Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas DC

It's been a pleasure blogging for you all this year!


Snow bullets, Merry Christmas-eve-eve Wednesday

Merry Christmas Eve-Eve! I'm on the fence as far as if I'll be blogging tomorrow, but I do have a few things just itching to be posted today, so here we go.

Since it's the story that won't die, I want to put in my two cents about the snowball fight.

You know what wakes you up in the morning just as good as a cup of coffee? Reading a bunch of idiots on the MPD Third District Listserv. Some people know how to bring the stupid and they do so ALL CAPS subject lines and logic that makes the invasion of Iraq look like a proof for Fermat's Last Theorem.

Here's one such shining example, from "Wanda:"
Enough with the focus on the Detective who drew his gun. It takes two!

Has anyone considered charging the facebook and twitter organizers with breach of the peace (disorderly conduct) and others with simple assault? In a major intersection, disrupting traffic, during hazadous conditions! I am always amazed at how "certain people" can point fingers and blame others for their actions, but use being a "Washingtonian out just having fun," as an excuse to put others in harms way.
OK. Let's get a few things straight. It only takes one person to remove a weapon from a holster. This logic is wonderful, similar to "It takes two to lie. One to lie, and the other to listen." The only time a weapon should be drawn is when the possibility exists that deadly force may be required. Good examples of when an officer should draw a weapon is when confronting a suspect who may have a weapon, or when executing a high-risk search warrant. It's never acceptable to draw your weapon simply to intimidate someone. Come on, that's what showing your badge is for. You can even pull back your coat a little bit to show off the holster to say "I mean business." You don't wave the gun around like a lunatic.

Back to Wanda's point: Sure, it's inappropriate and illegal to throw snowballs at cars. In certain scenarios it can be dangerous to throw snow at cars. However, there's a difference between dropping chunks of ice off an overpass onto the Beltway and pelting a Hummer with some crappy unpacked snowballs. Are both illegal as per the letter of the law? Sure, but there's a little thing called judgment and it plays a huge role in law enforcement. I know by typing big words like "disorderly conduct" and subscribing to the MPD listserve, Wanda probably thinks she's an expert on law enforcement. However, does anyone actually believe that police officers arrest and charge everyone with every crime they ever see in progress? Absolutely not. Being a police officer does involve enforcing laws, of course, however the primary role is to solve problems and defuse situations so that ultimately arrests are not required.

Police used their judgment to decide that the group of people at 14th and U were not causing any serious problems. There was no reason and no point to detaining them or charging them with a crime. Doing so would only have caused more problems, taken up more time, and drained already depleted resources. Would the snowball fight been more appropriate in Malcolm X Park, for example? Sure, whatever, maybe. That's not the point. The point is that one particular police officer forgot that part of his job (whether on the clock or not, if he's going to be displaying his weapon and identifying himself as an officer) is to defuse situations and not pour more fuel on the flames. As MPD Chief Lanier has said, his first mistake was getting out of the car. Waving his weapon around was another big mistake. No one's life was in imminent danger, and by drawing his gun all he did was put himself in danger. Just imagine there had been another off-duty cop, maybe from Arlington County or the Federal government in the area. Imagine he sees this dude pulling out a gun in a snowball fight, and he draws his weapon. Next thing you know we've got a Mexican standoff at 14th and U and then the snow gets drenched in blood and it's a big mess.

So please, I'm as big of a supporter of law enforcement as you'll find. However, I'm not going to make any excuses for this guy. He lost his temper, and it's on video. I'm not going to come down on Chief Lanier for saying dude messed up. He did. Does it make sense that an experienced police officer would make this kind of, dare I say, rookie mistake? Not really. However, the man admitted to drawing his weapon because people were throwing snowballs. I believe "open and shut" are the words here.

We've also got "david" who felt like chiming in:
...at any time, did he point the firearm at anyone? No....he didn't.
Whether he had it holstered or out and pointed at the ground it was facing
the same direction....down at the ground. And since people were throwing
things at him....even if it was just snowballs, he didn't know what he was
walking into. Do you think he got a "Tweet" that there was a snowball fight
on? Or do you think.....just maybe.....that there was a big fight going on
and there are people throwing things at each other and there may be bigger
more dangerous things being thrown that could be a danger to him? Is this
what was going through his head.....I don't know. But neither do
you......yet everyone assumes that he just knew it was a snowball fight. And
it stopped being a "friendly snowball fight" when the idiots started pelting
cars and anyone who strayed into their path.
First off, david, you don't get paid by the period. Secondly, "RTFM." Or in this case, watch the videos. It's obvious to anyone with a clue that people were throwing snowballs at each other. It didn't look like a riot. People weren't fighting. He's a professionally trained law enforcement officer who, I should hope, can tell the difference between such things.

Now if we could all just stop talking about the snowball fight. I'm really dying to know what's up with those White House Party Crashers and Tiger Woods.


News Bullets, Hell Froze Over Tuesday;

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who has mentally checked out for the week. With the massive snowstorm (we'll get to that) and Christmas coming up, it's so very tempting to sit here, put the phone on do-not-disturb and run the clock out for another 2 days. But, we've all got to earn our paychecks.

But yes, let's take a minute to talk about Snowmageddon 2009. Hell totally froze over. That's right, we got flinty and we took the 20 inches like men. It helped, of course, that the snowstorm arrived over the weekend, but still. DPW and DDOT deserve some credit for getting the streets back in working order fairly quickly, and let's also give Metro a hand for not having 20 head-on snow-related crashes. We got nearly 2 feet of snow and things were pretty much back to normal on Monday. In fact, the biggest headline to come out of this whole thing was the MPD detective who went nuts at the snowball fight. Obviously the Large Hadron Collider has thrown us into some parallel universe where the Department of Public Works didn't screw something up during a blizzard. Jesus, Don Henley's career is spinning in its grave and there's no amount of old men sitting on stools that can save us from this creepy alternative universe where political careers may be saved by a snowstorm, and police careers ended.

