Monthly Archives: December 2021

A Story for the Season … & All Seasons

Since returning to Washington from a three-year sojourn in New York City, I have tried to include in this blog a variety of topics, including some with photos I have taken on trips/daytrips and just around the city. Most of the posts are more serious. That was not the original idea behind the blog. It was supposed to cover a potpourri of subjects about our country – hence the title, ShiningSeaUSA, borrowed from the song, “America the Beautiful. “

While in New York I started another blog, AutumnInNewYork, that was about our life in the great city, in the autumn of my years. We expected New York to be the last place we would live. It turned out otherwise, thanks largely to the pandemic, and AutumnInNewYork was terminated.

As I was reflecting on our first year back in the DC area, and the holiday season we are all struggling to experience again, I recalled a blog post from December 24, 2018, entitled “A Story for the Season … & All Seasons.” I am reposting it today in continued acknowledgement of both the person whom it concerns and the spirit of the holiday season. I am sure no one alive today expected to still be dealing with COVID-19 and the aftermath of an attempted insurrection but here we are. We must remember in these troubled times there are still moments of beauty and joy. I was fortunate to witness one and I share it with you now.

“A Story for the Season … & All Seasons

I can’t shake this story from my mind and, considering the season and everything that is going on, I must share it.

I recently visited a doctor in New York City for a follow-up to an earlier consultation. Not unexpectedly, there were patients sitting in the waiting room so I knew it might be a while before I was seen. I always have a book with me for such situations.

As I read, I happened to glance up and notice across from me a younger (30-something, I’m guessing) woman slumped sideways in her chair, obviously dozing. I continued reading but my attention turned to the young woman again when my doctor unexpectedly emerged from the back and approached her, quietly calling her name. The young woman did not react; she was “out cold.” The doctor, realizing the woman was deeply asleep, walked over to her, reached down and gently took each of the woman’s hands in her own. She did not pull or poke. She massaged them gently while speaking softly to the woman. This did the job of waking her, and, after a few moments to collect herself, they walked together into the back, the doctor asking her some question I didn’t catch.

I sat there for several minutes, reflecting on what I had seen. I was moved by it in ways I didn’t, and still don’t completely, understand. The power of witnessing the simple gesture of care and sensitivity took me by surprise. Then, my turn came; I went back, visited with a nurse to take the required “vitals” and waited in a room to see the doctor who came in very shortly.

After some small talk, I told her that I had witnessed what she had done, how gently and sweetly she had awakened the young woman. The doctor responded with “I’ve known her for years and she’s very special.” I said, “you are special, doctor. Doctors generally don’t do what you did.” She thanked me, somewhat embarrassed, I suspect, and we moved on.

I still often think about that simple gesture of kindness that, in most other circumstances I have witnessed over the years, would have been treated quite differently. The way my doctor chose to awaken her patient has stayed with me as an extraordinary example of how natural kindness can work with remarkable power. As I reflect on the scene, as vivid to me like it just happened, and as the holidays come on, it stands in vivid contrast to our national political life that is dominated by rancor, conflict and fear. We’re all trying to experience the holidays in a good way, and likely most of us will succeed in the end. And ‘will’ is the right word, because it feels more like an act of will than a natural thing to do at this time of year.

Part of the power of the doctor’s act was, I think, that it was so natural, so spontaneous. I am virtually certain she did not mull it over first; she just naturally reacted to the situation with humanity and compassion. That young lady is lucky, as am I, to have a doctor with such instincts for kindness. It’s a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn, especially when the times we live in are so burdened with acrimony and lack of concern for those in need of a helping hand. I suspect I will always have that image in my mind and hope to remain aware and grateful for its reminder of what is possible.”

Happy Holidays.

An American Team No More

Americans once believed that when push came to shove, we would unite against common adversaries. A generalization, to be sure, but I believe it was accurate overall. It was true despite our ongoing differences about things like balanced budgets, the size and role of government and many others arising from America as the Melting Pot. Differences in the Pot were inevitable and, in some cases, resulted in sharp divisions. But, still, we believed that, faced with an outside adversary, Americans would come together as one nation to fight back.

