1.30.2010

Reader explains proposed Maryland "no sex" divorce law

On Friday there was an item in the News Bullets about divorce law in Maryland. The point of discussion is a change proposed by a Montgomery County lawmaker, that would allow divorce after a year of no sexual intercourse. This, of course, led to all sorts of jokes around the media, and some mocking. To be clear, of course, this isn't a matter of being able to divorce someone because you aren't getting any. This is more a nod to the fact that often separating can be expensive, especially while the technical details of a divorce are being worked out. A reader sent in the following response, which I think is worth highlighting.
As a family law attorney based in Montgomery County, I wanted to respond to the last bullet, because the proposed legislation is a great thing for couples in Maryland looking to get divorced (this will apply to all of MD, not just MoCo).

The no sex for a year requirement is nothing new, it's already part of MD divorce law. For a "no-fault" divorce, meaning both sides are on board with getting divorced and neither side is accusing the other of adultery, abuse, etc., the law as it is now requires the couple to live separate and apart for one year, and they can't have sex with each other during that time. If they do, it resets the clock and their 1-year waiting period starts all over again. (Even if one side is claiming fault by the other person, if the couple has sex, it's considered condoning the behavior and a reconciliation of the parties.) The way the no sex is proven is by sworn testimony in court, so they already have to testify that they haven't had sex with their spouse in a year. Whether they've had sex with other people in that time isn't part of the equation, so it isn't even asked because it doesn't matter. (Even if it was asked, the witness could claim 5th Amendment privilege, since adultery in MD is a crime. The penalty? A $10 fine.)

All this legislation will do is remove the requirement that the two people live in separate residences for that year. Right now, with the economy in the crapper, people taking salary cuts or losing their jobs left and right, moving out is an economic impossibility for a lot of people. For some, that means the person moving out has to keep making payments on a mortgage while paying rent on another apartment and possibly making child support payments on top of that, all while trying to pay their other bills.

I applaud the fact that the legislators are listening to us practitioners doing this stuff every day and reacting to the economic reality that's putting couples in tough situations. This is a good thing for couples looking to get divorced that can't afford two places while they're going through the process. This will benefit the non-wealthy MoCo residents, and yes, there are lots of them.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go meet John Gosselin at a butter party.
Points taken, and well explained. Thank you for sending this in!

P.S. How about this snow?

1.29.2010

News Bullets, bread and milk Friday;

So I was late to work and lost my contact lens and I'm in a terrible mood. Sensing my panic my fiancee Danielle sent me a round-up. I present this to you, and I offer her thanks for saving me from going completely insane this morning!

OMGZ we might get the other dreaded four-letter "s" word this weekend. You'd better start running to the store now for provisions: 18 loaves of bread, no less than 45 gallons of milk and twelve dozen eggs. Because you can never have enough french toast when it snows, apparently. In my case I'm actually screwed; I'm genuinely lacking milk and bread and not looking forward to the shitshow  that is Safeway before a snowstorm.

In other news:

Over privileged high school students in Potomac obviously just got "Wargames" on Netflix, hacking into Pentagon to start World War III is up next. An undetermined number of school kids from Winston Churchill High in Potomac may or may not have hacked into their school's database to change grades, according to a lackluster story on WJLA. I really don't care what some rich kids did under pressure in a far flung suburb of DC, but that just goes to show you how slow this news day truly is. Oh, and kids in Potomac, don't forget to hack Kayak and book a flight from Australia to Los Angeles.


Butterstick is going to Sichuan where tasty, tasty fried foods are made or so I am to believe from numerous Chinese fliers that are shoved under my door on a daily basis. So the panda is leaving. Our dearly loved Butterstick is going back to his native land and LAND O'LAKES is sending him off. This isn't a joke. The butter company is sponsoring the party. Now I liked the panda well enough, but come on people. Grow a pair. People in this town are genuinely upset that Butterstick is going back to his ancestral home. If people felt this way about genuine social problems like, oh I don't know, the plight of the homeless in the freezing cold tonight, we might actually get something done. Can the butter company sponsor a homeless shelter? I can't wait for the Zoo to get another adorable baby animal that makes us forget about how cold and indifferent we are to everything. I suggest a baby tiger! Rar!

I couldn't have written this better myself, Examiner: "Stock up on hair gel and Ed Hardy T-shirts." Jon Gosselin, beleaguered patriarch eight children who will no doubt need years upon years of therapy for this, might be moving to DC. Now all we need is Heidi and Spencer to up our shitty C-list celebrewannabe profile even further. Whatever happened to Brad and Angelina moving in? At least they might adopt some kids from Ward 8 so they wouldn't end up, you know, brutally murdered and shoved into their mother's freezer. Oh, but that's right, they broke up? Or something? I don't make it to the grocery store enough to keep up on all the gossip. Jon Gosselin's only good for hitting on fake blondes at McFadden's and then passing out in the bathroom. That role's already filled by GW students.

Did I miss something, or is there a real or imagined sex crisis in the DC suburbs? A delegate from Montgomery County, a place that clearly doesn't have real problems, wants to make it so a year without sex equals a divorce. As it currently stands now the couple has to be separated for a year, but this they say creates a financial hardship. Because you know, living separately after the fact is a breeze. But the bigger question is, how are they going to prove that you're not having sex? Do you have to keep a log? Convert your house into "Big Brother" with hidden cameras (but no worries, nobody actually watches that show)? Or do you have to stand in front of a judge and admit you haven't gotten laid in a year (because you can't quantify that with "haven't had sex with my partner" as having sex with anyone while still married is adultery. so you'll have to say you haven''t gotten any in a full calendar year. how sad.). And more so - why are lawmakers in  Montgomery County suddenly caring about our sex lives.  According to latest reports MoCo residents are all frigid, ugly Hill staffers or government drones who don't do anything but missionary once every leap year and we need this woman to tell us where to put it and how often.

1.28.2010

GIVEAWAY WINNER: Angry anonymous person who hates transplants

I have a feeling this winner might be reluctant to come forward. This submission came in the form of a comment, from "Snatch a Gentrifiers I-Pod then resell it at school the next day said...":
The thing I hate most about living in DC are the pasty transplants

Especially the pasty transplants who arrived during 1998-2009.

They think they are urban and hip but in reality they are really nothing more than victims of crime on a daily basis.

Besides being victims of crime on the streets on a daily basis they are also being victimized on a monthly basis month by their landlords.

Their landlords are stealing more money from them each month than a street thug ever will in an entire lifetime.

They are so shook they get uncomfortable when a group of 3rd grade minorities get on board the same metrobus they are riding on.

Stupid pasty gentrifiers.
It's been a while since we've seen the anonymous angry commenter, but I feel this entry is worth highlighting. The first part, about being victims of street crime--that's not really a new complaint. We all know that there are plenty of dumbass yuppies/hipsters/etc who walk around just asking to be robbed. It's true.

I liked this comment because it brings into play the other idea, that the transplants are getting robbed by their landlords. This is something we don't talk about very often. I'm sure the submitter meant to say that all transplants, no matter where they live, are getting robbed blind. In a way, though, this seems like something worth talking about. I'm not generalizing to all people who move here, but to those who don't do much research, and especially those who rent from unlicensed landlords. DC has some of the strongest tenant rights laws in the country (for a major city), but people do get taken advantage of on a regular basis. That said, there isn't much pity to go around for these people, those who shell out thousands for a poorly maintained basement apartment in a 'bad' part of town, that sort of thing. However, it's true. There are plenty of people who make a killing of rental properties that were purchased for cheap in the "gentrifying" parts of town. These properties are not taken care of, and likely the owners raise rents far beyond what's allowed by law.

As a final note on this, it's still difficult to understand why someone like angry dude directs comments to this blog in particular. This blog has always been operated by transplants, and in some cases (James), the writer didn't even live in DC. I've lived in DC for longer than any of the previous contributors, and I take far more interest in matters that are important to everyone who lives here, not just the yuppies or hipsters or whatever other name you want to come up with. In any event, send me an email if you want to claim your prize.

