Friday, October 07, 2005

DAILY MUSELI: Musings From the M4 Bus

View of the Potomac River heights above the Chain Bridge toward dusk, taken from Potomac Avenue NW in the Palisades, earlier this year.

Good morning.

1.) MARTIN HAS A GREAT POST on DCist suggesting public transportation commuting options for notable members of the Bush administration who live in the District. While I might suggest some slight alterations to his suggested trip itineraries, I thought I might write a little about the M4 bus line that connects Tenley Circle to the Palisades via Nebraska Avenue, a route that Karl Rove could potentially use if his radiator overheated and couldn't call a cab in time to get to early morning briefings in the West Wing.

Just as how the N buses are sometimes called the "Diplomats' Line" because of the many embassy employees that ride them to the chanceries that line Massachusetts Avenue, the M4 bus route might as well be called the "Ambassadors' Servants" bus route, considering the number of service employees who work in the private residences of diplomatic representatives in Kent, the upper Palisades, Spring Valley and the upper Foxhall Road area.

When I lived up in that neck of the woods back in 2002, I had the pleasure of riding the M4 bus with a fellow named George, who spoke with a heavy West African/Francophone accent. He would strike up intense conversations on a very limited array of subjects, mainly on World Cup soccer and one's level of college education (George never graduated from high school because of some undetermined reason he didn't want to speak about). At the end of the conversation, as the M4 would approach Tenley Circle, he would ask for a dollar -- or sometimes $5 -- a conversation charge, whether you wanted to talk to him or not. (It eventually became really annoying because seriously, how many dollars can you give George to spew your thoughts on Zinedine Zidane during the morning commute? One's World Cup soccer knowledge can only go so far. Zidane image at right from Wikipedia.)

After a few months riding that bus line, I began to talk with a fellow bus rider from Spring Valley about George when George wasn't riding the bus. Piecing together weeks of various conversations, we figured out that George was some sort of indentured servant, forcibly working in Washington for the regime that deposed his father, once a leader (or top-level aide to a leader) of a country in West Africa (maybe Niger?). We were never able to confirm any details and George to this day remains a mystery. And for all we know, George is one of those wonderful characters who ride the bus who have wild stories to tell, whether they are true or not. But if your mind wanders far enough off course, perhaps George holds the key to the Niger yellow cake controversy. According to a piece in Vanity Fair, Joe Wilson and Valarie Plame wouldn't have lived too far away in the Palisades (though closer to MacArthur Boulevard, as I'm told. If Wilson or Plame, rode the bus into downtown Washington, they'd totally be D6 or D5 riders and would most likely complain about the parents of Georgetown Day Lower School students who cause morning gridlock on MacArthur Boulevard at Q Street when they drop their kids off in the morning.). One can only wonder and speculate.

>> "Transit on Thursday" [DCist]

2.) SPEAKING OF OTHER NEWS ALONG THE M4 BUS ROUTE, there's some more controversy a stirrin' up at Ward Circle.

>> "Lawyers' Report Says Ladner Should Repay AU $115,000" [The Washington Post]
>> And Ladner will be online at 11 a.m.

3a.) SO AOL BOUGHT OUT JASON CALACANIS and Weblogs, Inc. for a reported $25 million. That's something to chew on.

3b.) IN RELATED BLOGGING NEWS, the Guardian is reporting that a poll "shows a third of 14- to 21-year-olds now have their own online content." How well it’s written is another matter. Adding the :) and incorporating standardized lowercasing in grammar textbooks is probably a step back in human development (if you ask this former copy editor).

>> "Young blog their way to a publishing revolution" [The Guardian]

4.) I REALIZE that this may have circulated around the past year or so, but it is still so best. It is good for a hearty laugh, unless, of course, you're a chain-smoking pregnant mother from Roanoke, Va., who is worried about the effects of loud jackhammer noises on your unborn child. [via DCBlogs]

5.) IT'S FRIDAY and I don't work today. I may do another post today, but you can probably find me having a leisurely breakfast or out and around the city up to no good. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

DAILY MUSELI: Rapture Coming Soon!

At right: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, c. 1497-8; Albrecht Durer, (1471-1528)

Good morning.

1.) 2005 HASN'T BEEN A GOOD YEAR FOR THE WORLD. And it's likely to get worse. First we celebrated New Year's Eve as hundreds of thousands drowned in southern Asia. Then came war, famine, floods, storm surge, hurricanes, tanking consumer confidence, rising personal bankruptcies, rising energy prices, subway bombings, a looming flu pandemic, etc. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, then came yesterday's ominous sign that, maybe, just maybe, all the forces of evil in the marketing and promotions world have united to create what Gawker has called "the single most f***ed-up kid in the history of f***ed-up kids." Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are having a baby. Gawker continues: "[Y]es, the world is quite possibly caving in on itself."

