Home | Association | Information | Board Meetings | Board Minutes & Homeowner Docs | Announcements | Projects | Satellite View | Site Map | Plat Map | Trash | Vendors | By Car | By Metro | Parking | Garages | Development | Government & Election | Wreaths | 40th Anniversary | Headlines & News

 

By the Numbers | 2017 Headlines | 2016 Headlines | Local Food News | Nest Cam

 

 

Thanks to Patty Lord and Eddie Meder for this week's "breaking news" and photos.

 

 

Week 38 (September 18 to 24, 2017)

Archeological Find at Giant Site

This week we don't just recap the local news, we offer original reporting.  Here is what Eddie Meder (Development Director at Gables Construction Group) had to say when Patty Lord (co-chair of Watergate of Alexandria's ad hoc liaison committee with Gables) asked him about the archeological discovery that the company made this week at the Giant/ABC site at 500 First Street in Old Town North:

"Yes, we did have a minor archeological find.  See attached pictures for a “brick culvert” running through our site.  It’s basically a brick-lined water pipe that at one point in time led to a spa spring located at the southeast corner of our site (near the Montgomery [Street] and [North] Pitt [Street] intersection).  As we excavated, though, we found no evidence of the spa spring, but about 100 [feet] of the brick culvert remained.  Our archeologist working in conjunction with the City’s archeologist [has] been studying it as sections have been exposed during our excavation.  Once they’ve had a chance to review and document everything, the City is allowing us to remove the culvert and proceed with our excavation.  While a noteworthy find, this old water pipe isn’t nearly as interesting to the archeologists as the boat that was found at the Hotel Indigo site."

Please visit the Giant/ABC Redevelopment page of this website for more details about this construction project, which Gables Construction hopes to complete in early 2019.  Please see Week 18 below for more information about what developers found last year at the Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria site on South Union Street.

 

 

Week 37 (September 11 to 17, 2017)

40th Anniversaries

This week, Watergate of Alexandria and Apple Computer, Inc. are both celebrating their respective amazing 40th anniversaries.  We will honor our past with some low-key cake and bubby with neighbors around the Koi Pond, and an annual meeting of homeowners.  Apple will unveil its 10th anniversary iPhone at the company's first media event ever to be held at the Steve Jobs Theater at the company's new "spaceship" campus at Apple Park.  Happy birthday and welcome home!

King Street Art Festival

On September 16th and 17th, the 15th Annual Alexandria King Street Art Festival will take place along King Street, in the Torpedo Factory Arts Center and at Market Square.  Looks are free.  But seriously, the better conceived and always well executed Art on the Avenue returns to Mount Vernon Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria on October 7th.

 

 

 

Week 36 (September 4 to 10, 2017)

America's Tall Ship

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle makes a port call in Old Town on Labor Day and presents itself for inspection by the public for free from 1:00 to 8:00 pm on Monday, September 4th, and 10:00 am to 7:00 pm on Wednesday, September 6th.  Known as America’s Tall Ship, the Eagle is the largest high-mast sailing ship and only square-rigger in active service for the United States.

The ship was built at the Blohm+Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Nazi Germany in 1936 and commissioned as the Horst Wessel.  It was named for a 23-year-old Nazi Sturmabteilung (stormtrooper or brownshirt) who was killed by members of the German Communist Party and made a martyr and propaganda symbol of the Third Reich by Joseph Goebbels.  The ship is a barque, a sailing ship with three masts, in which the foremast and mainmast are square-rigged and the mizzenmast is rigged fore-and-aft.  Under full sail in open water, the ship can achieve speeds of up to 17 knots (nearly 20 miles per hour).  Originally, it was one of three training ships operated by the Kriegsmarine, or German Navy, before World War II.  At conflict's end, the ship was seized as a war reparation by the U.S. and recommissioned as the Eagle.  Four identical sister ships were built.

Today, the Eagle serves as a training vessel for U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets and officer candidates to hone practical seamanship skills, including navigation, engineering and applied naval theory.  Upper class trainees perform leadership and service duties normally handled by junior officers, while underclass trainees fill crew positions of a junior enlisted person, such as helm watches at the huge wooden wheels used to steer the vessel.  To maneuver the Eagle under sail, the crew must handle more than 22,000 square feet of sail and 5 miles of rigging.  Over 200 lines control the sails and yards, and every crew member, cadet and officer candidate must know the name, operation, and function of each line.  A permanent crew of 8 officers and 50 enlisted personnel maintain the ship year-round.

Alexandria is the final stop of the Eagle's 2017 summer training program, which began on April 26th.  The Eagle will pass under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge around 8:00 am on September 4th, and dock at Point Lumley Park at 1 Duke Street at approximately 9:00 am.  You can watch the sailing ship's arrival from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Jones Point Park, Fords Landing or Point Lumley Park.

6•7•16•23•26• 4

These are the winning numbers for the Powerball drawing that was held on August 23rd.  The jackpot that week was $700 million if you picked all 5 numbers plus the powerball.  Arthur L. Martin of Alexandria has to make do with $1 million.  He was the only Virginian to match the first 5 numbers . . . but drop the powerball.  He told reporters that he doesn't play the lottery all that often, he bought his ticket at a gas station in Lorton, and it took a week for him to realize that he had won something and four days more to get over the initial shock of how much money it was.  He plans to pay off his debts with some of the winnings and then enjoy life a bit more after that, thank you very much.  Happy Labor Day!

 

 

 

Week 35 (August 28 to September 3, 2017)

WMATA Bus Barn

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority recently announced that it is preparing to release a second solicitation of proposals for the redevelopment of the two-acre former bus barn site bounded by North Pitt, Wythe, North Royal and Pendleton Streets (see photo at left), and holding a pre-bid conference for interested developers on September 19th.  The fist solicition in May 2015 was a disappointing failure.  For more information about this and other major projects around us, please visit the Neighborhood Development page of this website.

Renaming of Jefferson Davis Highway

On September 17, 2016, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously to begin the process of renaming Jefferson Davis Highway, the stretch of U.S. Route 1 from the Arlington County line in the north (near Four Mile Run) to the northern edge of Old Town in the south (near the Monroe Avenue Bridge).  On May 19, 2017, the city council formed an Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Renaming Jefferson Davis Highway to solicit public feedback and consider potential new names.  If you want to suggest a new name for this stretch of road (see map at left), you can either complete the city's Jefferson Davis Renaming Survey online until September 15th, or attend the advisory group's next public hearing scheduled for September 25th from 7 pm to 9 pm.  The city warns that its online questionnaire is "a brainstorming survey and not a vote or a poll. Multiple submissions or suggestions . . . will not affect the renaming process."  Also, the city is unlikely to consider replacement names such as Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson.  So, bottom line, widespread popularity as a guiding principle is out while consensus unpopularity is in.

 

 

 

Week 34 (August 21 to 27, 2017)

Eclipse

On Monday, Alexandria, Virginia is expected to see the moon cover 81.4 percent of the sun starting about 1:17 pm, peaking at 2:42 pm, and ending around 4:00 pm.  The path of total eclipse, which will last just 2 to 3 minutes, will be 67 miles wide and transit the U.S. from Oregon in the northwest at 10:16 am to South Carolina in the southeast at 2:48 pm.  All stated times are local.  The next solar eclipse visible from Earth will take place on July 2, 2019 (South America and South Pacific), and the next solar eclipse visible from the U.S. will take place on April 8, 2024.

Free For All

For the past two weeks, the non-profit Shakespeare Theatre Company has hosted its 27th Annual Free For All at Sidney Harman Hall at 7th and F Streets, N.W., in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington. D.C.  This year's troupe chose to stage Othello, a tragedy in five acts about a Moorish general in the Venetian army and his unfaithful ensign, Iago, which was written by William Shakespeare (1564-1616) in the earliest years of the 17th Century (around 1601-04).  Michael Kahn, STC's Artistic Director, posits, "There is perhaps no play in Shakespeare's canon that delves deeper into racial, ethnic and spirtual identity."  He also notes that this year's production, which cost about $700,000, "is set at the end of World War I, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which created the contours of the modern Middle East."  Over the past quarter-century and then some, STC has presented complimentary summer productions of Shakespeare to nearly 700,000 eager theater-goers, many of whom had not previously attended a professional performance of one of the Bard of Avon's 38 plays.  Needless to say, this year's offering of Othello is no buoyant comedy performed in the park.  It is dark, moody, grim and complex.  A possible echo of current events.

 

 

 

Week 33 (August 14 to 20, 2017)

Iwo Jima Memorial

The Washington Times first reported that the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial adajcent to Arlington National Cemetery, which was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 to honor all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775, will receive a $5.4 million make-over in the months ahead.  According to the National Park Service, which oversees the Iwo Jima Memorial, the renovations will include new gilding on the engravings and pedestal; a thorough cleaning and waxing of the five 32-foot bronze figures, 60-foot flagpole, and granite base; updated lighting; new landscaping for the surrounding parkland; and improved infrastructure.  The upgrades are being financed through the "patriotic philanthropy" of businessman David M. Rubenstein, a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Carlyle Group, a global private equity investment company based in Washington D.C.  The original $850,000 cost of the memorial was financed entirely through private donations.

Events This Week

On August 17, 2017, starting at 8:30 pm, the North Old Town Independent Citizens' Association and the Old Town North Community Partnership will jointly host a free Concert on the Green at Montgomery Park (see photo at left) featuring local musical duo Sally and the Mander.

Restaurant Week returns to the Old Town, Del Ray, Carlyle, and West End neighborhoods of Alexandria on August 18 to 27, 2017.  More than 60 eateries will be offering either $35 three-course dinners or $35 dinners for two, and many of them will be offering lunch specials as well.  Click here for more details on the city's visitors website.

Abaca•dabra and It Disappears

Abaca Imports -- located a block or two from Watergate next to Metro Stage at the end of North Royal Street near the entrance to the former GenOn Power Plant -- is closing after 15 years in business.  At the moment, they are offering 20 percent off their entire inventory of high-end outdoor furniture, furnishings and accessories.  The store's closure follows the fall of the original Bastille.  Did you know that abacá is a species of banana grown commercially in its native Philippines as well as in Ecuador and Costa Rica?  Also known as Manila Hemp, fibers extracted from the plant's leaf stems were once used to make naval twines and ropes that were durable, flexible and resistant to salt water damage.  They are now harvested to make specialized paper products.

 

Statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park

Statue of Stonewall Jackson in Justice Park

Appomattox Statue in Old Town

 

 

Je Suis Charlottesville

On Saturday, August 12th, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville, our neighbor to the south and home to the University of Virginia, as racist white supremacists (purportedly including supporters of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups, neo-Confederate organizations, the so-called alt-right movement, and skinheads) gathered that morning to protest city plans (drawn up in April but currently on hold due to a six-month judicial injunction) to remove cast-bronze equestrian statues of two prominent Confederate generals – one of Robert Edward Lee erected in 1924 in Emancipation Park (until recently, Lee Park), and the other of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson erected in 1921 in Justice Park (until recently, Jackson Park).  See photos at left.

The protesters violently clashed with counter-demonstrators (reportedly including religious leaders, Black Lives Matter activists, anti-fascist groups, and students), leading to the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, and several dozen serious injuries when fights broke out and James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old man from Maumee, Ohio, located just outside of Toledo, driving a Dodge Challenger, aggressively plowed into the gathered crowd, first forwards and then backwards.

The rally, organized under the motto Unite the Right, constituted one of the larger gatherings of angry white nationalists in recent times.  According to news reports and images, some protesters were attired in the fashion of the Sturmabteilung – the Nazi Party’s paramilitary “brownshirts” or “stormtroopers” formed during the Weimar Republic in pre-World War II Germany.  Some wore flak jackets, helmets, and red Make America Great Again baseball caps. Some brandished Medieval-style shields bearing the insignias of hate groups, lit tiki torches, guns, clubs, pepper mace spray, Confederate battle flags, the Hakenkreuzflagge or Nazi swastika flag, German Iron Cross banners, anti-Semitic placards, and 2016 Trump presidential campaign signs.  Some chanted anti-Semitic and Nazi-era political slogans.

Leaders of the protest included David Duke (a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and former Republican Louisiana State Representative), Richard Spencer (head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank based in Old Town), and Jason Kessler (a self-proclaimed “white advocate” and founder of Unity and Security for America, a white nativist group).  Mr. Duke said of the protest, “We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump to take our country back.”

In bringing an end to the violence, Governor McAuliffe noted that “the mostly-out-of-state protesters have come to Virginia to endanger our citizens and property. I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state.” He told them, “Go home, you are not wanted in this great commonwealth, shame on you.”

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it was opening a civil rights investigation, with Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III saying, “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”  He also said that the protesters' actions likely constituted domestic terrorism as well as a hate crime.  (Historical note:  In 1986, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary refused to confirm then President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Mr. Sessions to serve as a federal trial judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama due to documented allegations of his racisim, which he denied then and denies still.)

Barack Obama, the civil rights advocate and first black American President, quoted Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black South African President, saying “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love."  That’s one Nobel Peace Prize recipient referencing another to address a terrible conflict that we've all seen before but appeared this weekend in an updated guise.  Within days, Mr. Obama's tweet became the most liked (2.7 million and growing) and re-tweeted (1.1 million and growing) message in Twitter history.

Tiki Brand, which is owned by Lamplight Farms of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, released a public statement affirming that "Tiki Brand is not associated in any way with the events that took place in Charlottesville and are deeply saddened and disappointed.  We do not support their message or the use of our [citronella tiki torch] products in this way."  Based on the video images, "this way" probably refers to protesters ferociously beating their oppoents with the tiki torches, among other things.

In the afternoon after finishing a leisurely round of vacation golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, President Donald Trump issued his first official statement to condemn the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”  In other words, both sides were at equal fault.  An unsigned White House statement later attempted to clarify his remarks, “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.”  Perhaps it's like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, where white supremicists are so evil that some fear to utter their name.

In response to Mr. Trump’s remarks, Mr. Duke tweeted, “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”  In a videotaped message, Mr. Spencer taunted, “You think that we’re going to back down to this kind of behavior to you and your little provincial town? No, we are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.” 

Meanwhile, the Virginia General Assembly continues to block Alexandria's attempt to remove the Appomattox Confederate War Memorial Statue standing in the middle of the intersection of South Washington and Prince Streets in Old Town (see photo at left and this website's 2016 Headlines, Week 38). 

And the City of Alexandria's Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Renaming Jefferson Davis Highway canceled a public meeting that had been scheduled for this week on August 17th to collect public feedback on renaming the stretch of U.S. Route 1 between Arlington County to the north and Old Town to the south that is named after the President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865.  An open public hearing is scheduled for September 25th, and a non-public meeting is scheduled for October 5th.  The cost of any new road signs is estimated to be $20,000.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "the premier U.S. non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists," there are 917 hate groups currently operating in the U.S., including 42 in Virginia and 4 in Alexandria.  The latter include Mr. Spencer's National Policy Institute and its two publishing affiliates, Washington Summit Publishers and Radix Journal, and the Southern National Congress (neo-Confederate separatists).