In other Metro related news, the Silver Line is going to have some sweet bathrooms. We're not talking about the camouflaged bathrooms hidden behind the "FIRE EQUIPMENT CABINET" doors, but rather actual public restrooms. Yeah, there will probably be some "issues" with "security" in the restrooms, but considering the length of a ride from say, Eastern Market to Dulles Airport, having bathroom facilities that don't require a secret password and looking like you really need to go, is probably a plus.

The Examiner takes a look at the problems facing John Catoe, and throws his mug up on the front page again. To be fair, we do enjoy the benefits of one of the best transit systems in the United States. I think that says more about the lack of good public transportation in the United States than it does the quality of public transportation in Washington, D.C. Catoe does face an extremely uphill battle with safety. However, it looks like Metro might be making some positive changes, so I am moderately optimistic. It's unfortunate that it's taken getting to this point to inspire some real changes.

Woman dies in rowhouse fire. A woman was found unconscious in a burning rowhouse in Brightwood last night. The woman, estimated to be around 45-years-old died at the hospital. The rowhouse was vacant, so I'll go out on a limb in guessing the woman was likely homeless. There are too many tragedies like this during the wintertime. With fewer available shelter resources, sadly no one should be surprised by this.

On a moderately-related aside, I was watching "Meet the Natives: USA" on the Travel Channel over the weekend. It's a show about these men from the island of Tanna (part of Vanuatu) who come to America to experience our way of life and spread their message of peace. It's interesting to watch the interactions with Americans, and generally the men of Tanna have some good insight into our misplaced priorities. I particularly enjoy that one of the Tanna natives occupation is "Happy Man." One of them (I think their Chief) while in New York City saw some homeless people and remarked that it was strange that in a city with so many buildings, there was no where for these people to go when it gets cold.

So true.

From the common sense files: It's illegal to lay claim to parking spaces. WTOP gives us a whole story dedicated to the fact that even if you personally shoveled a street parking spot, you don't own it. Putting a road cone or lawn chair to block anyone else from using it is not cool. Of course I've heard stories of much worse in some cities, where people stand guard over spots with a shotgun, or they build walls around parking spots. Just give us some time, and we'll catch up.

Now back to work. Our gracious new Sno-verloards gave me the day off for my birthday yesterday, but now I've got to compress a whole week's worth of work into roughly 2 days. Anyone else in the same boat? Or has pretty much everyone just taken the whole week off?


News Bullets, 'snowmagedden' Friday;

Gay marriage is almost here! At 10:30 AM, Mayor Adrian Fenty will sign the same-sex marriage bill. The ceremony will take place at the All Souls Unitarian Church on 16th Street, in the heart of Ward 1. It looks like the civil war that Marion Barry promised might not erupt immediately, but the heavens are about to open up and sprinkle white death all over the District.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning, and anything from zero inches to three feet of snow are being predicted for the region. Officially the storm warning mentions 8-10" of fluffy destruction, but some weather doomsayers are predicting snowfall to be measured in feet.

Here's my prediction for the stupid headlines if we do manage to get a real snowstorm:

White House buried in historic snowstorm as Obama attends Global Warming summit

D.C. paralyzed by snowstorm. 'Divine retribution' for gay marriage says local pastors

As per usual, now is about the time when everyone promptly freaks out about the snow. Will we prove to be flinty enough this year to survive? Given that this is D.C., snow forecasts are generally always incorrect. If these predictions hold true, this will be the first time the world has ended since the last time it ended, back in 2003. Next week will be a short work week for many, and it's possible that Monday could see the first snow day in a while. If you'll remember this past winter, newly inaugurated President Obama wanted the federal government to man up about the snow.

Moving along...

Metro outlines possible service cuts. GGW has a round-up of proposed service cuts to help Metro close a huge budget gap. Given the size of the budget problem, we are probably lucky to be escaping without much harsher cuts. I'm surprised that we aren't seeing any 'doomsday' proposals, such as stopping the Yellow Line at Pentagon or running four car trains on weekends.

Raid puts guns, drugs on the table. 44 suspects were arrested in a major drug and gun sting operation. Police seized millions in drugs, as well as 123 illegal weapons. This is a huge accomplishment for the multi-agency task force. MPD has been making some progress on crime this year, and violent crime remains down. However, that downward trend is mirrored in other cities, and compared to many other cities, crime is still higher in the District.

This brings us to something I've been wondering about...

Some critics have said that MPD should not get too much credit for the drop in violent crime because that drop has been seen in other cities. I've been a bit harsh on MPD Chief Lanier for making some outrageous statements and taking credit where credit may not be due. However, I'm interested in an answer to this question: What is the cause of the nationwide downward trend? Is there really just some sense of "let's not commit as much violent crime" sweeping our cities? It doesn't make sense that there's some mysterious force that has nothing to do with the actions of police departments that is resulting in a drop in crime. Does the economic downturn somehow explain it? That doesn't make much sense, either, most people would expect the opposite result (more robberies, etc). Interesting questions, to say the least. Anyone have any ideas?

Ok folks, back to work for me. Enjoy the weekend. It's three days until my birthday, so I'm hoping for a snowday on Monday.


Catoe starts talking real about safety

Don't stop the presses quite yet, but John Catoe has started talking the talk about safety. This is the first time since the June 22 crash that the General Manager has outlined some substantial plans for improving safety within the agency. I've documented time and again how Metro's management has routinely ignored safety problems, and how John Catoe has consistently passed the buck.

In remarks to the Board of Directors, Catoe's tone has changed a bit. These comments follow a recent shake-up in management. Catoe's entire statement is available on the WMATA web site, and I wanted to take a minute to discuss what all of this means.