And you can't stockpile enough bottled water to survive that. Where's my duct tape?

2.) ONE FRONT ON THE GLOBAL WAR TO ROOT OUT TERRORISM that hasn't gotten any major news attention in quite some time is the Triple Frontier, that lawless region in South America between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Back in 2002 and 2003, there were numerous articles about how Islamic extremists were using the region to "finance terrorist activities," according to a U.S. Treasury Department memo, according to Wikipedia.

If you don't know much about the Triple Frontier, I suggest you read Jeffrey Goldberg's 2002 piece in The New Yorker about tracking Hezbollah (if you can find it), where he traveled to South America. Here's an interesting Q&A that's available online. But Goldberg's piece was criticized by some, and many officials have said that the threat in the region may be overstated. The last mention of the "Triple Frontier" and "Paraguay" in blogs is this mention from last month about concern over a report that the United States wanted to set up a military base in Paraguay. According to the report, the U.S. Embassy in Asuncion said that the U.S. did not want to set up a base, but was concerned about the "illegal activities" in the Triple Frontier. (I can't really figure out where the sourcing on this is on this blog.)

I'd be curious to read more about what's going on down there in the Wild, Wild South.

3.) TO THE UNITENDIFIED MAN ON CLARENDON BOULEVARD who was trying to tuck his shirt in yesterday morning while walking down the sidewalk: There are better places to do that. Seriously. It's one thing to talk on your cellphone and walk at the same time. But to walk, talk to a co-worker and undo your belt, unzip your khakis (in full view of patrons drinking their coffee at Cosi) and tuck your shirt in all at the same time, that is a bit much. Do you realize how embarrassed your co-worker was?

4.) WHILE JUDITH MILLER'S CASE is for sure interesting, this story involving the Times' Beijing bureau, Chinese state secrets and a copy of a memo that may have been stolen may provide more interesting plot twists.

>> "Internal Times Memo Key to China's Case" [The Washington Post]

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

SW WASHINGTON: Representative Bureaucracy

IN TODAY'S Morning Roundup on DCist, Rob chose to feature this photo of one of the Federal Aviation Administration buildings at either 600 or 800 Independence Ave. SW as "a good visual metaphor for city's bureaucratic culture." Well, that may be true to a certain degree, but I can think of a dozen other buildings that better represent bureaucracy in the capital, or in the city's Southwest quadrant for that matter.

Although I have never been on the inside of this building, from the outside, it is perhaps the best-designed federal office building along Independence Avenue SW, after the Department of Agriculture (and that's only for the twin archways that span the avenue. The headquarters for the Health and Human Services Department, the Education Department (with that odd-looking red schoolhouse tent entryway) and the Energy Department probably better represent bureaucracy in an architectural sense. They're all dependent on concrete for their exteriors. They're also built as giant fortresses, with street-level bunkers and other visual obstacles that make the bureaucracy inaccessible to the people to which they are supposed to serve. Pity the workers inside who don't see much sunlight.

The FAA building is clad in marble and glass, and at least has a slightly more interesting window design. So to those walking or driving by, the architects had the imagination (and the government had the money) to build a flat facade of marble and glass that reflects light in various ways as the sun travels from east to west during the day. But for all we know, the interior hallways could have served as inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 1985 masterpiece "Brazil."

If you didn't know, the twin FAA buildings at 600 and 800 Independence Ave. SW now actually have twin names after years as being officially known as Federal Building 10-A and Federal Building 10-B. Last year, President Bush signed legislation designating the buildings as the Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright federal buildings.

And while the interior of the Nassif Building, which currently serves as Department of Transportation headquarters, is absolutely depressing (I once worked there), the interior courtyard and its fountain is surprisingly beautiful. Its blunt cross-shape, along with its strong vertical lines is beautiful during the day when the sun is out. (I'm not sure if the portabello mushroom sandwich woman is still there hawking her tasty sandwiches during the summer farmers market, but I think they're overpriced. But they are still quite good.)

DAILY MUESLI: Hot Cross 'Buns'

1.) WITH ALL THE ATTENTION in Virginia focused on the gubernatorial race between Jerry Kilgore and Tim Kaine, there is another, albeit smaller, race that is just as interesting: Sheriff of the state capital, Richmond.