World War II was a good example in “modern” times. Men and women went to war, more women worked in factories doing the necessary, and often dangerous, work that men had performed before going off to fight the Nazis and the Japanese. It was a terrible time. Many were grievously wounded, physically and mentally, and many died, leaving behind others ill-equipped to go it alone. People did without many luxuries. Ration stamps were used to allocate food, among other things. It was a a terrible time.

The idea of Americans united against outside adversaries found expression in movies involving alien invaders. Some of those movies showed the entire world coming together to fight the aliens. Faced with an outside threat, often with more advanced technologies, “we” prevailed with grit, ingenuity and a sense of common purpose. That was, of course, a fantasy but “we” always won in the end.

No more. We have a new common enemy that is attacking the entire world from within. This enemy is invisible and highly adaptable. We have seen its like before and always, always came together, solved the puzzle and prevailed. And yes, I know there were always outliers, but they were the exceptions. In 1918, the closest modern parallel to COVID-19,

It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. [https://bit.ly/3ql2V8v]

You likely know that the United States blew past that 675,000 death figure some time ago. As of two days ago, December 22, U.S. COVID deaths had reached 805,112 and climbing – almost 1,400 deaths on that one day and a 7-day moving average approaching 1,200 and rising.

The numbers are so large that our minds balk at acceptance and comprehension. But the numbers are real. The sickness and death are real. We are not even counting the cases of Long Covid, the condition in which the debilitating effects on the heart, lungs and brain (among others) last beyond the initial illness for … no one knows how long.

Our inability to comprehend is part, but only part, of the reason that so many – in the millions – people deny that COVID is real. Some are so deep in denial that, even when hospitalized in critical or worse condition, they continue to claim their disease is something else, that the doctors and nurses are lying to them when they say, “you have COVID.”

Whatever the roots and reasons that tens of millions refuse to get vaccinated, those people appear to be lost to the team – to Team America. The huge number of unvaccinated Americans – two years into the pandemic – are a breeding ground for the virus to mutate. And mutate it does. All viruses do. The anti-vaxxers are responsible for the prolongation of the pandemic and the personal and economic destruction that the virus has inflicted. Omicron has swept across the globe in weeks, displacing the Delta variant. There is no end in sight. And the next variant may not be as “mild” as Omicron.

The best we can hope for is that, slowly and at huge unnecessary cost, we will reach the point of so-called “herd immunity” when there are an insufficient number of vulnerable hosts that the virus cannot continue its deadly passage through the population. And, of course, medical science is delivering more effective treatments, the latest of which (in pill form) was just announced. Maybe we’ll reach the point where COVID is “just another flu.” Maybe.

Meanwhile, millions more will suffer. According to every credible source, COVID deaths in the United States are expected to exceed 1,000,000 in the near future. Eventually, maybe, we will win again. But it won’t be because of Team America, the coming together of citizens to fight and vanquish a common and deadly enemy. It seems we’re past that. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens are content to have others suffer and die under the name of mindless slogans. Freedom! My body, my choice! Nobody tells me what to put in my body! And on and on.

Instead of a united front against this deadly enemy, we have tens of millions reciting slogans to justify and explain why they are no longer members of the team. The price for their ignorant intransigence has been/will be very steep indeed.

This problem is, of course, only one manifestation of a mental state that afflicts our society. We can conclude that because there is a powerful identity among the anti-vaxxers and the evangelicals/Trumpists/Republicans. Their delusional state of mind regarding the pandemic is closely aligned with their willingness to believe many other unbelievable ideas. Chief among them is the idea that the January 6 assault/attempted coup was not Trump supporters but was engineered, rather like the pandemic, by a global elite of BLM, antifa, liberal/progressive Democrats and others of like mind, aided, if not led, by the federal government (you know, the Deep State lying in wait to destroy the country).

