Saturday, March 04, 2006

OCULUS: One-Stop Shopping for D.C., Architecture, Gossip and Other Randomly Assorted Things

AS MANY OF YOU KNOW, I read many, many blogs during the day, and I get paid to do it. People ask me how many I read a day and what the blog-reading strategies I employ to scan the blogosphere to avoid much of the worthless drivel out there to find the good stuff. I can't really boil it all down to a set of rules. Much of it is just done by instinct and controlled by loyalty to certain blogs that have wonderful blogrolls and great content that's updated daily, or at least regularly.

In an effort to clean up my blogroll (which hasn't been updated in many, many months), I've reorganized it and expanded it considerably. It's still a work in progress. So at the right, you'll find links to some of The Washington Post's blogs I enjoy; D.C. area-based blogs and those farther afield (though I'll admit there is an East Coast bias here) that are worth reading; plus, blogs of friends and various architecture/city/design observers and a decent cross section of the gossip blogs that are out there. So more of a smorgasboard.

Friday, March 03, 2006

OVERHEARD: The 'Real World' on the Orange Line

WHILE I ENJOYED my time living in a group house, sometimes I am reminded how fortunate that I don't have to live with others. Leaving work last night and heading home on the Orange Line bound for the District, I came across a two D.C.-bound twentysomething guys who had come from Clarendon or beyond, sitting in adjacent seats, talking about nonsense while passing a shiny, shiny flask between the two of them. The alcohol, for sure, muted their senses as to the high volume of their discourse.

Perhaps they had been watching the "Real World Key West" on MTV, but things started getting real on the train. (Editor's note: What follows is not verbatim, but it's awfully close.)

"Man, please don't take this the wrong way. ... No, seriously, don't take this the wrong way."

The other guy, slumped back in the seat, looked up, not looking all that keen about what was about to be said. So he stared off into nothingness, eyes glazed over.

"Whadup, man? ..."

"I mean man ... Yeah, don't take this the wrong way. You know that the house is getting dirty. And all the guys are pulling their weight."

"Huhh? ..."

"You know, we take the trash out and stuff. Kevin mops the floor. You know, in the kitchen."


"And you just haven't been there for us. ... When we go to bed, we go and clean up your stuff in the kitchen. You know, pick up stuff. Well, we thought you should know that. It's not that we don't like you. You're a cool dude. We just all have to be responsible."


"OK, I'm glad we talked about that."

"Yeah. OK."

Mr. Responsible then said, "I can't wait to hit the bar. Let's hope the ladies are smokin'."

"Dude, pass the flask."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

ENERGY: New Blog for Energy Wonks

I THOUGHT I'D POINT YOU to a new blog put together by a former colleague of mine: Energy Watch. Sure, it may not have broad appeal, but if you enjoy the intricacies of the global energy market, stuff like African hydrocarbons, the French nuclear giant Areva and India's controversial moves into strife-ridden Sudan, then you should take a look. It's chock full of good info.

>> Energy Watch

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

MUSIC: Scott Stapp's Dirty Purity

THIS PHOTO OF SCOTT STAPP by DCist's Kyle Gustafson is sort of creeping me out. But yet, we all must make sacrifices as journalists/bloggers. The former Creed frontman, who has marketed himself for years as a squeaky clean pseudo-Christian rocker (while engaging behind the scenes in less-than-pure activities) to the adoration of legions of fans, performed to an energized crowd at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday. Do read Jason Linkins' review of Tuesday's show on DCist. It's worth a bundle of chuckles. Again, you must make sacrifices in the name of journalism.

This has all got me thinking: Perhaps Stapp and Pete Doherty should perform as a duo. Their negatives could actually balance out and make them suitable for the general public.

BACK IN MY HALCYON DAYS as an editor at The Michigan Daily, my then-roommate and co-editorial page editor, Nick Woomer, had the privilege of reviewing the latest Creed album, Weathered. For those who know Mr. Woomer, you can probably imagine how caustic it was. But here's a taste:
Sure, Creed is nothing but a watered-down Pearl Jam/Metallica hybrid. Yes, you could probably find a bunch of 10th graders who can write poetry just as "deep" as lead singer Scott Stapp’s lyrics by taking a trip to an introductory creative writing course at Huron High School. (Tell me it'd be hard to find a 15-year-old who couldn't out-write Stapp. The chorus of the album’s title track declares that "Me I'm rusted and weathered/barely holding together/I'm covered with skin that peels and it just won't heal" now that’s suck-tastic!) But these factors alone don't make Creed the worst band to ever walk the earth.
The review was posted on a Creed fan website and as we all found out, you never want to mess with Creed fans. While you might think that Stapp's music might keep them peaceful and level-headed, the opposite is true. They wanted revenge, Old Testament-style. Stapp's defenders flooded the Daily with letters to the editor wanting Woomer's head on a stake. But then they took it one step further. They tracked down the address of our apartment (which would be eventually inherited by Rob Goodspeed, for those familiar with D.C. blogging) and posted a map to our Hobbit Hole on one of Creed's fan sites. While there were some passive threats thrown down by the Stapp-fanatics (Woomer did make fun of Stapp's mother), happily, there was no bloodshed.