You see, the current top law enforcement officer in the city, Michelle B. Mitchell, is known for being considerably more attractive than, let's say, this guy. From MemeFirst, I see that a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch has uncovered her e-mail address:

"From now on, obviously, Mitchell will be referred to as Sheriff Buns," Sterling writes at MemeFirst. Think of all the campaign puns for Miss Buns ...

>> "Ass Candy Sheriff" [MemeFirst]

2.) GOOGLE IS CAUGHT somewhere between the "One China" philosophy and a hard place. On Google Maps, Taiwan is listed as a province of China. That has, not entirely unexpectedly, riled the feathers of people who support Taiwan as its own entity, free of Beijing. Google's been inundated with e-mail and formal requests from Taiwanese officials to rectify the situation.

>> "Taiwan protests over Google map" [BBC]

3.) BLOGGERS PAY ATTENTION. Harriet Miers. Harriet has a double-r combination and one t. As for the last name, the i-before-e rule applies here. Here is a current rundown of alternative spelling for Harriet Miers in the world of blogs, via Technorati.
- Hariett Miers
- Hariet Miers
- Harriet Meirs
- Harriet Meyers
- Harriet Myers
- Herriet Miers

(For all the copy editors out there, let's hope there is never another Condoleezza Rice: note, there are two e's, two z's.)

4.) NEWS FROM WARD 8: Marion Barry is being investigated for tax troubles.

>> "Marion Barry the Focus of Federal Tax Probe" [The Washington Post]

5.) GAWKER RAISED A GOOD QUESTION on Monday: Is Natasha Lyonne still alive? Remember all the reports back in August that the former "American Pie" actress was on her death bed with Hepatitis C, a heart infection and a collapsed lung (perhaps two)?

I hope where ever Ms. Lyonne might be, she is either on a speedy path to recovery or is at peace. Back when "American Pie" was in production, I gave a Universal Studios set designer a tour of my high school (the trilogy is based on East Grand Rapids, Mich., where I grew up; the town in the move is East Great Falls, Mich.). I feel an odd attachment to those characters. (I have always disliked apple pie, just for the record.) And to my knowledge, the people who inspired Lyonne's character in "American Pie" never were heroin junkies, or alleged junkies for that matter. (Under its "L" listings, The Dead People Server currently does not list Ms. Lyonne as being dead.)

>> "90% Of New Yorkers Boring As Hell" [Gawker]

-- Image of pork bun from the Flickr site of roboppy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

ODDS 'N ENDS: New Car Smell Bad for You

1.) I have always liked the smell of a new car's interior, now I learn that it's likely to kill me, and you too.

2a.) I've uploaded some of my photos from this weekend to Flickr: yesterday's photo from Brighton Beach and some others from Brooklyn. Not too many, nothing spectacular, but I do think it's cool that the F train soars high above Washington Cemetery on its way to Coney Island.

2b.) And the photo above is of the old sugar refinery on the docks of Red Hook. I took this photo in August 2004 when I was in Brooklyn. Since then, Ikea has been preparing for its move next door, more buildings are being rehabbed for condos, etc. and some anti-gentrification activists have been crying foul. Well, there's some new Red Hook news:
-- On Columbia Street, the streets about to be ripped up and "is only 'prep work' for a two-year project that will leave major portions of the neighborhood dug up and intermittently without water." [Amy's New York Notebook via Curbed]
-- The time I went to Schnack (at 122 Union Street) last year, I loved the place. I never had the beer milk shake, but I did try the dirt-cheap mini-burgers, yam fries and Jubilat Swojska. Excellent. Could it be true? Will you be able to get your currently out-of-the-way Schnack fix via a simple subway ride? Schnack is opening an outpost in Park Slope, at the Brooklyn Lyceum. [Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn]

Editor's Note: I will stop writing exclusively about Brooklyn soon enough.

DAILY MUESLI: Cillizza, Pyongyang and Friendster

1.) I'm not one to get excited about political blogs where professional and amateur pundits will squabble over the perceived meanings of ideologically charged arguments and talking points. I will, however, be a frequent reader of Chris Cillizza's The Fix,'s newest political blog. Cillizza is a former co-worker of mine at Roll Call and I know that this will develop into a valuable news resource for up-to-the-minute political news in Washington. Cillizza is not only a great reporter, but a great writer. Congrats.

