Monday, November 30, 2015

Old Ebbitt Grill meets Governor Hogan

“The only bipartisanship you ever see is when they finally sign a bill and everybody says, 'Gee, isn't that wonderful?’” — Colin Powell

WASHINGTON DC is, of course, one the world's great capital cities, and one of the pleasurable aspects of being here has been sampling various food choices.

In addition to the French Bistro Cacao, Hank's Oyster Bar, the Tune Inn, a Salvadoran eatery called Judy Restaurant, we had a bite at a pop-up vegan restaurant, lunch at a Dutch falafel restaurant (who knew such a specific category even existed) and dinner at the quintessential Washington insider restaurant, Old Ebbitt Grill.

Old Ebbitt is a Washington institution. (I encourage you to click on the above link and read its colorful and entertaining history.) 

While there, we sat next to a lovely couple from Baltimore, Michael and Carolyn Gaines. Naturally we had to talk politics at least a little. As you are well aware, I'm about as liberal as they come: while many people complain about having too much government, I on the other hand don't think we have enough! 

Michael and Carolyn told me they eschew categorizing themselves and vote the issues. As wackadoodle as most Republican politicians are these days, that seems risky at best. Having read the below New York Times piece, however, about Republican Maryland governor, Larry Hogan, I kinda get how they might be willing to give the guy a chance.

One Governor’s Extraordinary Year

By Frank Bruni
November 29, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — NEWLY bald and always blunt, Gov. Larry Hogan was wondering about his hair. When it might grow back. How it might grow back.

Five months ago, it was white and he had lots of it. Would it be brown upon its return? Chemo can do that.

“Maybe I can get my natural color back,” Hogan, 59, said over lunch last week. “I’ve had completely gray hair since, like, 30. I’m thinking I’m going to have dark, curly hair.”

But, he added, “It’s not worth it. It’s maybe better to just have the hairdresser do it or get Just for Men.”

His words reflected the unexpected battle with cancer that has defined his first year in office.

They also suggested his positive nature and good humor, which help to explain another surprise: Hogan’s popularity as a Republican in a state that’s about as Democratic as they come.

Roughly 25 percent of Maryland’s voters are registered as Republicans, while 55 percent are registered as Democrats, with the rest in a third party or unaffiliated. But a poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland last month showed that 62 percent of the state’s registered voters approved of Hogan’s job performance. Just 20 percent disapproved. Among Democrats, his disapproval rating was higher — 28 percent — but it was still dwarfed by an approval rating of 54 percent.

At least for now, he commands respect from many voters who are typically sour on Republicans. That’s what I wanted to discuss with him.

Is there a secret to transcending the acrid partisanship that defines national politics these days? Is there a lesson in Hogan’s across-the-aisle appeal?

“You can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “That’s always been my mantra.”

Washington politicians and presidential candidates have lost sight of that, in part because they get more attention and donations by throwing stones than by building bridges.

Hogan goes easy on the stones. His response to the April rioting in Baltimore was a prime illustration of that. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, a Democrat, became the target of furious criticism, but he took care not to fuel it.

“I try not to make it personal,” he told me, “and I don’t care about partisan politics one way or the other.”

Hogan’s election last November was one of several indications that many American voters are perhaps more politically malleable than they’re said to be, and that their desire for change, coupled with the allure of candidates who haven’t spent a lifetime in politics, may trump party loyalty.

In two other blue states, Massachusetts and Illinois, voters also elected new Republican governors, and in all three cases, the victor was someone with as extensive a background in business as in politics. Hogan, who had never held elective office, ran a commercial real estate firm.

But he has politics in his blood. His father, after whom he’s named, was a Republican congressman from Maryland, and set an example of avoiding reflexive partisanship when, in 1974, he was the lone Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote for all three articles of impeachment against President Nixon.

Hogan himself ran for Congress in his 20s and again in his 30s, losing both times. In becoming governor, he realized an ambition that had eluded his dad, who made a bid for the office in 1974 but was defeated in the Republican primary, a victim of Republican rage against him for his impeachment vote.

Hogan’s own family situation defies Republican stereotypes. He married his wife, a Korean immigrant, when he was in his late 40s, and became a stepfather to three Korean-American daughters, all grown now.

“We’re the first not-white family to ever live in the governor’s mansion,” he told me. “My son-in-law is Puerto Rican. I have a beautiful little granddaughter who is half Korean and half Latina. I’m the only white guy in the house.”

