Archive for February, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Penny image from US Mint

Penny image from US Mint

DCist probably said it best:

The card’s in the mail. Our phone was broken. It just slipped our mind. Whatever the excuse, we failed to properly wish Abraham Lincoln a happy 200th birthday yesterday.

Yes, we here at Metblogs also neglected our 16th President’s 200th birthday!  We were obsessed with thinking about our own ideas for the upcoming three-day weekend, or remembering fondly the days when Lincoln and Washington each had his own holiday (oh, the 70s…), or — perish the thought — making Valentine’s Day plans.

Nevertheless, we want to wish Mr. Lincoln a happy birthday and we’ll plan to do some rootin’-tootin’ celebratin’ at some of the events around town, like the grand-reopening celebration at Ford’s Theatre on Presidents’ Day this Monday.

Congress Needs To Upgrade Their Visual Aids

I was reading an interesting article about Congressional visual aids over at Politico and it got me thinking.

The piece talked about the history of using old school charts and graphs and how they have been instrumental in illustrating points since they started showing up after cameras were allowed in Congress.

The article also gives some love to Ross Perot, who is credited as the father of chart usage, which I definitely agree with.

What I was left wondering which the article didn’t touch on much is why doesn’t members of congress use Power Point instead of those antiquated boards on easels. I believe if members can use twitter, then they should be able to be able to use a show their points, facts, and figures with a medium that’s not used for third grade science projects.

After talking with a couple of my Capitol Hill friends (you know you are a DC person if you have a couple of friends that work on Capitol Hill) and I got answers ranging from laptops are banned from the chamber to it looks bad on C-SPAN- both valid arguments.

But still we have the technology to get over the broadcast issues, and if computers are banned from the chamber then I feel bad for the person taking the official congressional record.

What do you think? Anyone else have an answer to why Congress is still a little behind on the times?

Goodbye For Now Friends – We Will Meet Again

When I signed on as City Captain of Metblogs back in September, it had been very recently decimated by the exodus of the previous Metblogs team. Readership had plummeted to almost nothing and less than two articles were being published each week. It has been a pleasure since then getting to know the current team of authors who have created something of a Renaissance here at DC Metblogs. They are a talented group of individuals with fascinating lives away from the blogosphere. We are lucky that they take the time to blog DC so passionately.

Recently I accepted a position conducting media consultation and business development. It has taken up nearly all of my “free” time. It is for that reason that I will be leaving Metblogs, at least for a while. It is so very difficult to leave this great readership in the Nation’s Capitol, and such a great group of friends in the bloggers who run the site day to day. But I leave enthusiastically, nonetheless.

The job of City Captain is a time consuming job that requires style and a flair for staying well ahead of the e-curve. I am pleased that I will be passing the Captaincy off to my friend Patrick Pho, who you have enjoyed as a blogger over the past several months. Patrick is a talented and creative individual who will bring an exciting element to the DC Metblogs for which I have great anticipation. He will bring the site back to its glory days, and then some.

As I drop from the Metblogs team, and become a reader and fan once again, I hope that more of the readers will get involved in blogging for DC Metblogs. The real news in this town comes from locals, giving truth to the Metroblogging concept that the people will always command their hometown media. So go wild, blog local, and save me a seat. I’m sure I’ll be back, someday.

Time, space, and urbanity

There has been a fair bit of press this week discussing a report from the Urban Land Institute called Beltway Burden: The Combined Cost of Housing and Transportation in the Greater Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.  This is an interesting and well-researched look at balancing our cost of living and quality of life.  As you might guess, if you have a long commute, you pay less for housing and more for transportation.  If you have a short commute, it’s the other way around.

Any analysis like this, however, is all about where you “draw the box” and this report leaves a lot of things out of the equation.  Yes, it costs substantially more on average in both dollars and pollution to live in Loudoun County than the District, but these are substantially different lifestyles.  I was disappointed that the many things that are traded off in the housing decision are mentioned only anecdotally. So many factors are impossible to quantify– the health benefits of walking more and driving less, the everyday delights of cultural diversity, or the proximity of friends and family. It would be great to have a tool that could put a value on things like convenience to amenities, square footage, social life, schools, green space, beauty, noise, and many other parts of the work/life balance, and could help us understand all factors in order to find a better societal and personal balance. 

