Friday Photo: DC Shorts Edition

In the audience for DC Shorts at the Navy Memorial #dcshorts

Ten years of the DC Shorts Film Festival.

The DC Shorts Film Festival returns in September! This year’s festival is truly SPECTACULAR: 135 films from 25 countries screened in 17 unique 90-minute showcases. Each show screens 7-9 films: comedies, animation, dramas, documentaries — and by filmmakers around the corner to across the globe.

MovieMaker magazine calls DC Shorts one of the coolest film festivals in the world. What makes it special is the opportunity to see a smorgasbord of cinema and meet interesting filmmakers.

It’s one of my favorite events of the year and something I’ve been a part of almost since the beginning. This year, I helped select the finalists for the Screenplay Competition, a live reading in which the audience gets to pick the winner.

You can be there too! The 11th DC Shorts Film Festival is kicking off ticket sales with a special offer: $2 off EVERY screening, party and special event ticket. Use the special code FIRSTLOOK14 — but hurry: this offer expires Saturday at midnight!

The War That Ended Peace

the war that ended peaceIt was the war they said couldn’t happen. Europe had enjoyed a century of peace. Commerce between the nations was exploding thanks to new inventions and ways of doing business. Knit together by trade, communications and royal marriages, a war in Europe was unthinkable.

Moreover, the leaders of the European powers knew that a general war would lead to the end of their empires. Russia had barely survived its defeat by the Japanese in 1905. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a seething cauldron of nationalities desiring freedom. Turkey was the sick man of Europe, with France and England eying its territory. The German Kaiser feared a revolt against his rule as much as he did the coming war, while the British felt necessary to fight to maintain their global empire.

In the years leading up to 1914, the Europeans had muddled through crisis after crisis, deftly avoiding a general conflagration. Yet, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the continent slowly slid into the war that would consume them all.

This vital period is the subject of Margaret Macmillan’s The War That Ended Peace. She deftly examines the motivations of the Great Powers, as well as the men that led them. War was not inevitable, but the result of mistakes and miscalculations. Europe could have remained at peace, for there was a burgeoning anti-war movement in France and other countries, as well as the first stirrings of international labor. With her profiles of the people and nations of the period, she is careful not to assign blame, writing sympathetically from the perspective of the combatants, whose aims and beliefs were not that different from our own. This was a war in which everyone could claim to be acting in self-defense. Austria-Hungary went to war to punish the Serbs, Russia mobilized to protect Serbia, and Germany felt compelled to quickly defeat France before it would be overwhelmed by the Tsar’s troops.

One hundred years ago, the center of world civilization consumed itself in an unnecessary war. The War That Ended Peace should be required reading for today’s leaders, who glibly assure us that everything will remain as it’s always been. History has shown us the folly of this thinking.


IN MY EYES: Hardcore Concert Photography in DC

Like band photos? Go see the work of @andradexcobain at The Coupe

Photographer Michael Andrade at the opening of IN MY EYES at The Coupe in Washington, DC.

Lucian Perkins had it easy. When the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer covered punk shows in a ruined Washington, DC, he was the only person with a camera, as documented in the brilliant Hard Art DC 1979.

But, these days, everyone is a photographer, holding their iPhones aloft as soon as a band warms up. How do you get concert photos that don’t look like a million other pics on Facebook?

If you’re Michael Andrade, you find small gigs. You get close. You get in the pit. You’re so committed that suffer nerve damage to get the shot.

His work is captured in a new photo exhibit, IN MY EYES, which is on display at The Coupe  until September 1. The exhibit features photos from 11 different DC-area hardcore bands. He brings you the excitement of unknown bands in small venues, all told in dramatic black and white. Andrade captures the joy of the experience, with as much emphasis on the crowd as the band – exactly like his mentor Lucian Perkins did more than thirty years ago.

Bikes and Bias: Why You Shouldn’t Trust the Washington Post


Bike terrorists who deserve to be run over, according to Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy.

There was a time when the media considered itself a fourth branch of government. They were the ones responsible for “keeping them honest” and “speaking truth to power.” Objective arbiters of the truth, journalists were an elite class charged with communicating the news to the rest of us.

No organization embodied this high-minded civic sentiment more than The Washington Post, the paper of Woodward and Bernstein, the paper that brought down a president.

Today, the Washington Post published a poorly-written, factually incorrect, hate-filled screed advocating violence against cyclists. The author was Courtland Milloy, a Washington Post columnist, who writes:

It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.

Believe it or not, but this piece (with its factual errors, stereotyping and threats of violence) was reviewed and edited by editors at the Washington Post.

Several commentators (including me) had a tweet-exchange with one of them, asking how this could pass the Post’s supposedly rigorous standards. His reply:

You know what other views are widely held? Millions of people believe that Obama was born in Kenya. Others think 9/11 was an inside job. And a big chunk of the US population is certain that UFOs exist. But you don’t see their views in the Post. Why not?

Because the Post has editorial standards. They do not allow the beliefs of violent, racist crackpots on to their pages.