People who hold such beliefs do not comprehend the logical absurdity that those “elites” would have tried to stop the certification of President Biden’s victory (the candidate they favored) in order to continue the presidency of Donald Trump (the candidate they fervently opposed). If they can’t see that, they can’t see the point of joining with other Americans, and other peoples around the world, to stop the pandemic with the only tools that work. They are lost to our team, probably forever. Donald Trump didn’t create these people, but he surely inspired them.

Going forward, then, policy makers must understand the full extent to which our “team” has been broken, perhaps permanently. That means, among other things, that there is no longer anything like “politics as usual.” The aliens have arrived, and they are among us. If we’re not careful, they may kill us all.

The Cat is Out of the Bag

When it was revealed that General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, had intervened in anticipation that Trump might use the military to keep himself in office, strong backlash was heard from some in the military, present and former. They appeared to believe that it was wrong for Milley to move independently of the president who was his commander-in-chief, regardless of his fears that Trump might act to subvert the election with military force or start a nuclear conflict and declare martial law.

That position was, I thought at the time, unbelievably short-sighted and mindless. Accepting that chain-of-command is important, I thought, and still believe, that General Milley is an American hero for seeing a fundamental danger to the country and acting to prevent it.

Now come three other generals (retired) arguing that “The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection.” https://wapo.st/3e8J6vH “We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

I am too, and so should you be. We are facing the most serious threat to our democracy since the Civil War.

The case made by the generals is compelling:

  • Many of the insurrectionist mob on January 6 were veterans or, even more remarkable, active-duty military;
  • The commander of the Oklahoma National Guard refused to compel COVID vaccination of his Guard members because the Governor of the state said he should not follow the President’s directive;
  • “The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines … is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed;”
  • The real possibility exists that state Guard units will follow their political preferences if their candidate loses the next election;
  • Access to state arms repositories might be loosened to aid insurrectionists prepared to do battle;
  • Often ignored, the distraction of a violent domestic conflict over the election with a divided military would make the U.S. vulnerable to attack by international enemies;
  • We have passed the stage of mere strong political disagreement and must urgently prepare for worst-case scenarios, by, among other things, holding the leaders of January 6 to full accountability for their actions;

The generals who have spoken out about the danger have made several compelling proposals for preventive measures:

  • An immediate civics review for all uniformed and civilian military regarding the Constitution they have sworn to uphold and on the subject of election integrity, the laws of war and how to deal with illegal orders;
  • Re-inform members about the “unity of command,” so there is no question about who is in command;
  • “identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers” and “propagandists who use misinformation to subvert the chain of command.”
  • war-game the next potential post-election coup attempt to identify weak spots, debrief the findings and act to prevent breakdowns in the military and in connected civilian agencies.

A major step in support of this pro-democracy agenda involves the military and Department of Justice acting aggressively and urgently to hold accountable those who participated in and/or led and/or conspired to induce the attack on the Capitol. Regardless of what led people to involve themselves in what was a blatantly and unquestionably unlawful assault on the government, minds are not going to be changed any time soon.

The remedy for now is to make clear that the penalties for such conduct will be administered severely and promptly. Military who participated should be expelled from the service. They have no excuse for violating their oaths of loyalty to the Constitution. Similarly, the January 6 House Select Committee must adopt a sense of urgency and work continuously until its mission is completed.

Simultaneously, the Department of Justice must, with equal urgency, complete its investigations and indict the leaders in Congress and the former White House (and associated advisors) and elsewhere who participated in, conspired to incite or aided-and-abetted the January 6 assault. It should not take a week or more to hold in contempt individuals who refuse to comply with subpoenas or who falsely claim the Fifth Amendment while simultaneously proclaiming their innocence and make false accusations about the process.

Among the other obvious dangers here is that these investigations will drag on, the TrumpPublican Party will regain full control of the Congress (not dependent on the cooperation of people like putative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin) and activity to investigate and hold accountable will be halted. If that happens, you can kiss our democratic republic goodbye, perhaps for good. The authoritarian goals of the TrumpPublicans are to entrench their power permanently. Democracy is at stake. Time is running out. Politics as usual is not good enough. If we do not act in the face of the threat, we will deserve what we get.