The authors seem to believe that people buy houses on price alone, and if only they would count the time, cost, and hassle of commuting, they would buy a house closer to the city center.  As we all know, it’s not that simple.  While it is true that traffic is bad across the metropolitan area (and it’s only going to get worse), middle class folks who want a big house and a suburban lifestyle and are going to put up with it.   The ULI thankfully stops short of telling people they shouldn’t want whatever American dream that’s in their heads. 

To the good, the ULI very sensibly recommends improving mass transit, building affordable in-fill housing, and increasing telecommuting.  It’s my opinion, though, that these stop well short of addressing the issues.  They don’t mention the need for better soundproofing technologies for dense housing, for public parking throughout the city, for innovative designs in small houses, for better designs in shared green space, and a hundred other things that could tip the balance for a lot of people. 

I choose to live in the densest neighborhood in DC for a lot of reasons; energy efficiency is only one of them.  And I’m always curious why people choose to live where they do– I’d love to hear your reasons for choosing your home, your neighborhood, and your city.

28,000 Acres of the Richest Land

David Vargas and Dan Yount

David Vargas and Dan Yount

*Updated

This month, The Arlington Players are producing Tennessee Williams’ melodramatic classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.   The theatre doesn’t hide the production’s set and lighting design behind a curtain, and they expertly convey contrasts of glamour, wealth, and decay.  We expect Maggie the Cat to just stroll in from the gallery at any moment, and once she arrives, she delivers.  Cassandra Hodziewich takes control of the house upon her entrance, delivering her soliloquy of frustration with her family of Pollitt in-laws, layered with a desperate longing for her distant and alcoholic husband, Brick.  Maggie explains the situation in the house on this, the last of Big Daddy Pollitt’s birthdays in her soft delta drawl while casually deciding on a dress.  Of course, there’s nothing casual about it.

David Vargas as Brick is as sullen and removed as one could hope, and he draws Hodziewich across the stage to him without seeming to care at all.  He progresses from near-silence, to shouts of rancor, to soft singing, all the while taking long draughts from his bottles of whisky (yes, bottles – midway through the show I had lost count).  In his single-minded search for the elusive “click in [his] head that brings peace”, the injured Brick manages to expose his internal struggle to each member of the Pollitt clan, as they come in groups and by ones and twos to his room.

The production’s most powerful performance comes from Dan Yount as Big Daddy.  His loud, bawdy, and emotional portrayal of the Pollitt patriarch holds the whole of the play in its grip.  The long scene between Brick and Big Daddy is one of my favorite in literature, and I was very pleased with what I got from the two actors.  By turns they discuss Brick’s faded glory, his alcoholism, his dead best friend Skipper and the latent homosexuality of their friendship, Big Daddy’s marriage to a woman he never loved, both men’s contempt for the elder son, Gooper and his family (especially his passel of “no-neck monster” children and scheming, bitter wife Mae – played wonderfully by Karen Batra).  Vargas and Yount expose the anxiety and despair in both men’s lives, gradually and painfully working their way to the truth and a new bond between them.  Their agreement to no longer tolerate “lies and liars” all around who exude “the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity” is wonderfully undermined when Maggie spontaneously lies to Big Daddy, saying she is pregnant in order to secure her husband’s future and her own marriage, and Brick confidently backs her in the face of Mae and Gooper’s utterly scornful disbelief.

Director Blakeman Brophy’s choices play up the fifties melodrama at work in the show, to great effect.  With a wonderful leading cast and a beautiful set design, the show is a pleasure to watch.  Catch the final weekend performances through February 14 at the Thomas Jefferson Theatre.

*Update: Fellow Metblogger Patrick Pho is on the crew of this production and graciously provided tickets for this review. Thanks for reminding me, Patrick!