Mr. Woomer, I expect you to chime in. Do you still think Stapp's music is on the forefront of "suckcore" ... ?

HIGHER EDUCATION: Ann Arbor v. New Haven

SOMETIMES I WONDER what image reflects worse on one's university community.

a.) An 83-year-old grandmother ingesting beer via a three-story beer bong in Ann Arbor. [The Michigan Daily]
b.) Yale grads (and invited guests) at New York City's Yale Club at a Blazers & Bling party. [Gawker]

I think definitively, I must say the latter reflects worse on one's university community. Hail to the Victors.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

MUSIC: The Ebb and Flow of Doherty's Death Cycle

I LOVE THIS AP PHOTO of English rocker Pete Doherty leaving a magistrate's court in London, taken in January after he escaped serious jail time after a string of arrests for Class A drugs and other shenanigans. Doherty is smiling to his fans, enjoying one recent bright moment in the the sea of depression, drama and depravity he seems to need to sustain life ... and create brilliant music. And that's what his fans like about him. I find Doherty's battle with himself all quite fascinating.

BUT OF COURSE, HE GOT HIMSELF ARRESTED AGAIN, this time for apparently stealing a car and possessing hard drugs. The details aren't really important, but it's the absurdity of his life that's what everyone wants to know about because that's what Pete Doherty, the media-cycle tempest, is all about these days. As Coolfer wrote back in November:
How many words are written about Pete Doherty's music? His musical ability may still be recognized and admired, but Doherty is close to entering Courtney Love territory, that dangerous low point in one's career in which the media enables and gleefully covers your slide into the abyss.
It certainly builds up and sustains his image, regardless if it tears him apart. Whether he'll be able to perform in public in the coming years seems increasingly doubtful.

I would have loved to have been with freelance foreign correspondent/longtime friend David Enders (author of "Baghdad Bulletin") back in 2004 when he took his Iraqi translator to a Libertines after-party in New York. From New York magazine:
The culture clashes only continued. At a post-rock-show party on the Upper East Side, Hiba ignored the rock star in attendance, a member of the Libertines, who was sitting next to us on the couch, fixating instead on the short-skirted groupies who made eye contact with the men they were speaking with, a faux pas in many Islamic societies. It offended her so much we had to leave.
I don't think I can come up with two more differing worlds that could clash: War-torn Baghdad and Western libertinism as demonstrated by Doherty. But then again, Doherty has always been engaged in an open war with himself, the world at large or both simultaneously. But it's been a battle nobody has been better suited to wage. And it's had moments of brilliance and pure tragic beauty, all weaved together in poetry and song.

"IF YOU LOST YOUR FAITH in love and music, the end won't be long." That line from the Libertine's "Good Old Days" is sort of cliché now. That not withstanding, perhaps the end isn't too far off for the ultimate Libertine. Let's hope his beloved Queen Boadicea will be nice to him if he permanently checks out of reality. (He has certainly visited his mythical Albion on a temporary basis on more than one occasion.) Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

D.C. PARKS: Slowly Strangled By Vines

FOR LONG-TIME READERS of my D.C. blogging, you know that I like hiking and exploring the various trails that make their way through the National Park Service greenbelts and parkland that scour the District's Northwest quadrant. A visitor once remarked that for the District of Columbia -- the capital of the most powerful country in the world -- we lack nice traditional parks, like you might see in any European capital, or Chicago, New York or San Francisco. Sure, we have the National Mall, but for the most part, our parks are essentially forest preserves that are left alone to their own devices. (Rock Creek Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted as a nature reserve, the anti-Central Park.) The cash-strapped National Parks Service can do little but do basic maintenance for D.C.'s green spaces. (It took many, many months for trees to be cleared from Glover Archbold Park and connecting greenbelts following Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. To this day, trees weakened by the storm, or by vines, crash to the ground in the parks.)