On August 16th, Mr. Trump held forth at an unexpected and unprecedented press conference in the gaudacious and gilded lobby of Trump Tower New York.  The President aggressively defended white nationalism, racism and fascism; attacked those who oppose these ideas who he called the "alt-left;" and equated Confederate leaders like General Lee, who sought to break away from the U.S. by means of armed uprising, with some of our slave-owning founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who stitched our nation together with moral compromises.  Click here to watch the entire press conference and/or read a full transcript of questions and answers as documented by the New York Times.

The situation is so politically and culturally radioactive that its easy to Imagine Dragons:  "I'm waking up to ash and dust. . . .  Welcome to the new age, to the new age. . . .  I raise my flags, dye my clothes, It's a revolution, I suppose. . . .  Welcome to the new age, to the new age. . . ."

 

 

 

Week 32 (August 7 to 13, 2017)

Former Mayor Patsy Ticer Dies

Alexandria's first female mayor (1991-96), 3-term city councilwoman (1987-96), 4-term Virginia State Senator (1996-2012), and Alexandria native Patsy Ticer passed away on Monday at age 82 as a result of medical complications following a fall.

Card Skimmer Discovered

WTOP News reported this week that an illegal credit/debit card data skimmer was discovered last week Friday on an ATM machine at a 7-Eleven store at 6327 South Kings Highway located just behind the Krispy Kreme store on Richmond Highway (U.S. Route 1).  The electronic device, used by thieves to steal bank card numbers, "was accompanied by a pinhole-size camera capable of recording a hand tapping out the pin number."  A police department public affairs officer said that this type of financial crime is now occuring "almost weekly," most often at gas pumps.  To avoid problems, experts suggest that we use cash whenever possible, use credit cards over debit cards, look for newer pumps instead of older ones, and avoid using ATMs and other unattended card readers that show any signs of tampering or manipulation.

 

 

 

Week 31 (July 31 to August 6, 2017)

Nest Cam Season 2 Ends

The second live-streamed season of DC Eagle Cam -- featuring renowned local bald eagles Mr. President and The First Lady and their growing progeny -- went live on December 31, 2016 and went dark on July 31, 2017.  The past seven months of education and entertainment were brought to us by the U.S. National Arboretum, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the American Eagle Foundation,  This year's highlights included a good look at nestorations, eagle mating, delicate first snow fall in early January, brutal winter storm Stella in mid-March, a dramatic eaglet rescue and return in mid-April, the same eaglet accidentally "falling" out of the tree and returning five days later, and amazing family bonding.  Please visit the Nest Cam page of this website for more details.  And click here to see to see the YouTube channel that AEF set up for Mr. P and TFL this year, featuring the season's best home videos.  The photo at left was video-captured on June 26th, and shows the entire eagle family enjoying a double-fish dinner on the nest.  Hopefully, the eagles will return in the fall for season three.

 

 

August and Alexander Sextilis

August – the eighth month of the year under both the current Gregorian calendar (in use from 1582 to the present) and the preceding Julian calendar (in use from 45 BC to 1581 AD) – is named after Augustus Caesar (63 BC to 14 AD), the first Roman Emperor.  Augustus was born Gaius Octavius (Octavius means "born eighth" in Latin).  He was adopted by his great-uncle Julius Caesar (100 to 44 BC), effectively the last Consul of the Roman Republic, who designated Octavius as his heir.  In the ancient Roman calendar (in use until 44 BC), the month of August was originally the sixth of ten months and called Sextilis, the Latin word for six.  In 8 BC, the Roman Senate changed the name of the month of Sextilis, then the eighth month of the Julian calendar after January and February had been inserted as the first two months, to August.

To honor August’s original place as sixth in order, we recall the story of another who was sixth in line.  Nearly 500 years ago, Rodrigo Lanzol y de Borja (1431 to 1503), the first Archbishop of Valencia, a city on the east coast of Spain, reigned for the last 11 of his 72 years as the omnipotent Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church.  Historians view Pope Alexander VI (1492 to 1503) as one of the most controversial Popes of the Renaissance Era (14th through 17th centuries).  Among the notable reasons:

He gained much of his position in life through the patronage of his influential uncle, Alonso de Borja (1378 to 1458), who preceded him to the Chair of Saint Peter 34 years earlier as Pope Calixtus III (1455 to 1458).

Despite being a cleric, he fathered numerous illegitimate children with several mistresses.  He practiced nepotism, consummately placing his children and other family members in secure positions of wealth and power.

He lived an extravagant lifestyle even as Pope.  He was also widely acknowledged to be an accomplished politician, persuasive public speaker, and engaging conversationalist.

He became Pope later in life (at age 61) and was seen as an independent candidate for the papacy (the other two candidates were supported by the noble families and established business interests in Milan and France).

He bought his election as Pope by offering bribes, highly sought-after administrative offices and other benefices of the Holy See to the 26 other voting members of The College of Cardinals (including both of his opponents, who unsuccessfully pursued the same tactic themselves).

Each of the three leading candidates for Pope in 1492 spent at least several hundreds of thousands of gold ducats to secure his own victory (Venetian ducats of the time contained 3.545 grams of 99.47 percent fine gold, the highest purity that metallurgy could then produce. This represents more than $43 million per candidate in today’s valuation.  By comparison, Hillary Clinton raised $1.4 billion and Donald Trump nearly $1 billion in 2016.)

As Pope, he upended the political, military and diplomatic alliances of his time.

He and his first-born son Cesare Borja (after Caesar, but pronounced Chesaray) reportedly used all available means to secure their family’s power and eliminate their political opponents, including poison, torture, murder, extortion, appointments to lucrative offices, arranged family marriages, official investigations, and papal dispensations (the equivalent of pardons today).

Upon his death, Pope Alexander VI’s body was removed from Saint Peter’s Basilica and placed in the crypt of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, the Spanish National Church of Santiago and Montserrat in Rome, where it lies today. That’s the brief story of Alexander Sextilis, the 214th Pope and an autocrat for the ages.  Photo at top left:  Portrait of Pope Alexander VI 1492, a historical model in mixed media by George Stuart on exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County in California.  Photo at bottom left:  artist unknown, circa 15th century.

 

 

 

Week 30 (July 24 to 30, 2017)

What is Advertising, What is News?

At its simplest, advertising involves communications intended to advance the sales of products or services, the promotion of people or organizations, or the conveyance of ideas and positions.  Most advertising includes a direct or indirect call to action – buy something, do something, consider something, change something.  When effective, advertising offers new information, causes us to pause and think, triggers an emotional response, and is thus compelling.

Advertising can take many forms, including word-of-mouth, handbills, posted flyers, sandwich boards, yard signs, wall posters, billboards, marquees, fixed and mobile transit signs, printed ads, television commercials, movie trailers and teasers, product placements in electronic media and physical stores, product packaging and inserts, sponsored events, samples and give-aways, branded merchandise, news and feature stories, and social media.  Some of these modes are old, and others are modern.

Regardless of form, the lines distinguishing advertising from news, art and entertainment are increasingly blurred if they ever truly existed.  On the one hand, you have Joe McGinniss’s bestselling non-fiction book, The Selling of the President 1968, about the political marketing of Richard Nixon.  The take-away from that groundbreaking story is this – if you can effectively package and sell a deeply flawed and cynical political candidate with stage-managed theater, you can successfully commercialize and promote anything.  And on the other hand you have pop artist Andy Warhol with his famed 32 Campbell Soup Cans rendered in synthetic polymer paint on stretched canvas.  The take-away from that unprecedented art is this – even something that is blatantly commercial can be appreciated for its non-commercial attributes.  In other words, anything can be the subject of advertising, and good advertising can rise above the sales pitch.

As noted in Week 21 below, on the first anniversary of Kia Motors’ rocked-out music video Soul Jam, one wondered when the Kia Hamsters would return.  Adweek, the American advertising industry’s leading trade publication, recently reported that the cheeky rodents were back.  Produced by the Los Angeles-based ad agency David&Goliath, Kia’s latest high-octane music video introduces both the newest member of the Kia Soul automotive line-up and its namesake brand-hamster Turbo (see screen capture in photo at left).  In the advert, a hyper-exuberant diapered baby hamster escapes the maternity ward, dashes around the hospital, evades the medical staff, and causes widespread mayhem, all in the style of a Bourne, Bond, Mission Impossible, Fast and Furious vehicular-chase scene and synchronized to the song Ace of Spades (click to see the music video on YouTube) by the English heavy metal rock band Motörhead (click to see the band's website).

From the ad’s creative team: “Over the years, people have grown to love these furry critters. The last thing we want to do is disappoint them. Which means every year we have to up our game. This year, we leveraged a combination of storytelling, pop culture and pure adrenalin with a totally new character. [Also,] we wanted to introduce a more narrative approach to the hamster campaign than we have in the past.”

Honestly, Soul Turbo is not as awesome as Soul Jam.  So, as a hedge, here is the latest ad from Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance subsidiary GEICO called Running of the Bulldogs, a spoof of the Encierro at the Fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre Province in northern Spain.  Click the links to view the videos on YouTube. Hamsters and bulldogs.  This is the best good news found anywhere this week.

Healthcare Reform

During the early morning hours on Friday, the weeks-long effort by the United States Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act came to a dramatic end when it became apparent that no offered GOP legislation would garner at least 50 votes in the upper house of the U.S. Congress.  Leaving it to others to recap the play-by-play, here are a few crib notes on what motivated the principal-unprincipled players in this political drama:

President Donald Trump:  put points on the board and score a so easy win
House Speaker Paul Ryan:  slash spending now to offset tax cuts next
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:  my sandbox, my rules, and payback's a bitch
House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiIt's the way that I move, the things that I do
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
I dreamed a dream
High Fidelity Conservatives
:  promises made, promises kept

Pottery Barn Progressives:  you touch it, you break it, you own it
Senator John McCain, Bohemian KingslayerI'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
30 Million Backstreet VotersBelieve me when I say, I want it that way

Let's Put on a Show!

The Little Theatre of Alexandria is staging the musical Legally Blond from July 22nd to August 12th, and the drama Driving Miss Daisy from September 9th to 30th.

Metro Stage (see photo at left) reprises Anne & Emmett (about an imaginary conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till) for a limited run from July 28th to 30th, and then turns to The Wizard of Hip, or When in Doubt Slam Dunk from August 17th to September 17th.

 

 

 

Week 29 (July 17 to 23, 2017)

International Robotics Challenge

FIRST Global -- a U.S.-based non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to inspire . . . young people from all nations" to "learn how to communicate, cooperate, and work together using the tools of science and engineering to find solutions to the world’s grand challenges – water, energy, security, medicine, food, and education" -- hosted its inaugural international robotics challenge at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. on July 16-18, 2017.

The event brought together 170 national and other teams comprised of "high school students with different backgrounds, languages, religions, and customs" in an Olympics-style competition focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  "FIRST Global inspires students to learn the skills they will need to make the discoveries their parents and grandparents would consider miracles, impossibilities, or just plain science fiction."

The theme of this year's robotics challenge was providing access to clean water.  According to the organizers, "More than one billion people do not have access to clean water and over half of them are children.  This lack of access to drinkable water results in more deaths each year than those resulting from war.  If current water consumption trends continue across the globe, two out of three people on earth will suffer from water-stressed conditions by the year 2025."

Admission to the three-day contest was free and open to all.  Which is more than can be said of America, as the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security twice refused, without explanation, to grant entry visas to the 6-member all-girls national team from Afghanistan, which at last check was still a "major non-NATO ally" of the U.S.  Yet, the teams from Syria, Iran, Sudan, North Korea and Canada had all been cleared. 

On July 12th, Ivanka Trump, a senior White House counselor who has chosen to focus on gender and family issues, announced that the State Department, at the urging of President Donald Trump and his National Security Council, reversed the earlier decisions and issued entry visas to the Afghan robotics team, which arrived at Dulles Airport shortly after midnight on July 15th.  Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan Ambassador to the U.S., told the Associated Press that the U.S. embassy in Kabul had originally denied the visas based on unwarranted fears that the girls would not return to Afghanistan.  The U.S. is fielding an experienced team of three young women, two from Everett, Washington, and one from Princeton, New Jersey.

The team representing Europe received the competition's overall gold medal, Poland the silver, and Armenia the bronze.  The judges also awarded a courageous achievement gold medal to the team from South Sudan and a silver medal to the Afghan team.  The New York Times reported that "an American high school built a robot on behalf of the Iranian team when sanctions on technology exports stopped the shipment of their materials" into the U.S.  Photos above left, Afghan team in blue and Iranian team in green.

Update:  It turns out that the State Department's fears were not wholly misplaced.  At the end of the of the three-day competition, six members of the robotics team from the economically impoverished Republic of Burundi in Central Africa, went missing.  Two of them were later seen crossing into Canada.  The whereabouts of the other four remain unknown, but their U.S. travel visas are valid for one year.  Maybe they are on a walkabout to see the sights.

If you don't like STEM, robots or potable water, DAR Constitution Hall is hosting former One Direction boy bander Harry Styles ("the charming one," photo at left) who might sing Live While We're Young in concert on October 1st at 8:00 pm.  Tickets are still available, priced from $234 to $7,895.  More like, live while we're rich.  If concerts are not your thing, catch the talented Mr. Styles in the mid-summer blockbuster film, Dunkirk, which opens in theaters this weekend (see it in IMAX).  Or watch him take a spin around the block on Carpool Karaoke with The Late Late Show's James Corden, either solo in May 2017 or with his One Direction bandmates in December 2015.

Old Town North Small Area Plan

On June 24, 2017, after nearly two years of planning and community engagement, the Alexandria City Council approved a new Small Area Plan and associated Urban Design Standards and Guidelines for Old Town North (see map at left), which will amend the 1992 Old Town North Small Area Plan Chapter of the City of Alexandria's 1974 Master Plan.  Click here to see the adopted plan that was recently posted to the city's website, click here to learn more about local planning on this website, and click here for a round-up of ongoing development projects in our neighborhood.

Road Rage

Shortly before 8:00 am on Wednesday morning, Alexandria Police responded to reports of gunfire near the Eisenhower Avenue exit of the Capital Beltway arising from an apparent incident of "road rage" involving the driver of a black Chevy Tahoe SUV, an unidentified 33-year-old woman from Bladensburg, Maryland, and the operator of a white panel van, identified as 59-year-old Ernest Stickell of Mechanicsville, Maryland.  Witnesses reported that the two vehicles exited the highway and came to a stop at the intersection of Eisenhower and Clermont Avenues, with the van in front of the SUV.  The SUV driver honked her horn at the van driver, then pulled around the van and blocked it in.  The female driver and a male passenger got out of the SUV, began yelling and cursing at the van driver, and demanded that he get out of the van.  At some point, the van driver shot several rounds into the side of the SUV, shattering its front windshield and passenger window.  The SUV driver suffered gunshot wounds to her neck and upper back and was immediately transported by ambulance to Inova Fairfax Hospital where she was later downgraded from critical to stable condition.  Although her passenger was uninjured, he was also taken to the hospital.  The shooter fled the scene and was later located, arrested by Maryland State Police, and charged with malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

 

 

 

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Thursday is the six-month anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency.  To mark the occasion, here is the memorable opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities (1859), a historical novel written by Englishman Charles Dickens (1812-1870) about the tumultuous events preceding the decade-long French Revolution (1789-1799):

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Mr. Dickens (see photo at left) is widely regarded as a “literary colossus” of the Victorian Era (1837-1901).  His most notable works, which consistently highlight dismal social conditions and repulsive people, include:

A Christmas Carol (1843), an allegorical tale about unrepentant greed in which a miserly, miserable and mean businessman contemplates his past, the present and a dystopian future. The book is credited with the mid-Victorian revival of the Christmas holiday that continues through the present day.  (The Little Theatre of Alexandria is presenting a stage production of this story on December 1-16, 2017.)