I think the big thing to remember when discussing safety at Metro is the difference between resource problems and management problems. Metro certainly has resource and funding issues. This cannot be ignored. Metro is constantly facing budget problems, which have made certain safety improvements difficult. The failure to quickly phase-out the Series 1000 railcars can be attributed to funding problems--the money hasn't been there to procure replacement rolling stock, so Metro had little choice but to keep the older cars in service.

However, many of the safety lapses that have been documented over the years had little to do with funding. There has been significant turnover in the agency's safety department, and the organizational chart has been redrawn several times, making institutional memory difficult to instill and maintain. From studying the previous incidents on Metro, it appears as though safety had not always been the number one priority. For those tasked to make safety a number one priority, the proper access to management and resources was not always provided. This resulted in a work culture that did not respond well to lapses in safety, and did not quickly or appropriately respond to safety concerns.

Given that John Catoe is the general manager, and all of Metro management reports to the GM, it has long been my belief that the buck needs to stop at the top. For months after the deadly 6/22 crash, we kept hearing the Metro was very safe and all that could be done was being done. That tune has changed. In the wake of the Senate hearings, Catoe is finally admitting there is much work to be done. In typical political fashion, he is declaring war on safety problems. He is vowing to work with all safety agencies, including safety researchers, to build up the proper culture of safety.

These are the words we have been waiting to hear. These are the statements that should have been made immediately following the June 22 crash. In fact, these are the statements that should have been made a decade ago by previous Metro General Managers. The fact that it has taken six months and Congressional hearings to get to this point is disappointing. And at this point, it's still just words.

Catoe says this isn't just lip service this time. I'd like to believe him, I really would. In order to be taken seriously, however, Metro will need to accompany these words with actions, and more importantly with improved transparency. Metro has lost the faith of not only lawmakers but customers. It's not enough to say you are going to work to improve safety. It's necessary to tell us exactly how, and to keep us updated on what progress you are making.

Instilling a culture of safety isn't an easy task. It will take a lot of hard work, and it will involve making some painful changes. The day-to-day operations at Metro are currently problematic. Employees from the front-line up to the General Manager are going to have to establish new habits, and learn new priorities. It's not impossible, though.

Improved cooperation with oversight agencies are important, and the anticipated $300 million in capital funds can go along way to relieve the budgetary stresses on safety. The hardest part, however, will be the management changes. Metro needs to recognize that they are a highly complex organization tasked with maintaining a delicate balance between service levels and safety. Metro managers need to understand that in a system such as Metrorail, safety is a very complex topic. Small failures in the system can be amplified and cascade into other areas very quickly. Tragic accidents in systems such as Metrorail rarely have one simple cause. They are almost always a chain of events, often starting with something that is easy to overlook.

If John Catoe can successfully overhaul safety within Metro, both in rail and in bus, then he will have an outstanding legacy as a transit chief. He will always have the burden of having been in charge during the agency's worst accident... but only he can ensure that everything possible can be done to prevent another crash. Again, it is disappointing it has taken this long to hear some real talk about safety, but this is an overwhelmingly positive development.

News Bullets, I'm back Thursday;

I suppose one sign that you are getting older is that you actually look forward to getting back in the swing of things after being sick. I had to miss three days of work this week, today is the first full fever-free day KNOCK ON WOOD. I still feel a little out of it, but what can you do. Let's talk DC for a minute. It's been a while so I'm way behind on the news.

US DOT honors Silver Line whistleblower. The Department of Transportation's Inspector General issued a commendation to Steve T. Mackey, who alerted authorities about concerns with the safety of a bridge project to carry the Silver Line over I-66. We need more of this, really. There are people within Metro who have serious concerns about safety, but are afraid to speak up. More on this, and a complete Metro round-up, coming soon.

Man shot near Sherman Ave and Euclid St last night. MPD sent out an alert last night of a shooting in the 2600 block of Sherman Avenue NW. The incident occurred around 7:40 PM. Not a whole lot of info floating around at this point, here's a WJLA piece that says little more than what's been on MPD listserves.

Mendo backs off Fenty security probe. DC Wire has it that Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) is backing down on his threats to investigate Fenty's use of security details. The tussle began after WTOP ran a story about Fenty using a police escort for his cycling team. District AG Peter Nickles initially refused to answer questions about the mayor's use of security resources. After Mendelson announced he would seek subpoena power, Nickles has assured the Council he will provide answers. We'll see what really happens with that. While it may not be a matter that costs the city a huge amount of money, it does seem ridiculous for the city to be paying frivolous expenses (e.g. flying the mayor's bike, special security trips to bike races, etc) in the midst of a budget crisis.

Early results show new DC-Lynchburg Amtrak service a success. The extension of Northeast Corridor service down to Lynchburg, Va. (via Charlottesville) has exceeded fare expectations by 87%. I've taken this train once since it debuted, and I was pleased. It did seem a majority (not surprisingly) of passengers were traveling to Charlottesville. From the C-Ville to Lynchburg portion of the trip, it was a bit eerie and empty. Smacked of a Langoliers-like scenario. However, it's awesome it's doing well. Now if Virginia could just extend the service a bit further, over to Roanoke and maybe down to Blacksburg.

Can The Wire help us understand DC dysfunction? Well, short-answer yes. Long answer, it's a bit complicated. There's been some interesting musings in the comments here that many of the city's problems (including Metro) can be explained with examples from the hit television show. I've seen the first three seasons of the show, and I think there is something to be said for this line of thinking. However, I don't think the comparison of police management to Metro management is exactly correct. Police department politics and Metro politics are quite different. Given that Metro is a tri-"State" agency, no one Mayor (or governor) would be hanging their entire political future on their pick for manager of Metro. However, this is an interesting theme that I hope to explore a bit further. Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts on this analogy.

Now I've got to dig into this three-day pile of missed work. Have a good Thursday, Internets.


Your Wednesday Update

This is your obligatory "sorry for the lack of updates" post.

I've been sick, and downing cough syrup and Tylenol. I'm hoping to be back to moderately normal health tomorrow, and all of that.