My parents drove it up here from the Bahamas

2010 Camaro

2010 Camaro

Last Thursday evening, I took a trip over to the Washington Auto Show after work.  I’ve been itching to get a close-up look at the new Camaro since that Christian Slater show got cancelled, since my first car was an ’82 Camaro.  With pinstripe!  (It was a piece of stuff, but man, did it look cool in the high school parking lot.   But I digress.)

All the car companies had hybrids on display, with electric prototypes heavily featured.  However, I’m a pony-car lover and went there to look at the pretty muscle cars.

Ford and GM (along with all their brands) were located on their own exhibit space on the upper floor of the two-story show.  I headed up the steps in eager anticipation and singing Dead Milkmen songs to myself, and was greeted at the top by…a seven foot tall purple-and-green robot.   But I pushed on!  My impressions of the Ford and GM show floor after the jump. (more…)

Perfect Pita In Courthouse

I noticed this week that a new Perfect Pita finally replaced the Larry’s Cookies over at the Courthouse Metro where my office is located. I noticed the menu distributions and the signage so I figured I would stop by and check it out. I’m a pretty picky when it comes to Pita, (I often find most brands really dry) I am a big fan of hummus. So I grabbed my co-worker Mallory and away we went. On the way she informed me that not only do I like hummus, it appears to be the a mainstay of the white people. However she isn’t a fan of it so I suppose I have to be wary of her possible sketch-white status.

The store just opened this past Monday, it’s so new they haven’t had a chance to get rid of the old signage above the door. Inside the place was already packed… with white people. Lines were formed of those who already paid for sandwiches and now waited with chips in hand. Others gathered around a hummus sampling platter, tasting the four different varieties of hummus (Traditional, Jalapeno, Roasted Red Pepper, and Black Bean & Cilantro) the crowd around the free samples resembled a wine tasting with their exchanges of comments and opinions. I didn’t know people could be so picky about hummus.

I took back to the office a 1/2 lb tub of hummus and devoured the entire thing while watching The Office. Mallory picked up a Pita sandwich and wasn’t too happy with it. The advertised “Hot Pit a Sandwich” was actually just a cold Pita with heated ingredients. The results was a soggy mess of chicken and bacon. While I now feel really fat for eating an entire tub of hummus I thought the Pita bread itself was good.

I’ll probably go there a couple more times to try out the sandwiches myself and I totally want to check out their breakfast sandwiches- the one thing I still search for here in Courthouse.

Climate and change

Photo cred to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The lecture series at the Carnegie Institution for Science always has interesting stuff.  The latest is Margaret Tolbert from the University of Colorado, speaking on Hazy Skies on Early Earth:  Lessons from Saturn’s Moon Titan.  And I must add that the talks I’ve been to have unabashedly lobbied for carbon trading (which I personally believe is going to produce the mother of all unintended consequences), and it is generally part of the Q&A.  There; fair warning.

Saturn’s moon, Titan, is covered by a thick organic haze that completely shrouds the surface from view. Such a mysterious haze might have also been present on Earth billions of years ago. Comparing the hazes that form in these two distant lands can help us learn more about the climate and habitability of our own planet in ancient times.

PSA:  This month’s lecture is moved from the regular location to the
Grosvenor Auditorium at the National Geographic building, 1145 17th St NW (at L)
Thursday, February 12th
6:45 pm
Free and open to the public; no reservations needed

Frank Warren: The Man With All The Secrets (Part 2)

As the front house staff let me in to the jealous looks of the crowd outside I felt a little extra special that night.

After our first conversation, Frank Warren encouraged me to come out and experience one of his PostSecret Live events and I agreed. So my friend Wendi and I trekked down to the Lisner Auditorium where he was about to speak in front of a sold out crowd.

I walked in and saw him onstage, playing with his MacBook as he tested some videos and slides to be used. At the moment I found him he was playing the Dirty Little Secrets video that features his PostSecret postcards.