The Free Press on the Brink

I read in Sunday’s New York Times an “Opinion” piece, entitled “The Free Press Needs Our Help.” https://nyti.ms/32c2wNh where the title is “Independent Journalism Is at Risk. Here’s How to Save It.” The article is co-authored by a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Maria Ressa) and a former NYT chief executive and director general of the BBC (Mark Thompson). Their argument is a familiar one.  It makes a compelling case for its main point: “around the world, independent journalism is on the brink of extinction.”

Their solution is the creation of the International Fund for Public Interest Media that will be funded by governments, foundations and private companies and then make grants to “promising and trustworthy independent news providers worldwide.” Clearly an ambitious undertaking, likely to be challenged by, among other things, the reality that governments in some cases have been the primary force undermining the free press. That said, it’s a good idea.

I was most intrigued, however, by the reference to “trustworthy independent new providers.” What exactly is that? Is there a commonly understood meaning for it? In the United States, how does that concept square with the existence of entities like Fox News, Breitbart, OAN, Newsmax and the others? Not a day goes by that I don’t see someone in social media screaming for the government to “shut down Fox!” That, of course, is not going to happen as long as TrumpPublicans do not control the government and those entities continue to toe the right-wing line with the proper fervor. [There is also the First Amendment, but a second Trump administration faced with (however improbably) an insufficiently sycophantic Fox News would likely have no problem with a direct attack to compel compliance or else].

These random thoughts led me to reflect on certain “realities of American life,” the main one being that if it’s not prohibited, you may, legally, do it. That is one of the root/core principles that govern the American legal and political systems. On the other hand, the “ideal” of total freedom had some dire consequences. Thus, we regulate practices like law, medicine, hair-styling and other occupations who, absent qualifying instruction and demonstrations of minimum [or minimal] competency could make a real hash of things.

Still, even those principles have a fuzzy edge. Some people with doctorate degrees call themselves “Dr.” and mostly no one objects. Most people with doctorates don’t add that appellation outside interactions within their discipline, but some do. It burnishes one’s image in some circles to be known as “Dr.” Mainly, in the U.S., the status of having earned a Ph.D. is added at the end of one’s name, as in ShiningSeaUSA, Ph.D. (or JD for lawyers).

As with all such matters, the history is fraught and complicated. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_(title) if you have time on your hands.

My central idea (at last!) is that in “journalism,” almost anyone can claim the title, regardless of training, certification, experience or, well, regardless of just about anything. Thus, I can claim to be a journalist when I’m covering a protest at the Supreme Court for a potential blog post and who is to say nay? Armed with a camera (Nikon, if you please), and, if needed, a home-made “press badge,” I am indistinguishable from the other “real” journalists who write for actual media like the New York Times and Washington Post.

It occurs to me, then, that we have an opportunity to improve our situation by establishing some criteria of legitimacy for people who want to use the term “journalist.” We could, for example, establish national standards for the use of the term that, like the practice of law and medicine, would sanction persons with demonstrable relevant education and knowledge to call themselves journalists.

I well understand this would be complex and controversial. And, of course, someone (likely someone wanting to be considered a journalist but having neither education, training nor demonstrable knowledge of the field) would bring up the First Amendment. A good argument can be made that the 1A would not be implicated in a proper regulatory system because the requirements do not prevent anyone from speaking or reporting. They would only forbid the unqualified from calling themselves journalists.

I can hear the screams of outrage now, but I think this is an idea worth considering. It would not shut Fox News or Breitbart down, but a properly constructed code of ethics could go some distance to prevent such entities from passing themselves off as journalism. And, by the way, the same goes for the likes of CNN which, over time, has made a practice of presenting right-wing shills as “journalism” when it’s really something else.

This suggestion will not solve the entire problem, which is obviously complex, but this may well be a situation where we should be careful not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.  Something to think about.

 

Why Is Media Not Naming the Names?