Oliver Twist (1838), an undaunted story about poverty centered on an orphan who is sold into an apprenticeship to a wealthy but penny-pinching undertaker and coffin-builder, and later escapes to the capital city to join an organized gang of criminal pickpockets on a famous hill who unapologetically steal from the unwitting.  The novel focuses on social class and the stark differences between those of wealth and those without.

Great Expectations (1861), a first-person coming-of-age story about an orphan nicknamed Pip that includes themes about wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.  The entire novel is a metaphor for how people see themselves and want others to see them, and the gap between reality and perception.  This notion is advanced with the book’s opening line, “I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”

Bleak House (1853), which is best known for satirizing and lambasting a failed judicial system, fueled a societal debate pitting demonstrable truth against unlearned superstition.  Like many of Mr. Dickens’ works, this story was first released in serial form before being published as a book.  This allowed Mr. Dickens, in the preface to the book, to respond to his critics who claimed that he trafficked in “vulgar errors” and knowing falsehoods.  He wrote, “I shall not abandon the facts until there shall have been a considerable Spontaneous Combustion of the testimony on which human occurrences are usually received.”  It was a fake news smack-down of his time.  This novel advanced a judicial reform movement leading to major structural changes in the 1870s that have trickled down into American law.

There is no denying that Mr. Dickens was a master of capturing and deconstructing the Zeitgeist of an era – past, present and future. His and ours.  "Please, sir, I want some more."

 

 

 

Week 28 (July 10 to 16, 2017)

MOM's

The Arlandria outpost of MOM's Organic Market on Mount Vernon Avenue near South Glebe Road hosted a grand re-opening the weekend of July 7-9 after expanding its footprint by 40 percent. 

MOM's came into being 30 years ago when a 22-year-old entrepreneur named Chris Nash started a home delivery business, Organic Foods Express, out of his mother's Maryland garage.  In the early 1990s, the company moved to a hybrid model focused on mail orders on Mondays and Tuesdays, home deliveries on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and walk-in retail on Fridays through Sundays.  Along the way, the company received helpful publicity assists from Diane Rehm (when she worked at National Public Radio) and Vegetarian Times.

Today, MOM's has 1,000 employees operating 17 stores in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  The re-opened Alexandria store also has something different, a "Backyard Beekeeping section with all the tools needed to sustain these crucial pollinators at home."  For the gourmands out there (eating mouths), MOM's is a graft of Whole Foods Market onto K-MartFor the linguists (talking mouths), MOM's is a recursive acronym.  For the Jesus Christ Superstar fans (singing mouths), that's the buzz, that's what's a-happening.  Photo at left shows a street view of our local MOM's.

 

Emin & Friends in Concert

Photos directly above, top to bottom:  Emin Agalarov; Aras Agalarov, Rob Goldstone, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akmetshin, Anatoli Samochornov, Irakly Kaveladze, Dmitry Peskov with Vladimir Putin, and Reince Priebus proudly serving up a big nothing burger.

Photos at right, top to bottom:  Emin Agalarov's July 2016 outdoor concert at Palace Square in St. Petersburg; co-hosts and contestants on the main stage of the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant at Crocus City Hall in the suburbs of Moscow; Emin Agalarov, Donald Trump and Aras Agalarov on the red carpet at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant.

Not Your Father's Time Magazine Cover

Above is the actual Time cover for July 24, 2017, which prominently features Donald Trump Jr.  Some believe that his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, is responsible for news of the June 9, 2016 meeting being publicly released.  Hover your cursor over or lightly touch the photo above to see a modified cover that reflects this possibility.

Donald Trump Sr. appeared on his first Time cover on January 16, 1989 at age 42 (see below left), and has returned to the cover 13 times since.  This does not include the fake cover (see below right) that The Trump Organization posted at several of its resorts until Time asked that it be remove from public display.

Donald Trump Jr. is 40 years old, besting his father to his first cover by two years, which is important given the always-competitive internal Trump family dynamics.  Jared Kushner is only 36 years old, giving him a few years to beat his in-laws to his own first cover, and based on current news that accomplishment should not be far off in Time.

 

 

Tinker Tailor Singer Spy

This summer's newest page-turner is an international thriller that brings together three young men all born into vast wealth, privilege and power.

The story starts with a guy named Emin

Emin Araz Oglu Agalarov is a 37-year-old Baku-born, New York- and New Jersey-schooled, and London-based singer-songwriter known to his fans simply as Emin (his name rhymes with "lemon").  He sings and performs songs in both English and Russian, and has been called the Azerbaijani version of Latin pop singer Ricky Martin, a former member of the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo who sings in both English and Spanish.  According to his personal website, Emin has "rock star good looks" and is "a household name in Russia, where he’s sold in excess of 1 million albums."  He opened for Jennifer Lopez at her September 23, 2012 concert in Baku.  Emin says that his greatest musical influence is Elvis Presley.

Emin's highest-charting single to date, Boomerang (click to see the music video) from his 2015 More Amor album, hit number 9 on Billboard's list of the top dance club songs during the week of December 5, 2015 (7 weeks total on the chart).  In July 2016, soaring in popularity, Emin was the headline performer at an open-air concert attended by more than 50,000 people at the historic Palace Square, a memorial to Russia's military victories over Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812-14, in front of the baroque-styled Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.  PBS aired the concert last December in a 60-minute televised special, Emin: Live From Russia (click to view a glitzy teaser trailer), that was part of the network's year-end contribution-pledge drive.

Emin is also the family scion of 62-year-old Moscow-based multi-billionaire and real estate developer Aras Agalarov, who started his sprawling business empire importing computers into the Soviet Union.  Today, that global business, the Crocus Group, owns and operates 10 commercial real estate projects (plus 4 in development), 3 residential real estate projects (1 more in development), 16 fashion retail brands, 14 restaurants, 4 civil engineering projects and 2 athletic stadiums in development, and one each of a bank, oceanarium, television broadcaster, insurance company, fitness center, and shipyard terminal that provides import-export services.  Most of these enterprises are high-end, and some of them are located in the U.S. (mostly in Las Vegas and Miami).  Aras Agalarov's net worth is estimated to be nearly US $2 billion, and he is one of the richer oligarchs in Russia.

In 2013, the elder Mr. Agalarov reportedly paid $20 million to host that year's Miss Universe competition at one of his properties, Crocus City Hall, a 7,500-seat event venue located in the Krasnogorsky District of the Moscow Oblast.  According to organizers, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela was crowned Miss Universe that year "in front of a worldwide audience of approximately 1 billion viewers."

The eight pageant judges included Aerosmith frontman and former American Idol panelist Steven Tyler, celebrity chef and restaurateur Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (the Crocus Group owns two Nobu Restaurants), gold medal figure skater and television sports commentator Tara Lipinski, supermodel and Fox News television personality Carol Alt, Russian-American supermodel and The Face reality television coach Anne Vyalitsyna (who appeared 10 consecutive times in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue from 2005-14), Palestinian-American hair care products entrepreneur Farouk Shami, U-Boat watchmaker Italo Fontana, and Bulgarian-Russian pop singer Philipp Kirkorov.

As part of the deal, Emin performed during the NBC-televised Miss Universe program on November 9, 2013.  At the time, the beauty pageant was owned by New York real estate developer and current U.S. President Donald Trump.  The Agalarovs and Mr. Trump were (and remain to this day) interested in building a Trump Tower in Moscow (then reported to be a replica of the now struggling 46-story Trump SoHo New York).

On November 5, 2013, just days before the Miss Universe competition, Emin released an electronic dance-pop single entitled In Another Life.  The accompanying music video was an homage to Mr. Trump's reality television show, Celebrity Apprentice, and featured cameo appearances by Mr. Trump and 10 of the 86 Miss Universe contestants that year (from Japan, the Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, runner-up Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States).  This is the first known music video to feature a U.S. President.

Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to meet for the first time at the pageant.  On June 18, 2013, Mr. Trump coyly tweeted, "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?"  Then in a November 13, 2013 televised MSNBC interview with Mr. Trump leading up to the event, NBC News reporter Thomas Roberts asked him about his association with Mr. Putin.  Mr. Trump answered that he had a "good relationship" with Mr. Putin, who was "very interested in what we are doing today."  Mr. Thomas co-hosted the 2013 Miss Universe contest with former "Scary" Spice Girl and television personality Melanie Brown, more popularly known as Mel B).

Notwithstanding his 2013 comments, starting in July 2016 during the middle of his presidential campaign and continuing until just days ago, Mr. Trump firmly asserted that, although Mr. Putin once called him a "genius," the two had never actually met.  The Daily Mail and other news outlets reported at the time that while Mr. Putin had "begged" to meet Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump had been delayed in traveling to the 2013 Miss Universe competition to attend the 95th birthday party for evangelical Christian minister Billy Graham in North Carollina, and then Mr. Putin could not reschedule his planned get-together with Mr. Trump because he had to meet with King Willem-Alexander, the newly installed monarch of the Netherlands, and so Mr. Putin asked Sheyla Agalarov, Aras's daughter and Emin's sister, to deliver a consolation gift (a small lacquered box) and personal note from him to Mr. Trump at the Miss Universe offices in New York. 

Mr. Trump maintains that he was finally introduced to Mr. Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany last week (see G-20 news item in Week 27 below).  On July 7th, the two of them held a widely discussed two-hour private meeting that was joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and two translators, one from each country.  This week, news leaked of a second previously undisclosed one-hour meeting between the two men and a single Russian translator that took place at the summit's closing dinner attended by the partcipating world leaders and their spouses.  Mr. Trump said that the add-on meet-up was impromptu and brief, and that the only notable topic that they discussed was the Russian ban on Americans adopting Russian children.  Also, according to linquists, Mr. Putin never called Mr. Trump a "genius" (or "genii" in Russian), Mr. Putin said Mr. Trump was "yarkii" which in the context delivered meant "flamboyant".

Here is where the story starts to come together

This week, news reports revealed that last summer Emin, the bi-lingual crooner who loves Elvis, sings with J.Lo and performs at European palaces, asked Rob Goldstone -- a former British tabloid journalist who now works as an entertainment publicist and helped the Agalarovs broker their 2013 Miss Universe sponsorship deal with Mr. Trump -- to arrange a meeting between representatives of Mr. Trump's presidential campaign and Natalia Veselnitskaya, described by Mr. Goldstone as "a Russian government attorney," to discuss potentially compromising information that the Kremlin had on former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Email correspondence from Mr. Goldstone to Mr. Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reads, "The Crown prosecutor of Russia [presumably Yury Yakovlevich Chaika, the current Prosecutor General and former Justice Minister appointed to office by Mr. Putin] met with [Emin's] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father [the elder Trump]."  Mr. Goldstone added, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”  Trump Jr. replied, "If it's what you say I love it."

Apparently, Ms. Veselnitskaya (click to read a New York Times profile on her) is both well-connected in Russia and a close associate of Mr. Chaika, whose primary duty is to silence Mr. Putin's critics.  She was thus the logical choice to serve as a back-door intermediary between Mr. Putin's government and the Trump camp.  She is known in the U.S. for aggressively advocating for the repeal of a federal statute called the Magnitsky Act that was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2012 with widespread bipartisan support and signed into law by then President Barack Obama.  That act is part of the U.S. economic sanctions against Russia and freezes the U.S. assets of, and denies the issuance of U.S. travel visas to, Russian oligarchs and others who seek to use U.S. financial markets to launder money gained through fraud and other unlawful means or have aided human rights violations.  The passage of the Magnitsky Act led Mr. Putin and the Russian State Duma to ban the adoption of Russian children by Americans.  When Russians speak of repealing the Magnitsky Act or lifting their retaliatory ban on adoptions, they are really talking about terminating the cripling economic sanctions that the U.S. and other Western governments have imposed on Russia in recent years.

In a series of tweets posted since last weekend, the younger Mr. Trump disclosed that he and former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the President's son-in-law and current senior White House advisor Jared Kushner met with Ms. Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York on June 9, 2016 for about 30 minutes.  Mr. Trump Jr. initially stated that the meeting concerned Russia's adoption ban, and then later acknowledged that the meeting was really about "individuals connected to Russia [who] were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting [Mrs.] Clinton.”

That meeting is now the subject of tremendous public interest by many, including the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and possibly U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of Russian interference with and collusion to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election, among other possible criminal activities (see Hunt for Witches in Week 25 below).

Several members of President Trump's senior staff have publicly stated that he was unaware until just a few days ago that the June 2016 meeting had taken place.  Supporting this claim, Mr. Trump Jr. affirmed that he did not inform his father of the meeting at the time.  Which is strange since, shortly after Mr. Trump Jr. set up the controversial meeting with Ms. Veselnitskaya, candidate Trump dramatically announced that he would be making a "very informative and very, very interesting" speech in the week ahead "discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons."  Mr. Trump Sr. never delivered the promised speech once Ms. Veselnitskaya pulled a "bait-and-switch about what [her meeting] was really supposed to be about" and failed to provide "any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton" and the meeting "went nowhere."  That's how Mr. Trump Jr. described the situation to Sean Hannity during an interview with Fox News on July 11, 2017.

Joining the fray, Reince Priebus, the embattled White House Chief of Staff and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said "it was a nothing meeting . . . a big nothing burger."  Mr. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, claimed that Mr. Putin does not know Ms. Veselnitskaya and cannot possibly "keep track of the meetings of all Russian lawyers at home and abroad" despite his extensive KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or Committee for State Security) training and resources.

In a July 11th interview with NBC News, Ms. Veselnitskaya denied working for or having any ties to the Russian government, maintained that she "never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton," felt that the Trump folks wanted such information "so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted," and claimed that she wanted to meet with them solely to discuss the Magnitsky Act on behalf of an unnamed client.  She never detailed how her meeting was arranged or by whom. 

Mr. Kushner and Mr. Manafort have yet to comment about the meeting.

Vice President Mike Pence "was not aware of the meeting," which he clearly wants you to know took place "before he joined the [Trump] ticket," according to a wholly precautionary yet adamant statement released by his press secretary, Marc Lotter.  Mr. Pence's declaration of temporal ignorance was probably appropriate since he continues to argue that he did not know that retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the Trump administration's disgraced and short-tenured National Security Advisor, was under federal investigation for secretly lobbying the U.S. government on behalf of the Republic of Turkey even though Mr. Pence was head of the Trump transition team and Mr. Flynn insists that he told Donald McGahn, the transition team's chief lawyer and the current White House Counsel, all about his side work and the ongoing criminal inquiry.

