Headliners Continue Making Headlines

Despite snowy weather that moved two sessions, our Smithsonian class continues, where we listen to (and ask questions of) various journalists who specialize in reporting on Washington, DC.  This week’s speaker was Thom Shanker, the New York Times’ man in the Pentagon (at least, until the end of this month, when he’ll be promoted to a managing editorial role.)

Shanker was the first (and only, within the series) solely-print journalist we’ve heard.  He was very engaging, with suitably self-deprecating remarks about his skill (or lack thereof) with technology, including audio-visual presentations etc.  He was extraordinarily respectful of people in the military, making a special point to acknowledge active and retired members in the audience.  A lot of his presentation focused on embedded journalists — a practice that he thinks has been vital to democracy (so that civilians see and understand what’s really going on) and one which he thinks is almost over (due to warfare moving to non-mass-forces ways of fighting.)

There were a couple of points, though, that jangled in his presentation, a couple of factual errors that he made.  He was speaking off the cuff, without printed remarks, so I suppose the man gets a bit of a pass.  Nevertheless, when he referred to Edward Snowden’s release of materials as being outside the mainstream media (Snowden tried to get the Washington Post to release them first, but the Post wouldn’t agree to his terms), he was off-base.  And when Shanker referred to Vladimir Putin as a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, he was flat-out wrong, by almost a decade.  (Putin was born in Leningrad/St. Petersburg in 1952, and the Siege would certainly have cast a shadow over his childhood, but he wasn’t a survivor.)

Those may have been verbal mis-steps, the sort of casual accidents that happen when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground very quickly.  But they had the effect of making me hyper-critical of everything else Shanker said.  I’m not very knowledgeable about a lot of his subject matter, so I was particularly wary.

Interesting, any way, to speculate on the power of mistakes in the context of journalism.  Of course, in print, the man has factcheckers and editors covering him.  But the presentation ended up being meaningful, in a meta sort of way…

I get most of my in-depth news from print journalism (mostly, the Washington Post, although we also subscribe to the weekend New York Times.)  I get my spot-news during the day from various Twitter feeds, which usually send me scurrying to the electronic versions of mainstream media.

Where do you get most of your news from?  Print journalism? Online versions of mainstream media?  Comedy Channel from Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert? Other places?

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The Rest is Silence

Last weekend, I went to see a production of Hamlet.  Hamlet is one of those plays that I sort of, kind of, maybe feel like I don’t ever need to see again — it’s got some of the greatest monologues in the canon, but I’ve seen it (between movies and staged productions) probably a dozen times, and really, how many skulls can you peruse, and how many bodies can you heap in a pile for the final scene?

But this production was totally different.

This production was staged by Synetic Theater, and it’s Hamlet without words — in 90 minutes, start to finish.

Basically, the work felt like a ballet, but a ballet where the choreography truly focused on storytelling rather than on demonstrating dancing skill.  It was definitely an adaptation — the company started out with Gertrude and Claudius leading a court dance, then backtracked to show the joy of Hamlet and Ophelia as a happy couple, then moved forward to show the actual murder of Hamlet’s father.  From there on, it tracked the play relatively closely, although it added a scene to show Ophelia’s actual drowning, instead of just hearing about it after the fact.  Basically, Hamlet was ironed out into a linear story, then depicted in wordless detail.

Parts of the production were absolutely inspired.  The play within a play was brilliant — funny and absurd and provoking, without the drag of being repeated, the way it is in a standard production.  The conversion of the minimal set into a boat for the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (are dead) scene was well done.  Ophelia’s mad scene and her later death were inspired — and it definitely helped that the actor playing Ophelia looked like she’d stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting.  The swordplay at the end (mimed without swords) was engaging, and the final tableau was striking.

I didn’t love all of it.  Polonius was relatively young, and there wasn’t any hint of the old man’s foolishness that typically describes his character.  Laertes was relegated to a comparatively minor role. Ultimately, the stripped-down costume and sets felt a little *too* reductive, like they were a bit too bargain-basement.

But overall, the entire show made me rethink Hamlet, made me revisit his story and his motivations and why things happened the way they did.  And that’s a noteworthy accomplishment for any retelling of the Melancholy Dane’s tale…

What about you?  Have you seen retellings of classic stories that worked particularly well?  How about disasters?  (Because, let’s face it.  Disasters can often be more fun to talk about :-) )

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Rome in Washington

Yesterday, I cried.  In public.

Yesterday, I went to the National Gallery of Art, to see the statue The Dying Gaul.  The Gaul lives in Rome, in the Capitoline Museum, where I saw him about two years ago.  We came across him at the end of a long day of sight-seeing, when our backs ached with “museum-ache”, when our knees refused to bend double, when our heads were full of beautiful sights and historical knowledge and countless tourist details.


And I was captivated.  I stood in a crowded room, ignoring the people who zoomed in with their cell phones so they could take a picture of the Gaul from all possible angles.  I forced my tortured knees to let me squat so I could look up into the Gaul’s face, and I told my back it could stretch out later, thank you very much.

For the second time since it was discovered on the grounds of a Roman villa in the early 1600s, the Gaul has traveled outside of Italy.  (The first time was when Napoleon claimed him for France.) He’s displayed (just until this Sunday) in the Rotunda of the National Gallery of Art here in DC.  He’s on a plinth that places him waist-high, so that there’s no kneeling necessary.  There were a dozen or so people around him, and two security guards, but far fewer viewers than in Rome.  (I was told that the crowd becomes ten-deep on weekends.)