SO I GIVE YOU THE ABOVE IMAGE. It was taken last Friday, on the Rock Creek trail connecting Montrose Park/Dumbarton Oaks Park to Woodley Park (just below the Italian Embassy). So much of the parkland in Northwest Washington, and I would imagine in the city's Northeast and Southeast quadrants, is being slowly strangled by vines. Sure, this all might be part of the natural birth-death cycle of forest land, but someone told me that the particular vines eating D.C.'s forests are envasive species, just like the northern snakehead. (Can anyone confirm?)

THE WASH CYCLE, a D.C.-centric bicycle blog, notes that part of the Capital Crescent Trail in the Palisades is having some trouble: It's being slowly undermined, eroded and could give way during a major rain event. If I'm thinking of the same section of the CCT (near Newark Street and my great aunt's house), this is a section of trail near a vine-infested section of the ridge above Canal Road and below Potomac Avenue. More on the CCT troubles here.

TAXIS: D.C.'s So-Called 'Babushka' Cabbies

A FORMER COLLEAGUE a few years ago told me about how the only female cab drivers he seems to come across in Washington are "babushka" drivers. While finding a woman as a cab driver shouldn't really be any sort of shocker, the taxi industry is nonetheless dominated by males. Prior to Sunday night, I've only had one woman driver, and she looked like she could have been a stunt double for the late Anne Ramsey (of "Goonies" and "Throw Mama From the Train" fame).

ON SUNDAY, I was having dinner in Georgetown after work and because it was so cold, decided it would be worth my while to catch a cab home to Connecticut Avenue. So I hop in one cab on M Street, and I guess I came across one of these fabled "babushka" cabbies. She spoke with a very thick eastern European/Russian accent. Her neck was covered in various scarves. But to be clear, she was not wearing a headscarf like a typical babushka would wear. So I'm not sure what the qualifications you must meet in order to be classified as a so-called babushka driver. (Who gets to define those characteristics anyway? I doubt the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission has such definitions.)

Anyhow, she consulted with me -- through the thick plexiglass shield -- exactly which route I preferred to go home, which I appreciated. To stay within Zone 2, Rock Creek Parkway was the natural, quickest option. She told me about how she wished she could "win the Powerball" in order to "get riches." I agreed with her that that would be indeed nice.

So we pull up to my front door and I ask her -- in our meterless city -- how much the one-zone ride would be. "Most people pay me $15."

$15? Sorry. Maybe for two zones.

"Didn't we only travel within one zone?" I asked.

"Then pay me what's right, it's OK."

So I gave her $10.

>> "What Drives a New York Cabbie? The Stories." [The Washington Post]
>> "All Zoned Out" [The Washington Oculus]

Sunday, February 26, 2006

WOODLEY PARK: Cheese 'n' Prizes With the Swiss

IT WAS A FUN NIGHT last night at the Swiss Embassy's chancery building, full of cheese, white wine and prizes. Washington's Swiss Benevolence Society -- a group my family has been involved with for many, many years -- was holding its yearly fundraiser, which was graciously hosted by Ambassador and Mrs. Blickenstorfer and the Swiss Rifles.

As you might expect from a Swiss event, there was plenty of cheese and chocolate. Molten cheese was served on bread and potatoes via a contraption involving the wheel of cheese being hand-cranked into a special cheese broiler. Once the cheese was sufficiently molten, the server slid the gooey goodness from the wheel of cheese with a knife. Following a lengthy presentation on the history of the Swiss Rifles (they trace their history to the Civil War, a Union regiment made up of Swiss immigrants), there was dessert (chocolate fondue, naturally).

There was a silent auction. I didn't win anything, but my great aunt -- who is stepping down from the Swiss Benevolence Society's board -- somehow beat everyone out to secure a gift basket with Jamaican rum, a Swiss water bottle and some chocolates. She had intended on bidding on a sausage platter. DCist editor Martin Austermuhle, who is Swiss born, won some sort of Swiss Army knife contraption in the auction.

AND JUST LIKE BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE, the fundraiser also served as a goodbye to the much-loved Ambassador and Mrs. Blickenstorfer, who will be moving back to Europe to take a diplomatic post in Berlin. The various Swiss groups in Washington have always been welcomed by the Blickenstorfers, who came to Washington in 2001.

It's too bad they won't get to enjoy the new ambassador's residence, which is taking the place of the old residence on Cathedral Avenue NW, right next to the chancery building.

>> And in unrelated embassy news, there was a small fire on Saturday at the Iraqi Embassy on P Street NW, the AP reports. Iraq's mission in Washington is in the old Boardman House, one of the best examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in the city. Abandoned for years, a source at the State Department told me a few years back that the embassy had a pretty bad rodent infestation in the basement. The fire was contained to a back room.