On July 12th, the elder Mr. Agalarov said that he did not know either the younger Mr. Trump or Mr. Goldstone, and dismissed the entire affair a "some kind of fabrication.  I don't know who is making this up.  What has Hillary Clinton to do with this?"  That same day, Mr. Lavrov, who is a former Russian Ambasssador to the United Nations as well as the current Russian Foreign Minister, told reporters at a news conference in Brussels, Belgium that the whole incident "looks like barbarism, because when someone is talking to a lawyer, what kind of a problem, what threat could this constitute for anyone?"  Mr. Peskov, the Russian presidential spokesman and former Russian diplomat, also continued his defense of Mr. Putin and his government by contending that "This TV series can compete with the most successful ones in the U.S. but we are not part of it." 

And President Trump anger-tweeted that his son "was open, transparent and innocent.  This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history.  Sad!"

Meanwhile, at his July 12th confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Christopher Wray, President Trump's nominee to replace James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was asked by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina what he thought of Mr. Mueller's ongoing independent investigation and the President's critical comments about it, and Mr. Wray responded, "I do not consider [former FBI] Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on July 14th, Ms. Veselnitskaya walked back one of her earlier remarks and admitted that she is in regular contact with senior Russian officials, saying "I personally know the general prosecutor [Mr. Chaika], and in the course of my [work] I shared information with him."  And other news reports surfaced stating that, contrary to White House statements, Mr. Kushner's lawyers informed the elder Trump's lawyers of the June 9th meeting several weeks ago, if the President didn't already know about it last summer.

Here is where the story begins to fall apart

Until this point, the story was still fairly contained and manageable.  President Trump's son, son-in-law and then campaign chairman met with a dubious Russian attorney, and the four of them discussed one or more of the following topics:  the lifting of Russian sanctions should Mr. Trump win his election (which is interfering with U.S. foreign policy), the Russian government providing the Trump campaign with damaging opposition research on the Clinton campaign (which is interfering with a U.S. election), or the Kremlin beginning to co-opt a rising poliltical family for later exploitation (which likely involves kompromat and espionage).

Starting on the morning of July 14, 2017 and continuing for nearly a week, a seemingly endless wave of news reports emerged that four other persons attended the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.  This news was surprising because Mr. Trump Jr. never mentioned these individuals, and he told Mr. Hannity during their sit-down interview (click to read a complete transcript) that he wanted to "be transparent about" everything and "cooperate with everyone."  Mr. Hannity then asked him, "So as far as you know, as far as this incident is concerned, this is all of it?"  and Mr. Trump Jr. replied, "This is everything. This is everything."  Here are the four additional attendees:

Rob Goldstone is the 57-year-old British publicist who both arranged and attended the meeting on behalf of the Agalarov family.  He runs his own public relations company, Oui 2 Entertainment.  The younger Mr. Trump's lawyer, Alan Futerfas, described him "as a friend of Emin’s and maybe as a friend of Natalia’s.”  He is known for throwing outrageous parties at The Russian Tea Room, which is located less than two blocks away from Trump Tower.  In 2010, he penned a column for the New York Times entitled, The Tricks and Trials of Traveling While Fat.  He carries about 300 pounds on his 5-foot, 7-inch frame.  He reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald in an interview that he actually gained weight while he was on a 1984 trip to Ethiopia with Bob Geldof for a Band Aid charity rock concert to raise money for famine relief in Africa.  “Once you do your bit, I mean, what else is there to do in a country like Ethiopia but eat?”  He likes to order dessert before his dinner and sometimes in lieu of it.  And his favorite sin is gluttony.  "If you’ve got more of something, it doesn’t bother me as long as I can have my bit.  Some people say the more you indulge, the more you get sick of it -- that’s rubbish.”

Rinat Akhmetshin is a Russian-born former counter-intelligence officer with the Soviet military who now holds dual Russian-American citizenship, works as an American lobbyist for mostly Russian interests, and is suspected by U.S. officials and others of having ongoing ties with Russian intelligence, which he admamentaly denies as a "smear campaign."  Mr. Akhmetshin is roughly 50 years old, and maintains that he does not have, now or ever, any links to the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye or Russian Military Intelligence).  He contradicted one of Ms. Veselnitskaya's claims, saying that she brought with her to the June 9th meeting a plastic folder with printed documents that she left behind detailing what she believed was a flow of illicit funds to the Democrats.  He recalled her saying, “This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money.”

Anatoli Samochornov, a Russian-born-and-educated American citizen who previously worked as a contract program officer and interpreter for the U.S. State Department.  Ms. Veselnitskaya said that Mr. Samochornov served as her translator at the June 9th meeting as he has done on numerous previous occasions.  He says that he is bound by a professional code of ethics applicable to all translators and thus unable to discuss what took place at the meeting.

Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, is a Senior Vice President of the Crocus Group responsible for securing and structuring the financing of and overseeing the company's international development projects.  Now 52 years old, he was born in the Republic of Georgia in the Caucuses region of Eurasia and later became an American citizen.  He speaks fluent Russian and near-fluent English.  In 2000, the U.S. Government Accountability Office accused him of a decade-long scheme of laundering more than $1.4 billion from Russia and Eastern Europe through more than 2,000 Delaware shell corporations and numerous U.S. bank accounts opened in their name.  He claimed that the investigation was an American "witch hunt" against Russians, which is strange because he is Georgian-American and not Russian, and because that is the same phrase that President Trump used to described Mr. Comey's FBI investigation until Mr. Trump fired him, and continues to use to describe Mr. Mueller's Justice Department investigation.  This money laundering scandal led to the adoption of stringent "know your customer" rules and sanctions by U.S. and international bank regulators that remain in force today.  Scott Balber, a U.S. attorney who represents the Agalarovs and specializes "in investigations and financial services litigation" according to his law firm's website, said that Mr. Kaveladze attended the June 9th meeting "just to make sure it happened and to serve as an interpreter if necessary.  He literally had no idea what the meeting was about until he showed up right before."  Mr. Balber also revealed that several days before the public learned of Mr. Kaveladze's attendance at the meeting, Mr. Mueller and his team of criminal investigators asked to meet with Mr. Kaveladze to discuss what he knows about the June 9th meeting.  Mr. Kaveladze agreed to an interview, but it has not yet been scheduled.

At a press briefing held on July 17th, the perennially besieged, often ill-informed, intentionally misleading, and widely mocked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered a reporter's question about the June 9th meeting by saying, "There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act."  Other than the text messages and emails that his boss's son exchanged with other meeting participants.

This may be a stretch, but the June 9th meeting probably would have been a lot more productive if someone in the know had told everyone else what the meeing was truly about and the role they were expected to play.  Former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, a student of both Russia and America for reasons of dire necessity and national survival, once said, "There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true."

Maybe all of this will eventually make sense In Another Life.  Or as Mr. Presley recorded at Sun Studio in 1955, perhaps I Forgot to Remember to Forget.  Thanks, Emin. Thanks, Elvis.  Anyway, let's meet later for a nothing burger and a pint of bitter ale.

End Notes

Donald Trump Sr., Donald Trump Jr., Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, Aras Agalarov, Emin Agalarov, Rob Goldstone, and Irakly Kaveladze all have lawyers to help them navigate the turbid waters.  As have Trump campaign political adviser and current U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, President Trump's political adviser and personal attorney Michael Cohen, Trump campaign foreign affairs adviser Carter Page, and Trump campaign communications adviser Michael Caputo

Natalia Veselnitskaya's U.S. clients and activities have evidently drawn the FBI's attention.  She has gamely offered to testify before Congress about the meeting on June 9th so that she can present her case for the repeal of U.S. financial sanctions against Russia, which she says was the whole purpose of the meeting from the start.

According to news reports, Mr. Kushner has now revised his previously submitted 127-page (excluding attachments) U.S. Office of Personnel Management Standard Form 86 (SF-86) Questionnaire for National Security Positions three times to amend his answer to Question 20B.6 by adding more than 100 meetings with 20 different representatives of foreign governments with whom he has had contact in the past seven years before joining the Trump administration, including the three Sergeys -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Sergey Kislyak, the recently recalled Russian Ambassador to the U.S. with whom Mr. Kushner discussed opening a secret communications back-channel between the Trump transition team and Russian government officials, and Sergey Gorkov, the FSB (Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti or Russian Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB) trained Chairman of Vnesheconombank (Bank of Foreign Economic Activity), an international development bank that is owned and controlled by the Russian government and used to exert "soft power" abroad, was previously headed by Vladimir Putin when he served as Russian Prime Minister, and has been subject to U.S. economic sanctions since 2014 following Russia's military intervention in the Ukraine.  It is unclear whether Mr. Kushner will need to update his SF-86 a fourth time to report his meeting with the Russians on June 9th.  He has agreed to meet with the members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence behind closed doors on July 24th.

The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary has invited Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort to attend a public hearing during the week of July 24th to discuss Russian government interference in the 2016 presidential election.  It is not known whether a formal invitation, called a subpoena to testify, has been issued to them.

 

 

Week 27 (July 3 to 9, 2017)

Alexandria Celebrates its 268th Birthday

This year, the City of Alexandria celebrated its 268th birthday and America's 241st birthday on Saturday, July 8th, at Oronoco Bay Park on the Potomac River waterfront.  Barge-lofted fireworks accompanied by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture started at 9:30 pm.  The weather was gorgeous and the heirs of Gandalf acquited themselves quite well.  iPhone photo at left shows this year's fireworks and in the background a full moon at upper left, the MGM National Harbor at bottom left, and the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge at bottom right.

Aphelion

The Earth's orbit around the Sun is not perfectly circular -- it is slightly eliptical and eccentric.  On Monday, July 3rd, our planet reached aphelion, the once-yearly orbital point farthest removed from the solar body.  The extended distance of the Earth from the Sun is 94.5 million miles, or 1.5 million miles more than the average distance.  The average distance of about 93 million miles is referred to as 1 astronomical unit (AU) by astronomers.  The Earth's next closest approach to the Sun, perihelion, will take place on January 2, 2018.  Because the Earth moves a bit faster in its orbit when closest to the Sun, as well as the Earth's 23.5 degree axial tilt that causes the seasons, summer is about five days longer than winter for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, while the reverse is true for those who live in the southern hemisphere. Photo at left shows an orbital view of sunrise above the planet Earth.

 

 

 

G-20

Every now and then, this webpage notes a major national news story that completely swamps any local news.  This week it is an international story that dominates the public consciousness, and rightly so.

This week, the Group of 20 leading world economic powers held its annual meeting on global trade and international financial stability in Hamburg, a northern coastal city that is Germany's second-largest stadt.  Founded in 1999, the so-called G-20 is comprised of 19 individual countries plus the European Union, which represents an additional 24 member countries (4 of the 28 EU countries are members of the G-20 in their own right).  Seven additional countries (including EU member Spain) were also specially invited to attend this year's economic summit.

All told, 49 countries were represented at this year’s gathering (see chart at left, EU nations in red), comprising one-fourth of the world’s 196 nation-states, two-thirds of the world’s population of 7.5 billion people, three-quarters of the world’s trade in goods and services totaling US $20 trillion each year (excluding intra-EU trade), and four-fifths of the world’s annual economic output of well over US $100 trillion.

Throughout the conclave, there were numerous group, breakout, and individual meetings of the heads of state, foreign ministers, central bank governors, and senior representatives of the participating governments.  In addition to trade and finance, the conversations encompassed climate change, the security threat posed by North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the financing of terrorist groups, and other world problems.  Regardless of what was discussed, who discussed it, and what they found mutually agreeable or not, the fact that this divergent and often contentious group meets once each year to address urgent and difficult issues affecting nearly all of the world’s countries, population, economies, and cross-border trade is enough to engender some hope for the future for us ordinary folk who get up every day and till the land.

Oh yeah, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump presumably met for the first time ever, joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  During the meeting, which lasted over two hours, Mr. Putin denied that Russia had interfered with America's 2016 presidential elections and asked for proof if Mr. Trump truly believed otherwise.  Later, Mr. Putin issued a statement claiming that Mr. Trump had accepted his denial.  Well, that's the end of that accusation for sure.

By the way, the Republic of Guinea, a former French colony that gained independence in 1958, was invited to the event.  The country has a population of over 10 million people and covers a land area of nearly 95,000 square miles on the west coast of Africa (about the size and population of Michigan).  Guinea is known for its widespread human rights abuses and serving as "ground zero" for the Ebola virus.  But hey, not for nothing, it exports lots of valuable bauxite (the primary ore in aluminum), diamonds and gold, so welcome to the summer's all-star game.  And what's a little government-sanctioned press bashing and political suppression among friends?

 

 

 

"If You Love Somebody Set Them Free"

The photo reproduction at left is of an original print entitled Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.  It was composed by stencil and sprayed acrylic on canvas.  The picture of the young couple walking hand-in-hand is actually one-half of a diptych, with the title of the piece written on the other half in bold blue script.  The up-and-coming 31-year-old British artist who crafted the piece is a self-described "working wife and mother" who apparently eschews publicity and is known by her nom de guerre, Van Donna, in the cross-style of Vincent Van Gogh and Madonna Louise Ciccone.

According to English news reports, the original was recently purchased by His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, who is currently fifth in line to succeed his 91-year-old grandmother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth.  Some in the press believe that the picture set is an upcoming engagement gift for American actress Rachel Meghan Markle, purportedly the Duchess of Sussex in waiting.  A nearly identical custom-framed version of the artwork with the opposing title written in bold red script was offered by Christie's Auction House (click to view the lot) last year for £3,000 (excluding the 25 percent buyer's premium, taxes, export/import duties, shipping costs and insurance). 

Walton Fine Arts, the London gallery where Prince Harry purchased the original print, has advertised a "Special Edition" (limited to 20 signed and numbered copies) laser printed on deckle edge paper for fine arts printmaking that has a rough, feathered or irregular edge as opposed to a nice, fine or cut edge).  Yours for £399, not available on Amazon.  "Free, free, set them free."  Sting's lyrics applies to would-be monarchists as well as would-be lovers.

 

iPhones Through The Years

 

Week 26 (June 26 to July 2, 2017)

The iPhone Turns 10

Apple's innovative iPhone first came to market on June 29, 2007, and this week the company celebrates the 10th anniversary of its flagship device.  From the 3rd quarter of 2007 through the 2nd quarter of 2017, Apple has sold almost 1.2 billion iPhones across the planet, generating more than $737 billion in total sales and making it the second largest smartphone vendor with a 15 percent share of the global market.  Today, Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) is the largest publicly traded company with a market cap of more than $750 billion.  If you own shares of a U.S. stock mutual fund, you likely own a bite of Apple.  Apple has 116,000 employees, some of them geniuses, and 495 brick-and-mortar retail stores in 17 countries.  The newest Apple Store opened on April 27, 2017 in The Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates, the largest mall in the world by total area.  Meanwhile, humanity awaits the unveiling of the 10th anniversary iPhones in the fall.  Yours will be waiting for you at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, home to our neighborhood Apple orchard and largest mall in Arlington County.