We now have reports of a 38-page PowerPoint document laying out a plan for Trump to declare a national emergency and continue in office. That’s 38 pages, not likely something just scrabbled together by some bozo whose mind is infected with conspiracy theories. But, whatever the case there, the document, or versions of it, apparently has been circulating on the internet for a while. Where on the internet, and when and by whom, is a bit fuzzy in the media reports.

What is significant about this report is not that such a PowerPoint exists. It has been clear throughout Trump’s presidency and during the coup attempt near its end that there are around the country numerous people, many holding public office and many just out there is the woods somewhere, who believe, without rational or evidentiary basis, that the election was stolen by various fraudulent means.

No, what is important here is that the document sets out [with the same excitement as the 8th item in food recipe] that members of Congress – both senators and House representatives – received briefings based on the document two days before the January 6 insurrection! https://nyti.ms/31Hho6N

But let’s back up. The title of the New York Times article is “Jan. 6 Committee Examines PowerPoint Document Sent to Meadows.” Sufficiently bland to be easily passed over. But, in case your interest is piqued, the summary deck beneath the headline seems further calculated to prime you to think nothing all that important is going on.

Mark Meadows’s lawyer said the former White House chief of staff did not act on the document, which recommended that President Donald J. Trump declare a national emergency to keep himself in power.

Well, of course, Meadows’ lawyer said that. What else was he going to say?

If you were still interested enough to read it, the article explains that the PowerPoint contained “extreme plans to overturn the 2020 election,” the idea being to have Trump declare a national emergency that would delay certification of Biden’s win. It relied upon claims that “China and Venezuela had obtained control over the voting infrastructure in a majority of states.”

We’ve heard about those types of claims before. FOX “News” and Trump’s team of lawyers promoted such claims repeatedly, without investigation or plausible evidence, and have been sued and sanctioned by courts for filing frivolous suits based on such nonsense.

As reported in NYT, the provenance of the PowerPoint is this:

Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel and an influential voice in the movement to challenge the election, said on Friday from a bar he owns outside Austin, Texas, that he had circulated the document — titled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN” — among Mr. Trump’s allies and on Capitol Hill before the attack. Mr. Waldron said that he did not personally send the document to Mr. Meadows, but that it was possible someone on his team had passed it along to the former chief of staff.

You can almost hear the theme song from the Twilight Zone playing in the background.

The actual author is unknown but “it is similar to a 36-page document available online, and it appears to be based on the theories of Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, a Texas entrepreneur and self-described inventor who has appeared with Mr. Waldron on podcasts discussing election fraud.”

More Twilight Zone.

NYT reports further that,

On Jan. 4, members of Mr. Waldron’s team — he did not identify them — spoke to a group of senators and briefed them on the allegations of supposed election fraud contained in the PowerPoint, Mr. Waldron said. The following day, he said, he personally briefed a small group of House members; that discussion focused on baseless claims of foreign interference in the election. He said he made the document available to the lawmakers.

NYT notes that Rudy Giuliani, sometimes known on Twitter as Rudy Colludy, has cited Waldron “as a source of information for his legal campaign.” That would likely be the “legal” campaign that led to Giuliani’s law license suspension in New York.

But wait, stop the music. Where in this article are the names of the House members and Senators who received these briefings two days before the insurrection and attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol? You won’t find them.

Why not? How can the New York Times, one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers report a story saying that members of Congress were briefed by private parties seeking to overturn the presidential election two days before the coup attempt that took lives and inflicted massive damage on the Capitol and there is no reference to the names of those members of Congress and no explanation as to why they are omitted?

And note how casually the article reports that Meadows, a founder of the ludicrously named Freedom Caucus and later Chief of Staff for Trump’s White House, has told the House Select Committee that “he had turned in the cellphone he used on Jan. 6 to his service provider, and that he was withholding some 1,000 text messages connected with the device.” Given Meadows’ central role in the effort to keep Trump in office despite having lost the election, could there be a clearer case of evidence tampering? Why would Meadows turn in the cell phone he used on January 6 if not to hide evidence it might contain? No plausible explanation appears in the article.