There's a lot of news going around, which I really want to get up to speed on. I'm hoping to get caught up later today. The streetcars are here, Vincent Gray might be running for mayor (with Peebles' help!), a corrupt police officer was arrested, and much more.

I realize this post serves no purpose, but yeah. In the meantime I'm trying to catch up on some work and Stargate is on TV.

Hopefully regular blogging will resume tomorrow!


I went to the City Paper tweetup and all I got was a hacking cough

Dear Internets,

Most of you missed a prime opportunity to meet this here blogger, I went to the City Paper tweetup last Thursday. I feel like an idiot using the word "tweetup" or "tweeps," but who am I kidding, I tweeted about it and even made sure to "check in" on Foursquare. In any event, it was fun and I had a chance to meet some people from out in Internet-land.

I also somehow managed to catch the plague. On Saturday night I developed this hacking cough and a fever, and I noticed that a few other people who were present at the "tweetup" were also sick. For some reason it seems to have kicked my ass the most, leaving me with a 101-102 degree fever and feeling like crap. Thank god for Tylenol so I can muster enough strength to write this post and to go to the doctor.

The doctor's office stuck a giant Q-Tip up my nose to test for the flu, which came back negative. From what I understand, that test isn't always accurate. I definitely have flu-like symptoms. I'm not a doctor, though, so I'm not going to go on too much of a rampage demanding Tamiflu.

In any event, I've been meaning to write more about the Metro shake-up, which turned out to be basically what I was predicting. It was a bit more extensive, but is still sort of the same M.O. of "let's shake up the safety department!" I'll have more on that later. I've still got this fever, so I'll be stuck in my apartment for at least another day.

Hooray. This sucks.


BREAKING: Metro shake-up coming, possibly today

I'm dedicating all of my morning resources to this, since it's been months in the making. As you can see by the Catoe Watch, it's been 172 days since nine people were killed on the Red Line near Fort Totten. Since 6/22, several track workers have been killed in accidents, and millions of dollars in damage have been done to Metro rolling stock. I've spent a good deal of time chronicling all of this here, and on Greater Greater Washington. It's been a very important topic. All along, I have called for a change in management at Metro.

Well, the nine deaths weren't enough to encourage change. The track workers dying weren't enough. Time and time again the Metro board has stood by their managers, even renewing John Catoe's contract.

However, today we may see some changes in Metro management. All it took was a United States Senator. Yesterday Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) had some choice words for Metro at a Senate hearing on transportation safety. She called for immediate changes at Metro, demanding more "vigorous and aggressive" management. She stopped short of calling for Catoe to be fired, but did say: "Catoe wants to have a meeting with me. I don't want to have a meeting. I want action."

So what's the response? Metro Board Chair Jim Graham had this to say: "It's clearly past time for there to be some very substantial management changes at Metro," said Graham, who is also a member of the D.C. Council. "We're going to change Metro, and it's going to happen very rapidly."

I hope everyone in the DC area joins me in saying, "Too little, too late, Jim Graham." It's time to go. Here's the door.

If it's clearly "past time" for there to be changes, then why didn't you demand this sort of action before? Why did you stand by John Catoe and Metro management the entire time, up until now, of course? If we fire Catoe now, we'll have to buy out his ridiculous contract. I'm sure the transit agency can afford that. That'll total what, almost a million dollars for his 3-year extension?

It took nearly six months and Senate hearings for Jim Graham to finally see the writing on the wall. Glad to see you've joined us over here in reality. I really don't enjoy having to say "I told you so," except, I did tell you so.

The "substantial" changes to Metro management could come as early as today. What will these changes look like?

I find it unlikely John Catoe will be fired. Instead, we will see yet another reorganization of Metro's safety division. This is the standard Metro response to criticism. The organizational chart will again be redrawn, again placing the safety chief as reporting directly to the General Manager. They will likely name a new safety officer, and fire Alexa Dupigny-Samuels. Who in the world they will find to be the safety officer is a good question, it will have to be an internal promotion. I'm guessing it will be someone from the rail division, since that's what's getting all of the attention right now.

I can tell you this, if the response to the Senate hearings involves another safety reorganization, I'm going to dedicate 110% of my available time to turning The Price of Safety into a comprehensive research project, wherein I look to publish a complete collection of these missteps and band-aids, and send a copy to every single member of Congress.


Columbia Heights Chipotle holds "invite only" mock service

Holy shit world, stop your presses. A new fast food chain restaurant is opening in Columbia Heights. That's right, since the neighborhood is so starved for food options, this is apparently some kind of huge event. So big, in fact, the fast food joint had an invite-only mock service the other night. Some big names where present, including Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser! Gasp!

Seriously? A special preview night for the latest outpost of a national fast food chain? I can understand when a brand new real restaurant wants to have a preview night--it helps train the staff and get the word out about the menu, decor, etc. But a Chipotle is a Chipotle. If you have questions or wonder what a Chipotle is, you can visit the other locations in the District of Columbia. It's nothing special. It's a fast food restaurant. They have tacos and burritos. They put things in tin foil. If you're super curious and lazy, hop on the Circulator and go to the Chipotle in Woodley Park (it's not that far, really, maybe 6 minutes on the bus!).

Now I have to wonder, did Panda Express at DCUSA have a special preview night? I don't remember seeing anything about that. But their Orange Chicken is filled with crack or something, because I could eat that every night for the rest of my life. Oh, and that big soda cup with the panda on it, I love me some of that. It's cute and filled with delicious beverage. And it's all cheaper than Chipotle!

I guess this is where social media jumps the shark, we've got bloggers promoting new fast food restaurants, and city officials coming out to mark the occasion. Maybe if they renovate one of the gas stations on 14th Street, they'll do a mock service for special folk. Jim Graham can fill up his New Beetle and then fire the ceremonial first shotgun blast at the cashier's bulletproof glass. Oh, and just wait until the IHOP opens! Someone will tweet about how some dude named Ernesto botched their preview-night order of the Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity. "I'll bet he's a member of MS-13, too," it will say.

