Still Singing

Andrew in 2005

Andrew with Leonard Slatkin in November 2005 after singing the treble solo in the Chichester Psalms

(Editor’s Note:  Candice posted the following on her Facebook page earlier today.  I’m putting it here on More to Come… as she wrote it.)

In 2001 at the age of 8, Andrew began singing at the Washington National Cathedral as a novice boy chorister. In 5th grade, he joined the boy choristers and went on to become head chorister in 2007. Pictured here is Andrew in 2005 with Leonard Slatkin of the National Symphony Orchestra when Andrew was the treble soloist for the Chichester Psalms. Those were exciting years.

Today, Andrew sang for the first time as one of the men of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys. The second picture shows Andrew this morning as the choir was ready to process into the service. It’s been a great ride, Andrew, and we are excited to see where life, your talent, and your dedication takes you next.

Andrew at the Cathedral

Andrew sings with the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys earlier today

More to come…


Walking as an Act of Citizenship


A nice pair of oxfords for walking

I love the fact that smart phones now have built-in pedometers. Knowing I can count my steps has encouraged me to find opportunities to walk around the places I live and work each day. In the process I’ve become much more familiar with the Foggy Bottom Historic District (near the Watergate where I work) and Silver Spring (near my home).  In snowy weather, as we’ve seen this weekend on the east coast, walking is sometimes our only reliable means of transportation.

Fred Kent, the founder of the Project for Public Spaces, has noted that “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

Walking doesn’t have to be for any great purpose.  The BBC News Magazine had a recent article that highlighted the “just to walk” stroll – titled appropriately The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking.

But the same study found that a mere 17% of trips were “just to walk”. And that included dog-walking.

It is that “just to walk” category that is so beloved of creative thinkers.

“There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.

“Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I’m far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and ‘thinking’.”

A few years ago I read a wonderful book by Rebecca Solnit entitled Wanderlust: A History of Walking. In it, Solnit wrote:

Walking is only the beginning of citizenship, but through it the citizen knows his or her city and fellow citizens and truly inhabits the city rather than a small privatized part thereof. Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life, the personal microcosm with the public macrocosm; it makes sense of the maze all around….Walking maintains the publicness and viability of public space.

Wherever you are going, enjoy your stroll today.

More to come…


Observations from the Road: The “There are Worse Places to Spend a Blizzard (Day 2)” Edition

Central Park

Central Park after the Blizzard of 2016

After 27 inches of snow fell in Central Park over Friday evening and Saturday, Sunday dawned bright, clear…and cold!  So after being fortified by breakfast, I decided to wander out to see how New York City was faring as a follow-up to yesterday’s There are Worse Places to Spend a Blizzard

First, a check of 5th Avenue at 54th Street.  When I was at that intersection last evening, it looked like this:

5th Avenue in NYC during the blizzard 01 23 16

5th Avenue at 54th Street shortly after 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 23rd

While the hustle and bustle in the roadways hasn’t picked up, there are many more people out walking through this part of the city by mid-day on Sunday.

5th Avenue

5th Avenue at 54th Street after the blizzard on Sunday morning

It was great to be out with the “crowds” (using that term loosely).  I saw dog walkers…and (small) dogs wearing booties.  I saw people gawking at the Trump Tower.  I saw men (mostly) doing the hard work of shoveling snow (with the main culprit in bad sidewalk maintenance being the luxury store Bergdorf Goodman.) I stopped by and saw the handiwork of old friends George Taylor and John Boody – Opus 27 – built by Taylor and Boody Organbuilders in Staunton, Virginia, for St. Thomas 5th Avenue in 1996.

Opus 27 Taylor & Boody Organbuilders

Taylor and Boody Organbuilders Opus 27 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 5th Avenue (photo credit: Taylor & Boody Organbuilders)

I also worked my way up to Central Park to see those 27 inches.  New Yorkers – being New Yorkers – were out in force.  The bicycle tours were doing a brisk business. Snow angels were being made. Selfies were the preferred photo of the day. And there was an outbreak of manners, as people waited turns to walk through small breaks in the snow and help older walkers navigate icy patches.  It was a great day to be out.

Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel on Central Park South

Central Park looking east

Central Park looking east

Central Park looking west

Central Park looking west

Tomorrow I’ll have to navigate getting back to Washington.  Today, it is time to enjoy the snow.

More to come…


Observations from the Road: The “There are Worse Places to Spend a Blizzard” Edition

5th Avenue in NYC during the blizzard 01 23 16

5th Avenue at 54th Street in New York City at 8:30 on a Saturday evening

I came to New York City this weekend knowing full well that some of the meetings I had scheduled could be changed or cancelled due to the snow.  But the predictions were off significantly, and the blizzard that blanketed Washington came right up the eastern seaboard to New York.

However, our team made the best of it, and we were fortunate to have two of our members here from New Orleans.  So they just did what they always do in the face of natural disasters, and we ended up having a great “hurricane party” in their apartment about a block from our hotel.