 

Why is the iPhone revolutionary and what's the big deal?  For better or worse, here is a basic list of the many things that the iPhone and its technological progeny have displaced or strangled in the marketplace:  landline phone • calculator • clock & watch • pedometer • mp3 & video players • date & address books • dictaphone • camera & camcorder • photo album & slide projector • newspapers & magazines • books • television & radio • CDs & DVDs • party tapes • maps & globes • automotive GPS devices • travel & restaurant guides • translator • cook books • weather monitor & forecasts • heart rate monitor • encyclopedia, dictionary & thesaurus • record & trivia books • price lists • note & sketch pads • paper files & folders • bank registers, checks & deposit slips • cash & credit cards • membership cards • travel agents • airline & train boarding passes • yellow pages & directory assistance • book & record stores • remote controls • board & card games • reading & magnifying glasses • pocket light & mirror • hand-written notes & invitations • in-person conversations • computers.  Yes, there are Luddites among us who cling to the old ways, but when was the last time you sent a telegram to your gram?  "Siri, would you please read my messages to me?"

 

 

 

Watergate Named Condominium Garden of the Year

Watergate of Alexandria was named Condominium Garden of the Year by Better Homes and Gardens and is featured on the magazine's July 2017 cover.  Congratulations and thanks to the members of the Grounds Committee on their tireless efforts to make our gardens great again with an industrious program of replant and replace after years of sad neglect under prior boards.

[Editor's Note:  This news feature replaces an earlier one reporting that Watergate had been named Time's 2017 Property of the Year.  Regrettably, we received a letter from Time's Editor-in-Chief stating that the posted magazine cover was "not a real Time cover" and requesting that we promptly remove the fake cover from our "website and any other places of public display."  The correspondence also warned that, notwithstanding our impressive landscaping, "we do not condone the unauthorized use and appropriation of our valued name and protected trademarks by you and others to advance and promote your commercial and other dubious personal interests."]

Lethal Traffic Accident Closes Beltway in Alexandria

On Monday morning shortly before sunrise, a Nissan Maxima stopped in the left-center lane of the Beltway's inner loop near the Van Dorn Street exit in Alexandria and was hit by a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.  For unknown reasons, the Nissan's driver then stepped out of her vehicle and was hit by a Chevrolet Malibu sedan.  The 23-year-old woman from Accokeek, Maryland died at the scene.  Despite initial news reports to the contrary, the other two drivers were not injured.  The through-traffic and local lanes of the inner loop were closed for four hours during the entirety of a.m. rush hour, bringing vehicular travel to a halt from the site of the accident back across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge about 13 miles to the Branch Avenue exit on I-495 and up I-295 towards the District of Columbia.

 

Amazon + Whole Foods = Organic Prime

In Week 16 below, it was noted that Whole Foods was being shopped around.  Well, Amazon just announced that it has offered to purchase the upscale organic grocer and its 420+ U.S. stores for $13.7 billion, representing a 27 percent premium over the food company's market value at the end of the previous day.  It will be interesting to see how posh groceries, plebeian prices, physical stores, and drone-dropped deliveries to the door will mesh together.  And one has to wonder whether they will begin selling books next to the heirloom tomatoes.  "Alexa, what wine pairs best with this washed rind cheese?"

 

 

Week 25 (June 19 to 25, 2017)
The market value of Amazon's stock on the day it revealed its plans increased nearly enough to pay for the entire acquisition.  Meanwhile, CNBC reported that the merger news led to 20 of the largest grocery, food and consumer products companies in the S&P 500 collectively losing nearly $40 billion in market capitalization that same day.  And now many Whole Foods workers fear that they will be replaced by robots.  How will we be able to tell?

 

 

 

Lies

Travel website TripAdvisor, based in Needham, Massachusetts, just released its Travelers' Choice annual list of top world travel destinations as "chosen by millions of travelers."  The D.C. metro area is ranked 12th on the U.S. list.  New York City tops the domestic list and Bali, Indonesia tops the international list.  How many of these crave-worthy vacation spots have you visited?

Damn Lies

Business cable channel CNBC, headquartered in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, recently calculated the amount that you would need to earn each year to join the ranks of the top one percent of all income earners in the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas (Dallas and Forth Worth, America's 9th and 16th largest cities, respectively, have been combined).  The D.C. region, which includes Alexandria, is the 6th highest city for one to join the one percent club, requiring annual earnings of $575,237.  Are you in?

Statistics

Several diverse news outlets have been highlighting a survey of 1,000 Americans recently conducted by San Francisco-based farm-to-linen organic home textiles innovator Coyuchi that finds 41% of women and 33% of men wash their sheets once per week, 44% just once or twice a month, 11% once a quarter, and 5% once or twice a year.  Ewwww, that's a crusty build-up of dead skin cells, body oils, drooly saliva, night sweat, germs and dust mites.

 

"Trial of George Jacobs of Salem for Witchcraft"

Painting above by Tompkins Harrison Matteson (1855).

Mr. Jacobs (depicted bottom right, kneeling) was one of the few men tried for witchcraft in Salem in 1692.  He was accused by his granddaughter (center right, pointing) and convicted when he could not recite the Lord's Prayer.

What is a witch?  Learned opinions differ here, but a witch is essentially any person who practices or professes to engage in magic or the occult (things that cannot be readily explained by prevailing theories, concepts or models), divination or prophecy (seeking and reporting knowledge of the future or the unknown by extraordinary means), or witchcraft or sorcery (using spells, incantations, enchantments, necromancy, potions and other “black arts”).  Witches are typically female as opposed to warlocks or wizards who are male.

What is a coven?  A coven is a group, gathering or community of like-minded witches who convene for worship, ceremonies or other purposes.  In popular culture, witches meet in covens to combine their supernatural powers and cast magical spells in tandem.

 

  The Hunt for Witches in Our Own Backyard

When Joseph Biden Jr. became the 47th Vice President of the United States in 2009, he had to give up a seat in the United States Senate representing the 950,000 residents of the First State.  It was a position that Mr. Biden had dearly held for 36 years.

In 2010, Christine O’Donnell – a public relations and marketing consultant, socially conservative Christian activist, and then regular commentator on cable news programs – ran for Mr. Biden’s former office, her third consecutive U.S. Senate race after prior failed attempts in 2006 (as a write-in candidate) and 2008 (as the GOP nominee).  According to news reports at the time, Ms. O’Donnell supported the doctrine of creationism, opposed the teaching of Charles Darwin’s “myth” of evolution in public schools, claimed that homosexuals were psychologically defective, spoke out against non-marital non-procreative sex, once worked for the Christian Coalition and the Republican National Committee, was a recognized leader of the populist Tea Party movement, overstated her educational accomplishments, and suffered from longstanding personal financial troubles.

She was also a self-proclaimed witch.  In the 1990s, Ms. O’Donnell had appeared on 22 episodes of comedian Bill Maher’s late-night talk show, Politically Incorrect. On October 29, 1999, Ms. O’Donnell confessed to Mr. Maher that she “dabbled into witchcraft” but “never joined a coven.”  When Mr. Maher released a video clip of Ms. O’Donnell’s admission in the middle of the 2010 general election, her campaign began running political ads that prominently featured her declaring, “I’m not a witch,” which drew even more derision than her original decade-old comments.

What made the story so interesting was that it brought witches back into mainstream political discourse for the first time since Puritans ran local governments more than 300 years earlier.  Puritans were conservative English Protestants who sought to cleanse or purify the Anglican Church from all loathsome and lingering Roman Catholic practices and influences following the English Reformation when the Church of England broke away from the Holy See.  In America, Puritanism first took root in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s, then spread to other nearby settlements, and thrived in New England for a century.

Puritans, like most Christians of that time, believed in demonic forces.  Allegations of satanic possession or the practice of magic were routinely met with fear, public denunciations, and church-sanctioned exorcisms.  In 1692-93, a spasm of religious extremism and mass hysteria arose in several insular communities in Massachusetts (mostly Salem) and Connecticut (mostly Hartford), where dozens, possibly hundreds, of people (mostly women) were accused of practicing witchcraft, then prosecuted, imprisoned and executed (mostly by hanging, not burning).  The so-called Salem Witch Trials are now seared into our history, usually serving as a warning against religious and political zealots, false accusations, radical rhetoric, lapses in due process, paranoia, and a dangerous rush to judgment.

But the hunt for witches is not confined to Massachusetts in 1692 or Delaware in 2010.  According to historians, the effort has spanned the entire globe from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe, from Asia to the Middle East, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific, from ancient civilizations two millennia before the birth of Christ to our own society two millennia thereafter.  Even now, public servants are accused of pursuing warrantless witch-quests with abandon.

It’s the New Salem.  But this time, the trials will be held at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, as the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has empaneled a grand jury to consider evidence of possible wrongdoing presented by U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  If not gallows, then gallows humor.

 

Eugene Simpson Park

 

 

Week 24 (June 12 to 18, 2017)

Tragic Shooting in Del Ray at Congressional Baseball Practice

Shortly after 7:00 am on June 14th, a shooting took place at the baseball field at Eugene Simpson Park at the corner of Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1 South) and East Monroe Street in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria (see satellite view at left).  The community park sits in the morning shadows of the Monroe Avenue Bridge and is adjacent to the Alexandria YMCA and directly across the street from Swing's Coffee Roasters.  A single gunman using a military-style assault rifle fired dozens of rounds targeted at members of the Republican Congressional Baseball Team who were holding a final practice for the annual bi-partisan Congressional Baseball Game for Charity that was held at Nationals Park on June 15th.  Several persons were hit by the sniper fire, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA 1st), a Congressional staffer who works for Roger Williams (R-TX 25th), a former staffer-turned-lobbyist, and two members of the United States Capitol Police who were part of the security detail on hand to protect Congressman Scalise, a member of Congress's senior leadership.  Three Alexandria Police officers arrived on scene while the attack was still underway.  The gunman, a 66-year-old unemployed home inspector from Illinois who had been living in a van parked at the YMCA for months, was shot and later died.  Simpson Park is the home field for the mighty Titans, the T.C. Williams High School varsity baseball team.  The charity baseball game raised more than $1 million.

 

Official Election Results

The election results above were provided by the Virginia Department of Elections shortly before midnight on June 13th.  There were down-ticket primary races for Lieutenant Governor this election cycle, but does anyone reallly care?  After all, Ralph Northam has been Lieutenant Governor for the past four years and most of us still have no idea who he is.  Also, the two major party candidates for state Attorney General both ran unopposed.

270 To Win

The chart above shows 270 To Win's current assessment of the political landscape of the governorships across the U.S. -- lots of deep red and not so much blue of any shade.  Please visit the 2017 Election page of this website for more information about Virginia's 2017 off-year election.

 

 

2017 Virginia Primary Election

Just 31 weeks after the 2016 Election, the Commonwealth of Virginia held Republican and Democratic primaries on June 13th to select the major party candidates for the gubernatorial general election to be held on November 7th.  Of concern, the pollsters got it terribly wrong once more.  The Democratic race was very tight leading up to election according to the political polling, but was actually a blow-out at the voting booth.  Similarly but in reverse, the Republican contest was wide open in the pre-election polls but turned into something of a nail-biter on election day.

Republican Primary

Ed Gillespie won the Republican Party nomination for Governor, having received nearly 44 percent of the votes cast.  He is a former White House Counseler to President George W. Bush, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.  He nearly unseated U.S. Senator Mark Warner in the latter's re-election effort in 2014.  He won the endorsement of most mainstream Republicans with significant Virginia ties, raised copious amounts of out-of-state campaign contributions, ran as a pro-business conservative who promised to cut taxes, appealed to conservative Republicans, avoided talking about President Trump, milked his front-runner status, and drew support from the D.C. suburbs, the Richmond metro area, and the coastal regions.

Corey Stewart received almost 43 percent of the vote.  He is the current Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, was an unsuccessful candidate for Virginia Lieutenant Governor in 2013 running against Ralph Northam, and was Virginia state campaign co-chairman for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign until he joined a public protest against the Republican National Committee and was fired just before the 2016 GOP Convention.  He is a known political provocateur who stakes out controversial positions to generate media attention and publicity.  During the campaign, he asserted that he is more Trump than Trump, said he wanted to preserve all Confederate monuments and symbols in the state, vowed to crack-down on illegal immigrants and sanctuary cities, ran as an anti-establishment outsider even though he is a perennial office-seeker, benefited from low turnout among Republican primary voters, and drew broad support from all regions of the state.  Shortly after the election, Mr. Stewart announced that in 2018 he may seek the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Tim Kaine.

Frank Wagner took just shy of 14 percent of the vote,   He is a Virginia state senator with 25 years of experience, ran as a middle-of-the-road establishment insider, and appealed to moderates.  He was a candidate out of time.

Democratic Primary

Ralph Northam won the Democratic Party nomination for Governor, having received nearly 56 percent of the vote.  He is Virginia's current Lieutenant Governor and a former state senator and army officer.  He ran as a moderate establishment Democrat, won the endorsement of practically every Democratic politician with significant Virginia ties, raised significant amounts of in-state campaign contributions, received widespread support from the African-American community, used the state Democratic Party machinery to encourage lots of mainstream Democratic voters and moderate-Republican cross-over voters to suppport him, drew tremendous support from the population-dense eastern-most third of the state from Washington, D.C. to Virginia Beach and from the coast inland to Richmond.  He also found support in the extreme southwest corner of the state.  He is a pediatric neurologist who called President Donald Trump a “narcissistic maniac” and pledged to lead the resistance to the President’s policies in Virginia.

Tom Perriello received 44 percent of the vote.  He is a former one-term Congressman from the Charlottesville area, and served as a diplomat in the Obama administration.  He ran as a progressive, won the endorsements of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, raised significant amounts of out-of-state campaign contributions, supported a $15 minimum wage and debt-free community college for all, opposed the construction of two natural gas pipelines that Dominion Energy wanted to build across Virginia, and drew support from the geographic middle part of the state.  At the end of the day, he could not convince enough new, younger and middle class voters to come out to vote for him.

 

Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Co. Building (1920)

 

Wegmans

A brief news item in Week 5 below notes that a $400 million urban development follow-on project is being planned for Hoffman Town Center in the Eisenhower Valley neighborhood of Alexandria.  Now, the Washington Business Journal identifies Wegmans as the retailer interested in leasing the 80,000-square-foot space that has been set-aside for a grocery store on the street level of the proposed 220,000-square-foot mixed-use project.  Taking this relatively tidy space will require Wegmans to develop a "smaller-format" store, but apparently the merchant's demographers and marketeers believe that our collective affluence warrants the special effort.  Wegmans is a family-owned business that was founded in 1916 as the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company in Western New York State.  If everything works out, the new Wegmans will be a lot closer to Old Town than the 126,000-square-foot full-size Wegmans store that opened on June 14, 2015 at Hilltop Village Center in the Fort Belvoir section of Alexandria.