Runner-up: In the event I don't hear from angry dude, the runner up is Alan, who submitted:
Protesters. All of them. I don't care whether I agree what they're protesting. They need to stop marching on Capitol Hill; it's a waste of their time because no one in in this city fucking. cares. It's even worse when the protest is rhetorically limp. As an example, take last week's Right to Life protest. Around Union Station and Capitol Hill there was an influx of young, WASP-y, bible-thumping mouth breathers. They all proudly carried the sign, "Women DO regret abortion," as if that's a strong pro-life argument. They clogged Union Station and diverted traffic. Aside from the occasional idle curiosity, passerby couldn't give a flying fuck. The same goes for those who protest US Foreign policy, the World Bank/IMF, healthcare reform, cap and trade, both sides of gay marriage, and miscellaneous tree-hugging hysteria.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all about the right to assembly, and I don't think we should rewrite the first amendment. I'm just saying most* protests in DC are ineffectual, and instead serve as self-congratulatory twaddle for Midwesterners who harbor the delusion that a ten hour bus ride and stupid placards will influence federal policy. In light of last week's Supreme Court decision, they should instead funnel their resources into a corporation, and buy commercial time during Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

* Some protests, particularly those massive in scope, can produce positive results. I'm thinking Civil Rights marches, and to a lesser extent, The Million Man March. These large-scale efforts, however, are few and far between.
After the horrible experience locals had with the Right to Lifers this year, I especially agree with this. I also agree that this goes for both sides. The big anti-war, anti-whatever marches the left puts on are just as laughable and annoying. The very few events that actually made a difference, or actually preached unity rather than division are so few and far between they are mostly irrelevent these days. I'd absolutely love to see more of these types of events, events that reach historic proportions, but until then these are nothing more than a headache and a story that never makes the front page of any newspaper.

Aside from these, people weren't very clever. Yeah, we get it, Metro's escalators suck. It's an inconvience for sure, but if that's the worst thing you can think of about our region, then I suggest you broaden your horizons just a little bit.

One other entry worth highlighting was from "Andrew S. Lewis" who said:
I hate that we play so tough then hear the word snow and suddenly our testicles disappear. Also, I hate that we have this very puritan approach towards anything sexual. "I never do that because it's gross." Bullshit!
I agree about the snow, but let's talk real about the mythical puritanical sex. If we've learned anything from the bizzaro sex scandals that have hit DC, and the writing of "The Washingtonienne," there is a lot of kinky shit going down in this town. Hell, just peruse Craigslist for a few minutes. See also: Entre Nous. The real deal is that a lot of people in DC are so paranoid, and think they are so important, that they can't talk openly about any of this. Indeed, little miss Staff Assistant to a congressman we've never heard of, if you talk about how you like anal or three-ways, it will obviously be the largest sex scandal of the year. Clearly.

GIVEAWAY WINNER: Reader battles with red-tape to do the right thing

Unlicensed rental properties in the District have often been at the center of controversy. Sadly, in some cases, they have also been the center of tragedy. The District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) has been making great efforts at informing renters that they should only rent from licensed landlords, and that they should keep their landlords accountable. DCRA has set up a web site (thisshouldbeillegal.com) and a Twitter to spread the message. I'll admit, at first I mocked the @DCRA Twitter, however lately I have been impressed. This is a great resource, and should serve as a model for other District agencies. Making sure properties are licensed isn't just about slumlords or taxes, it's about accountability and landlord-tenant rights.

While DCRA has made great strides at opening communications, there is still some work to be done. While some landlords are reluctant to register because it may hurt their ability to claim a home as their residence--others avoid the process due to red tape and bureaucracy. One reader, Adrienne, wrote in with her story.
Several months ago I applied for a Basic Business Licence in order to rent out two rooms in my house. Part of that process includes an inspector coming to the house to make sure I am complying with all the health and safety regulations. He refused to pass my house "pending interpretation of the zoning laws," insisting that I should not allowed to rent out two rooms. He directed me to call the DC Office of Permits, which directed me to call the Licensing Office, which directed me back to the Inspection Unit, which then directed me to the Office of Zoning, which directed me to the Home Owners Center, which directed back to the Office of Zoning.

Three months later, I had finally gotten the zoning issue settled, scheduled another inspection, only to have the new inspector come out and tell me that I hadn't needed to contact the Office of Zoning, because it clearly stated in the DC code that I could rent out two rooms. The previous inspector cost me three months of income from rent, including countless hours of phone calls trying to get the various DC department to return my calls.
Thankfully Adrienne stuck through the process and was able to get her business license. I offered to put her in touch with contacts at DCRA, but fortunately the matter has finally been resolved. I can see how some people in Adrienne's position might give up and just operate illegally. Government inefficiency certainly isn't an excuse for breaking the law, but this whole process could be made smoother. While I understand there are certain turf wars between agencies and departments, it's always frustrating when no one is willing to see a problem through to a resolution. Recently I had to deal with some issues with the DMV, which I assumed would be a nightmare. Eventually I ended up working directly with the Director of the DMV and her assistant who were able to get everything straightened out. I applauded their helpfulness, but like DCRA's Twitter, these resources are only helpful for people who know they exist and who have access. Adrienne's troubles might have been straightened out had she Tweeted to @DCRA, but many people are likely unaware.

We see a lot of talk around blogs about buying property and rental units, however there is little talk about whether landlords obtain proper licenses. When was the last time you saw a Craigslist post that touted a property was licensed and inspected. When was the last time that you, as a renter, verified if a property was registered with the city?

Thanks to Adrienne for sharing her story and bringing this issue to light. She's the first winner of the GRAB BAG GIVEAWAY.

News Bullets, Metro Thursday;

Today is a big day for Metro. The Board is meeting as we speak to discuss among other things, the budget gap. Last night was the public hearing, where it appeared as though a fare hike was the more popular choice among riders. The other option would have been service cuts, some of which would make the system much less useful and could lead to lower ridership (this is known as a "death spiral"). Jim Graham is also out as board chair, with Maryland representative Peter Benjamin taking his place. Today it is likely we will also hear the choice for interim General Manager, the person who will replace John Catoe when he departs in April. So yes, a big day. The Metro Board has characterized the search for a permanent general manager as a search for "Clark Kent." The preferred outcome of today's meeting would be a vote to support a fare increase, and possibly capitalizing some of the system maintenance. To be clear, John Catoe has made assurances that a capitalization of maintenance would not be at the expense of safety or even any significant capital projects. Let's also hope for an impressive interim General Manager. If I had to wager, I would put it on an internal choice from within WMATA. That's likely the best possible scenario until a "rockstar" GM can be located.

In other death spiral news, Washington Post forms circular firing squad. Erik Wemple at the City Paper dissects a blog controversy unfolding at the Post. Not so much a blog controversy actually, but a real journalistic controversy. As we all know, the Post's editorial board has often been very easy on D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Also recall how buddy-buddy Rhee was with the ed board during the whole Ximena Hartsock controversy. In any event, yesterday afternoon WaPo reporter Bill Turque wrote a rather heated blog post on washingtonpost.com about the 'firewall' between the editorial/opinion page and the beat reporters. Turque claims that Rhee and company only comment to the editorial board, allowing major stories to break via a sympathetic editorial or opinion piece. Today, Turque's piece disappeared from the WaPo site, and was later replaced with a much different version. Check out CityDesk for more, and for the original text.

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R) trying in vain to stop DC same-sex marriage. As we all likely expected, this bozo has decided to grandstand on gay marriage. Let's take a second here to mention that Chaffetz is (no surprise) a mormon, and let us all recall about how much the Church of Latter Day Saints meddled in California with Prop. 8. Remember folks, any time you purchase a Twilight book or go see one of the movies, 10% of that sale is going to fund efforts to stop gay marriage. Food for thought. Anyhow, the BYU superstar placekicker (and former Democrat, until he met Ronald Reagan) has introduced legislation to block gay marriage in the District. Thankfully, having a majority in the House is occasionally useful, and this measure will go absolutely nowhere.

Gun-toting basketball idiots suspended. Wizards players Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton have been suspended without pay for the remainder of the season. Both have plead guilty to gun charges, Crittenton to misdemeanor and Arenas to felony charges. The future of Arenas is much in doubt, he has not yet been sentenced for his charge. He could still face jail time, though most analysts find that unlikely. The Wizards released a statement on the matter:
The NBA announced today that they have suspended Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for the remainder of the season. We understand and fully support their decision.

Both players violated D.C. laws and NBA rules by bringing guns into the locker room. Their poor judgment has also violated the trust of our fans and stands in contrast to everything Abe Pollin stood for throughout his life. It is widely known that Mr. Pollin took the extraordinary step of changing the team name from “Bullets” to “Wizards” in 1997 precisely to express his abhorrence of gun violence in our community. We hope that this negative situation can produce something positive by serving as a reminder that gun violence is a serious issue.

We look forward to putting this unfortunate incident behind us and once again focusing our full attention on playing exciting basketball in front of our great fans at Verizon Center.”

The only way this can end with a positive message would be with both players being banned from the NBA.