What a wonderful way to spend a blizzard in New York City.

More to come…



The World, Explained in Ten Maps

Prisoners of Geography

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

I’ve been sick much of the past week, with rest the best prescription.  As I’ve rested, I’ve read.  And read.  And read some more.

I should get sick more often.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything About the World is a book I bought for my father for Christmas.  But in leafing through it at Politics & Prose, it piqued my interest, so I picked up a second copy for myself.  I’m glad I did.

Author Tim Marshall is a long-time British foreign affairs journalist.  In this easy-to-read yet thought-provoking book, Marshall writes “The landscape imprisons their leaders (of all nations, big and small), giving them fewer choices and less room to maneuver than you might think.”

This is a geopolitical book, which looks at the ways in which international affairs can be understood through geographical factors.  For my friends in the Foreign Service or at the World Bank, this is no doubt old hat.  But I don’t read much in either geopolitical theory or international affairs, and so I found this a useful introduction to the field.

Marshall’s chapters look at ten different regions.  Each examines the geopolitics of the past (how the nations were formed), current issues, and potential future conflicts.  It is a fascinating book – part travelogue, part history, part current events (up to mid-summer of 2015), and all engaging.

Marshall begins with Russia, followed by chapters on China and the United States.  He is breezy, but to the point.  (As in, Putin “may well go to bed each night, say his prayers, and ask God:  ‘Why didn’t you put some mountains in Ukraine.'”)  I’ve traveled a bit around the Black Sea, and so have visited many of the places that give Putin – and thus the rest of the world as well – heartache.  Marshall explains why China is so bent on becoming a major naval power.  And with the United States, Marshall notes that we have

Location, location, location.  If you won the lottery, and were looking to buy a country to live in, the first one the real estate agent would show you would be the United States of America….

It’s in a wonderful neighborhood, the views are marvelous, and there are some terrific water features, the transport links are excellent, and the neighbors?  The neighbors are great, no trouble at all.

I was obviously on firm ground (no pun intended) in this chapter, but less well versed when reading about Africa – beginning with the third or fourth paragraph where Marshall notes that “the world’s idea of African geography is flawed.  Few people realize just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map.  This, as other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shape.”  One attempt to show the correct land mass is the Gall-Peters projection:

Gall-Peters Projection

Gall-Peters Projection of the World (from Wikipedia)

Suffice it to say that Africa is large!

The chapter on the Middle East filled in some holes in my understanding, although I’ve read a good bit about the region in the past decade.  One of the most fascinating chapters was the last, on the Arctic.

This was a terrific book, from start to finish.  The only disappointment – surprisingly – was the maps.  (Imagine that!)  They are not terribly clear or illuminating, and I could have used more of the zoomed-in versions that cropped up occasionally in a discussion of a particular portion of the region.  I could imagine this book would be great in an interactive e-book format.  In any event, it is highly recommended.

Now my wish is that every Republican presidential candidate would have to read this book and be given a test before we let them back on a debate stage.

There I go again…must be the sickness returning.

More to come…


The Power of Identity

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’ve been reading two important books in recent weeks. Both have challenged some of my deeply held assumptions.  Both books and their authors have received extensive coverage in the media. And while I didn’t originally plan for this post to come out on the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, perhaps it is only fitting that I spend this time on America’s racial history as we honor one whose life work was spent on correcting injustice.

One book was not written with a white audience in mind, while the other is clearly intended to open the eyes of the those who see the civil rights movement as a three-day event:  “On Day 1, Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat on the bus. On Day 2, [the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] led a march on Washington. And on the third day, we signed all of these laws.”  Both books – in their own ways – have affirmed for me that the work I can do to help build a more complete American identify can be a small but important step in helping to heal the racial divide that tears at our country.

The topic of racism and our response in this country is one I’ve been wrestling with in this blog almost since it began. Last year was especially difficult in this regard, given the shootings of nine innocent parishioners at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, and the response.  I came to these two books from a rather progressive (especially for the South) family background, where I had always tried to follow the rules of respect and trust.  I’m not sure that’s enough.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is rightfully being hailed as a worthy successor to the intellectual legacy of James Baldwin.  Written as a letter to his adolescent son, Between the World and Me grapples – in straightforward, stark, and beautifully written prose – with what it means to be black in a country that built its history and power in part on the difference between being white and black.

While Coates has been quoted as saying this is not a book written for white audiences, I think it speaks in a special way to those of us who did not grow up as people of color.  Journalist and lawyer Sally Kohn has suggested the following reason it is important for white audiences:

That Between the World and Me was explicitly not written for white people (like me) is exactly why we should read it. Because part of the ideology of white supremacy and racial hierarchy is the idea that everything white is better, and that people of color should learn from how white people dress and work and raise their kids and write. Want to subvert that subtle, implicit bias? Tweeting #BlackLivesMatter is good, but expanding your intellectual as well as actual interpersonal relationships is even better. And especially if you live in a very white part of America, a book is a great place to start.