When will the world stop going crazy? Is Columbia Heights so bad that the opening of a chain restaurant warrants this much attention? Furthermore, why aren't the Councilmembers boycotting and making a stink that this will hurt local businesses? Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant/Adams Morgan has a large number of locally owned and operated Mexican and Latin American restaurants. Jim Graham, how can you stand for this?

In any event, I'm not anti-Chipotle, I just don't understand all the hype. I think I had enough Chipotle to last a lifetime back in 2004. Today, this just seems a bit... pathetic.

News Bullets, 'Mayor Feny' Thursday;

It's already Thursday! I'm bringing the funny back with a story to run later today, let's just say it involved Chipotle, bulletproof glass, the DC Council and people not getting over themselves. Let's move it along for now though to the day's news. I'm not even going to touch the Howard University terrorist story, that's just ripe for all sorts of uninformed commentary.

New Washington Post "Story Lab" blog chronicles the development of a stupid story. The Washington Post ran an underwhelming story today about tattoos in the workplace. The whole "tattoos are taboo" thing could be a moderately interesting story, except the Post didn't seem to have much luck with the research. All we get is a boring piece that says "some people feel uncomfortable showing their tattoos in an office." They couldn't find anyone with a personal story about being fired or disciplined for having visible tattoos. The story barely discussed any actual dress codes or regulations regarding tattoos or body piercings. Additionally, they story only briefly touched on places where tattoos are more accepted--naming bicycle shops, video stores, and the "batik-lined hallways of hip nonprofits." Video stores? Now you really are dating yourself, Post. I liked the story about the police officer with tattoos, should have developed that angle more. Otherwise this is a pointless story. It's pointless and we didn't need TWO OTHER stories telling us how you wrote the first stupid one. I didn't need the Post to tell me that if you work in an office and have tattoos, you should consider the atmosphere of the office before uncovering your tattoos.

Ballou High School slated to get its own fire station. Well, not exactly. However, DC Fire and EMS has been called to the school 40 times since August 24. Apparently the Arson Club has been hard at work, setting numerous small fires--in trash cans, stairwells, bathrooms, and even a bulletin board. School officials didn't say much, and the school's principal refused to speak without permission from The Enforcer. For reference, the 40 calls are about twice the normal amount for the school. Some students speculated the fires are set in order to evacuate the school and shorten the school day. Who would have guessed? I assumed it was just some overzealous members of the Arson Club.

Costco coming to a mostly inaccessible part of D.C. Do you need to look at a map to tell you where Fort Lincoln is? Here's a clue, if you've ever driven north using the BW Parkway, you might recall passing the Washington Times production plant. That's near Fort Lincoln, and that's where Costco is coming. Councilmember Kwame Brown (D-At Large) made the announcement yesterday. The bulk retailer will be located near the intersection of New York Avenue and South Dakota Avenue NE. I suppose one could say most people drive to Costco anyways. It would be difficult to take that pallet of Cheez Whiz on the Metro.

Jim Graham posts barely comprehensible message to his blog. Yesterday the Ward 1 Councilmember made a blog post about Columbia Heights. In this post, Graham discusses a recent walk-through of Northwest Columbia Heights. The big piece of information that's going around the blogs is that Graham says drug dealers from Maryland have moved into NW Columbia Heights. Never fear, though, "the police are aware of the problem and are actively investigating." I'm not sure what the "territory" that was taken back is, I used to live in that area and it doesn't seem like much has changed. The gas station near 14th and Otis is practically Amsterdam, and I have no idea why that hasn't changed, ever. In any event, what I loved the most about this whole post was the misspelling of "Mayor Feny." LETTERS AREN'T FREE. WE'RE SAVING MONEY HERE. WE GOT MOST OF THEM! THE INTERNET IS NOT A TRUCK!!!

And, as the whole world has now told me: Founding Farmers has a Dyson Air Blade. Too bad Dyson isn't an American company. I'd like to see a Dyson Air Blade stimulus package. After seeing these at an obscenely large Whole Foods in Chicago, I'm sold!

Keep on keepin' on DC. It's the season to be happy, and soon we'll all rejoice because Cleveland Park will be revitalized with a restaurant that serves only breakfast cereal!


News Bullets, phoning it in Wednesday;

Well, the horrible ice storm never made it here, but the rest of the country seems to be getting slammed. The storm might have been responsible for the traffic accident right outside my window last night at 1:45 AM, though. Hearing screeching tires and a crash while half-asleep is an odd experience, to say the least. Yup, I have to keep the window open these days since the radiators in the building only have two settings: VERY HOT and EXTREMELY HOT.

Manager of Tenleytown Ruby Tuesday missing. Cynthia Ann Passmore, 48, of Forestville has not been seen since closing the restaurant Monday night. Passmore's ATM cards had been used in several locations in the District on Tuesday. Police are searching for both Passmore and her vehicle. Passmore has been located and is alive and well.

Yesterday I wrote about a disturbing photo taken on the Red Line. As it turned out, there was a good explanation for it. Who would have guessed? In this case, kudos to Metro for answering the questions in a prompt and complete way. I have many more questions, WMATA, and I'd love to chat further. You know how to reach me!

Fenty skiped Pollin funeral to attend a Wizards game in Miami. While Fenty did speak at last night's public memorial service, WTOP learned Fenty was at a Wizards game when Pollin was laid to rest. Fenty also neglected to send a representative from the Mayor's office to the funeral. When asked about the matter, he gave the standard "I'll get back to you" response. I'm not sure how "I'll get back to you" is an appropriate response to "Why didn't you send someone from your office?" Fenty's poll numbers are in the toilet, and he's unlikeable. I was watching footage of a recent library dedication, and I tell you, Fenty looked pained by his own existence. Not even his dapper hat and trench coat could give him any sort of gravitas.