1.27.2010

Last day to enter the SUPER AWESOME GIVEAWAY contest

That's right, you can still submit your own story of what you hate the most about living in DC. Leave it as a comment here or on the other thread, or go ahead and email me. I'll be selecting two lucky winners who get a write-up done about their selections as well as receiving a grab bag prize. The prizes may be selected from the following:


That's right, you might receive a 2008 Virginia winery guide and map! Or maybe a lovely holiday Whitman's Sampler. What's that? Some sort of environmentalist jelly wrist band thing, sure! Also, "Grammy Brand" buttons and a USA shaped stress ball thingy. Oh, and don't forget the totally awesome book about communism.

Winners will be announced tomorrow.

News Bullets, State of the Union presented by Apple Tablet Thursday;

You read blogs, so you're probably excited about the Apple tablet announcement. Oh, and the State of the Union Address later tonight. It'll be a busy Wednesday for anyone who dabbles in the realm of tech or political punditry. Is it a coincidence that two things that cannot possibly live up to their hype are coming out on the same day? You tell me.

Locally, the State of the Union will indeed be screwing up traffic on the Hill for the evening rush. The general consensus is don't bother driving anywhere near the Capitol this evening. For those who want to be all technical about it, here are the road closures. Technically these closures won't go into effect until 7:30 pm, so don't work too late if you drove to your job on the Hill. Bigger question--who will be the doomsday person? That is the one cabinet member who does not attend the speech in the event that someone blows up the Capitol. I remember back in 2003, when the doomsday dude was then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Talk about a nailbiter.

Michelle Rhee tries to explain herself to the Council. "No you idiot, dig up!" As we know, Michelle Rhee told Fast Company magazine that some of those people she laid off definitely deserved it, because they did things like hit children or have sex with them. She spoke in definite terms, and did not say anything like "teachers accused of improper conduct." In fact, she said "who had sex with children." Well, now, she's backtracking. The teachers "who had sex with children" as really one teacher who was accused of improper conduct with a student, and was under investigation. The teacher was apparently let go before the investigation concluded. The Council isn't very happy with Rhee's response, for a variety of reasons. Personally, I think it's lame she tried to characterize the RIF'd teachers as being abusers, especially sexual abusers. Additionally, since her own fiance has been accused of improper sexual conduct, I think it's a stupid realm for her to even get involved in. MPD wouldn't comment on any investigation, or even say if any investigation was underway. For all we know a teacher was fired for an untrue accusation.

A little more information on the fatal Metro accident. From WTOP we learn:

"According to preliminary information from WMATA, there were two groups of employees assigned to work in the area of the accident," says Steven Klejst, the NTSB's investigator in charge of the accident.

"WMATA had assigned two automatic train control technicians to replace track communications equipment between the rails. WMATA also had assigned four track workers to inspect and replace third rail cover boards."

Klejst says the four track workers were inside a modified, rail-riding truck that hit the other two workers. He says it appears the truck was traveling in reverse at the time of impact, but it's not unusual for that kind of equipment to be operated in both directions.

It's not clear how fast the truck was moving at the time the men were hit.

"Interviews are being conducted with the four track workers," Klejst says. "Other items being covered in our investigation include conditions at the time of the accident such as lighting, weather (and) ambient noise."

The NTSB also plans to gather all of the radio communications between the crews and the operation control center. It's not known yet if the accident was caught on surveillance video.

Klejst says it's also not known yet if the two groups knew they were working so close to one another.

He says it will take a few days to get the results of drug and alcohol testing done after the accident.

I will say this is more information that has been immediately released about any other recent incident involving track workers. I'm very pleased that the NTSB is investigating this incident. I cannot tell you how much I do not want to write about track workers being stuck and killed. This is such a tragedy. Outgoing Metro Board Chairman Jim Graham has attributed the accident to human error, but somewhere along the way a system also failed. Another interesting factoid: the equipment that struck the workers (essentially a pickup truck that can go on railroad tracks) does not emit a beeping alert when in reverse on tracks. It does emit a beep when backing up on the street. Who in the world made that design decision? Seriously, someone decided that the truck would not beep when backing up on a rails. What downside could there possibly be by having the backup alert? Each time one of these incidents occurs I feel like I need to refocus my efforts on collecting information on Metro safety. The job isn't done just because Catoe resigned.

In case you missed it, see my research regarding track worker safety. You can read the first portion of the Price of Safety series, where I discuss the deaths of track workers. In that piece, I noted the following from July 2008.
Mr. Catoe raised the following issues such as recognizing gradual changes to operating conditions, getting "out in front" of safety problems publicly, and leadership acceptance of responsibility and commitment to solving and tracking problems. Mr. Catoe emphasized the importance of top‐down leadership and accountability, and direct communication with employees. He also shared the importance of rules enforcement programs and agency‐wide participation.
How many more times will we have to do this?

Don't forget, tonight is the public hearing on the Metro budget. Metro needs a lot of help, and hell, a good two-thirds of this morning round-up have been dedicated to the agency. As much as I hate to say it, fares need to be increased. The agency needs more resources. We can hope that a new General Manager is found who can make some much needed improvements, but we also need better and more stable financing. Since no one is going to step up to provide a better funding stream, a fare hike is all we've got. Cutting service is not a good option.

Nationals Park, aka the Vortex of Suck, nabs Dave Matthews. I understand a good 75% of my readers visit here from federal agencies, so I imagine there are a lot of Dave Matthews (Band) fans here. Back in sixth grade, DMB was what the cool kids listened to. Well, correction, those kids weren't actually the cool kids. The real cool kids listened to the music I wouldn't hear about until college. Anyhow, it only seems fitting that the stadium that hosts one of the worst teams in baseball will be hosting the Dave Matthews Band. In fact, I imagine attending a DMB concert is a lot like going to a Nationals game. It's long, the players are way past their peak, and you feel seriously overcharged. But at least you've got access to beer. I know there's so much to say about this, but I'm about to crash. You can find me under the table dreaming about a world where Teddy wins, we can all vote, and Dave Matthews sticks to playing in Charlottesville.

OK folks, enjoy your busy busy news day. Remember, the best State of the Union address President Obama will ever give is the one you are imagining in your head right now.

1.26.2010

Just a morning stroll on the Red Line tracks

This comes via Twitter user @EvanMGlass:


Caption: "While waiting for inbound train at RI Ave, man walks across track. Metro employee sees and calls him over"

From Evan:
This photo was taken at the Rhode Island stop. I assume that the individual crossed the track after we were all ordered off the previous car for "mechanical problems." He clearly didn't jump the fence -- he simply crossed the track and then rested his back on the fence while apparently standing on the third rail protection.
He's walking awfully close to the electrified third rail. No reports of a "unauthorized person on tracks," so hopefully this was resolved quickly.

A train arrived about minute after he walked across the tracks. This was a close call. It seems to be all sorts of crazy here--the man didn't jump the fence, he just walked out onto the tracks.

A bit more on Metro's credit card at faregate program

I've received a bit more information about Metro's new initiative to accept credit cards at the faregates. From Metro:
The Open Payment procurement in the news is for a contactless credit card used at a reader or target, much like you see at Best Buy or CVS. There will be no association with Smartrip. Any contactless credit card should work, hence Open Payment. You can check to see if you have such a card by the “radio wave” logo, PayPass for Mastercard, Express Pay for AMEX, or PayWave for Visa somewhere on the card. It has not been determined if we will have a new reader, two readers, or use the existing Smartrip reader, which can be modified to read credit cards.
As I noted yesterday, this is the same RFID technology used in some point-of-sale devices. The technology is not widespread, however, and I'm unclear on why Metro feels this is worth exploring. Especially given the fact that Metro isn't sure if this will require new equipment or not. Also of note, this would be the first time people could ride without any farecard or proof of having paid a fare. Not that we have random "show me your farecard" inspections, but it would be trickier. The technology would also need to store some sort of unique identifier about the rider, in order to calculate the fare charge. This seems like a lot of work to provide a service to a very small number of people.

Also, check out that cool Citibank Mastercard with the Smartrip logo. A reader was kind enough to send this in. This had been a pilot program between Metro and Citibank, with a Smartrip RFID chip built into a Citibank credit card. There was no link between the Smartrip and the credit card, though, you'd still need to waive it at a fare machine to add value.

According to the reader who submitted this, the Citibank program had been discontinued and the account was closed. The letter from Citibank said the Smartrip portion of the card could be used until the balance was depleted. Metro says the program was ended by Citibank.

It would have been very cool if the Citibank program had linked the credit card to the Smartrip portion, but that feature is still a ways off.

