Main Dish

House of Cards Chief of Staff Gets Starbucks Fix

November 27, 2016

In the new reality TV show formerly known as "Washington," House of Cards Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) stopped by at Starbucks in Shaw at 8th and O Sts. NW Thanksgiving Day, chatting briefly with fans before heading off to Mar-a-Lago -- I mean, a turkey dinner somewhere.

Michael Kelly as White House Chief of Staff Doug Stamper in (Photo by: Netflix/David Giesbrecht) Michael Kelly as White House Chief of Staff Doug Stamper in "House of Cards"
While the show films in Baltimore, it draws extras from D.C., as well as the occasional star visit. In a March interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor Kelly talked about the bizarre "life imitates art" aspect of the campaign/show, now in its fourth season, as well as how he gets into character to play the hard-as-nails Stamper, who serves the same role for President Frank Underwood that Reince Priebus will perform for Presi....Preside...Pre... (just can't write that yet) Donald J. Trump.

EW: The Underwoods are obviously scary, but Doug is scary. He’s so emotionally stunted. How do you get into that mindset? He’s not exactly evil; he’s complicated. 
Michael Kelly: At its heart, it’s all about addiction. Frank, work, alcohol, Rachel, everything, you know? … Beau [Willimon, the showrunner] said to me before we ever started, “Don’t emote. At the end of season 1, I want everyone to say, ‘What the f— is up with that guy?” From that came Doug’s voice and the fact that he never smiles. Beau laid the groundwork for that character, and I just had to say the words.

Actually, it was Kelly's Stamper voice in Starbucks that first attracted the attention of this reporter. Even "I'll have a venti chestnut praline latte" can sound weirdly menacing, when spoken in "Stamper."

In a typical House of Cards storyline, the Chief of Staff gets physical and threatens to strangle the in-over-his-head White House press secretary. 

But we're not expecting under-qualified Cabinet officials (Ben Carson) or White House staff members, right?

They're all going to be terrific...

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Embassy Series Swings Upbeat with Nicaraguan Jazz

November 21, 2016

Music lovers forgot downbeat election news for a decidedly upbeat escape Friday, sailing into the warmth of the Embassy of Nicaragua as The Embassy Series presented jazz pianist Darwin Noguera and his talented trio, which ferried the standing-room only audience far away from post-election cares to an ocean of music with currents of Tito Puente, J.S. Bach and American Songbook stars such as Jerome Kern.

Nicaraguan Ambassador Francisco Campbell welcomes The Embassy Series' Founder/Director Jerome Barry (Photo by: The Embassy Series) Nicaraguan Ambassador Francisco Campbell welcomes The Embassy Series' Founder/Director Jerome Barry

The evening's hosts, Ambassador Francisco Obadiah Campbell Hooker and his wife, Minister Counsellor Miriam Hooker, are used to weathering wavy political seas. Hailing from Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, Campbell previously served in Washington during the Reagan administration, when the U.S. was actively supporting the anti-government Contras in Nicaragua. At that time, Campbell oversaw the Embassy's outreach activities and congressional relations. Hooker was an oft-quoted diplomatic spokeswoman here.

The Embassy Series board member Antonio (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) The Embassy Series board member Antonio "Tony" Dias and Nicaraguan Ambassador Francisco Campbell discuss the performance and world events

Some post-election worries added chop to the dinner conversation, but Noguera offered syncopated solace. The trio played a sunny, stirring set, including Ruby My Dear, a jazz ballad composed by Thelonious Monk, which was recorded later by Carmen McRae as Dear Ruby. The original song describes the pain of losing -- a lover, in this case -- and the need to sail on.