And at the same time the article gives Meadows a pass with this: “Even though Mr. Meadows did not appear to act on the PowerPoint….” Why? Because Meadows’ lawyer said so? Really? Meadows is clean because his lawyer says he is?

This article was written by seasoned award-winning reporters. Are they really content with this treatment? Were these details in the article but removed by editors?

Almost simultaneously, the Washington Post, my hometown rag, added more shocking details to the story. https://wapo.st/3lX90Xz Waldron is reported to have said he visited the White House multiple times after the election and “spoke with President Donald Trump’s chief of staff “maybe eight to 10 times.”” He also said he “briefed several members of Congress on the eve of the Jan. 6 riot.”

But, again, no names. No mention of efforts to get the names. Why not?

The names are particularly significant because,

The PowerPoint circulated by Waldron included proposals for Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6 to reject electors from “states where fraud occurred” or replace them with Republican electors. It included a third proposal in which the certification of Joe Biden’s victory was to be delayed, and U.S. marshals and National Guard troops were to help “secure” and count paper ballots in key states.

In short, the document set out a plan to overthrow the legitimate government, prevent the transfer of power and install Donald Trump as de facto dictator of the United States.

 These “briefings” of members of Congress are not casual affairs. Anyone who has practiced law/politics in Washington for any length of time will confirm how difficult it is to get direct access to members of Congress and especially to a group of them. Someone inside had to be helping arrange all of this and multiple staff would have known about it. Yet, here we are, almost a year from the January 6 attack and we’re just learning that members of Congress were briefed two days beforehand.

The WAPO report goes along with the “both sides” narrative by assuring us that,

it is not clear how widely the PowerPoint was circulated or how seriously the ideas in it were considered. A lawyer for Meadows, George J. Terwilliger III, said on Friday that there was no indication that Meadows did anything with the document after receiving it by email. “We produced it [to the committee] because it was not privileged,” Terwilliger said. A Meadows spokesman, Ben Williamson, declined to comment. Waldron said he was not the person who sent the PowerPoint to Meadows.

Nevertheless, the Post report recognizes that Meadows’ efforts to disappear himself in the post-coup investigation are fading in light of these revelations and the previously reveal fact that Meadows had personally “pressed senior Justice Department leaders to investigate baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud.”

According to Waldron, Meadows sought to help his group pursue their conspiracy theories about foreign interference, quoting Meadows as, “What do you need? What would help?” Of course, the Post also reports comments from an unnamed “person familiar with the matter” purporting to exonerate Meadows from any responsibility. Despite Meadows’ critical role in the White House, he is presented as someone who just received and passed around documents without paying attention to their content. If so, Meadows is monumentally incompetent or monumentally stupid.

Then there is the Giuliani connection.

Waldron said that he and Meadows “weren’t pen pals” and that their communication was often through Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who sometimes asked him to “explain this to Mark” over the phone.

Unsurprisingly, “Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.”

Waldron’s explanation of events included a claim of a meeting with Trump himself (November 25) and some Pennsylvania legislators in the Oval Office. Waldron also claimed to have briefed Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) “at the White House, in the chief of staff’s office, with Giuliani present.” Naturally, Graham also had nothing to say about that meeting. And Trump, of course, had no comment about the November 25 meeting.

Still, no disclosure of the attendees at the January 4 briefings. The Post did get one thing right,

The role played after the election by Waldron is another example of how the president aligned himself with a cast of fringe personalities as he worked to sabotage the U.S. democratic process

But the issue of members of Congress meeting with, and possibly conspiring with, a person like Waldron to overturn the election is a matter of the utmost national importance. The revelations in the New York Times and Washington Post articles about meetings in the days immediately leading to the attack are evidence suggesting that members of Congress knew about, likely approved of and possibly participated in the planning of the attack.

It is very hard to understand why the Times and WAPO would treat so cavalierly the issue of which members of Congress attended briefings about thoroughly debunked election fraud just two days before the deadly attack on the Capitol. These are FACTS, and the papers owe readers an explanation of why this information was so casually ignored.