 

Saint Thomas Becket

The stained glass window above depicts Saint Thomas Becket (1119-1170).  The stained glass window immediately below, shows King Henry II of England with Saint Thomas Becket.  In the last stained glass window at bottom, King Louis VII of France sees Saint Thomas Becket in a dream.  All three stained glass windows are installed in Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England.

Saint Thomas Becket is the patron saint of Roman Catholic secular clergy.  His feast day is December 29th.  Click here to see a biography and short video produced by the Catholic Church.

 

 

"Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

The thousand-year history of Western Europe from the end of the Roman Empire to the start of the Renaissance – the 5th through the 15th centuries, known as the Middle Ages – represents a blighted valley between two peaks of human civilization.  With a modern lens, we view the Medieval Period derisively as a dark and difficult time dominated by plague, famine, religious and political conflict, strife, warfare, and gruesome death.  Yet recent events on Capitol Hill (Washington Post, New York Tiimes, History.com, CNN), which dredged historical muck from the bottom of that bleak millennium, have shown us, if we care to acknowledge it, that the past often shamefully repeats itself.

In 1066, Edward the Confessor, the celibate King of England, and last of the House of Wessex, died without leaving an heir.  One of the claimants to the English throne was William II, the 4th Duke of Normandy, who was the great-great-great-grandson of Rollo, the Viking marauder who founded Normandy in 918.  At the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror, as he is known to history, and his invading army of French and Flemish infantry, cavalry and archers, defeated the over-matched and out-numbered English defenders, effectively ending Anglo-Saxon rule in England and giving rise to Norman dominion over the British Isles.

Years later in 1135, Henry I – William’s fourth son, his second successor, and the reigning monarch – died without a living male heir, giving rise to another succession fight known as The Anarchy, a period of instability that lasted nearly 20 years until Henry II, a matrilineal grandson of Henry I, ascended to the throne in 1154.

Henry II was the eldest child of Matilda of England, the oldest child of Henry I and Matilda of Scotland.  Matilda the younger was first married to Henry V, the 8th King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor.  After Henry V’s death, Dowager Empress Matilda, also known as Empress Maude, married Geoffrey V, the 13th Count d’Anjou.  Geoffrey V is Henry II’s father.  Henry II’s wife was Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose previous marriage to King Louis VII of France had been annulled after she produced too many daughters and no sons.

Thus, Henry II was King of England and Duke of Normandy through his mother’s lineage, Duke of Aquitaine through his marriage, and Count of Anjou through his father.  And during his reign, he extended English control over Wales and parts of Ireland to the west, Scotland to the North, and Brittany to the south – an expansive realm known as the Angevin Empire.

Henry II incorporated an image of a sprig of wild broom, an ornamental herbaceous plant known as planta genista in Latin, from his father’s emblem into his own.  In the colloquial French of the time, a “sprig of broom” was a “plant à genêt,” giving rise to the appellation House of Plantagenet for Henry II and his successors well into the early 17th century.

In 1162, King Henry Plantagenet named Thomas Becket, his Lord Chancellor since 1155, as the 41st Archbishop of Canterbury, the senior-most English bishop and head of the Church of England.  It is a position that goes back to Augustine of Canterbury, an apostle sent by Rome to England in 597.

Henry, a self-professed reformer, had hoped that Becket, arguably his best mate, would help him in the escalating conflict over church and state supremacy.  At the time, clergy and others occupying religious offices could be disciplined only in ecclesiastical courts and not royal courts, and Henry wanted to subject all of them to his direct secular control.  In this grim era, trial by ordeal – accused persons were forced to grab a piece of hot iron or a stone from a boiling cauldron, and if their hands did not begin to heal within a few days they were deemed culpable -- was a common means of determining guilt or innocence in criminal cases in the King's courts.  Henry also sought to regain control over church-held lands and impose greater taxes on churches and bishoprics to fund his infrastructure projects (including border walls) and the defense of his realm.

Henry’s mother Matilda and wife Eleanor -- family members were the King's most trusted advisers -- both believed that Becket’s appointment was unwise, and Becket himself initially thought that the idea was bloody bonkers.  But Henry, a ruthless and stubborn leader not prone to heed others’ counsel, prevailed.  Thus, Becket was ordained a Catholic priest on June 2, 1162, and consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury the following day.  Then as now, things happen quite fast when undertaken by executive order.

Following his investiture, Becket’s personality and worldview changed dramatically.  He became more devout, penitent, protective of the church’s prerogatives, and observant of canon law.  Most significantly, he resisted Henry’s efforts to consolidate his power over church personnel and property.  As time went on, the dispute also became increasingly personal.  At the height of their conflict, Becket sought refuge in France under the protection of Louis VII, Henry’s bitter rival and Eleanor’s former husband.  Only with Pope Alexander III's intercession did the two eventually reconcile. However, upon his return to England, Becket excommunicated all the English bishops and government officials who had supported Henry during Becket’s exile.

In a maddened rage, Henry is reported to have exclaimed, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”  Or some such outburst.  Having learned of the King’s lament, four of his over-eager knights traveled from Westminster to Canterbury on December 29, 1170, to demand Becket’s fealty and obeisance to Henry.  When he refused, the chevaliers slayed Becket near the cathedral’s main alter.  Soon thereafter, Becket was hailed as a martyr of the faith throughout Europe.  Today, he is venerated as a saint as well as a martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

The four knights who killed Becket went into hiding and were later excommunicated by Pope Alexander.  When they begged for the Pope’s forgiveness, he ordered them, as penance, to join the Crusades and assist the church in its efforts to recover the Holy Lands from Islamic rule, inspiring the formation in 1191 of the Knights of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, an English Catholic military order that endured for several centuries until it was disbanded by King Henry VIII in 1538 during the English Reformation when the Church of England broke away from the Holy See so that Henry of the House of Tudor could annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.

Two of Henry II’s sons, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland, were also kings of England and are featured in various tales of Robin Hood that started to appear in the mid-15th century.

In 1884, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the longest-serving Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland (1850-1892), coinciding with most of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), wrote Becket, a play about Thomas Becket and Henry II.  In 1964, a movie version of Becket was released starring Richard Burton as Thomas Becket, Peter O’Toole as King Henry II, and John Gielgud as King Louis VII. The film won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and two Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture (Drama) and Best Actor (Mr. O’Toole).  A reality show adaptation is also now available on most news and social media platforms.  All that is auld is new again.

 

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale has been in print continuously since its first publication in 1985, sold millions of copies worldwide, won numerous awards including the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Award for best English-language science fiction novel in 1987, and been adapted to a film in 1990, an opera in 2000, and a television series on Hulu this year (renewed for a second season to air in 2018). 

George Orwell's 1984 has sold over 30 million copies and sucessfully evaded government censorship since its first publication in 1949.  The novel was adapted to a movie in its titular year.

 

 

Week 23 (June 5 to 11, 2017)

The Handmaid's Tale -- A Summer Book Review

In 1984, Canadian-born and Harvard-educated writer Margaret Atwood wrote a disturbing dystopian novel set a few decades into the future about a theocratic military dictatorship that had violently overthrown the U.S. government and replaced it with an oppressive totalitarian nation-state known as the Republic of Gilead that benefited just a few.

The name of the despotic realm most likely refers to a Bible passage in Jeremiah 8:22 that asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?”  Like most stories in the Old Testament this one is a parable directed at the unduly righteous among us and questions why so little has been accomplished when vast resources are readily available.

In the American Gilead re-imagined for our time and place, life is austere, hierarchical and caste-based.  Human rights – particularly for women, non-whites, Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims – are severely curtailed.  Women have little autonomy and are forbidden to read.  If fertile, they are re-educated to serve as concubines for the leaders, are traded like commodities, and exist solely to re-populate a society suffering from sterility due to pollution and disease.

In a piece that she wrote for the Guardian in 2012, Ms. Atwood stated that her book was based on the following musings: “If you wanted to seize power in the U.S., abolish liberal democracy and set up a dictatorship, how would you go about it?  What would be your cover story?  It would not resemble any form of communism or socialism, those would be too unpopular.  It might use the name of democracy as an excuse for abolishing liberal democracy. . . .  The deep foundation of the U.S. – so went my thinking – was not the comparatively recent 18th-century Enlightenment structures of the republic, with their talk of equality and their separation of church and state, but the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, which would need only the opportunity of a period of social chaos to reassert itself.”

In the novel, an underground network referred to as the Mayday Resistance eventually topples the Gilead interregnum and reinstates a more progressive society.  The narrative mirrors the Book of Jeremiah's prophecy that the Jews exiled in Babylon for pagan worship and idolatry would be returned to Israel in due course.  In the story's epilogue, set in the year 2195, post-Gileadean academics continue to study and debate how all of this came to pass.  It's a wonder.

English futurist George Orwell wrote in his own seminal anti-utopian novel warning against tyrrany, cults of personality, priviliged elites, government-propagated official truths, historical revisionism, the persecution of individualism, doublethink, thoughtcrimes, Ministry of Truth, and Big Brother, "The best books . . . are those that tell you what you know already."  From 1949 to 1984 to 2017, we know already.

 

In 2016, the Aces had a 23-17 win-loss record, and total season-long attendance of 2,112 fans.

 

 

Week 22 (May 29 to June 4, 2017)

Alexandria Aces

The Alexandria Aces begin their 10th summer season with the 10-team Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League with an exhibition game against the Herndon Braves on June 4th and a home opener versus the Baltimore Redbirds on June 9th.  The club plays its 20 home games at Frank Mann Field, which is part of Four Mile Run Park, located at 3700 Commonwealth Avenue between Cora Kelly School and Jack Taylor's Alexandria Toyota on U.S. Route 1.

Not for nothing, Frank E. Mann (1920-2007) was a descendant of Alexandria's Lee-Fendall family, served as city mayor for three non-consecutive three-year terms in the 1960s and 1970s, and represented Alexandria in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1970 to 1975.  And did you know that Four Mile Run, which forms the boundary between Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, is really 9.4 miles long?  There are two theories about the origins of the stream's misleading name.  One theory, espoused in a 2001 documentary, maintains that an old flour mill near the waterway appeared on an early faded map of the area and Flour Mill Run somehow morphed into Four Mile Run.  Another theory is that the mouth of Four Mile Run is about four miles upriver from the mouth of Hunting Creek formed by the confluence of Cameron Run and Hooff's Run.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

This week, the nation observes the centennial of the 35th U.S. President's birth on May 29, 1917.  JFK certainly had his flaws, foibles and failures (Marilyn Monroe, Bay of Pigs).  But, taken as a whole, he embodied all that we should want and hope for in a national leader. 

He was a decorated war hero (Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Purple Heart), offered unabashed inspiration to the country ("Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country"), set lofty yet achievable challenges before us ("I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth"), pursued a unifying and forward-looking foreign policy ("Ich bin ein Berliner"), provided erudite explication ("I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men . . . world peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance . . . our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man"), and left an honorable and enduring legacy (civil rights, Peace Corps, Profiles in Courage). 

Last week, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which serves as a living memorial to its namesake as well as a cultural hub, held a week-long celebration to honor President Kennedy.  From outdoor musical performances to an improvised skate park, from rows of craft vendors and multi-cultural food trucks to memorial concerts and recitals, it was a boisterous celebration for the many thousands who participated, including those of us who live nearby and those visiting from afar.  It also reminds us that popularity follows from greatness, not the other way around.

 

 

 

Smarter Than A 6th Grader?

On June 1st, 12-year-old Ananya Vinay, a sixth-grader from Fresno, California, won the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland, located across the Potomac River from Alexandria, Virginia.  Ms. Vinay outlasted 290 other finalists for the win, earning her the event’s $40,000 cash prize, a shiny and triumphantly gaudy trophy, future résumé bling, and, most critically, well-deserved bragging rights.

While much has been reported about her correct spelling of the French word “marocain” – a Moroccan dress fabric of ribbed crêpe typically made from silk, wool, rayon and other yarns – in the 35th and final round of the match, she was visibly flummoxed by the word given to her in the preceding round.  Here is a partial transcript of what transpired during the penultimate stage:

Moderator:  “Your next word is covfefe.”

Ms. Vinay:  Covfefe.”  A long pause, then, “Would you please repeat the word?”

Moderator:  “Yes, your word is,” speaking now more deliberately and with added emphasis on the first syllable, “CUV•feyfey.”

Ms. Vinay:  CUV•feyfey.”  Another long pause.  “Are there any alternate pronunciations?”

Moderator:  "None, to our knowledge, CUV•feyfey.”

Ms. Vinay:  “Could you tell me the word’s language of origin and definition, please?”

Moderator:  “The word is singularly American, with possible Scottish derivations.  Its meaning is somewhat disputed by academics, but the broad consensus is that covfefe is a noun and close synonym for kerfuffle – a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views.  The difference being that covfefe concerns entirely internal commotion and self-inflicted conflict.”

Ms. Vinay:  “Thank you. Would you please use the word in a complete, English-compliant, emoji-free sentence that conforms to all formal rules of grammar including accurate, unadorned and non-repetitive punctuation.”

Moderator:  “Facing strongly divergent views among his advisors, family, world leaders, titans of business, members of his own political party, and the traditional and alternate news media, as well as a lack of sleep, the President was in a turbid state of covfefe this week over whether the United States should withdraw from the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, more commonly known as the Paris Climate Accord, that was originally signed by 165 nations and since ratified by 197 nations excluding only Nicaragua and Syria.”

Ms. Vinay:  A slow and exaggerated “CUV•feyfey.”  Then a deliberate “cov•f•e•fe.”  And then a slightly hopeful “CUV•feyfey.”

Moderator:  “Yes, that is the correct spelling.”

Ms. Vinay:  A barely audible sigh is heard then, “Thank you.”

Ms. Vinay, contestant number 264, is the first outright winner of the national spelling bee after several years of awkward back-to-back ties.  She and first runner-up Rohan Rajeev, contestant number 235 and an eighth grader from Edmond, Oklahoma, went head-to-head for almost 20 grueling rounds.  More than 11 million youngsters aged 6 through 15, hailing from every U.S. state and territory and from several other countries, entered this year’s challenge.  Participants had a maximum of 120 perturbable seconds in which to spell each word.

Ms. Vinay is the 13th consecutive Indian-American to be crowned top pollinator-wordsmith.  Notwithstanding the outrageous twaddle above, Ms. Vinay's actual second-to-last word was gifblaar, which according to Merriam-Webster, the official dictionary for the spelling bee, literally means poison+leaf in Afrikaans and refers to "a perennial shrub (Dichapetalum cymosum) of southern Africa that is deadly poisonous to [live]stock" and dogs that poop on the lawn where they shouldn't.  GIF•blär, indeed!  We gotta get some.

 

"Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, farm boy."  Han Solo to Luke Skywalker

"Rodents and humans make beautiful music together."  AdWeek

 

 

Week 21 (May 22 to 28, 2017)

Special Anniversaries

This week brings with it two very special worldwide cultural anniversaries, both worth breaking the local news edict of this web page.