His lieutenant governor is black.

All of that, Hogan said, has undoubtedly influenced voters’ opinions of him.

So has his cancer. Back in June, he was given a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which had spread so aggressively that there were dozens of tumors throughout his body. He went through three surgeries and four spinal taps. He endured intensive chemotherapy. Two weeks ago, he announced that he was in remission.

The voters most aware of his illness are also the most supportive of his job performance, according to the poll I mentioned earlier.

But that may have as much do with the way he handled cancer as with the brutal fact of it. He became an outspoken advocate for cancer awareness, training a spotlight on others with the disease, hiding nothing from his constituents and using his illness to connect with them. It was a case study in the political potency of humanizing yourself.

He disclosed his cancer diagnosis at a news conference mere days after he received it and mere hours after a doctor had tunneled into one of his hips to extract bone marrow. He was on painkillers to boot.

“I literally was groggy and having a hard time standing,” he recalled. “But I did it anyway and I answered every single question. It was like truth serum.”

I asked him why he didn’t wait a little longer.

“I just wanted to be honest and open,” he said. “I wanted people to hear from me rather than some rumor about why I was in the hospital.”

Even before the cancer, Hogan garnered admiration from unlikely quarters for a governing style that demonstrates a few overlooked truths: Among Republicans, there’s more ideological diversity and flexibility than the lunge-to-the-right presidential primaries showcase, and for many of America’s governors and mayors, practicality outweighs purity.

“One thing that’s certain is that he’s no ideologue,” wrote The Baltimore Sun in an editorial in late May that assessed Hogan’s first legislative session, during which he took regulatory actions regarding water pollution that surprised and impressed some (though by no means all) environmentalists.

Hogan also concentrated on his campaign pledge to reduce taxes, control government spending and create what he felt would be a business-friendly climate that spurred economic growth. On other fronts, he was less adamant.

So while he readily locked horns with Democrats over money for education — they sought more than he deemed fiscally prudent — he let measures promoting L.G.B.T. rights pass into law without his signature, respecting what most Marylanders seemed to want without stoking the ire of conservatives. Lucky for him, they aren’t as numerous or assertive in Maryland as in other states.

“He’s never once mentioned what I call a cultural issue: gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage,” the Maryland Comptroller, Peter Franchot, a Democrat, told me. “He’s moderate in his rhetoric and he’s moderate in his choice of issues.”

The Sun’s editorial, “Hogan’s softer road,” observed: “This is a governor who is not interested in picking fights, in provoking opponents or in expending political energies on matters about which he has limited interest.”

The Sun noted that after he vetoed legislation that would have allowed former inmates to vote as soon as they left prison — and before they completed parole or probation — he didn’t launch into “rants against the bill’s Democratic sponsors for seeking to bolster their numbers at the polls,” which is what most Republicans in Washington would have done. He just said that a person’s full debt to society should be repaid before his or her voting rights were restored. Then he moved on.

In recent weeks, he joined other Republican governors in telling the Obama administration that he didn’t want Syrian refugees resettled in Maryland without greater assurances about the screening process. That prompted an outcry from many Marylanders.

But he didn’t follow other Republicans in clambering onto soapboxes and talking about Muslims versus Christians.

“It’s about tone,” he said, adding that at the end of the legislative session, after ample wrangling with Democrats, he and his aides tried not to gloat over victories or fume about defeats.

“You work as hard as you can, stand up for what you believe is right, push the issues you feel are important for the state, and you win some and you lose some,” he said. “You don’t demonize the other side.”

“They’re elected by the people of Maryland just like I am,” he continued. “They have things they strongly believe in. I have things I believe in. The various voters of the state have differences of opinion. And it’s the personal name-calling that people hate.”

He’s not above occasional jabs. During our talk, he took a few at his predecessor in the governor’s office, Martin O’Malley, questioning the motives and prudence of O’Malley’s visit to Baltimore after the rioting broke out.

But he mostly projects a combination of directness and affability that’s effective in sanding down the edges of political discourse and disarming adversaries.

“He smiles, he’s charming and he really listens to what you say,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat who just finished a stint as the chairman of the National Governors Association.

I was struck by how unguarded he seems.

“Not to get too personal,” he said to me, “but I lost hair pretty much all over my body — I’m a pretty hairy guy.” That meant a vacation from certain grooming rituals, but the other day, he said, “I had a couple of hairs sticking out of my face. I felt like a 13-year-old boy. I’m excited I’m going to shave for the first time in five months.”