News Bullets, Dirty Harry Tuesday;

I'd like to encourage you all to submit your personal stories of what grinds your gears about DC. Remember, two lucky winners will receive awesome random grab bag prizes. I will be posting some photos of what you'll receive on Wednesday, and I'll post the winner on Thursday. I reserve the right to select the winner by whatever method I deem fit, which will likely be the two entries I find to be MOST AWESOME.

Tragedy strikes Metro again with the deaths of two track workers at the Rockville station. If you missed it earlier, two workers were struck by track equipment at Rockville. Red Line service is affected this morning. I'll have more on this as more information becomes available.

Stop the fucking presses, there's a white woman panhandling in Silver Spring. So we already know that DC social service agencies are stretched very thin. There are plenty of homeless people in DC, and shelters have been closed due to budget problems. Those stories, the stories of people turned away from social services in DC, or stories of families on the street, those aren't really worth covering. What's worth covering is the fact that there's a white woman panhandling in Montgomery County. Yup, WJLA-TV did a whole piece on this woman:
SILVER SPRING, Md. - The bad economy is taking a big toll on local social service agencies. In Montgomery County the need is so high some people say they're being turned away.

More than seven months ago Kathleen Waltos lost her $70,000-a-year job. She says she's been unemployed or underemployed ever since. She says she's used up all her savings and her 401K and, at times, has actually turned to panhandling.

Waltos told us, "In order to survive I have to do something...and that's stand on a corner and collect money."
Wow, it's like someone took People's District, vomited all over it and then bottled it and sold it at Whole Foods saying it's healthy. While I'm sure that Kathleen Waltos is suffering, I do have a bit of a hard time feeling for someone who made $70K and has only been unemployed for seven months. How about those people who made $20K and have been laid off for a year? Yes, Waltos has faced some obstacles getting access to social services, but I have a hard time sympathizing with any of this. I don't wish her any ill, but I don't see why this deserves the 11 o'clock news treatment. Meh, of course it makes sense. It's TV news.

WaPo: What the hell is this? Thanks to the City Paper for a glimpse at the new Washington Post Business publication. Apparently going retro and issuing a retro-looking paper publication is a great way to earn some extra profit. Seems like the staff at the WaPo couldn't even make a mock-up with recent articles, some of these were from last fall. Wouldn't it have been better to just fill it with some Lorem Ipsum? I'm actually a little torn on this--at least it's the Washington Post pretending to still be a newspaper. Sure, they'll compete with the Washington Business Journal, but they do have a leg up as they still have some sort of news-gathering infrastructure. Maybe? I'm happy to see the Post actually focus on something local, but they seem to be late to the game. Sort of like the lame "news round-ups" they have been posting. Leave round-ups to the blogs, that's our strength!

Javaris Crittendon pleads guilty to gun charges. Crittendon's testimony at the hearing makes him out to be a total idiot. He claims he brought the gun to practice because he legitimately feared for his life. He took an unloaded gun because he was honestly afraid that Gilbert Arenas was going to shoot him. HOLD UP TIME OUT. So, let me see here, he claims that he was really really afraid that Gilbert was going to waste him with a Desert Eagle, sooooooo... he decides to bring his own gun, but with no bullets. So was he going to pull a Dirty Harry here? In all this commotion, Crittendon doesn't remember if he brought ammo or not... did Arenas feel lucky? He's been sentenced to one year unsupervised probation and community service with the NBA. Someone actually believed this tale? That he took an unloaded gun with him? Is the Verizon Center really the goddamned wild west?

Rhee's hot water gets boiling. Rhee discussed the controversial school layoffs Fast Company magazine, and said "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school." Obviously this throws up some red flags, as teachers who had sex with or abused children should have been fired and charged with a crime--not just laid off. The DC Council is livid about this, threatening subpoenas and with good cause. Mike DeBonis looks at who might be on the hook for not reporting this as a crime, and brings up some good points. Rhee's claims that it was a matter that was under investigation, but that doesn't sit too well either. One has to ask just what was she thinking even mentioning "sex", especially given the hot water her fiance has been in. Martin over at DCist seems to think her comments might have played better at the DC Council hearings last year, but I'm not so sure about that. Any teacher who abused a student should be fired on the spot, not shuffled out with the "trash" when doing budgetary layoffs. I think this would never have played well with the Rhee-unfriendly Council.

BREAKING: Two Metro workers killed at Rockville station

At around 1:45 AM Tuesday two Metro employees were struck and killed by track equipment at the Rockville station on the Red Line. According to early news reports, the accident occurred on the outbound tracks, in the direction of Shady Grove.

WUSA9 reports the workers were 49 and 68 years old.

Metro has notified both the NTSB and the Tri-State Oversight Committee. The AM rush will be affected, as the Rockville station remains closed.

Little information is available right now. This is, of course, a tragedy and yet another incident with the deaths of track workers. Metro has repeatedly said they are retraining their employees and making safety a priority--yet these accidents keep happening. What will Metro's response be this time? More training.

1.25.2010

GIVEAWAY: Help me help you dish the hate

Let's talk blog talk for a minute here. Generally, my favorite pieces to write are the more tongue-in-cheek funny stuff, ala the networking blowhard (which is, coincidentally, the most popular piece to ever run on this web site).

The "hard news" style pieces are important if it's a story not getting told elsewhere, but those are more tedious and take a whole lot more time to research and write. Given that this is the real world where most bloggers have day jobs, it's easy to see why there isn't a whole lot more of this in the trenches writing getting published.

Lately I've been wanting to find more first-person stories or problems to write about here. It's all well in good to write about the Metro budget, or about how Vincent Gray needs to grow a pair. However, I want to know what's pissing you off. The hard news or the "hey, DC actually got this right" are great at times, but the bread and butter of this site has always been a good deal of non news-related hating. LNS. Interns. Baseball. So on and so forth.

So.... I'd like to invite you all to submit something that's pissing you off about DC. If it's bothering you, it's probably bothering other people here and it might be worth noting. Leave a comment or send me an email.

On Wednesday, I'll select two people to receive a SUPER TOTALLY AWESOME GIVEAWAY PRIZE. The giveaway prize is to be determined, but it will come from the depths of an unorganized closet at home. Will it be an old press pass to a Howard Dean rally? Maybe! Could it be a Kraftwerk CD without a jewel case? Possibly! I'll even include a hand written note of thanks. It will be hilarious and awesome, I promise. Entries via email or the comments are acceptable, but if you submit anonymously it'll be hard for me to know who you are. Keep that in mind.

News Bullets, feels like April Monday;

Any readers check out Nerd Nite at DC9 on Saturday? It got written up pretty much everywhere in the world on Friday, including the Post, WTOP, WJLA, and elsewhere. The event, which invited three speakers to talk about science-y type stuff took over the upstairs of DC9 from 7 until 10 Saturday night. The event was sold out in advance, and packed to the gills. Speakers talked about neuroscience, the history of graveyards and volcanoes. A DC band, the Torches, played a short set between each speaker.

It was interesting, in so much that you could go to a bar, and hear people talk some smart talk. However, the fact still remained that you were packed into a very crowded room standing for about 3 hours listening to lectures. The volcano one was obviously the best, as the speaker gave a demo of the good old fashioned baking soda and vinegar eruption.

Only in DC, however, would an event like this get the full every media outlet treatment. I had a hard time figuring out if the audience was even having a good time, many seemed uncomfortable and really wanting to sit down.


Metro to do something with credit cards, journalists unable to figure out what. WTOP ran a piece this weekend discussing some sort of plan for Metro to do something with credit cards at the turnstile. This was the most confusing Metro piece I've ever read on WTOP, which is saying a lot because generally their stories are awful. Here's the full text:
WASHINGTON - Tired of fumbling for money to ride Metro trains and waiting in long lines for the farecard machines? Some high-tech help is on the way.

Metro Board member Peter Benjamin says they're working on changing the farecard turnstiles so they accept credit cards.

"We need to make it easier for our customers to ride the system. We are going to accept credit card and debit cards directly in the gates of our transit system."

Benjamin says you won't have to charge your credit or debit card for a farecard or a Smart Trip card to get on the train.

"Actually it'll be the target to use for a Smart Trip card will work on your credit card and we are working with banks right now on this."

The new system could be in place within the next year to 18 months.

I'm guessing this refers to those RFID credit and debit cards that no one actually uses? You know how for a while places like CVS would have that "PayPass" attachment on the signature/PIN pad? I remember about seven years ago Metro talking about a Citibank credit card that would have a Smartrip built into it. Did that ever happen? Furthermore, I still am not sure what Peter Benjamin is talking about. RFID credit cards are not ubiquitous enough at all to justify adding that technology to the turnstile. Is this really what we'll get before we get the ability to add fare to our Smartrip cards online?