Handgun found in DC Jail. A weapon was recovered Monday night from an inmate "telephone unit." It's unclear how the weapon made it into the jail, or how long it had been there. There is speculation it ended up there as part of a 2003 plot where inmates would shoot themselves and then sue the DC Government.

District finally ponies up to Hawk One. The private security company shut down a few months back, and was unable to pay many of it's employees. Hawk One blamed the District for the mess, claiming the city was late on payments for services. Turns out D.C. was behind on the payments, and will be turning over $1.7 million to the Department of Labor by Friday. You might remember Hawk One security from providing the armed guards that yelled at you at the DMV.

Sorry this has been a bit abbreviated, it's been a busy morning. So here, if you missed it, DC music legends Jawbox appeared on Jimmy Fallon last night. Here's them playing one of my favorite songs. This should also be one of your favorite songs:


Track switch malfunction on Red Line results in alarming photo

This is completely unconfirmed, but a few alarming pieces of information. This morning @metroopensdoors noted a track circuit malfunction at Rhode Island Avenue. Around the same time, the following photo was taken and posted online by Twitter user @EvanMGlass. Evan noted that the photo was taken on the Red Line between Rhode Island Avenue and New York Avenue.

It's difficult to determine much based on very little information, however it's also difficult to imagine a reason why these two Red Line trains should ever be this close together during revenue service, outside of a "rescue train" scenario. I'll be looking into this, for sure. Stay tuned for further updates.

Big question: did a track circuit malfunction on the Red Line near Rhode Island Avenue result in a near-miss this morning? I have submitted these questions to Metro, and am awaiting a response.

I received the following information from Ron Holzer at Metro:

A switch was “red,” which means trains are not supposed to pass. The signal was stuck on red after a train was dispatched into the yard. Technicians were on scene to manually move the switch back to its proper position.

The photo shows a train stopped at the signal because it was red. (This is the train that the photographer was on when he/she took the photo.) This train was given permission by our Operations Control Center to pass through the red signal after our track technicians finished their manual work and were safely away from the train.

The second train had just left the platform and stopped automatically, which is what is supposed to happen when a train is ahead of it within that short distance. This second train was then given permission by the Operations Control Center to move forward after the first train left the area.

The trains were a safe distance from each other the entire time and in separate circuits as noted by the wee-zee bond viewable between them. Operations Control Center staff and the train operators were well aware of what was going on the entire time.

UPDATE x2: Looking at an aerial view of the location, this appears to be an example of extreme coincidences resulting in this photo. The back end of the train the photographer was on happened to be at the very end of one block. Had the rear car been about 10 feet further back, that last block would have been occupied, and the approaching train would have stopped farther back, likely on the elevated track right outside of New York Avenue. A frightening sight for riders of both trains, to be sure, but in this instance the track circuits appear to have worked correctly. It's a bit unnerving, but it was timing and 'luck' that allowed for this photo to be taken. It was in fact a track SWITCH malfunction, not a track CIRCUIT malfunction, as was originally reported by WMATA's twitter.

News Bullets, twenty-five percent Tuesday;

Whee, it's Tuesday which means we're yet another step closer to 'the holidays.' By the holidays, I obviously mean my birthday, which is a mere 2 weeks away. Also, of note, yesterday the number of supposed Tiger Woods mistresses equaled the number of days we were into the month. Somewhere I saw a quote that went something lines of, "I want a Tiger Woods Advent calendar, where you open each door and a new mistress pops out each day." If I stole that from you, let me know!
Pictured: Mayor Fenty's solution to homelessness: Xtreme Global Warming.

Even with global warming it is unlikely this winter will be 25% warmer.
As was reported a while back, the District's homeless services budget has been slashed 25%. We've got a brief Q and A about the cuts running over at District Daily, and DCist had a round-up yesterday. It's true, the city faced a serious budget gap. There's another budget bomb waiting for next year as well. However, when cutting dollars from shelter services, you are making life and death decisions. I know 25.2 million people will tell me "but that's just how budgets work, you can't move money around like it's the 2006 subprime boom." Well then let's figure out a better way to make budgets. As it stands now, Fenty, and by extension the DC Council, has become a death panel.

Man sends letter to Congress. Yeah, that's the headline. Here's some breaking news for y'all, Bob King has sent a letter to every single member of Congress. Yup, he's against gay marriage in the District and wants Congress to intervene. Here's some logic that makes perfect sense: King wants residents to vote on the measure, so he's appealing to a Congress in which residents have no representation. What's more, he wants that very same Congress to overturn a measure passed by people who were actually elected to represent the District. What does all this mean? Bob King is a jackass is what it means. Stand down, Stand4Marriage, you've lost. Can you please focus your attention on Tiger Woods now? Thanks.

I was wrong. The City Paper's Darrow Montgomery has some excellent photos from a wreath laying ceremony at the U.S. Naval Memorial yesterday. The event, of course commemorated the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Yesterday also marked the roughly 8.51 year anniversary of the release of the movie Pearl Harbor.

Greetings DC Council staffers.
Councilmember Tommy Wells' (D-Ward 6) chief of staff name-dropped why.i.hate.dc to DCist's Kriston Capps yesterday while discussing the H Street Shuttle. Wells was able to get the funds to revive the H Street Shuttle, previously referenced on this blog as the Yuppie People Mover. Somehow, in the midst of a terrible budget crisis, the city was able to find $250,000 sitting around to finance this. I'll say it again, if DDOT wants to pursue this, do so with an expansion of the Circulator. To Tommy Wells: Graham got the Circulator to go up to Woodley Park, how about you lobby for one to go to Minnesota Avenue Metro or the Arboretum, via H Street? $1.00 fare, limited stops, and frequent service. It's managed by DDOT, so you can avoid working with WMATA. Drop a line to Gabe Klein! Do it! As it stands now, we have tiny buses that run once an hour (at best). Don't tell me that the X2 is so unreliable that you'd never be able to catch one within that hour. I've taken the H Street Shuttle before, there is no way to know if the bus is coming, and it doesn't always run on schedule. It's not on Nextbus, and I'd rather wait on the X2 or try to find a cab (which can be scarce) than stand waiting for a bus that i have no idea if it will come or not. But that's just me. Seems like a big waste of that $250,000.