I wasn’t the only one there to hang out with him, a camera crew was nearby busy filming his routine, a sign that his fame is growing by leaps, not bounds. Warren’s story is so unique: a man who collects secrets sent to him to share with himself and the world. As they are posted on his PostSecret blog, he becomes not only the most trusted man in America, but perhaps a conduit and sounding board for thousands. He is always willing to listen to anything that anyone would like to share with him.

As other press outlets show up and line up for interviews there’s still a sense of humbleness to the man behind the Germantown-based blog. Before retiring to his dressing room for interviews he walks to the back of the house to personally thank all of the ushers and staff working the event.

The dressing room backstage is a plain white room with leather couches. Frank invites special guests, press, and myself to sitdown with him as he gathers his notes for the presentation. There’s a coffee table in the middle of the room with a copy of the Washington City Paper. It was open to a photo of Frank and a story on tonight’s event opposite an article on former VP candidate Sarah Palin. As I point it out he dismisses it casually, “When I see my photo in the paper I don’t really see me, I see PostSecret.” He’s simply glad to see the project get some publicity and once again displays his humbleness.

After asking for a Coke he proceeds to talk to the various press members that fire off questions and record quotes to use later. A writer asks if he ever felt a burden to be the one that is sent so much personal information and thoughts. He jokes that while he doesn’t see it as a burden,”I have been having some recent back pain- maybe it’s from carrying all these secrets for so long.”

More questions probe into the secrets themselves, “Do you ever think some of the secrets are made-up? That people are making up secrets in hopes of making the blog?,” one reporter asks. To respond to that question he pulls out a small gray box and opens it. Inside are various e-mails and postcards. He pulls out an e-mail and reads it to the crowd, “Dear Frank, I sent you a secret awhile ago but I wanted to tell you that it’s no longer true.” For Frank the act of sharing secrets with him is just as important, if not more, as the secret itself.

“The act of sharing is one step in a personal story or journey.” He hopes that even just the act of sharing a secret with someone else is therapeutic and one step closer to helping one face one’s true fears.

Meanwhile the lobby fills with GW students and fans from far and wide that wait for the doors to open. At the head of the line are Carla and Katie, two students from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Not only are they fans of the website and art exhibits, the two trekked down the Beltway in hopes of meeting Frank to deliver him postcards of secrets they had designed and had tucked away in their bags.

Daria, a GW sophomore, traveled a bit further to see Frank. A native of Trinidad, she was a fan of the site back home before coming to the US to study at George Washington. Going to college in DC brought her that much closer to her favorite blog, “I’m a nerd for PostSecret… as soon as I knew I was going to GW, I wanted to meet Frank and maybe intern for him,” she said.

The house opens, the auditorium quickly fills up, and Frank walks out to the cheers of hundreds of adoring fans. His talk explores the PostSecret project further, with videos and postcards that weren’t allowed to be published, what Frank calls “the secret Secrets.” Along with the visuals, Frank offers his own personal thoughts and insights on the impact of his project and what he’s learned about humanity and the idea of sharing one’s intimate details.

At the end of the show he shares with the audience a personal secret of his own, but there is one secret that is left to be discovered after the show is over. Before the show Frank took 200 actual postcards sent to PostSecret and inserted them into the PostSecret books that were for sale in the lobby. As fans pick up copies to have autographed at a post show signing, a surprise awaits them between the pages of secrets.

Kristen Adams and Lisa Lustig from Fairfax, VA are two George Mason alumni who decided on attending to the show after hearing about it days before. They were lucky to grab tickets before it completely sold out. After getting their books signed they thumbed through the newly purchased items and ran across the postcard. At first they take it for as a promotional item. “I thought the secret was fake, but when I took it out, I realized it was a real secret. I feel special that I’m not entrusted with someone’s secret!” remarked the surprised Lustig.

Tamara and Rebeka, two GW freshmen were so excited to find an actual PostSecret postcard that they are reconsidering the purpose of their recent purchases- as gifts for family members. Rebeka explained, “This was going to be a gift for my sister but now that I have a real PostSecret secret- it’s mine now!”

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