And he’s every bit as captivating as he was in Rome.

The Dying Gaul

I don’t know why this work of art speaks to me so much.  I’m not an artist — I have no desire to sketch him or paint him in oils or to make my own maquette.  I don’t even *like* most sculpture — I know the way to talk about it filling space, and presence and voids, etc., but it almost never interests me.

But this piece does.

I want to tell his story.  I want to know who carved him.  I want to know what the bronze original looked like.  I want him to be real.

What works of art that speak to you, in a loud clear voice?

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Gotta Have Heart!

This past weekend was a more-odd-than-usual mix of activities in Klaskyville!

On Friday, I attended a CPR certification class at my local hospital.  After Mark’s fall on the ice a few weeks ago (and he’s doing great now – no lingering signs of his concussion!), I realized that I hadn’t been trained in what to do in an emergency since college.  I tried to find a First Aid class, but none was readily available, so I decided CPR was the next best thing.  The four-hour class covered Adult CPR, using an Automatic External Defibrillator on an adult, Adult Choking, Child CPR, Child AED, Child Choking, Infant CPR, and Infant Choking.  I was the only woman in the class who wasn’t pregnant :-)

All in all, it felt empowering to complete the training.  I don’t know how long I could actually continue doing CPR in an emergency – I’d have to hope some adrenaline kicked in, because it’s very hard work.  My wrists hurt afterwards (but I didn’t have to put on my Dread Writing Brace!)

For a complete change of scene, we went to the opera on Saturday night — Moby Dick, performed by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.  One of Mark’s high school friends, Carl Tanner, sang the lead.


(That’s Carl, peg-leg and all, front and center.)  I’m not a huge fan of opera, but I truly enjoyed the music in this production — especially the instrumental music, the “chanties” sung by the sailors, the duets between Ahab and Starbuck.  The “star” of the show for me, though, was the staging — amazing use of projections, and a vertical back wall of the stage where performers hung on metal footholds, creating the image of being in boats on the sea.  The final attack of the whale (do I need to give spoiler warnings on a story almost 175 years old?) was incredible, and the final image (of Ishmael being rescued, against a brilliant blue sky) was ***stunning***.

We wrapped up the weekend with one of our irregular music appreciation classes — What Makes it Great with Rob Kapilow.  The music of the night was Gershwin songs — four of them, taken apart measure by measure, then put back together by two amazing singers, with Rob on piano.  I learned more about Broadway music than I’ve ever consciously learned before, and I absorbed a lot about Gershwin in particular.

I think I need a weekend to recover from my weekend!  How about you?


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Earnestly Ernest

Last weekend (it seems so long ago now!), we went to see the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest.  I’ve seen the play once before, and I’ve seen various snippets here and there, but I’ve never seen a production as lavish (two full sets — one interior, one exterior)!  The actors used their classical training to e-nun-ci-ate each line with precision, often adding to the inherent humor of the dialog.

Mostly, though, I’ll remember the production as the place where I learned the meaning of farce.  Prior to Earnest, I’d considered farce to be a type of broad physical comedy — things like the French comedies that the Shakespeare Theatre loves so (too) much, or the funniest play I’ve ever seen in my life — Noises Off, which involves a lot of Feydeau scenes, and precise timing for physical gags.

And yet, Merriam Webster (and the dramaturg for Earnest) don’t require any physical comedy for something to qualify as farce.  Rather, it’s a type of comedy of the absurd — a comedy built around ridiculous situations and events (such as a woman who will only marry a man named “Ernest”).

By that definition, I like a lot more farce than I thought I did.  After all, I love Frasier, and just about every episode of that show qualifies.

So, an enjoyable afternoon at the theater (or, theatre, as the Shakespeare folks would have it.)  Are you a fan of farce?

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Chuck Todd and Hope for the Future

Monday night, we went to another session of our Smithsonian class, featuring journalists who report on Washington.  The man of the hour was Chuck Todd (NBC’s Man in Washington.)

I have to admit to a completely unfair, visceral dislike of Mr. Todd, because he used to be the editor in chief of THE HOTLINE.  THE HOTLINE is a publication of immense use to lobbyists.  It’s also a publication that costs an arm, a leg, and a firstborn child.  When I managed libraries, THE HOTLINE was one of the most frustrating publications I dealt with — the most expensive single item in my budget, and one with some of the worst terms in its user agreement.

But none of that is Mr. Todd’s fault :-)

In reality, Chuck Todd turned out to be an ***immensely*** knowledgeable man who was able to answer questions that ranged from foreign policy to domestic health care to baseball (!)  He was entertaining, respectful of his questioners, and he welcomed opposing ideas.  He expressed a great deal of frustration with the billions of dollars that currently fund campaigns, and he elaborated on grave concerns about districting in many jurisdictions.

He ended the evening, discussing current young people, expressing great hope in how they’ll change the political system.  Rather than follow the typical party line (“young people today are lazy and uninvolved”), he opined that young people today have a lot in common with Depression Babies of the Greatest Generation — they’re growing up in a time when jobs are hard to find and money is scarce.  While they’re impatient and demand change, those are *good* attitudes to have when political systems need to be reformed.

That perspective was remarkably upbeat, in a forum that has generally been pretty despondent.  (Bob Schieffer said, for example, that he didn’t see any way out of our current gridlock, and he saw virtually no change on the horizon.)

I get very little of my news by way of television — I rely on newspapers and public radio.  It was interesting to get a whole new point of view.  Where, in general, do you get your news?

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