Speaking of Metro, the public meeting on the budget is this Wednesday. Wednesday will be a busy day for a lot of people, we have both the State of the Union Address and the Metro budget meeting. It's also OMG APPLE TABLET day to boot. If you want a primer on what's happening with the Metro budget, check out this piece over at GGW. At Catoe's pre-resignation meeting, he discussed some of these options, as well as the idea of having people at the budget meeting visualize the budget gap with stickers and other arts and crafts. It'd be cool if there was an online visualization of this, some transit agencies have pretty slick charts and graphs that you can manipulate to see what combination of cuts or fare hikes would be required to balance the budget. In any event, my own personal opinion supports capitalizing some of the system maintenance and raising fares. Despite the grumbles that Metro is expensive, short-distance fares are still very low compared to other systems, and long distance fares are on par or below similar distance trips on commuter rail in other cities. Metrobus fares at $1.25 ($1.35 cash) are also low. Honestly I wouldn't mind seeing a fare hike up to a $2 base fare for Metrorail and Metrobus, if it meant more money to provide better service and safety. This nonsense that even a $0.20 increase is "too much" is laughable. I don't mean to be callous to people who would be hit by a $0.40/day increase in cost, but I also don't expect to live in a fantasy land where transit can exist and the price will never go up.

Also in Metro news, the Federal government appointed a couple of board members. Look for some analysis of that this week. Here's the basics from the Examiner:
Mortimer L. Downey, a former New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority director and U.S. Department of Transportation deputy secretary, is expected to be sworn in Thursday as a director. Marcel Acosta, executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission, will serve as an alternate director.
These appointee spots were created over 10 months ago, and were not related to the aftermath of the 6/22 crash. Two more seats remain to be filled by Federal government appointees.

More overtime scandals, this time in DPW sez Examiner. Peter Nickles is again promising to get to the bottom of something, this time it's an overtime scandal involving trash collectors. First off, I've always found the city's trash collection practices to be fascinating. It has always seemed like 11 PM on a Sunday night is the busiest time for those big orange trucks. I can't tell you how many times I'd see those trucks doing stupid things on 14th Street in the middle of the night. I suppose it's much easier to be poor drivers in the middle of the night, even though I'm guessing they collect time and a half for working at 1 AM on a weekend. The Examiner obtained a draft of an audit report that shows alleged "blatant time and attendance fraud."
The draft audit accused supervisors of not paying close attention to the hours being doled out. It singled out a low-level staff assistant who was given broad authority over overtime, alleging she changed time and attendance sheets for her sister, her husband and another employee. The favored relatives and friends were given bogus credit for overtime, the audit found.

Ah, city work. Same old story, different names.

UPDATE: From the "duh" category, it appears as though the middle-of-the-night pickups are done because the trucks are busy during the day doing residential trash pickups. You see, I let assumptions about city government being inefficient and corrupt cloud my thinking! I don't know why this didn't even cross my mind. I suppose I thought they'd have enough resources to do both during normal hours. Whoops. Thanks to @mikedebonis for the heads-up.

Sadly that's it for this post, I'm off to a morning meeting at the real job. Enjoy this bizarre spring weather while it lasts.

1.22.2010

News Bullets, "rad restos" Friday;

Happy Friday, Internets. Trying a bit of a new format for the daily postings, we'll see if it sticks. This is for my own sanity mostly. If this destroys your morning routine or something like that, please let me know. I don't want to make you sad.

So it's a total piece of crap day today, perfect weather for the March for Life. I saw some of the Palin Youth heading towards the Mall from Union Station, complete with their baby blue or light pink stocking caps. I'm sure many of them were armed with "STOP OBAMACARE" posters, since you know, it might sometimes, sorta in an extremely limited way maybe go a little bit towards helping pay for an abortion. Only in America would you see people protesting against expanding health care (which saves lives) at an event called the March for Life. But this is America and that's why we <3 all of you.

What else do I love? This opening of a Washington Post piece on the revived interest in the Dupont Down Under location:
Hidden 25 feet below the earth -- beneath the elegant circular park, the trendy shops and the bustling Starbucks -- another part of Dupont Circle sits empty, eerily quiet and largely forgotten.
Oooh, how dramatic. "25 feet below the earth." This story has been circulating the blogorama for a while, but it seems like some progress might be coming on installing some art galleries below Dupont Circle, in the old trolley tunnels. The whole thing would be a big endeavor, costing a bit of money. Estimates put the price tag at over $5 million to get everything up to spec and worthy of hosting art. Ed "I'll rain on your parade and take away your ghost bike" Grandis of DC MAP says his group is only interested if it will draw more foot traffic to above earth retail. Said Grandis, "we're not interested in another feel-good idea."

Finally, 14th & You has been totes off the chain this week, with lots of bloggy goodness. They located this gem from Modern Luxury:
OFF THE GRID!: The 14th Street corridor is quickly going from grit to glam. Galleries, theaters and condos are the backbone of a nabe now replete with rad restos and bars.
But... they also forgot to mention the furniture stores, too! And no, "nabe" and "restos" are not actually words. But then again, Modern Luxury is just a magazine that Rachel Ray vomited all over. Bet those rad restos serve some killer delish sammys. Also, I'm not sure in what universe 14th street could be considered "off the grid." 14th Street is absolutely the grid. In 1999, maybe not so much. It's not by any stretch of the imagine off the grid, or off the beaten path, or off of anything. Maybe "off Broadway?" except no, that doesn't fit either. So just an absolute and complete no to "off the grid."

Oh yeah, also, let's welcome Senator-elect Scott Brown's wife, Gail Huff, to DC. She'll fit right in here. Turns out she starred in a music video about blow jobs. Really. "She's everything a boy would need / she's a girl with a curious hand."

1.21.2010

News Bullets, whatever happened with... Thursday;

We'll start this morning's news with an edition of "whatever happened with..."
  • Remember that time last year when an off-duty MPD detective brandished a firearm at a snowball fight? Back on Snowpocalypse, Det. Michael Baylor got out of his red Hummer after it was pelted with snowballs. He confronted the crowd and removed his sidearm from it's holster. Witnesses dialed 911, reporting a man with a gun. Uniformed officers arrived and were able to defuse the situation, and no one was injured or arrested. MPD opened an investigation, and Chief Cathy Lanier made it clear this would be a pretty open-and-shut deal. Well, on January 7, MPD said the investigation was almost finished. Nothing new has been released on the case. I'll be curious if this is wrapped up quietly, since those pre-holiday things are often forgotten.
  • Back in November, 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes was shot and killed in his family's Columbia Heights apartment. Shortly after that, Josue Pena was arrested and charged with first degree-murder. On November 25, Pena was found dead in his jail cell, apparently from hanging. The DC Department of Corrections said that Pena was in a special unit with more supervision, and that an investigation would be conducted into the death. So far, it appears, no information has been released about that investigation.
  • What about Marion Barry's non-profit scandal? Yet another item to file under "investigation pending." If you recall, this bombshell came on the heels of his arrest by the Park Police. This has been all-but-forgotten after Ted Loza took the corruption spotlight, yet many unanswered questions remain. The feds are supposedly investigating the shady non-profit dealings, where Barry funneled city earmarks to his own personal interest groups (which were mostly bogus non-profits.)
District's youth detention facility pushed way beyond capacity. The Youth Services Center in Northeast is the District's short-term youth detention facility. The stated capacity of this facility is 88, however recently they have packed in nearly twice that amount--156. This has resulted in all sorts of problems, according to a court-appointed monitor. The poor conditions at the Youth Services Center are the latest headache for the city, which is still battling a 25-year-old class action lawsuit for its treatment of juvenile offenders. I strongly suggest reading this Washington Post article, it yet again demonstrates government incompetence at magnitudes that are mostly unbelievable. I'm sure operating a facility like this isn't the easiest thing in the world, but it's not impossible. There are jurisdictions in the United States of America that can figure out how to run prisons and detention facilities. Between this, the problems at New Beginnings, and of course the completely out of control squalor and security breaches at the DC Jail--maybe the whole thing should just be federalized.

Maryland state senators hope to stop employment credit checks. The District should absolutely do this as well. As you may know, some employers are using an applicants credit history or score in the hiring process. This makes sense in certain cases, say if the job position handles cash or gives access to financial records. However, this has been used in many cases to deny people who have ended up with poor credit because they had been laid off of their previous job... thus creating a spiral of debt. We'll see if the proposed measure gets anywhere.

DC is getting Mega Millions. So we'll have both Mega Millions and Powerball? Interesting. Starting January 31, the tax on people with poor math skills will be expanded in the District, with a the new offering. I'll be honest, I buy a Powerball ticket every now and again. A year ago I suggested WMATA use revenue to purchase lottery tickets, perhaps that strategy should be revisited.