Like Watergate, Star Wars Turns 40

On May 25, 1977, George Lucas released his space-western mash-up set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."  It had a bit of everything that any young dreamer-believer could want in a buttered-popcorn early-summer film -- strange yet endearing characters, weird worlds, walking-talking-emoting robots, mysterious mental forces, a damsel causing distress, a black-hatted villain, a white-robed innocent and his obfuscatory mentor, a cocksure cowboy and his silent sidekick, space samurai with their bushido-Jedi pagan faith and laser swords, Freudian father-son issues, glorious galactic battles with garish explosions and thumping mayhem, holographic chess, an arousing musical score, moral relativism, campy dialogue transmuted into cultural touchstones, folded space-time with a rush of starlight, pain and suffering, redemption and revival, and a svelte running time of 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Star Wars was produced on an $11 million budget and went on to earn a reported $775 million at the box office (not adjusted for inflation).  To date, the film has spawned three prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) and three sequels (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens) with combined box office revenues of more than $7.5 billion (again, unadjusted).  A fourth sequel, The Last Jedi, will hit cineplexes on December 15, 2017, and a fifth as-yet-untitled sequel arrives on May 24, 2019. 

Then there are the live action (Rogue One released on December 16, 2016, a Han Solo origin story to be released on May 25, 2018, and a Boba Fett origin story that should reach audiences in 2020) and animated (The Clone Wars, Star War Rebels, and Star Wars Forces of Destiny) spin-offs, movie discs and electronic downloads, radio and audio adaptations, theme park rides and attractions, computer and video games, licensed novels, unauthorized fan fiction and fan films, comic books, clothes and costumes, action figures, toys, board and role-playing games, trading cards, "May the Fourth" celebrations, and seven Oscars.  And a California-based film production empire that includes Lucasfilm, Lucasfilm Animation, Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound and ILMxLAB.  All of which were purchased by The Walt Disney Company for $4 billion in 2012, and are now valued conservatively at more than 10 times that amount.  Putting this into perspective, however, Fortune recently reported that Apple added $40 billion in market capitalization on a single day earlier this year, February 1, 2017.  Sigh . . . always the dark side.

Here's a special birthday gift for you should you choose to accept it.  Click here to see the original 1977 movie trailer for Star Wars, and then click here to see an amazing re-imagined re-edited thoroughly modern and much-discussed fanboy-produced trailer.  And as reported by Variety, just last month actor Mark Hamill told a convention audience what happened that time long ago and far away when he and the late Carrie Fisher snuck into a neighborhood movie theater and saw the original trailer for Star Wars days before the film's opening.

Kia Soul Jam Celebrates Its First Anniversary

A year ago March 26th, Kia Motors announced that its hip and iconic hamsters were returning to star in a new 60-second rocked-out music video called Soul Jam.  As described last year, the vid starts off as a riff on Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith's Dueling Banjos, a song popularized by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell in a version they recorded for the 1972 film Deliverance.  But then the video takes a crazy turn at full throttle with the electronic stability controls disabled.

According to Kia, the ad was the South Korean auto company's "most ambitious hamster commercial production to date [and] brings together 30 different music instruments representing more than 20 cultures from around the world . . . ranging from a sitar and African and Korean Drums to a ukulele, bagpipes, violins and more. . . .  [Our] hip posse of hamsters have always stood out from the crowd and brought people together through music, dance and positivity."  This romp through the park was not cheap to produce.  It required over 3,000 hours of computer-generated imagery for the hamsters alone.  In any event, while we hope and wait for the hamsters' return, here once again is Soul Jam.

El Galeón Returns to Old Town

El Galeón, an authentic wooden replica of a 17th century warship commonly found in Spain's West Indies fleet, pays a visit to the Alexandria Marina on May 25th to 29th.  The 170-foot 500-ton square-rigged three-masted sailing ship (see "head shot" photo at left) was built in 2009-2010, serves as a living cultural museum, and last visited Old Town in October 2016.  While here, the ship will be open for daily tours from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, $10 for big children, $5 for little ones, free for ankle-biters.  On its current world tour, the galleon is heading up from Charleston, South Carolina, and then headed to Baltimore, Maryland, Norfolk, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts.  America's great Eastern seaports.

 

Above, stock photo of a typical Lidl store. 

Below (L-R), photos taken on May 16th of DC Ducks out of water at Gravelly Point, the Washington Sailing Marina in repose, and a three-day tree-trimming along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

 

Week 20 (May 15 to 21, 2017)

Lidl

Get used to seeing the image to the left, because German discount grocer Lidl (rhymes with needle), with $100 billion in annual sales, is coming to town and opening stores starting in just a few weeks.  Worldwide, Lidl operates 10,000 markets in 27 countries, and all of them are designed "to deliver the highest quality products at the lowest possible price and the most efficient shopping experience possible."  The chain's U.S. operations are based next door in Arlington, and the company plans to open its first 20 American stores in Virginia and the Carolinas by the end of this summer.  Lidl is also looking at potential store sites in Georgia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Its goal is to open 100 stores on the East Coast by next summer, and another 100 stores not long after that.

Lidl should not be confused with Aldi, another 4-letter German discount grocer that first entered the U.S. market in 1976, currently has 1,300 stores in the states, opened a store near the Monroe Avenue Bridge in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria last year, and plans to build 650 more stores by the end of 2018.  Lidl's plans are causing widespread disruption throughout the industry, threatening market leaders Walmart and Kroger (Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Fry's) in particular.  In case you were wondering, it is unlikely that Lidl will move into the 500 First Street development now under construction because it favors stand-alone stores of at least 36,000 square feet, and the entire available commercial space at 500 First Street tops out at 51,272 square feet.

Spring Photos

 

 

 

This is Watergate's 40th Anniversary Year

Lewis & Clark Honor & Glory

 

 

Week 19 (May 8 to 14, 2017)

Potluck Dinner

Watergate's Social Committee is organizing a Potluck Dinner for Thursday, May 25th, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., and a flyer with all the critical details is at left (as with all other photos on this page, click to enlarge).  The event will take place at the Red Maple Tree Courtyard.  Invitations are being mailed to homeowners and residents this week.  We hope you can attend.  There is no rain date.  Contact information for the Social Committee members is listed on the flyer and the Association page of this website.

Cathal Armstrong Helms New Hotel Indigo Restaurant

Speaking of food fests, the Hotel Indigo, which opened last week, announced that Irish-born French-trained local celebrity restaurateur Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant EveSociety Fair, Eammon's A Dublin Chipper, PX) is opening a new restaurant next month on the hotel's ground floor facing the waterfront.  The fancy eatery will be called Hummingbird Bar & Kitchen, have 80 seats in the dining room and 40 seats on the walkout terrace, and serve fresh seafood and (hello, it's a Cathal Armstrong field-to-table restaurant) locally sourced ingredients.  Warning, past performance is not indicative of future results.

Local Eaglets Are Named

On May 3rd, following a public online vote by 30,000 fans, the two eaglets born earlier this year at the U.S. National Arboretum were named Honor and Glory.  Boring, predictable, conventional, sad.  Worse, the alternatives were Stars and Stripes, Anacostia and Potomac, and Peace and Harmony.  Yak!  Even the copycat-ish Beaky McBeakface and Flappy McFlapface would have been better.  This year's choice, which follows the name-giving of Freedom and Liberty to last year's eaglets, delivers painful truth to the notion that Washington is bereft of creative ideas.  By the way, the laboratory blood tests came back from DC4's emergency visit to the veterinarian after being rescued and rappel-dropped (¿scare-lifted?) from the nest back in Week 16.  It's official, Honor is a girl eagle.  The Nest Cam page of this website has more news and information regarding the nestlings and their celebrity parents, Mr. President and The First Lady.  Not for nothing, click here for an update on Boaty McBoatface's first mission to Antarctica.

 

Click here to see the city's adopted budget for FY 2018, the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018.

Click here to see the city's adopted budget for FY 2017, the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2017.

 

 

City Budget News

2017 Real Property Taxes

At its annual special budget meeting held on May 5, 2017, the Alexandria City Council approved a $728 million municipal budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2017.  The FY 2018 budget represents a 5.8 percent increase over the current FY 2017 budget.  The adopted budget increases the real estate tax rate 5.7 cents, from $1.073 to $1.13 per $100 of assessed property value.  According to the city, the average Alexandria homeowner’s 2017 tax bill will increase by 6.3 percent or $356 over 2016.

As discussed below, most Watergate residents saw their property assessments go up by 8 percent earlier this year.  Coupled with the tax rate increase, most of us at Watergate will see a 13.7 percent increase in our 2017 taxes over 2016.  This is a median increase of $816 per home.  Much higher than the city average.  The Board Minutes & Homeowner Documents page of this website has additional details, including a chart listing and comparing the 2016 and 2017 assessed values and property taxes for all 100 homes at Watergate.

The city's press release announcing the new budget states that the additional tax money is needed to offset and pay for "stagnant revenue growth, increasing school enrollment, needed City and school infrastructure investments, and Metro cost increases."  Be assured, however, that even after the tax bump, "Alexandria’s real estate tax rate will remain among the lowest in Northern Virginia for homeowners and the second lowest for commercial property owners.  There are no increases in any other tax rates." 

Except for the "30% increase in the sanitary sewer fee in FY 2018 (from $1.40 to $1.82 per thousand gallons), with significant increases in sewer-related fees over the next decade" to fix the city's long-criticized sewage run-off problem and reduce the amount of untreated effluent that is released during heavy rain storms.  This topic is discussed at greater length after the charts below.

2017 Real Property Assessments

Real property taxes, which provide nearly 60 percent of the city's $678 million in budgeted revenues for FY 2017 (see chart above left, which will be updated for FY 2018), are based on property valuations and tax rates set each year.  On February 14th, local officials published assessments of the fair market value of all real property in Alexandria as of January 1st.  The assessments, mailed to all property owners, are available online as a matter of public record.

A list and summary of the 2017 assessed valuations for Watergate's 100 homes are available on the Board Minutes & Homeowner Documents page of this website.

In releasing this year's assessments, city manager Mark Jinks noted that residential property values across the city increased less than one percent (0.95 percent, see chart bottom left), the lowest overall increase in two decades.  With regard to condominium valuations in Old Town North, what Watergate of Alexandria homeowners should care about most, the year-over-year increase is 2.86 percent (see chart bottom left).

While most homes in the city are still valued at $500,000 or less (52.2 percent, see chart below right), this number continues to drop each year as Alexandria, particularly Old Town, becomes a much more expensive place to live.

Aggregate commercial property values in the city have increased about 30 percent more than aggregate residential property values largely due to new development and redevelopment (see chart bottom right).

Total assessed home values at Watergate of Alexandria increased 7.5 percent from $56,371,758 in 2016 to $60,623,267 in 2017, and represent about 0.16 percent of all assessed real estate in Alexandria.

Each year, the city attempts to correlate its real property assessments against actual sales data in an effort "to determine accuracy and fairness."  Based on 2015 sales data, the most recent available to local planners, officials claim that the city's assessed valuations correspond to 96.47 percent of market-based valuations.

Increased Sewer Rates

On February 25th, the final day of its 2017 regular legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law (SB 898), signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, that requires Alexandria to start upgrading all four of its Potomac River sewer outfalls by 2023, and complete the upgrades by 2025.  The Neighborhood Development page of this website explains the city's sewer discharge problem at length. 

The legislature offered no financial assistance toward this effort, and previously threatened to cut-off all state funding to the city if it did not complete the repairs by 2020.  That threat remains.  Nevertheless, the city hopes the state will pay for some of the estimated $400 million cost, but many Republican legislators who control the General Assembly have publicly stated that Democrat-dominated Alexandria is rich enough to pay for the work on its own.

To put this cost into context, the city's annual capital budget is $120-$150 million in ordinary years.  To help pay for the sewer upgrades, Mr. Jinks proposes to increase the city's sanitary sewer fee by 30 percent starting this summer.  Worse, Mr. Jinks forecasts that city taxpayers may see a 500 percent increase in sewer fees over the next 10 years.

Photos

The two fire truck photos at upper left were taken at the foot of King Street with the Old Dominion Boat Club building in the background, and under the Woodrow Wilson Memorial  Bridge at the river's edge at Jones Point Park.  The two fire boat photos at lower left were taken at the pier at the end of Queen Street, and under the Wilson Bridge at Jones Point Park.  All four photos were taken in February 2017.  The fire department gets around town and so do I.

Incidentally, on March 15th, the Old and Historic Alexandria District Board of Architectural Review unanimously approved the demolition of the Old Dominion Boat Club building (see photos at left).  For more information on the club's swanky new digs, which are currently under constuction a block away at Zero Prince Street, and the city's ambitious plans for a New Fitzgerald Square Waterfront Park (with seasonal ice skating rink) at the tear-down site, please see the Neighborhood Development page of this website.

 

 

 

Week 18 (May 1 to 7, 2017)

Pile Driving To Begin

Pile driving is scheduled to begin on Monday, May 1st at the Giant/ABC construction site located across the street from Watergate at 500 First Street.  On April 27-28, Geotechnical Solutions, the project developers' ground engineers are installing ten solar-powered vibration monitors around the perimeter of the construction site, including one monitor at 1007 North Pitt Street.  These monitors will measure and record vibrations emanating from the site on a 24/7 basis while pile-driving is underway, a period that is expected to continue for 30 days.  The satellite photo at left shows the placement of the vibration monitors (click to enlarge).  Or click here for a PDF version.  The Giant/ABC Redevelopment page of this website provides more detailed information on this three-year project, including discussions that Watergate's board had with the Gables Construction team on May 4, 2017 regarding the project and its impact on neighboring communities.

The New and Historical Hotel Indigo

On Wednesday, May 5th, the InterContinental Hotels Group, which includes Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Kimpton, opens the doors of its new 5-story 120-room boutique-styled waterfront Hotel Indigo to guests for the first time.

As reported last year, when the landfilled hotel site at Union and Duke Streets was being excavated at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016, the developers found several items of significant historical interest, including a 50-foot-long portion of the scuttled hull (keel, frame, stern and flooring) of a Revolutionary War-era heavy cargo or war ship (see 2016 Headlines for details and photos).

According to WTOP, archaelogists have since determined that the trees used to build the ship are from Boston, date back to 1603, and were chopped down sometime after 1741.  After its seafaring uses ended, the ship was scuttled and used to extend Alexandria's shoreline around 1788-96, a period of known wharf-expansion in Old Town.  For now, until the city sets aside the funds to pay for permanent conservation and possible public display, the ship's remains are being stored at an old DASH bus barn on Quaker Street in a water-gel bath to protect the wood from deterioration.

The newly completed Hotel Indigo is shown in the photo at left, and below left is a pre-construction artist's rendering.

 

Methodology

The survey, which likely cost the city around $20,000 and was completed in December 2016, was sent to 3,000 randomly selected residents. The city received 689 responses, resulting in a yield or response rate of 17%, which is not bad for a non-incentivized public survey.   The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4%.