2.) As someone who considers himself relatively knowledgeable in the world of random architectural trivia, I'm really surprised that I never heard of the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea. According to Gridskipper, this ghost-like pyramid-shaped hotel stands at a modest 1,083 feet (105 stories), with 3,700 rooms. (The government ran out of construction funds more than a decade ago and stands abandoned, looming over the North Korean capital like Detorit's Michigan Central Depot.) Perhaps in the next round of six-party talks, Las Vegas and Pyongyang could become sister cities: Las Vegas could get the Ryugyong and Pyongyang could get left-overs from Sin City's numerous buffets.

3.) The Internet savvy members of Filipino society must be crushed! Ever since Friendster, the social networking service that rose to prominence two years ago, recently started allowing users an option to monitor which other users have been (and how often) looking at/stalking their profiles, critics have declared that Friendster has dug its own grave, allowing much more transparency in what was a one-way street for interpersonal gawking.

I'm curious what the Friendster fallout in the Philippines has been (or will develop into). Perhaps it has been (or will become earthshattering), considering how popular the site has been there, and Friendster's reported lack of ability to meet the unexpected global popularity.

From a March 2005 article in Wired:
Friendster, which today has millions of Filipino members, is one of a number of advertising-supported internet sites grappling with the dilemma of how to take advantage of unforeseen overseas popularity. Such sites are finding that business models that work in large, developed countries need serious readjustment in nations with small populations or low internet-penetration rates.
UPDATE: Jobert, a blogger based in the Philippines has more to say on the situation.

4.) I'm glad we have this scientific squabble finally settled: According to Reuters, Hollywood has inappropriately skewed our perceptions of the dangers of quicksand becuase it has been "measuring the viscosity, the resistance to flow, of quicksand and its sinking ability." Apparently, quicksand's "buoyancy makes it impossible to be completely submerged."

-- Image of Ryungyong Hotel from Wikipedia
-- Map of the Philippines from the Library of Congress

Monday, October 03, 2005

DAILY MUESLI: 4 Minutes Early

Good morning. I forgot to mention one really funny thing in my weekend hodgepodge post. As my train was pulling into Union Station yesterday morning, it arrived four minutes ahead of schedule, which was very exciting to the train conductor. Over the public address system, he said:
“HA! We’ve arrived four minutes ahead of schedule! HOOO HA! Amtrak, still No. 1!”

1.) I’ve never met Nick Denton in person. But if he looks like anything like his stylized portrait on the front page of this week’s New York Observer (above), well, he may scare off some children. If you find the origins of Mr. Denton’s blogging empire, Gawker Media, interesting, I suggest you read the Observer’s piece, though it is awfully long.

2.) If I would have been around my neighborhood this weekend, apparently I would have been likely to have heard a seven-minute barrage of cacophonous explosions, machine-gun fire, white smoke and other loud sounds that reverberated across the District and Northern Virginia.

No, Jubal Early didn’t breach the capital's defenses at Fort Stevens. The Kennedy Center was putting on a special Chinese fireworks display for its Chinese festival. The Washington Post has the details, in case you were wondering how people were fleeing indoors to take cover and flooding 911 to report an apparent attack on the capital.

2a.) A few friends who were in different parts of the District and Arlington have given me their reports of the Kennedy Center fireworks spectacular, and it seems to have looked like and sounded like different things, depending on where you were. I have always thought that acoustics in Washington work in mysterious ways. On the night before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I was coming home from Sigur Ros’ performance at the 9:30 Club. I was out of money, but had enough for a 96 bus ride to Woodley Park. I walked the rest of the way from Woodley to Glover Park where I had been living at the time. As I approached the Naval Observatory on a very crisp, and foggy 34th Street, I heard a train whistle moan off in the distance. The train sounded like it was nearby, as if it were snaking through Rock Creek Park. But in reality, the nearest active freight rail tracks are in Northeast Washington. Just as people who heard the fireworks explosions on Saturday night, the District’s varied geography can warp and manipulate audio waves. So when it sounds like the city is under attack, it isn’t all too surprising that people might run for the air raid sirens while others a few blocks away might have never heard something very different, or nothing at all.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

NEW YORK: Weekend Report

Photo of the Brighton Beach boardwalk at sunset on Saturday.

METUCHEN, N.J., 8:30 a.m., Sunday -- Good morning. A few hours ago, I was gazing over Central Park from the penthouse terrace of an apartment building on Central Park West (apparently, the same building where the late Peter Jennings had lived). Now, I’m sitting on an Amtrak train headed back to Washington so I can make it to work on time. (Monday’s paper awaits.)

My weekend away from Washington was made possible by Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, sponsored by primarily by the letters G and A, with additional support from a few other subway lines, including the C, the F, the Q and the W, in addition to my gracious hosts in Harlem and Brooklyn who supplied either a couch or a futon for crashing on.