Speaking of people who should buy lottery tickets. Dr. Frank Ciampi of Lorton, VA should consider playing the lottery, or maybe roulette. Ciampi's office was struck with a meteorite Monday evening. The doctor described hearing a loud explosion in his office, and found an exam room strewn with debris. The Smithsonian confirmed it was indeed a space rock, which weighed about a half-pound and was traveling at an estimated 220 mph when it struck the office. No one was hurt in the incident.

1.20.2010

News Bullets, get over it Wednesday;

Given that we live in Washington, the big "story" of the day it that Scott Brown, a Republican, was elected to the United States Senate from Massachusetts. This was, of course, the special election to fill the seat that had been occupied by the Kennedy family for roughly a hundred and fifty-two thousand years. Democrats have formed the traditional circular firing squad, and people are spouting that this is yet again a referendum on President Obama.

My favorite reaction thus far came from DC Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), via Twitter:
Massachusetts is a disaster. We need to make as much progress as possible before these nutwhacks get back in charge.
Let me say that I consider myself a Democrat. I was one of those annoying kids who supported Howard Dean (I even went to Iowa!) and heck, I've been reading DailyKos for approximately forever. However, I find it comical for a DC elected official to call Massachusetts a disaster, and Scott Brown a nutwhack. He may very well be, but Massachusetts elected him, and lest we forget that DC keeps electing Marion Barry.

So let me just say a few things. Once again the Democrats fielded a poor candidate in an election they thought they had in the bag. I'm sick of Democrats thinking they "deserve" a seat, or that this seat "belonged" to them. Last time I checked, that seat belonged to the State of Massachusetts. If having 59 seats in the United States Senate isn't enough to get something done, then the Democrats need to rethink just what the hell they are doing. I'm so glad that I don't have to deal with national politics on a daily basis. Now just get over this loss and get back to work.

Going hyper-local, 14th Street retail continues to suffer. 14th & You has a good piece about the decline of retail along 14th Street. The transformation of the area in the past few years is a great study of the double-edged sort of 'progress.' I highly suggest reading this piece, especially if you support local businesses. It's amazing to watch as a strip once occupied by a few restaurants and some promising local retail has turned into the upscale bar and furniture district. High tax rates and rising rents have forced all but the most profitable businesses out of the area, leaving vacant storefronts between the bars and now a big box furniture store. We'll give tax breaks to an out of state business (e.g. Target or Ellwood Thompsons) but we find it so hard to help out small businesses. It's a sorry state of affairs that seemingly could be avoided, if given some thought.

United Medical Center faced supply woes over the weekend. The only hospital serving Southeast dealt with what some called "battlefield conditions." Due to ongoing financial issues, an order for vital hospital supplies was delayed over the long weekend. The cause? The supplier wanted to wait for the hospital's check to clear before making the delivery. This resulted in a shortage of needed materials. This WJLA story reports that paramedics were having to give the hospital supplies from ambulances just so the emergency room could operate. How ridiculous is it that the hospital's credit is so poor that it has to pay for vital supplies essentially in cash, since the checks cannot be trusted. Are we going to need to do a donation drive for supplies for our own hospitals? Mayor Fenty pledged to send a few tons of supplies to Haiti... perhaps we should rethink what the District can give to others, if we can't take care of our own.

Medical marijuana poised to be the next contracting scandal. The Council has proposed medical marijuana legislation that would create a system to grow and distribute the drug to patients in the District. The legislation puts restrictions on where the proposed five dispensies could be located, and Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large) believes the regulations could serve as a model for other states. I'm mostly in favor of ending the war on weed, as it takes up too much time and resources for law enforcement. However, I can tell you I absolutely don't trust the District do to this correctly. We can barely enforce the laws we already have, and creating a system to provide medical marijuana is asking for fraud on levels that we haven't seen in a long time. Since there are still federal laws making marijuana illegal, the District cannot import it from another state. Can you imagine a DC government run (or audited) organization growing marijuana for "medical purposes?" Is this a joke? Catania says it would be up to the mayor to enforce the regulations. Do we want to leave this up to Fenty? As much as I don't want to shoot down this idea, it sounds so unrealistic and I imagine will ultimately end with Congress shutting it down. Not to mention, how the heck are we going to pay for this? The Council would like to provide the drug at a subsided cost for low income people. The creation of this infrastructure and enforcing the regulations will be a huge burden, and keep in mind for everyone else marijuana will still be illegal, so it won't take much of a load off of MPD. Sorry to rain on everyone's Cheech and Chong parade.

1.19.2010

News Bullets, Ruby Tuesday;



Here's a factoid for those of us here who did not grow up in the Commonwealth of Virginia. From 1984-2000, Martin Luther King, Jr. day was celebrated in conjunction with Lee-Jackson day in Virginia. This was a holiday that celebrated the birthdays of Confederate war heroes Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Yes, Virginia, this is the same state that voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and Robert McDonnell in 2009. For a good 16 years, the state celebrated heroes of the confederacy on the same day as a hero of civil rights. In 2000, Governor Jim Gilmore decided to end this odd combination. Instead of, you know, eliminating a holiday celebrating people who gave their lives in an attempt to remove Virginia from the United States, Gilmore merely separated the holidays by a weekend. That's right folks, Lee-Jackson day was celebrated this past Friday, while MLK day was celebrated on Monday. A whole 100 years of civil rights history rolled into one mere weekend. And yeah, I get that people are proud of their heritage. However, there's also the whole part about losing a war that devastated our country. Sure, the war was almost 150 years ago, but clearly we aren't completely over it. Blows your mind to think about these things, doesn't it--especially if you grew up in the Northeast or the Midwest where no one really talks about these things. As far as Martin Luther King day goes, don't let Bob McDonnell read this.

Barry vows to raise $100,000 for Haiti, chips in $1,000 of his own money. Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry has been so touched by the disaster in Haiti that he has donated $1,000 to relief efforts. He also wants to raise a $100,000 as part of a "DC Delivers: Help for Haiti" program. Good for him, but I'm perplexed by his call for Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chair Vincent Gray to travel to Haiti to evaluate relief efforts. Yeah, I can't see any problem with that. Also, this whole thing makes me wonder why in the world we were going to "donate" a fire truck to the Dominican Republic. Shouldn't it have gone to Haiti? Wrong country, dudes. However, since neither myself nor as far as I recall anyone else raised that question back when the firetruck hubbub erupted--it shows just how forgotten Haiti has been.

Speaking of Barry, yesterday marked 20 years since he was busted for possession. Yes, he has served as both Mayor and City Councilmember following his conviction and jail sentence. A commenter here pointed out that a jury may be sympathetic towards Gilbert Arenas, especially since they are sympathetic towards Barry. I think there may be a distinction, though. Barry is liked because he appears to look out for his community, was a player in the civil rights movement, and most of all fits the "one of us" bill. However, Gilbert Arenas is a total jackass who makes epic amounts of money and lives in Northern Virginia. I can't see a DC jury being very sympathetic towards him, regardless of skin color. But hey, this is DC for you.

Good lord it's been a slow weekend for local news. As expected for a holiday weekend I suppose. This week will undoubtedly contain more talk about the future at Metro. There's been mixed reactions to Catoe's resignation, and I have to admit my own personal feelings have been mixed. There was no CATOE RESIGNS party on Thursday night, this much I promise you. The biggest issue now is what's in store for the transit agency. I still have some lingering questions about Catoe's departure, though. He referenced all of the negative attention he had received, however outside of the blogosphere I'm not sure where this came from. Yes, there had been a lot of negative stories in the last six months, however very few in the mainstream media were calling for Catoe's head. Rather, the opposite seemed to be true. The Washington Post editorial board has been supportive, and of course the Metro Board extended his contract. Was it the TV news? Was it WTOP's half-baked safety stories? The Examiner? I never really sensed that the media had gone anti-Catoe, which was one of the reasons why I persisted with that theme on the blog.

1.14.2010

News Bullets, "take this job and shove it" Friday;



So yes, there was some other news besides John Catoe's resignation. Was I paying attention to any of it? Not really. Catoe's departure has ended one chapter, the Catoe Watch, however the real challenge is only beginning. I'll be writing more about this, including speculation over who might serve as an interim general manager in the next few days. However, for this morning, I want to present you with the non-Catoe Friday round-up.