He eagerly anticipates a reunion with his eyebrows and, even more so, his eyelashes.

“Your eyelashes keep things from falling in your eyes,” he said. “That’s why they’re there — not just to bat your eyes and flirt or just to look better. There are all kinds of dust particles and they fall into my eyes. I’m constantly getting stuff in my eyes.”

Maybe so, but his vision seemed plenty clear to me.

Other buildings, other rooms

“Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.” — George Washington

If YOU'VE read the two previous Hey Look posts about our visit to Washington DC, you know we spent a great deal of time in the Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress and Supreme Court buildings, but we popped into other places as well. Here are a few more views and reviews.

We walked through the Folger Theater and Library where Shakespearean works are performed on a regular basis. While we were in town, Pericles was being staged and getting excellent reviews. We considered going, but tickets were only available for the matinee, and we didn't want to miss any daytime touring time. Below are two pictures from the FTS&T website, so you can get a sense of the place.



Who knew that Florida has an embassy? Yup. It's the only state that has one. The Florida House website says that since 1973 it has welcomed visiting Floridian students, dignitaries, elected officials and business people in the nation's capital where they can "explore the outstanding art collection and antique furnishings, get information about attractions in the area, and learn about Florida's congressional delegation." 

Friday night as we were walking back from the Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress building, we passed a church and heard ethereal organ music wafting into the air. I followed my ears and found an unlocked entrance to the church, St. Mark's Episcopal, but the door to the sanctuary was locked. I took a chance, knocked softly, and organist Jason West was gracious enough to let us come in and listen to him rehearse. It was magical. 

St Mark's sanctuary.

Pipes of the pipe organ.
We walked past the Capitol building many times. Below is a frieze detail.

The two photos below are of the Canadian Embassy

Sculpture at the Canadian Embassy. Normally the boat is in water.

The Newseum, a seven-level, interactive museum of news and journalism peaked our interest, but we didn't have time to visit. One of the cool things about it is that on the outside of the building, the current front page of a daily newspaper from every state in the union is displayed in a long gallery. That day Iowa was represented by the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Last, and certainly not least: the Spy Museum. Paul and I had been looking forward to visiting it, and it did not disappoint. We spent two-and-half hours there, and in fact closed the place down, but we didn't even get half way through it. Next time we're back, we'll see if we can finish the tour.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress building

“I cannot live without books.” ― Thomas Jefferson

FRIDAY we toured the Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress building and were sufficiently enthralled that we went back again yesterday.

Excuse the overdose of photos. It's just too beautiful a building to narrow the selection. Below the pictures, there's a bit of history of the Library taken from the governmental website explaining why the first building of the Library of Congress was named after Thomas Jefferson.

Paul loves maps. Has ever since he was a little, little kid. Here he's studying
some from the 1780's.

From the Library of Congress website:

The Library of Congress serves as the research arm of Congress and is recognized as the national library of the United States. Its collections comprise the world's most comprehensive record of human creativity and knowledge. Open to those age 16 and older without charge or special permission, it is the world's largest library and a great resource to scholars and researchers.

It was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress - and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…"

Established with $5,000 appropriated by the legislation, the original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library.

Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books, "putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science"; his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States. In offering his collection to Congress, Jefferson anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."

In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson's offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library. The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today's Library of Congress.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Supreme Court November 27, 2015

“Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever.” — William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court

TODAY Paul and I toured the Supreme Court building. Our docent shared two tidbits with us about William Howard Taft that were particularly interesting to me: First, he was the only person to ever to serve as both President of the United States and a Supreme Court Justice — and second, Taft's life-long dream had always been to be a Supreme Court Justice, not president. It was his wife who wanted him to be president! Having satisfied her ambition, he finally achieved his goal after he was defeated for a second presidential term, by serving as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1921 to 1930. 

Taft was also the driving force behind the construction of the magnificent Supreme Court building we have today. Before it was built, the court had had several ignominious homes. It's last location prior to being housed where it is now was in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol, where the Justices had no private chambers, and their conferences had to be held in the Capitol's basement. In 1929 Justice Taft convinced Congress to build a separate, spacious building for the Supreme Court, successfully arguing that the Court needed to distance itself from the Congress as a separate branch of the federal government. The building was completed in 1935, five years after Taft's death.

Below are some pictures from our tour.

In the plaza area in front of the Supreme Court. It was 70-some degrees on November 27!