Closing Note: I have been told that this post is uncomfortably close to the kinds of attacks Trump routinely levels against the mainstream media with his “fake news” trope. Not so, I say, because I am not saying the news reports are false, only that information crucial to complete reporting has been omitted without explanation. I want the media to tell the whole important truth and when it cannot find it, explain why not.

 

Steaming at Blues Alley

‘Twas a wet and blustery night

With cold descending on the town,

But the smoke was pouring hot

From the best jazz club around.

It was Saturday night and Kenny Garrett’s sextet was playing at Blues Alley, the premier Washington jazz club in the heart of Georgetown. The club is really located in an alley, which adds somehow to its charm. Inside, it’s the real deal. Tightly packed tables seating 140, surrounding a compact stage that is crowded on a night like this because the sextet has a lot of instruments.

We booked late, a bit unsure about attending such an event indoors, but we had seen Garrett several times before and the attraction of live jazz again, just a few blocks from our apartment, was too much to resist. Very wisely, the club has a firm policy: proof of vaccination to enter and masks-on when not eating or drinking. Even Garrett wore a mask before starting to play. All the audience seats appeared to be occupied as a few late walk-ins arrived to take the few remaining.

The traditional tools of the jazz trade jammed the stage: piano (baby grand, I think), drum kit (everything you can imagine), full-size bass, many microphones and, in this case, a full set of bongos, sound devices whose names I can’t guess and, in the center, a small electronic keyboard. In the hands of musical masters, these instruments enable the creation of the magical place a jazz club can be when a master of the art accompanied by others of surpassing talent are at the top of their game.

The people attending this event were primed for some top-level stimulation and they got it. Garrett’s sextet included: Vernell Brown Jr.: piano; Corcoran Holt: bass; Ronald Bruner Jr.: drums; Rudy Bird: percussion, snare; and Melvis Santa: vocals and keyboard, among other things. Those folks can play. For me, the drummer stood out, driving the music forward with powerful strokes and extraordinary energy. Few people can play like that for so long. But in truth the whole ensemble was a unit in an exceptional display of jazz at its most powerful.

At the end, Garrett called on the audience, already fully tuned up by the propulsive sound, to rise up and “work it out” to the closing number … and they did. I have never seen anything quite like that after attending many jazz performances over the years. Dancing in the aisles, even where there were no aisles.

Garrett’s style may not be for everyone (the first number lasted probably 15 or 20 minutes) but the crowd Saturday night was totally into it, as were all audiences in prior shows we saw. Typically, his entire body rocks back and forth to repeated riffs of sound. Maybe it’s how he keeps time. Doesn’t matter. The man can blow. He never seems to tire. His saxophone dominates the music, but the other instruments have their time as well when the tunes go from post-modern bop to Latin, Cuban, Afro something something, who knows. It’s all great.

At the end, Garrett dismissed each performer by name. The crowd erupted in appreciation and one-by-one the musicians exited. Garrett departed next-to-last, leaving the drummer, playing, for him, sedately. Then, he stopped and just walked off. It was all over but the vibrations. The steam subsided … until the next set.

Tickets are still available for tonight’s shows at 8 and 10.

Not Dead Yet

This is a bit delayed but it’s never too late to show life standing up to the ravages of time and other deadly forces. In this post we cover recent visits to two local parks where signs of life remain despite the imminence of winter. Temperatures in the DC area have varied dramatically and there have been some very cold nights. Still …. see for yourself. Plants still live. Ducks are still around. And, of course, the beavers never stop. Neither do the people who tend to these places.

Huntley Meadows

Mason Neck

Mason Neck State Park is also the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, though at this time of year the wildlife is sparse, or at least hard to spot. Nevertheless, we saw lots of woodpeckers although they were too small and flittish to photograph. Here is a sample of that walk on the roughly one-mile Bayview Trail. You will see that the beavers have been at work there as well. The squirrel appeared out of nowhere and scaled the tree in seconds, only to freeze, as they do, when he realized I was watching. He did not flinch for several minutes as I waited for a better photo angle. The duck blind was empty which may explain the casual attitude of the ducks and geese on the water.

Happy sunsets!