Though he's away

You'll sing his song

You'll carry on

Ruby, My Dear

Left to right: Kathy Baczko, EVP & Chief Development Officer, Fabretto Children's Foundation, Minister Counsellor Miriam Hooker, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Nicaragua, Anne Howard-Tristani, Consultant for Diplomatic & Educational Outreach, The Embassy Series (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Left to right: Kathy Baczko, EVP & Chief Development Officer, Fabretto Children's Foundation, Minister Counsellor Miriam Hooker, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Nicaragua, Anne Howard-Tristani, Consultant for Diplomatic & Educational Outreach, The Embassy Series

The Embassy Series, founded by Jerome and Lisette Barry, brings performing artists to embassies in the nation's capital "uniting people through musical diplomacy." Upcoming events include performances at the embassies and ambassadors' Residences of Romania, Russia, Hungary and Switzerland. A holiday French Cabaret at the Embassy of Luxembourg is already sold out. 

Antonio (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Antonio "Tony" Dias, Member of the Board of Directors, The Embassy Series, and partner, Jones Day, with E.J. Strickland, noted jazz drummer
The organization's work comes at the perfect time. "Music exists in a divided society and world to bring people together, and that has always been our mission," said Gary Tischler, consultant to The Embassy Series. "Music soothes our troubled state of mind and allows us to feel greater solidarity with the best instincts of mankind," added Founder/Director Jerome Barry. He should know. The organization has presented more than 600 concerts since its founding in 1994. 

This performance also honored the Fabretto Children's Foundation, providing education and nutrition programs to underserved children in Nicaragua.

Doris Price Lerner and Dr. Norman Lerner (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Doris Price Lerner and Dr. Norman Lerner

A classically trained pianist starting at age nine, Noguera studied in Cuban conservatories in Miami, and now draws from a range of influences including Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Danilo Perez, Debussy and Bach. Drummer E.J. Strickland, twin brother of saxophonist Marcus Strickland, also composes and studied piano. Downbeat Magazine described his drumming as emitting "fields of cumulative energy, clouds of feather-touch and heavy-handed syncopations, latent with power like an oncoming storm." 

Tamir Shmerling, a bass player from Shkelon, Israel, was awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has since performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, the Kennedy CenterJazz at Lincoln Center, and many international venues. He served as the bassist in the Israeli Defense Forces Orchestra from 2005 to 2008. Read more at The Embassy Series website.

Music lovers enjoy the Darwin Noguera Trio at the Embassy of Nicaragua, sponsored by The Embassy Series (Photo by: The Embassy Series) Music lovers enjoy the Darwin Noguera Trio at the Embassy of Nicaragua, sponsored by The Embassy Series

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America the Beautiful, Sitting in the Juror Lounge

July 4, 2016

I've often been abroad on July 4. There is a special poignancy to appreciating your country from afar. Singing “God Bless America” with the sweetness of missing your country, this amazing land, from across the Pond, or further away.

But this year I celebrated from the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse in Washington. Yes, jury duty. Superior Court.

Celebrate, you ask? Doesn't everyone hate jury duty?

They do. They dread it. People send you condolence notes, as though you've fallen ill. "I'm so sorry!" they say. “Try to have a good 4th of July anyway.”

Friends and colleagues tell you how to avoid it:

"If he didn't commit this crime, he probably committed another. Lock him up," they tell you to say during the jury selection process.

"Tell them you come from a family full of police officers," a friend suggested.

"Act crazy. You'll get off."  

H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse of the D.C. Superior Court (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse of the D.C. Superior Court
But I love jury duty. It's a trip, a journey, an unpredictable treat. First of all, it's so interesting. The assembled masses are well, the assembled masses who didn't ask for this. People assigned to do this by lottery. Elegant Georgetown ladies who lunch, to impatient young tech types, to young men from the streets who have themselves been in court more than a few times. They might tell you about their pasts, if you listen long enough.

You see, in jury duty, there is plenty of time to listen. First you sit in the juror lounge, as CNN streams the latest election chatter or plane crash news. Then, your number is called and you line up. Everyone is a number.  The court doesn’t sugarcoat it. It’s purposeful, to protect your privacy, they say. They hand out pencils for the inevitable form. Then, you sit a lot. You meet the defendant, the prosecution, the lawyers involved. The judge and the lawyers interview each of 60 jurors, to get to the chosen 12. It takes, well.....hours.