DC might get some terror trial action. As part of President Obama's plan to move away from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, DC may play host to some criminal trials for accused terrorists. One such suspected terrorist, Riduan Isamuddin, was the alleged mastermind of the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali. What does this mean for us? Well, conservatives will likely pitch another fit about it, and we'll need enhanced security. This also means you should pay attention to any summons for federal jury service. You might just end up on a high profile case. We might not have representation in Congress, but we sure as hell have to serve on juries.

Gilbert Arenas expected to plead guilty to felony gun possession this afternoon. The Wizards guard has been charged with carrying a pistol without a license, but is expected not to serve any jail time. A felony conviction would allow the Wizards to get out of his ridiculous contract, which is the only good thing to come out of this whole mess. So what does this plea agreement mean? Does it mean the US Attorney feels they could not get a conviction? Seems pretty open and shut to me, dude even admitted he brought the guns, which is breaking the law. I find it hard to believe that even a DC jury could sympathize with Arenas. Same goes for the other guy, Javaris Crittenton, who allegedly loaded a gun at the Verizon Center. These people are all jackasses. Yeah yeah, blah blah celebrity yadda yadda yadda. Let's talk real talk again: how many of you could bring a gun to work in DC, show it off to people, possibly load it and point it at people? Zero. First off, you'd have been arrested on the spot, or the police would shoot you. And you'd deserve it.

Round-up of local efforts to help Haiti. Yes, I know, "white liberal guilt" and "where were you when thousands were dying before the earthquake." However, in the world of real life, its always better to help someone if you can now, then to not help them. And from the obvious category, it doesn't matter why you help, just as long as you do. Borderstan has a good list of ways to help out locally, check it out.

Peace out Virginia, see you in four years (maybe!) Tomorrow Robert McDonnell will be sworn in as Governor of Virginia, in a "small" ceremony. Due to the commonwealth's budget gap, McDonnell has taken a paycut, and trimmed back the inauguration. This is all well and good, except for the whole dude being extremely conservative thing. If you recall, McDonnell beat the poorly prepared Creigh Deeds, even after McDonnell's sexist and ├╝ber conservative thesis on government was leaked to the media. Pat Robertson, fresh off of kicking the shit out of Haiti, will attend the ceremony. Women, who only belong in the kitchen, did not receive invitations to watch the inauguration.

It's a long weekend, beware of the Red Line in Maryland. As we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend (see above, U2), remember that the Red Line will be undergoing extensive work. The Grosvenor-Strathmore station will be closed, and the Red Line will operate in two segments--from Shady Grove to White Flint and Medical Center to Glenmont. Shuttle service will be available around the closure.

John Catoe unexpectedly resigns as Metro General Manager

I was in the middle of finishing my write-up of last night's blogger roundtable when I received an email from Ron Holzer at WMATA announcing Catoe's resignation. The news broke about 30 minutes ago, it appears first at the Washington Post. According to the Post:

Events of the last six months have created an unhealthy distraction, says General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.

Says there was no pressure from the board to do this. He decided about a week ago.

Board didn't know this was coming. Convened closed session to hear from him. Mood in the meeting was somber. Board members were not eager to accept his resignation, but this apparently as not negotiable.

Catoe held a brief press conference in the middle of the board room. He seemed very emotional but under control. Asked about his achievements, he talked about Metro's performance during the inauguration and the opening of Nationals Park. People had questioned whether Metro could handle those crowds,,but it did he noted. He expxressed great pride in the organization.
I was in the middle of writing a post praising Catoe's candor when discussing difficult topics related to the Metro system. As my readers know, I have been calling for change at the top levels of WMATA since the deadly 6/22 crash.

There was certainly no indication last night that this move was coming. Catoe seemed engaged and willing to hear criticism. It was obvious that he had taken to heart many of these concerns, and that he was aware that the system was not living up to it's potential. However, absolutely no one expected that he would resign.

It is true that Catoe had remained dogged by continuing concerns about safety, both on Metrorail and Metrobus. Last month Metro announced a shake-up in the safety department, and just last night Catoe told us that he had made it clear to his superintendents and assistant superintendents that safety failures would be grounds for immediate dismissal. He even acknowledged that some people felt that he should be held to that standard.

The ever-present cynic in me has to wonder what prompted this decision. It seems unlikely there was pressure from the Metro Board of Directors, as they recently approved an extension of his contract. Will the NTSB report about the 6/22 crash indicate there was a failure at the top level to assure safety? Or did the criticism of Catoe reach such a level that he simply did not feel it worthwhile to continue? Perhaps these details will be forthcoming, we will have to see.

In any event, this move comes 206 days after the 6/22 crash, and marks the end of the Catoe Watch on this web site.

BREAKING: John Catoe to Resign as Metro GM

From Ron Holzer at WMATA:
Mr. Catoe announced to the Board of Directors this morning that he will resign effective Friday, April 2, 2010.

The round table we held yesterday was well received by all participants including Mr. Catoe. We will recommend that whoever replaces him as the permanent general manager continue this effort.

I just called Ron to confirm, this is true. This is completely unexpected.

1.13.2010

News Bullets, psychosexual Wednesday;

So I haven't chimed in on the whole Vincent Gray for mayor dust-up. The Washington Post editorial board wants to see Gray run, so we can at least have some sort of actual mayoral campaign this time around. In an interview, Gray was awfully wishy-washy about running, worrying about his political future should he lose. Honestly, as much as I have complaints about Fenty, Gray just doesn't seemed fired up to run. He's not excited, and he's not running a campaign full of ideas for a city that really really needs some new ideas. Fenty has put some great people in place that have made some impressive strides, but of course all of that means little given his lack of transparency and the whole crony-contracts mess. I wish there was more fresh blood in the DC political arena, but given the harsh reality it's difficult to unseat the presently-installed machine. Would someone like Dan Tangherlini or Clark Ray stand a chance for mayor of DC, ever? Who knows, but it might prove to be at least a little bit different than the same status quo

Water main break destroys ABC7's ability to read. A water main broke near the corner of 18th and Columbia last night, in the heart of Adams Morgan. I saw the hubub around 8:30 last night, and Mixtec appeared to be closed due to the incident. As it turns out, part of the restaurant flooded. Sadly, the McDonalds remained open throughout the incident. Notable was the fact that ABC7, despite being at the scene with video, called the restaurant "Mex Tex." That's barely close to "Mixtec," and is still wrong if you were trying to describe the place as a Tex Mex establishment, which it isn't.

United Medical Center in Southeast may need more taxpayer money to stay open. The only hospital east of the river, the former
Greater Southeast Community Hospital, is facing a $20 million operating budget deficit. The hospital was also recently denied a $5 million line of credit. The hospital has made many capital improvements lately and recently the District government had provided $79 million for both capital projects and operations. As is the case with many hospitals operating in impoverished areas, many patients do not have private health insurance. Councilmember David Catania insists the hospital is not in imminent danger of closing, however it is likely it will need more government assistance. Where in the world the money will come from is another question. Poor people don't need universal health care, right? They can just go to the ER? Right? Yes, we can all see how that's working out.

Dr. Ruth enlisted to help DC tourism? Huh? From the Post's Breaking News blog:

Tourism officials are enlisting psychosexual therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer to show off the playful side of the nation's capital and boost the local hospitality business.

Tourism officials say they're taking a cue from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for their frequent date nights that have shown off D.C.'s restaurant and culture scene.

On Thursday, Dr. Ruth will be sworn in as the city's honorary secretary of the "Department of Love and Relationships." She'll help announce a new "stimulus plan" for the city's tourism business.

Organizers say a monthlong promotion in February is aimed at sparking new romances and relationships in the city.

Yes, folks, this does warrant a post of it's own. I'll see what I can do about that, but really? Honestly, how about we also bring in former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to talk about the frisky side of DC. Just stay away from those prostitution-free zones, if you plan on giving motor vehicles the old come-hither look. And no, you won't be arrested for carrying 3 condoms. Three pallets of condoms may lead to further searches.

Humor video discusses race in the workplace in DC, but falls short. Saw this video on We Love DC this morning:


This is safe for work, but headphones may be a good idea. What's interesting is that this was filmed at one of the most multicultural offices in the city, at an organization dedicated to fostering all sorts of cross-cultural and cross-border relations. It would have been more on the mark, and funnier, had it been filmed outside, say near Metro Center. Then the dollar in the coffee cup gag would have been funnier. Better yet, take a jab at how many office workers become PAINFULLY politically correct around minorities. Cut to a scene in the kitchen with people talking about the Redskins management shakeup. Have a Native American staffer walk by, and suddenly everyone stammers and refers to the team as "the local professional football concern." And then talk about how they all listen to Kanye West as a way to better understand their urban brothers.