1.) Happy birthday to Jeff.
A fellow journalist and friend who I’ve known since kindergarten was celebrating his birthday high above Central Park West, where we had perhaps the most beautiful view of the park and the Midtown skyline. Across Central Park, the lights from a taller Fifth Avenue apartment building (I think around 90th Street) were reflected in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. If you cranked your head just right in the direction of Seventh Avenue, you could see the lights of Times Square.

2.) I’m not sure whether Brooklyn is known for its burritos, or should be known for its burritos, but I did eat more than my fair share. If you find yourself on Myrtle Avenue between Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, be sure to look for Castro’s, a cheap Mexican place that makes a pretty mean camarones burrito. Be sure to order some special hot sauce on the side. Then on Saturday afternoon during half-time of the Michigan-Michigan State game, I had my second and final burrito of the weekend, at a place that I can’t remember, but it’s on Court Street just north of Atlantic Avenue (see here for map). Much of the steak in my steak burrito ended up crammed in the bottom, but for less than $5, I’m not making any complaints.

3.) Beer in New York can be either really cheap, or really expensive. Purchasing a six pack of Brooklyn Pilsner to watch the Michigan game with friends cost me $12 at a grocery store on Smith Street, Brooklyn. Purchasing a six pack of Czechvar for Jeff’s birthday cost the same at a grocery store on Columbus Avenue, Manhattan. But elsewhere I was able to find a draught pint of Magic Hat No. 9 for $3 at the Columbia University waterhole Toast, on Broadway just south of 125th Street; way down on the Brighton Beach boardwalk at Moscow Cafe Bar, $5 is what it cost for a 22 oz. bottle of Baltika No. 3. Well, not quite $5. There is the “Sch” charge, which we think is the non-Russian patronage tax at this Russian bar. Friends who frequent this establishment on summer weekends advise that you not pay the Sch and take it out of the waitress’ tip. I was informed that when you challenge the waitress on the Sch charge, she’ll say it’s for bussing the table. But yet we bussed our own table. From the Journal News:
The Moscow Cafe is the least expensive -- the cappuccino is $4 -- though with a bar that opens at 8 a.m., two hours before the restaurant, it is also the least peaceful.
4.) If I were a freelance journalist, I would seriously consider joining the Freelancers Union, probably just because of its ad campaign. The union’s symbol is a beehive with a few bees flying around, busily working. I think it’s clever and works quite well. I think the main attraction of such a union for freelancers is the health insurance option because, after all, "Echinacea is not health insurance." If the United States is indeed turning into a "Freelance Nation" as some observers have predicted, then it will be interesting to track this union’s growth.

5.) In a DCist post I wrote earlier in the year, I detailed the scene in Penn Station waiting for your train to be called. One thing that always fills Amtrak’s subterranean home is the classical music pumped into the sterile space to give it a more dignified air. Usually, the music skews more toward the Baroque end of the classical spectrum. But this morning, a piece from (what I thought was) Rimsky-Korsakov was playing right as I climbed the stairs with all my bags from the lower concourse that leads from the A/C/E subway passage. The refreshingly quick pace of the selection highlighted one fact: I was running late to make my train. But I made it with a a couple spare moments to spare. I think Union Station could stand to benefit if classical music were used to enhance the audio environment of Amtrak’s concourse.

There is no place more frustrating, lonely and alienating as the Hoyt-Schermerhorn St. station in Brooklyn. It is a massive station, with six tracks and four platforms (two of which are actually in service. The other two sit and collect dust, matching the rest of the station, which is quite dirty. Hoyt-Schermerhorn is where the A and G trains come together in downtown Brooklyn’s tangled web of subway lines. But whenever there is weekend track work on the F or G trains, which there can be quite often tensions can mount.

This weekend, the G train, the only subway line not to run into Manhattan and therefore is known for its spotty service, was severely impacted by track work. First, the G train wasn’t running to Smith-9 St.; second, it was running as a shuttle on the rest of the route, the first section being between Hoyt-Schermerhorn St. and Bedford-Nostrand; at Bedford-Nostrand you could cross the platform for continuing service to Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn and Long Island City, Queens. I had to deal with much of the G train mess, much to the laughter of more savvy Manhattan-centric folks who have heard of the G train, probably have never been on it, but know of its notorious weekend service (or normal service for that matter). It’s a lonely train line, as is the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, especially at 2 a.m. when you’re trying to interpret tunnel winds and fine tune your hearing, all in an effort to figure out where the “G-ee, where is it?” train might be.