Unless you’re Courtland Milloy. He’s kept on staff because he’s supposedly the voice of black Washington – though he no longer lives in the city. Lacking a black perspective on the op-ed page, they pay him handsomely for the odd column, though his hate-filled rants would not be tolerated from a white writer. It’s patronizing liberalism at its worst, literally the soft bigotry of low expectations, and occurs despite the fact that there are plenty of talented black voices in this city.

Why not look for an African-American Ezra Klein rather than hanging on to this relic from the Marion Barry era?

Bikes have a way of revealing biases. For example, gentle-voiced Scott Simon of NPR, also hates and stereotypes cyclists. What other strange views does he hold? Are there other groups he thinks should be singled out for punishment? How do these biases influence what NPR covers?

Reporters say nasty things about cyclists because they can. Slurs against cyclists are acceptable while stereotyping other groups is not. Reporters give voice to this hate because there is no punishment for it. These biases exist and influence what stories get covered – and what stories don’t. Anti-cyclist hate is acceptable in the pages of the Post while the birthers are not.

The media is not objective. Do not believe what The Washington Post says. The Internet and Twitter provide wonderful real-time fact checking. We no longer have to blithely accept what our self-appointed guardians write, especially if they disgrace themselves by publishing hate-filled rants.

The media is not a fourth branch of government – the Internet has assumed that role. Read critically and make up your own mind.

Five Places to Write in Washington, DC

courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery

Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC.

If you want to truly write a book, and not just live out some Eat, Pray, Love fantasy, then you need to go to a boring place. That’s the conclusion of Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup, in a recent blog post. He advocates going to a place where there is nothing to do.

While writing is a solitary activity, it doesn’t mean you need to be alone while doing it. I’m a city person, and like to write around other people, even if I’m not talking to them. A writer’s retreat in a remote cabin would probably turn me into the Unabomber. I need to see and hear other humans.

I’ve written two books in public in Washington, DC. These are my favorite places to write in the city:

1. Peets – 17th and L. I liked it when it was a Caribou, and I like it even more as a Peet’s (better scones). Located on a corner, with windows all around, it’s the perfect clean, well-lighted place. If you’re creatively stuck, you can always stare out the windows at cyclists going by on L Street. On the weekends, it’s so slow that I wonder how they stay in business. But they do and that’s perfect for me.

2. Cove – If you need more structure, than check out the co-working space Cove. They offer desks, fast wifi, coffee and even meeting rooms, all at a very reasonable rate. They have locations around DC but I like the Cove on 14th Street above Barcelona. If you’re there on a Sunday morning (when I like to write), you’ll have the place to yourself.

Never too hot for a cappuccino!

Cappuccino by Illy.

3. Renaissance Hotel – West End. Hotel lobbies are underused writing spaces in this city. This one has an Illy Cafe in it and they make the best cappuccino in the city. One upside/downside: no free wifi. If you can’t control your social media compulsion, come for the isolation.

4. Kogod Courtyard – Located at the National Portrait Gallery, it’s a calm oasis in the center of the city. There’s wifi, plentiful seating and a cafe. Plus, if you run out of ideas, you can always explore the fascinating exhibits at the museum. Open from 11 – 7.

5. Pound the Hill – This indie coffee shop has awesome food – the chicken salad is particularly good – and they even have a happy hour. With art on the walls, it’s a cute place on Capitol Hill to get some work done.

Note: I hate laptop campers, especially in small places like Pound. Give yourself two hours, do your work, and then leave. You can get a lot done if you give yourself a deadline.

A writing place doesn’t need to be boring. It just needs to be a spot where you like to write. When I wrote Murder in Ocean Hall, I discovered that I liked to get my writing done early in the day. And that I couldn’t do it at home. I had to leave my apartment, as if I were going to a job. Which is why I love and patronize coffee shops. While you may have a different preference, the most important thing is find the writing place that works for you.

Friday Photo: America Edition


The road to Marfa, TX.

I live in Washington, DC. Every year, we have one of the biggest fireworks displays in the nation.

But, to me, this is America – an empty Western road under big skies, one that expresses the endless possibilities of this country. This is what the USA is all about.

I took this photo on a drive around the country. When I reached this point, a couple hours outside Marfa, TX, I felt like I had truly left the East Coast behind. From here, I would be in the West. I loved the endless horizon, the baking heat and the absence of people.

The Things We Carry

Bag contents - I'm clearly not carrying enough crap

Sunglasses, Kindle, spoon, outdated coupons – the rather pathetic contents of my bag. I need to carry more crap.

Americans have too much stuff. And whether it’s an SUV, a bike or on foot, we like to carry all of our crap with us.

A measure of status used to be that a man wasn’t encumbered by a knapsack. That was for the working class. A gentleman carried nothing more than a billfold.

Contemporary America has reversed this – now it’s the poor who carry nothing while our elites strap all manner of bags and belts to their person to haul their electronic devices and luxury goods.

No one really needs an iPhone, iPad, Kindle and digital camera with them all the time – they are devices whose purposes overlap. Yet, many people carry all this – and much more – in messenger bags, a utilitarian tool that’s been transformed into an emblem of the creative class. Thou shall know the web designers by their Timbuk2 bags…

The digital age was supposed to free of us from physical objects. After all, everything is in the cloud – photos, videos, books, travel plans, schedules, mail. Yet, this development has lead to a profusion of devices that Americans feel compelled to schlep with them at all times.