Paul in the stairway leading up to the Supreme Court chambers.

While waiting in this hall for our tour, we chatted with a family sitting next to us only to discover that not only are they from Cedar Rapids, IA, but they were on the very same flight we took out of Des Moines last Tuesday. One of their two sons has applied to attend law school, and wanted to see the Supreme Court, so mom and dad brought them here.

Marble circular steps. They're cordoned off from use, but how beautiful!
A panoramic that Paul took.

Thanksgiving in Washington DC

“Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you if you live in the United States. And if you don't, happy 26th (or 27th) of November.

Paul and I may be starting a new tradition of being non-traditional on Thanksgiving. Two years ago today we were in New Orleans. Last year Karl and Peg Schilling, Terry and Kathy Lebo and Paul and I had Thanksgiving dinner at Prairie Meadows casino in Altoona. This year Paul and I flew to Washington DC to visit Galen BrooksDavid Voight and Paul's college pal, Kit Bonson and partner, Steve Grant.

Paul, me and David

Galen, David and Paul and I had an elegant meal at Bistro Cacoa the night we got in. The next morning the four us had breakfast at the Tune Inn, which has the distinction of being the third-oldest restaurant in Washington DC; the first is the National Press Club. After breakfast we took a walking tour around the area that includes the Supreme Court building and the Library of Congress. Such magnificent architecture everywhere.

James is the heart and soul of the Tune Inn.
Paul contemplates a new hair style and persona.

Galen and David were off to Iceland later that day, and Paul and I discovered a great little place for dinner called Hank's Oyster Bar. We thought it was a find. BTW: The names of the drinks were hilarious. (See below.)

Kit had arranged for the three of us to volunteer at a bookstore/restaurant called Busboys and Poets serving free Thanksgiving dinners, but they had about five times as many volunteers as were needed, so Kit headed home to finish cooking dinner while we had lunch at a Salvadoran restaurant called Judy. Paul got to have tamales, which he loves, and I had a drink called a horchata for the first time. A Salvadoran horchata contains ground cocoa, cinnamon, sesame seeds, nutmeg, tiger nuts, vanilla and milk, blended and poured over ice. It was delicious.

We drove to Silver Spring and picked up poet, artist and Facebook friend Rob Kleinsteuder later in the afternoon for dinner at Kit's, and my oh my what a meal! Kit is famous for her dinner parties. She made a zucchini/cauliflower soup that was to die. Then mushrooms stuffed with bacon, and a different kind of mushrooms with bacon served on a bed of romaine lettuce. As a main course she served roast turkey, dressing, roasted potatoes, gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and homemade cranberry sauce. For dessert, there was butterscotch pie with whipped cream and cashews, and apple pie. See what I mean about her dinner parties?!

The table is set and waiting.
Cauliflower-zucchini soup 
Stuffed mushrooms on a bed of greens
Ready to pile up our plates.
SO good!!
Butterscotch pie with whipped cream and cashews.
Kit and Paul.
Rob stretching out to his full length.
Paul and Steve watching Mystery Science Theater.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

“No one ever forgets a toy that made him or her supremely happy as a child, even if that toy is replaced by one like it that is much nicer.” — Stephen King, The Eyes of the Dragon

ONE OF the BAC Music guys recommended a little restaurant in Overland Park, KS called Pad Thai for lunch on Friday. We weren't expecting anything as good as it turned out to be. Delicious food, wonderful presentation at a modest price. If you pass through the area, it's worth taking in.

Friday night we went to the #1 rated barbecue in the area, Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que. Here's what the USA Today had to say about it:

Here's the thing, though, both Paul and I kinda feel, assuming that it's not awful: barbecue is barbecue. We found their baked beans too vinegary and the rest of the food unremarkable. The description of the restaurant's location is inaccurate in one way: it's in an old gas station, yes, but it's still a working gas station!

Saturday we went to The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. We thought we'd buzz through, but we spent three and a half hours there. The miniatures are so incredible. Everything is to scale, for heaven's sake. Trust me, you want to go to this.

Saturday night we ate at the #4 best restaurant in the USA Today list of the 10 best restaurants in Kansas City, a place called Story. The halibut I had as my entree was to die, but let's be honest: you almost have to work at it to screw up halibut. It was good, it was expensive, but as Paul said, all the food was rather expected. Nothing surprised us or took our breath away.

Below find examples of the fantastic world of miniatures from The NMT&M. So worth a visit.