Vincent Gray leads polls, ethics investigations. Both DCRA and the Office of Campaign Finance are investigating Council Chair Vincent Gray (D). Gray has not officially announced a run for mayor, but recent polling data shows him leading Fenty. Is this really the best we can do? These investigations are about things such as unlicensed home improvements done by large scale developers, and also Gray's solicitation of funds using Council stationary. Sure, these things are all "minor" in the grand scheme of things, and "pobody's nerfect," but still.


News Bullets, someone call 911 Monday;

Today is the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and I haven't seen a single news story about it. I haven't looked very hard though, so don't go yelling about how all of downtown is closed for a special ceremony at the World War II memorial. I'd know about that, since I seem to get a DC Alert text for every pothole discovered in this city. I am a little surprised a Control+F of CNN.com for "Pearl Harbor" yields nothing. Imagine in another 60 years when people forget about 9/11 being 9/11. Or 911 not being 9/11.

We had some snowfall on Saturday that amounted to nothing, thanks in part to our Obama-inspired flintiness. Here's a socializing tip: if you can't think of anything nice to say about someone, describe them as "flinty." For those wondering, the National Zoo is not flinty.

What's in the news?

Fires in the local news this weekend. A large fire destroyed an empty rowhome in the 1300 block of Oak Street, NW in Columbia Heights early Saturday. Nearby homes were evacuated, and some families were displaced. The house was reportedly undergoing renovations. I'm going to check with DCRA to see if there's any information on permits for the work. There was also a fire reported in the New South dorm at Georgetown University last night. Some students were displaced due to water damage from sprinkers.

Legal clinics are facing tight budgets, cuts. Offices providing free legal services in DC, Virginia and Maryland have been hard hit by the recession. Funding has dried up, while demand for non-criminal legal services (rent disputes, foreclosure, bankruptcy) have skyrocketed. Interestingly enough, the way free legal services are funding revolves around interest rates. From the Post:
At the heart of the problem are historically low interest rates. Legal aid societies nationwide rely on income generated through an arcane process linked to the federal rate, and "what's been good news for everyone else was a blow to us," said Susan Erlichman, executive director of the Maryland Legal Services Corp.
Seems like it might be time to rethink how legal services for the poor are funded. All criminal defendants are guaranteed the right to legal representation, but not for civil cases.

Metro banked on people discarding low-value farecards. Surprise, surprise, in a recession people are deciding not to waste money. Metro had banked on some $11 million in low-value farecards being thrown away and never redeemed. Since more riders are using Smartrip cards, Metro now only assumes 3% of purcahsed fares will be discarded. Previously that amount was 5%. I'm a little puzzled on why this even matters, though. Once a farecard is purchased what does it matter if it's used or not? Metro already has the revenue from the purchase. Someone out there with budget experience tell me why it matters if the card is redeemed.

Protesters manage to crash Fenty's birthday bash. Mayor Fenty celebrated his 39th birthday with a fundraiser Saturday. Protesters gathered outside the what-would-have-been mayoral mansion, and some even manged to get inside. Chants of "one-term mayor" were heard at one point. I found this one bit to be interesting:
Most guests declined to comment, but Omar Nour of Columbia Heights said the protesters wouldn't dampen the party.

"I just support him in everything that he's been doing politically as well as -- you know -- other aspects."
Such as? Funneling money to his cronies? Or maybe he meant the triathlons.

Redskins almost play the spoiler, but then we screw that up. Yup. Best description I heard during the game was "that resembled less of a football play and more of a metaphor for health care reform."

Washington Post calls out Founding Farmers on their claims of being green. According to writer Jane Black, the eco-chic "farm to table" restaurant is making incorrect claims on their menu. Since DC is full of rabid food bloggers, I'm sure we'll hear more about this. We'll also likely hear a ton about how the Washington Post sucks, or something like that.


DC pulls funding for Privileged People Transit System to H Street NE

Patrick Stewart reacts to some bad news.

In breaking entertainment-related news: the H Street Shuttle Bus will cease operations this Sunday. The bus provided free service from Gallery Place to the up-and-coming Atlas District.

From DCist:
Managed by the H Street Business Cooperative and operated by U Street Parking and Transportation, the shuttle had been being funded through a grant from the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, but that money has since disappeared, according to Patrick Stewart, co-founder of the cooperative and former director of the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

"It is a pretty big disappointment," Stewart said.

As everyone in the world will point out, the H Street Shuttle exactly duplicated the X2 Metrobus route, and overlapped a bit with the 90 buses as well. On paper there was no possible justification to spend taxpayer money on this shuttle bus. That's because it's difficult to put on paper that white people are afraid of riding on the X2. I ride on city buses a lot, but the rowdiness of the X2 is a bit unnerving at times, and sometimes people get shot at the bus stops. However, I'm not about to ask the city to pay for a completely separate Yuppie People Mover just because I'm afraid to ride on the bus with the 'scary' black people. If I don't want to ride on the bus that's already been provided for me, then I'll take a cab. If I have enough disposable income to be trekking from some other part of the city to H Street NE for a night of drinking, I can afford the cab ride from Gallery Place.

Why should people going to bars be given a special transportation system? What about the other people who have to ride on the X2 to get to and/from their jobs or grocery shopping? I'm sure they don't exactly enjoy riding on a bus full of loud people being rowdy, rude and sometimes violent. Let's have some undercover transit police ride on the X2 route every few days and make some visible arrests and get the message out that harassment, fare jumping, etc are not permitted. The answer to "the X2 is scary" isn't "have the city pay for another bus."