Case in point: the San Francisco cyclist carrying around a veritable apothecary on wheels. In addition to the requisite i-devices of her generation, she has medical supplies, a beauty kit, foodstuffs, bike tools and portable radio gear. She’s better outfitted than Amazonian explorers of the last century. All of this stuff she loads onto a Dahon, a folding bike. I have a Dahon. Loading it with twenty pounds of gear defeats the purpose of this small, practical bike.

The SF cyclist is not the only pannier-stuffing bike hoarder out there. Lifehacker profiles people like her in Featured Bag, a celebration of conspicuous consumption as measured by the amount of crap you can haul on your back. There’s even a Flickr group where aficionados proudly display the objects that they carry. They share them with us for they are signifiers, indicating the schlepper’s class, profession and beliefs. A person carrying three-pounds of salad and a copy of The Alchemist is going to be considerably different than someone with an Android tablet and stun gun. Know the bag, know the person.

We’re defined by what we carry. Whether it’s an iPad or a particular brand of lip balm, every object we carry has meaning – exactly like hoarders. But hoarders at least get to leave the hoard. We put it in a backpack and take it with is.

Death is the only separation from our stuff. Does it have to be?

Vikings were buried with their household goods. Ancient Egyptians were entombed with the items that they’d need in the afterlife.

Americans should adopt this practice. Death should not part you from your beloved Altoid Smalls or Aveda sun screen. You should not have to say goodbye to your Ortlieb panniers. “Bury me with my Tumi!” should be the cry.

Objects so precious that we strap them to our back deserve to follow us into death and beyond. We are the things we carry.


Friday Photo: Fringe Edition

What It Is - Capital Fringe Festival 2014

The Mount Vernon home of the Capital Fringe Festival.

The Capital Fringe Festival is moving from its home on New York Avenue to a new location in the Trinidad neighborhood. It’s a win for Fringe, which currently occupies a tumbledown collection of old buildings soon to make way for development. It’s a loss for Northwest DC, which will see funky theater replaced by boring condos.

I have many fond memories of Fort Fringe. I was an event photographer for Fringe one year and spent many hours snapping at the Baldacchino Tent Bar. This outdoor bar was where everyone met before and after shows, where you could find friends, photogs and performers mingling together under a big tent.

It’s not too late to experience the gritty magic of the Capital Fringe Festival. Check it out July 10-27.

Bike Therapy: Visualize Your Ride, Your Life

happy hipster

A cyclist enjoys a fall day in Washington, DC.

Can you write your way to the ride you want? To a certain extent, I think you can.

That’s Mary Gersemalina on Chasing Mailboxes, a great blog devoted to biking, run-commuting and coffeeneuring.

In her post, Mary talks about visualizing the ride that she wants. She doesn’t want it to be a story of failure, where she doesn’t measure up to faster riders. Instead:

I wanted my story to be about working through whatever unexpected challenges the ride offered.

Mary is shaping her narrative through positive visualization. Rather than dwelling on what could go wrong – a broken chain, a flat tire, a hot day – she focuses on the positive nature of the experience and her own strengths, imagining how she will tell this story when she’s done.

We are the stories that we tell ourselves. The mind is good at telling you what you can’t do. These stories limit our potential. While this negativity may have saved our ancestors from being eaten by lions, it’s not so useful today.

With her visualization exercise (imagining telling the story of this ride), Mary gets past her negative thoughts, recognizing that while there will be problems, she has the strength to overcome them.

In addition to being the queen of coffeeneuring (where you bike to different coffee shops), Mary also created the Errandonnee Winter Challenge, in which you pledge to conduct twelve errands by bike. The opportunity to be a part of this positive, group activity caused me to set aside my preconceived notions about winter cycling (it’s too cold, dark) and start using my bike for just about everything.

The experience of conducting ordinary activities by bike turned what was once a weekend activity into an everyday one. By completing twelve errands over twelve days by bike, I got to be a part of the errandonnee narrative. Rather than believing that winter was too cold for biking, I now have the errandonnee story: you can do anything by bike, any time of year.

Hey it's my #errandonnee patch! #bikedc

The coveted Errandonnee patch.

And I got a patch.  Never underestimate the power of tchotkes on human behavior.

Biking is therapy for many people. It’s a joyful exercise that combines the thrill of accomplishment (I biked all those miles) with the pleasure of seeing the changing landscape. We’re problem-solving primates who like to move – biking is ideal for that.

And scientific research has demonstrated that everyday cycling makes you happier.

Bikes are happiness engines that provide rich rewards for anyone who will ride them.

Tour de Fat Recap: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Mohawk nation

More than 7,000 people descended upon Yards Park in Washington, DC for the third annual Tour de Fat. For those unfamiliar with this unique event, it is a celebration of bikes, beer and fun sponsored by New Belgium, the Colorado-based brewer of Fat Tire.

I’ve attended every year for it brings together two of my great loves: bikes and beer. Here’s what it was like: Continue reading