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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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Wall Street Journal's Seib Stirs Up Exchequer Club

May 22, 2016

Calling 2016 the “most unbelievable” election campaign of his career, Gerald F. Seib, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief, sliced 

Gerald F. (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Gerald F. "Jerry" Seib speaks at the Exchequer Club luncheon at the Mayflower
and diced the politics and personalities of the presidential election to a rapt Exchequer Club audience, offering up Ginsu-sharp insights at the Club’s monthly luncheon meeting.

D.C. Councilmember and Metro board chair Jack Evans counsels with Gerald F. Seib. (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) D.C. Councilmember and Metro board chair Jack Evans counsels with Gerald F. Seib.
If the 2016 election looks something like a trainwreck, Seib, known to friends as “Jerry,” started the talk with a shout-out to D.C. Councilmember and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans for his aggressive efforts to fix the ailing Metro system. “As someone who’s ridden Metro since the 70s, I’m with you, man. Thank you for what you’re doing. I wish you luck.”

Evans, long credited for his sound leadership of the District’s finances as chair of the D.C. Council Finance Committee, is getting national recognition as he battles Congress and regional inertia to restore the nation’s fifth-largest transit system to health.

Jack Evans speaks with Exchequer board member and Jones Day partner Lisa Ledbetter and Jones Day's Antonio (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Jack Evans speaks with Exchequer board member and Jones Day partner Lisa Ledbetter and Jones Day's Antonio "Tony" Dias
Back to the train wreck: Seib said the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump surprised everyone, including Sanders and Trump themselves. Seib, having covered presidential campaigns since 1980, said Trump says things on a weekly basis that would disqualify other candidates, but voters don’t mind “because they think he is speaking a larger truth.”

Gone are the days when the Republican party simply had to choose to be the Wall Street Party vs. the Walmart Party, as Seib described it, quoting former Minnesota governor and current CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable Tim Pawlenty. If the Tea Party “ripped the wiring” out of the house of the GOP, Trump has “landed on it” with the force of a 757, painted “Trump,” of course.

John Vogt of Eagle Bank and Barclays Wealth Management (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) John Vogt of Eagle Bank and Barclays Wealth Management
His core supporters are “frightened, angry or both,” Seib said. “Experts don’t know anything,” but they’re in charge. The voters are angry about it. “Trump validates all those feelings and makes them feel that they’re not alone.”

Sanders and Trump are feeding on voter sentiment that “free trade is bad, big banks get away with too much,” and U.S. involvement in the Middle East needs to scaled back to near isolationism.

Seib said he doubted Hillary Clinton would be indicted over her handling of a private email server.  And he expressed his somewhat surprised relief to Exchequer Club Chancellor Jerry Buckley, founder of the law firm BuckleySandler, because in years of carpooling their sons to school, “We never had an accident at Chevy Chase Circle,” in the 

Jack Evans, Beth Solomon and Exchequer Club Chancellor Jerry Buckley (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Jack Evans, Beth Solomon and Exchequer Club Chancellor Jerry Buckley
chaotic morning commute.

One big question is whether Clinton can draw back the white working class voters who supported her in 2008, Seib said. When asked by The Georgetown Dish’s Bill Rice whether the Democrats could pull off a third term at all, Seib said it was an “underappreciated question.”

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Seib said. “It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do.”

Policy heavyweight and former Exchequer Club Chancellor Bert Ely speaks with Jack Evans (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Policy heavyweight and former Exchequer Club Chancellor Bert Ely speaks with Jack Evans
But it’s an unprecedented time in American politics. The Wall Street Journal recently studied the way people get their news in America, finding that the Facebook effect – in which people read mostly the news they want, from the perspective they want, makes them “happy and angry at the same time.”

Seib knows a little about the effects of political extremism. After graduating from the University of Kansas School of Journalism in 1978, he joined the Wall Street Journal's Dallas bureau, and left two years later to work for the Wall Street Journal in Washington D.C., covering the Pentagon and State Department. Later in 1987, when Seib was based in Cairo to cover the Middle East, he was was grabbed off the street on assignment in Iran and detained by police on suspicion that he was a spy for Israel.

In a 2002 interview with the Capital-Journal about his five-day detention in Iran, Seib said, "These risks that journalists run are still worth running. Somebody has to take upon themselves the job of communicating about the world to the world."

Two guests close down the bar before the luncheon begins (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Two guests close down the bar before the luncheon begins


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