I don’t live in a “very white” part of America (our block has multiple families of color who share life together in our urban neighborhood), but this spoke to me.  Much of Coates story is difficult to absorb in one reading, which is why I’ll probably return to it.  But this is an important voice, and I’m glad my children pushed me to read this book.

Just Mercy

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson’s work is easier to understand, if not easier to accept.  I was privileged to hear a recent talk by  Stevenson at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2015 PastForward conference which helped me put both these works in a context, as he framed this struggle as the “power of identity.”

Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.  EJI…

…litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged with violent crimes, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment.

Just Mercy is Stevenson’s 2014 book that tells of this work, framed around the wrongful conviction of death-row inmate Walter McMillan, and the years-long effort to get the criminal justice system to right an obvious wrong.  It is a harrowing story, and not all of the people represented by EJI make it off of death row alive.  Stevenson’s struggle has been compared to Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti.  Tracy Kidder, who wrote the magnificent Mountains Upon Mountains about Farmer’s efforts to cure infectious diseases in the most poverty-stricken reaches of the planet, has this to say about Stevenson:

Our American criminal justice system has become an instrument of evil.  Bryan Stevenson has labored long and hard, and with great skill and temperate passion, to set things right.  Words such as important and compelling may have lost their force through overuse, but reading this book will restore their meaning, along with one’s hopes for humanity.

When Stevenson spoke last fall at the PastForward conference, he tied EJI’s work to that we do as preservationists.  He framed his talk as the power of identity, and called on us to speak to a more complete American identity.  Speaking truthfully about who we are as a people, “requires engagement that we have not yet made”  because there is a narrative of racial difference that we have not confronted.

Besides the power of identity, he spoke of power in memorialization, noting that “we preserve the things that matter.”  If we are to have a more complete American identity, we need a new way of thinking about what we preserve and what we tell.  Stevenson and EJI just released a report entitled Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror in which the Institute documents 3959 racial terror lynchings of African-Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950.  The reports summary (linked above) should be read by all who care about truth and reconciliation in an area where we need to talk about race and racial justice.

This work is necessary, asserts Stevenson, not to punish, but to get to a “better freedom.”

Stevenson ended his talk at the PastForward conference with a call to change the landscape of American iconography, as it tells a false story.  He also ended with three points (two of which he makes in every one of his speeches).  Stevenson said that he believes,

  • We are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.
  • That the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice.
  • And that we cannot judge how we are doing with landmark preservation if we just look at the sites of the wealthy, privileged and powerful.  You judge the character of a society by the places that it saves – especially the places that tell the story of the poor, the formerly enslaved, and the condemned.

Stevenson’s speech is the first 25 minutes of this hour-long video, and I cannot recommend it to you enough.  If you cannot make it through an entire hour, that’s fine, but if you do you’ll also hear of some of the great work of Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute, who I’ve also been privileged to hear and speak with on several occasions.

These are important steps being taken at a time that this country is working through (not always successfully) its history of racial discrimination.  Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend is as good a time as any to take their work seriously.

More to come…



Observations from Home (The It Is Still the Christmas Season Edition)

Brown Family Photo by John Thorne 12 20 15

The Browns on December 20th – Andrew and Claire’s 23rd birthday (photo by John Thorne)

If it is the Christmas season, it means that the Browns are likely to have a new family photo taken by our friend John Thorne.

(Blog interruption:  For those who may be wondering about the use of Christmas language after New Year’s Day, just think of the 12 Days of Christmas.  That’s how we celebrate at the Brown home.)

I’ve written before about the fact that we wouldn’t have family photos if not for John.  Thankfully, he showed up at church on December 20th and asked if we would like a family picture.  All four of us were there, and it was also Andrew and Claire’s 23rd birthday.  A perfect day to capture the family for 2015!

John used two settings, with two different cameras.  At the top you see us in the church yard, while the photo below shows the Washington National Cathedral in the background.

Browns at the Cathedral

Andrew, Candice, Claire and DJB on December 20, 2015 (Photo by John Thorne)

What a wonderful gift for the Christmas season.  Thank you John!

Speaking of getting the family together:  I’ve been hinting over the past couple of months that I’d like to round out my “family” of Racing Presidents’ bobbleheads…and my wonderful wife heard me.  Bill Taft was under the tree this year, and today he took his position on my desk with the “Mount Rushmore 4” and Calvin Coolidge.

Racing Presidents

George, Tom, Abe, Teddy, Bill, and Cal…your Washington Nationals “Racing Presidents”

I’ll have to admit that collecting racing president bobbleheads is a great deal less expensive than G.A.S. (aka Guitar Acquisition Syndrome).

Now, if you don’t know what the racing presidents do, here’s a little sample…from the last race of 2015.

And remember…only 44 days until pitchers and catchers report!  (Thank you Spring Training Countdown!)

Here’s hoping you found what you wanted under your tree this holiday season!

Happy New Year!

More to come…