Meanwhile, you chat with people you don't know, people you would never otherwise meet.

I sit between a young female editor in "the intelligence community," she says, and a Metro mechanic named “Nathan.” Did you know, Metro’s problems are really with the tracks, not the trains? The trains themselves don't break down much, Nathan says. It's usually a quick fix, he said. You know when a train sputters and jerks to a stop sometimes? That’s an electrical problem, not the brakes, Nathan says.

Nathan likes his job. He said he’s not a fan of the newest trains, though. They’re so heavy, they are doing damage to the tracks.

Jack Evans, are you listening?

Nathan lives not far from the scene of the crime this jury will be judging. I notice he spends a lot of time with the judge and counsel as they interview us, one by one. "I was talking about my past,” he answers when I ask why. He looks down as his voice trails off. "I said I could be objective."

But really, Nathan needs sleep. His shift at Metro starts at midnight, every night. Train maintenance takes place while we riders sleep. He slumps in his chair next to me. 

Everyone is number in jury duty. It's intentional, for privacy reasons. (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Everyone is number in jury duty. It's intentional, for privacy reasons.
The crime this jury will hear is an alleged assault and property damage by a young man who looks like Nathan, but is staring into space. He has a public defender. The prosecutor is an elegant African-American attorney with a slight accent. West Indian, maybe, or recently African.

I’m emailing and keeping up with work. "Oh, you D.C. people are so funny, you're always getting called for jury duty," a Virginia colleague says to me. She's right. Because of the overlapping jurisdictions, D.C. residents get summoned a lot. In 2014, the D.C. Superior Court sent more than 150,000 jury summonses. A study said 70,000 people didn’t respond.

If you’ve ever been sued, you know how important the jury is. When I was 21, I was driving to my aunt’s house in Cleveland Park, when I scraped a Metrobus. I was sued for $2 million. There were a lot of ambulance-chasing lawyers involved, even though there were no ambulances and no one was seriously hurt, beyond a cut finger. We offered to settle for $80,000, but the plaintiffs lawyers, representing the bus driver, Metro, and one passenger, laughed at us.

The jury voted to award the plaintiffs $6,000, only.

See, juries are important.

Also, look at how well our justice system works, compared to most. Cops can get a fair trial in Baltimore despite the legitimate anger in the community over Freddie Gray’s death.

In the movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, Gregory Peck, playing Atticus Finch, represented a black man accused of raping a white woman in 

Gregory Peck in (Photo by: Universal Pictures) Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird" produced by Alan J. Pakula. Peck won best actor for his portrayal of Atticus Finch.
1950s Alabama, based on the premise that justice was possible. "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks,” Finch tells his daughter Scout in the Academy Award-winning film.  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." 

In America, each one of us is blessed with the chance to participate in a system that bests almost any other country’s. And, by caring, by climbing inside of other people’s skin, to make it work better. To try to be fair and put one’s biases aside -- even this is a magnificent challenge that jury duty provides.  And it’s free!
No, jury duty isn’t perfect. One of my seatmates suggested that the introductory video be replaced. No question.  

Also, when the judge and counsel talk with the prospective jurors, the judge turns on a “noisemaker” that emits the sound of static from the sound system. In the age of iTunes and Spotify, couldn’t it be the sound of a waterfall, or the ocean?

That aside, jury duty is a wonderful opportunity to play a small yet critical part to uphold that precious idea we call democracy.  With all its tedium, lines, and opportunity to be bored, jury duty is also a chance to tune into the beauty and range of humanity, the problems that afflict us, and the realization that we are all threads in the same piece of cloth, a beautiful tapestry called the U.S.A.

Happy Birthday, America. 

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