If DDOT wants to spend money on this route, let's talk about expanding the Circulator. Have it duplicate the streetcar route so people get used to where the stops will be. Let's spend those dollars on something that can serve both the 'party-goers' and the people who live near H Street. As it stood, the H Street Shuttle smacked a bit of "separate but totally not equal at all."

So for those of you up-in-arms about the ceasing of this bus line, I bestow to you the WIHDC's Smallest Violin award.

Besides, what does any of this matter? The people going to the H Street bars all drive their cars from Northern Virginia anyway.


News Bullets, corked Friday;

OK, I'm back. Again. This is what happens when you take all of your vacation time in a 2 week period. I was in Chicago this time, and it made me realize a few things about DC. Previously I've tried to compare DC to Chicago or other large cities, but that's not a fair comparison. A lot of people don't want to hear it, but DC isn't a big city. Yes, there's a populous metro area here, but there isn't the large urbanized area other cities (Chicago, New York, etc.) have. I'll have a bit more about this later. For some reason I thought it would be productive to go back to work on a Friday, but in retrospect I think this was a poor decision. In any event, here's a quick look at the news.

Pepco worker shot in Bloomingdale. I know that "crime can happen anywhere," but I don't think that groups of rowdy teens shoot people everywhere. I'm just saying. As much as Bloomingdale wants to be a hip neighborhood for yuppies and young families, it's not exactly a lovely place to live. I don't care that Big Bear Cafe is there. I can't understand why housing prices for Bloomingdale have shot up so much lately. I've heard too many stories about people getting randomly assaulted by teens on the street or outside of the Shaw Metro, and now a Pepco worker gets shot. Let's see if police have any luck catching these people.

Tri-State Oversight Committee gets inspectors onto Metro tracks. The media would have you believe this is the final step of the battle, but in reality it is only the first step. Merely allowing access to inspectors does not "make sure" anything is safe. The real story will be what these inspectors discover, and what sort of access they have. Ultimately, inspectors need access to all areas of Metro (including the head office!) to observe safety from the track level all the way up to John Catoe's office.

DC worst place to open a small business. Unless you are a bar. Or possibly a cheese market. Rejoice, 14th Street, the new Cork Market opens today. Harry Jaffe at the Examiner notes that DC is ranked 51st (aka last) for places to start and grow a small business. It's an interesting read, and worth more exploring.

More layoffs at the Newseum. The big memorial to a dying industry is shedding another 29 employees. This is the third round of layoffs since the museum opened at its new location in the District. Honestly moving from Rosslyn to the huge new facility in DC seems to have been a poor choice. Also, being a stupidly gaudy self-fellating museum doesn't help.

I missed a lot of news while out of town, including the whole Ximena Hartsock replacement. And more DPR scandals. Metro's budget is also screwed. Seems there was some more polling on Fenty, as well. I'll try to get caught up. Also, I've been organizing a whole lot of District Daily stuff behind the scenes, so needless to say, I've been busy. Keep your eyes peeled for some big updates in the next few days.


No one surprised by latest Metro crash

I am indeed still out of town--this is what happens when you only take vacation time once a year. However, I do feel compelled to write about Sunday's crash on the Orange Line.

First off, the facts. We don't know much. A collision occurred at the West Falls Church railyard, three employees were injured, and extensive damage was done to several railcars. The price tag for the crash could reach upwards of $36 million.

The key fact here, though, is we do not know much. Metro isn't releasing very much information. This all comes, of course, amid discussion of how to improve transit safety oversight. This also comes along with the NTSB's continued investigation of the June 22 crash on the Red Line.

In Sunday's incident, there is speculation that a power surge caused the striking train to speed up, causing the collision. There are a number of documented problems with the series 5000 cars, including power surges.

This incident brings up a few issues, which I'll briefly address:

1. The striking train consisted of series 5000 and series 1000 cars. The series 1000 cars were in the middle of the train, as part of Metro's safety public relations campaign. It appears as though these cars suffered extensive damage, despite being "protected" by stronger cars on each end. This likely proves that moving the series 1000 cars to the center of the train makes little difference. Hopefully the NTSB's investigation will look at this, and provide some scientific analysis.

2. It's unclear how fast the striking train was moving. Metro won't say. I'll guess the train was not moving very fast, likely 10 or 15mph (at most). Any faster and we'd have seen much more serious injuries.

3. The NTSB will investigate this accident, so Metro gets another try at cooperating with investigators. This is an extremely serious issue, workers were injured and the price tag for this accident is very high. 12 railcars are now out of service, which isn't trivial.

4. The operator of the striking train was finishing up a 10 1/2 hour shift. I have personally heard from Metro employees who are concerned about Metro's work schedules not allowing for enough time for rest. Thankfully the operator did not suffer serious injury--it will be important to determine if fatigue played a role in this crash.

The real question here, is how much is too much. The New York Times ran an editorial yesterday, "Commuters Beware," calling for more federal oversight. The stickler in me also needs to point out that the New York Times should invest in at least one fact checker. Nine people died on 6/22, but only eight were commuters. In any event, at this point it's not only about federal oversight, it's painfully clear that Metro leadership needs to change.

The Metro board refuses to change horses here, continuing to stick with John Catoe despite numerous preventable tragedies. Catoe, in return, sticks with his safety chief, even after she denied track access to independent observers. It's time for some accountability. I don't know how many more times I can type this. It started as a few blog posts, it grew into a petition, I went on television, and I'm writing a series of posts about it. I'm doing all I can, but at the end of the day the story is still the same. General Manager John Catoe and Safety Chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels need to go.

This is very important so I'm going to say it as clearly as possible: If the Metro leadership does not change, there will be more accidents. There will be more accidents and there will be more casualties. This is not the case of a single isolated incident. This is institutional failure. The warning signs are here, and any further bloodshed on the Metro will squarely be on the hands of the Metro board.