts young, then Little Benny is the guy that deserves to stand alongside him, because he kept the music when Brown, now in his 70s, went on tour. In fact, Little Benny had played with Brown right before he died. Harley was one of those classic D.C. musicians (like Buck Hill) who did other things to live, even working in electronics. He came out of Ballou High School and had a father who had a singing group, Frank Harley and the Bell Chords. Most of all, he was a D.C. man, playing D.C.’s music all the time. You can listen to go-go on a CD all you want, but you won’t get the rare essence of go-go unless you’re there. For that, there’s only memory.