Finally, do you have questions for John Catoe? I'll be participating in a roundtable discussion with the Metro General Manager this evening. I don't know how many questions I'll be able to ask, but feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments or via email.

Got a news tip? Something bothering you? Got a beef with the DC government? I'm here to help, or at least get your story told. Email me or find me on Twitter.

1.12.2010

OMGZ! Chlorine gas could be dangerous!

If you happened to see a copy of the Washington Examiner today, you probably noticed the big scare font on the front about OMGZ TERRORISTS AND THE DC WATER SUPPLY! Now, when you see a cover of a newspaper that uses terms like terrorism and water supply, or a headline such as "Terror threat to city water" you'd probably assume it is referring to terrorists poisoning the water supply. Or disrupting the water supply. NBC4 went with the headline "When A Brita Filter Just Won't Do." This again makes you think about terrorists tampering with the water.

If you thought any of this about this story, well, you were totally wrong. That's right, the terror threat doesn't actually have anything to do with the safety of the water supply. It has to do with the disinfectant used in the city's water system. Like most city water systems, the DC area uses chlorine to keep the water (mostly safe). The Army Corps of Engineers is switching from a gaseous form of chlorine to a liquid form, because transporting chlorine gas can be dangerous.

You don't say? Yes, chlorine gas can be dangerous. You don't want to be trapped in a room full of the stuff. It can suffocate you. Also, when the gas reacts with water (such as in your body), hydrochloric acid is produced and can also cause death. The gas was briefly used as a chemical agent in World War I, but its use fell out of favor because it disperses quickly and is mostly ineffective as a weapon in outside areas. Terrorists in Iraq have attempted to blow up shipments of chlorine gas, hoping to poison people. The deaths in these incidents have been caused by the explosions themselves, as the gas disperses outside.

From the Examiner piece:

Chlorine and water disinfection "may be the best thing to happen to the world" in the last 100 years, Thomas Jacobus, Washington Aqueduct general manager, told The Examiner. But the gaseous chlorine that currently is being used is potentially deadly if released; it was used in World War I as a choking agent.

"If you've got individuals or movements who want to try to use your own products againt you, if someone were to intercept a rail car, reroute it and release its contents, it could be devastating," Jacobus said.

The aqueduct provides roughly 180 million gallons of drinking water a day to about 1 million residents in the District, Arlington and Falls Church.

The switch is "absolutely a good sign" for homeland security in the nation's capital, said D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson, chairman of the public safety committee.

But a broader fear remains: Dangerous materials are regularly transported through the District by rail, Mendelson said, and the federal government is far too secretive with that information.

Yes, in theory if someone were able to steal an entire railcar full of chlorine gas and pump it directly into the air supply of a building, it could be horrific. If someone blew up a train carrying chlorine gas, we'd probably have a costly clean-up and brief evacuations. It's not a laughing matter, but it is in absolutely no way a threat to the city's water supply. That's like saying TERROR THREAT TO YOUR CAR! Terrorists could blow up tanker trucks carrying gasoline!

Speaking of which, how about we talk about all the big gasoline trucks that drive around this city all of the time. Let's find someone who wants to be SERIOUS ON SAFETY and propose banning all gas stations within the District of Columbia. Honestly, those things provide a pretty big, high explosive target.

"When A Brita Filter Just Won't Help?" Yeah, it's true, a Brita filter will not protect you from a big bad scary cloud of chlorine gas. However, it's way off the mark. Not to mention awfully misleading. I guess I shouldn't expect more, though.

For what it's worth, the Examiner piece isn't a bad story--only the headline and front cover design are sensationalist and misleading.

News Bullets, "Tasters' Choice" Tuesday;

DDOT contractor reworks 17th Street Streetscape Project. A DDOT subcontractor, feeling the redevelopment project lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, decided to inundate 17th Street with a vast torrent of water. A 20" main was pierced by construction equipment near 17th and P NW. The newly formed Lake Dupont, along with the lack of water pressure (vital to modern plumbing) resulted in a Waterworld situation. Remember folks, despite what Kevin Coster may have done, it does not work like that. You cannot pee in a Mr. Coffee and get Taster's Choice.

Search for gunman turns into a food fight? Apparently the lockdown at Spingarn High School resulted in a big food fight. Yesterday a security guard at the school in Northeast thought he spotted a gun in a kid's pants. The school went on lockdown as police searched for the apparent gunman. The results were negative, however according to the City Paper a big food fight broke out. I've heard some terrible stories about conditions in DC public schools, and I can only imagine the difficulties of a lockdown. The food fight apparently occurred after gun situation had been resolved. Best part of all of this was the following comment to the City Paper's piece:

So these punks throw away good food that the taxpayers give them since they're too poor to buy their own lunches? There should be no free food at this school & no more lunch periods for the rest of the year.

In fact, the school should be closed. Why waste money trying to feed & educate idiots who refuse to be fed or be educated?

Yep, just shut the whole school down. That'll learn 'em good. In fact, maybe we can move them all to the National Zoo once Butterstick leaves. That'll be some improvement. I'll put a whole ten spot on that commenter not even living in the District. I'm going to wager maybe McLean.

New York Times writes about Arenas, DC's stupid gun laws. I've talked about Peter Nickles stupid reasoning for strict gun laws in the District before. Now the NYT writes up how DC's unique situation makes it difficult for Gilbert Arenas. The piece begins with:
WASHINGTON — The office of Peter Nickles, the District of Columbia’s attorney general, is on Pennsylvania Avenue, not far from the White House or the Verizon Center.

The proximity of the three locations underlines how law, government, sports and the continuing threat of violence stand shoulder to shoulder in the nation’s capital, creating a stark backdrop for Gilbert Arenas’s decision to store several guns in a Verizon Center locker room.

In doing what he did, where he did, Arenas has potentially created more legal trouble for himself than had he done it elsewhere.

“The District of Columbia is about as unique a place as there is in the country in terms of regulating firearms because of its need to balance safety with the Second Amendment right to bear arms,” Nickles said.

Here it is again, the proximity to the White House argument. Yeah, Gilbert Arenas is a total jackass and I hope he goes to jail. However, I'm sick of hearing how we need to have stricter gun control laws in the District simply because the federal government has important offices here. Again, jackasses who commit crimes with guns, or who plan to assassinate people, generally will not be deterred by a law saying they can't possess a firearm in the District. After all, killing people is already illegal, and homicides, while down, still aren't at zero. The biggest mistake Arenas made wasn't even the transporting of guns into DC (yes, it's illegal) but more the whole showing off the guns and then talking about it. Come on man, you make an obscene amount of money, enough to have twenty lawyers on speed dial or for DM on Twitter who could tell you if this seems like a good idea.

Metro gets on blogger bandwagon. Lately, I've noticed an improved effort by Metro to manage its image online. I know WMATA reads this blog (Google Analytics, FTW), and I've had better luck getting answers to questions from their communications office. As it turns out, John Catoe will be hosting a blogger roundtable this week. That's right, a chance for local bloggers to sit down with the transit chief and ask him some questions. This is a pretty huge deal for both bloggers and the transit agency. Prior to the June 22 crash and subsequent stories about safety, and prior to the budget crunch and service interruptions, I don't think we'd see this sort of thing. However, the C- for implementation comes from this blogger not getting an invitation. Too bad, I know. Maybe it's an oversight or maybe it's the whole demanding Catoe's resignation thing. Who knows. Maybe it's a big old distraction, get the bloggers away from their computers for a few hours and ram through some horrific service cuts. We'll see. As of this morning, I've been invited.

Herein I bestow a small amount of "proppage" to Jim Graham. Yeah I know, right, stop the presses and all of that. Early Saturday morning I heard a lot of shouting outside, followed by what sounded like a gunshot. This was around 3 AM, and it was loud enough to wake me up. I called 911 and reported what I heard. Just as I got off the phone, I heard more shouting, and then what sounded like someone screaming in agony. I've lived near Adams Morgan for a while now, and I've lived near Georgetown before that. I know what drunk people screams sound like. I've heard a lot of things out my window, and I'll tell you this sound scared me. I saw several MPD cruisers arrive nearby, and I went back to bed. I later followed up on the 3D Listserv, asking for a bit more information. The response simply said units responded but found nothing. Councilmember Graham sent a follow-up email, asking if Shotspotter detected anything or if someone had turned up in a local hospital. As it turns out, Shotspotter did detect a gunshot, but no further evidence was recovered. It is nice to see CM Graham chime in on this, even if his performance in other areas (e.g. Metro) have been underwhelming. At least we're starting off the 2010 campaign on a good note. It's also nice to know that my ghetto-ear has developed nicely, and I actually did hear a gunshot.