Top 5 Issues for Alexandrians (in descending order)

1.  Cost of living*
2 . Affordable quality housing*
3.  Public parking*
4.  Traffic
5.  Schools and child care*

* Level of concern exceeds national benchmark

 

 

Week 17 (April 24 to 30, 2017)

Looks Don't Much Matter

Patch Media, which operates over 900 hyperlocal news websites including one for Old Town, reported over the weekend that Travel+Leisure Magazine ranked Alexandria the 11th most attractive city in America last year.  But wait for it . . . T+L was not rating our lovely colonial architecture, picturesque brick façades and sidewalks, delightful waterfront parks, or awesome Potomac River views.  No, dear residents, T+L was gawking at us.  Apparently, we work for nearby government agencies and nonprofits by day, and in our free time walk or bike in Old Town, freshen-up at the spa, and then head out to trendy boutiques and restaurants tucked into 18th- and 19th-century walk-ups along King Street.  And we are quite fair to look upon while we go about our brillliant lives.  T+L also found that the most attractive folks live in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the least attractive in Baltimore, Maryland.  The magazine got that right.

2017 City Livability Survey

On April 25th, Alexandria released the results of its 2017 Resident Survey.  According to City Manager Mark Jinks, “The City uses this survey as an accountability tool to see where we are doing well and where improvements need to be made.”  Survey results are also used in budgeting, setting priorities, tracking progress on attaining strategic goals, and evaluating the delivery and effectiveness of municipal services.  The annual survey is part of The National Citizen Survey, which allows Alexandria to compare its local results against a national benchmark over time (see flagged items below and at left).  If this sort of data interests you, the By the Numbers page of this website has more of it.

Don’t Crime For Me Alexandria

This web page does not normally dwell on crime in Alexandria, largely because crime is truly Trumpian sad! and collides with the upbeat image that most have of our city.  Some believe that even acknowledging that crime takes place lowers property values and scares off prospective residents and visitors. Truth is, we have nothing to hide.

Last week, the Alexandria Police Department announced that major crime had decreased 4% in calendar year 2016 as compared to 2015, and that “Alexandria continues to experience historic crime lows . . . since the 1960s.”   Year-over-year, rapes were down 37%, burglaries were down 22%, aggravated assaults were down 17%, robberies were down 8%, and larcenies were down 2%.  Serious crime was up a bit in two areas -- there was a 6% increase in auto thefts from 254 to 268, and the number of homicides increased from 4 to 7 (5 of these cases were closed last year).  Click the city-created chart at left to enlarge, or click here to view as a PDF.

Even when homicides do occur, most seem well outside the mainstream.  For example, here are the facts underlying one of last year's seven homicides, which took place on October 5, 2016.  The 76-year-old husband was a former U.S. Navy Captain and maritime lawyer suffering from colon cancer.  The 48-year-old wife was from Australia and worked as an aesthetician in a beauty salon.  She once told a neighbor that she suffered from depression and bi-polar disorder.  The couple had been married a dozen years, endured alcohol and money problems, and fought constantly.

Their final fight was over their aging Akita dog, which had bit her.  He wanted to euthanize the dog, handed her a loaded .38-caliber handgun, and urged her to shoot the dog.  Instead, she euthanized him as he sat in his favorite leather arm chair in the living room of their home at Old Town Village off Duke Street in South Old Town.  Last week she was convicted of his murder, and this week the jury recommended that she serve 14 years in jail (11 years for the killing and 3 years for using a firearm).  Update:  At her sentencing hearing held on July 13th, she was sentenced to 14 years incarceration to be followed by 3 years of post-release supervision.  The dog has since been put down.  Yes, very sad! indeed.

 

Human intervention two-ways -- concrete bulkhead at Windmill Hill Park awaiting rescue above and mug shot of eaglet DC4 after being rescued below.

 

 

Week 16 (April 17 to 23, 2017)

Windmill Hill Park Shoreline Rehabilitation

After a nearly year-long delay arising from a contractor dispute and related litigation, work will begin in late May to replace the existing man-made concrete bulkhead at historic Windmill Hill Park (see photo at left) with a natural shoreline, walking path and small connecting bridge.  The park, located at the southernmost end of Union Street, was created in 1945 on marshland that had been reclaimed in the 19th century, and is named after a wind-powered water mill that occupied the site in the 1840s.  The city believes that the project should be substantially completed by the summer of 2018.  For further information on this and other development projects in our area, please visit the Neighborhood Development page of this website.

The Reality of Live Broadcasts, the Nature of Supreme Beings, and the Existence of Aliens

On the afternoon of April 20th, with a storm front moving into the area, the right leg of one of the two recently hatched eaglets at the U.S. National Arboretum became stuck in the crook of a small forked stick or branchlet forming part of the nest's upper bowl.  The eaglet could not extract itself from an increasingly dire predicament even with its mother's attempted assistance.

In all likelihood, if this had been an unmonitored nest, the three-weeks-old eaglet would have eventually died.  But this nest -- home for the past three breeding seasons to local celebrity bald eagles Mr. President and The First Lady -- has an awful lot of dedicated and impassioned viewers, including trained observers at the American Eagle Foundation.  Two professional tree-climbers with Ex-Cel Tree Experts (Matt Morrison and Marty Levine) and an eagle expert (Craig Koppie, another experienced tree climber) with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, were brought in to rescue the eaglet, known for the time being as DC4 (since it is the fourth known chick born to this eagle pair in DC).  The eaglet was disentagled and removed from the nest as night fell, and taken the next morning to a veterinarian (Samantha Sander) at the The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore for a physical checkup, including a radiograph of the visibly swollen leg to make certain there were no lasting physical injuries.  The eaglet was returned to its nest by the second day's end.

However, for well over an hour before these actions were taken, images of the eaglet's hapless plight, and The First Lady's awkward and fruitless efforts to help, togther with the sounds of the eaglet's fornlorn wails and screeches, were broadcast live to all comers.  And then AEF decided to kill the transmission.  It was probably for the best.  At some point, the invisible line between entertaining and educational reality TV, and something otherwise, was crossed.

But here is the metaphysical question that comes to mind.  Given the chasm that exists between human and eagle brains and intelligence, what do the eagles think happened when the AEF and the USF&WS intervened at their nest?  Until then, this family of eagles had been living a blitheful and unaware Truman Show-like existence, then TV Batman-like bam! splat! pow! tragedy descends upon the nest, and, before you can double-blink your I Dream of Jeannie genie eyes, some great force suddenly and unnaturally removes one of the family members, subjects the frightened detainee (see sad photo at left) to mysterious and upsetting probes and examinations beyond all cognition as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, affixes an identification band to its ankle (or worse, embeds a microchip), and then returns the terrified creature to its home after an unexplained disapperance and a prolonged absence.

Alien abduction anyone?  After this, can the eagles really go back to a carefree existence of soaring, fishing and hunting?  I've been asking myself the very same thing the past 100 days since the great national abduction.

Please visit the Nest Cam page of this website for more news and information regarding this alternate first family.  Voting for the current eaglets' names begins on Monday, April 24th.  Last year's two eaglets were named Freedom and Liberty, and both are now lost to us forever (the eaglets, too).  It's not quite Steven Spielberg, but click here if you want to see a 12-minute YouTube video of DC4's rescue and return.  It's high•lair•ious, particularly the dialogue between the nest-invader and the nestlings.

Whole Foods Wine Bar and Café

On April 22, 2017, the Alexandria City Council approved a modest proposal submitted by upscale grocer Whole Foods Market to modify its existing 45,000-square-foot store at 1700 Duke Street, first opened in 2006, to put a new 43-seat wine bar and café near the front entrance of the store where its florist shop now operates (see diagram at left).  Customers will be able to purchase food and alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption and take-away until 11:00 pm on school nights and midnight on date night. 

In recent years, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods has been battling against intense public criticism of its absurdly high prices ($6 bottled asparagus-infused tap water anyone?) and fierce competition from mainstream retailers -- including market leaders Costco and Walmart -- in the organic foods segment that it created in 1980 and has dominated for many years. 

Serious speculation continues to circulate in the financial and business press that Whole Foods itself is now ripe for purchase.  Purported shoppers wandering the aisles with empty carts include Kroger (Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Fry's, etc.), Amazon and, most recently, Albertsons (Safeway, Vons, etc.).  Maybe they are waiting for double-coupon day, which some folks refer to as bankruptcy reorganization. 

Please visit the Local Food News page of this website for more news about the food scene around Watergate.

 

 

 

Week 15 (April 10 to 16, 2017)

Easter and Passover

This week Christians celebrate Holy Week culminating in Easter Sunday, on April 16th, and Jews observe Passover starting with seders on Monday and Tuesday, April 10th and 11th.  Happy holidays!

Verizon

We find ourselves once again in the middle of corporate America's most prolific annual meeting season.  Last year (2016 Headlines, Week 16), we did a deep dive on Dominion Resources, the parent company of our local electric utility.  This year we turn to Verizon Communications, our local phone company.

In the beginning, there was American Telephone & Telegraph Company, which was founded in 1885.  For nearly a century -- a decade longer if you consider that the company's roots extend further back to Alexander Graham Bell Patent Association in 1874 and Bell Telephone Company in 1875 -- AT&T reigned as the largest telecommunications behemoth in the world.  Then, in 1974, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T, which operated as a government-regulated and vertically-integrated monopoly.  The parties eventually settled the dispute in 1982.  The settlement required AT&T to split itself apart at the start of 1984 into seven independent regional operating companies, known as the Baby Bells.

Two of the Baby Bells were NYNEX (serving Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and most of New York state) and Bell Atlantic (serving Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia).  In 1997, NYNEX (which was poorly run) and Bell Atlantic (which was not) merged in what was, at the time, the second largest corporate combination in history.  Several years later, in 2000, Bell Atlantic acquired General Telephone & Electric Company to form Verizon and become the largest local phone company in the U.S.  GTE traced its roots back to 1918, and for most of its history was the second-largest independent telephone company in America after AT&T.  Verizon's marketeer-researched consumer-tested made-up name blends the Latin word veritas (truth) with the Greek word horizon.  Commonplace today, weird back then.

Seventeen years onward, Verizon is now one the largest diversified communications companies in the world, with $244 billion in assets, $126 billion in annual operating revenues, $27 billion in annual operating income, and 161,000 employees.  Verizon has three principal lines of business:

  • Wireline services, which include local and long distance phone service, broadband data services, Fios television and Internet access, streaming video, hosted data centers and cloud services, managed network services, and network security services.  These services represent 25 percent of Verizon's total business, as measured by operating revenues.
  • Wireless services, which include mobile phone and data services (3rd generation cellular and beyond), and fixed-location commercial wireless services (5th generation cellular and beyond).  The latter services, which will soon be available, involves non-mobile brick-and-mortar customers using Verizon's upgraded 5G cellular network to operate their traditionally "corded" phones and equipment.  These services represent 70 percent of Verizon's business.
  • Corporate communications services, which include digital media and advertising services through its completed AOL and pending Yahoo! acquisitions (to be combined under a new "Oath" brand name), and mobile workforce connectivity (telematics), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Internet-of-Things (IoT) services largely through its Fleetmatics acquisition.  These services represent 5 percent of Verizon's business.

Verizon Wireless is the largest cellullar services provider in the U.S., with 114 million active wireless lines (some customers have multiple lines for their family phones, tablets and other connected devices), an increase of nearly 2 percent over the prior year.  The firm's churn, or customer turn-over/defection rate, is a paltry one percent.  As its advertising incessantly points out, Verizon is consistently ranked the best in overall performance, network speed and reliability, and call, text and data performance.  Verizon's current corporate tagline is "better matters."

What you may not know is that usage on Verizon's 4G LTE network increased by 47 percent last year (2016) as compared to the preceding year (2015), mostly due to the surging consumption of mobile video.  Citing a recent Cisco study, Verizon states that mobile video is growing at a compounded annual rate of 62 percent and will account for 75 percent of all cellular traffic by 2020.  Verizon hopes to address the exploding demand for bandwith through its planned migration from 4G to 5G wireless technology, as 5G supports data transfer speeds in excess of one gigabyte per second, which is 100 times faster than 4G.  Yikes!

Last year, Verizon conducted technical trials of its new 5G infrastructure, and this year it will be testing its fixed 5G wireless service in 11 cities around the country -- Ann Arbor, MI; Atlanta, GA; Bernardsville, NJ; Brockton, MA; Dallas and Houston, TX; Denver, CO; Miami, FL; Sacramento, CA; Seattle, WA; and Washington, D.C.  BERN•ards•ville is comparable in size to Alexandria (13 vs. 15 square miles) but with a significantly smaller population (8,000 vs. 150,000), so one wonders why Verizon didn't pick us?  Next year, we'll turn our earnings season attention to Comcast, our local cable television and wired Internet provider, which just announced that it is starting to offer Xfinity Mobile wireless services over Verizon's 4G LTE network.

 

The photo above was taken in February 2015 when my father and I last visited his parents' gravesite in the verdant and peaceful Manoa Valley on the Island of Oahu ten months before his own passing.  Requiem æternam dona eis. Requiescant in pace.

 

 

Week 14 (April 3 to 9, 2017)

Ancestors' Day

On the 15th day following the Vernal Equinox (see Week 12 below), which falls on April 4th this year, Chinese people throughout the world celebrate the Qingming Festival (pronounced ching•ming), which is also called Chinese Memorial Day, Tomb-Sweeping Day, or Ancestors' Day.  It is a public holiday in China, Taiwan, Singapore and other countries with large populations of ethnic Chinese.

My father's father died not long after I was born.  Growing up, the entire extended family (grandmother, mom, dad, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins) would trudge out to my grandfather's grave each spring around the time of Ancestors' Day.  The adults would weed and trim the grass around the grave, sweep the area clean, polish the tombstone, set out fresh whole fruit and an elaborate spread of prepared foods and whiskey served in small porcelain bowls and cups, place cut flowers in vases, light fragrant incense, burn shiny gold and red symbolic paper money, and set firecrackers aflame.

When all was set to right and properly arranged just so, each member of the family would be called one-by-one to the grave (in roughly descending seniority order) to pay homage and respect.  Per the ritual, one faced the tombstone somberly, pressed hands firmly together close in front of the chest as if in prayer, and bowed deeply from the waste three times in quick, but not too quick, succession.  This is the traditional Chinese kowtow, which literally means "knock the head."   Fortunately, the modern-day act of prostration, even in the days of my youth, avoids actual face-plants upon the ground.  Like American Bandstand of a much earlier generation and American Idol of a more recent one, there was slightly embarassing running commentary by family members on the propriety of each person's performed obeisance.

All of this was done to commemorate our grandfather, ensure that he was well provided for in the afterlife, ward away any evil near him, and comfort our grandmother.  Our duties thus discharged, the family then decamped to our grandparents' home for a well-deserved feast.

This annual day of remembrance has been celebrated in China in some form for at least a half-millenium before the birth of Christ.  While my family's practices reflected the then prevailing cultural norms, the Daily Mail reported last year how some Chinese celebrate the Qingming today.

 

 

 

Forest Bathing

Shinrin-yoku.  That's what the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries calls it.  And the ministry should know, because it coined the term 35 years ago.  The accepted English translation is forest bathing.  Or walking through forests.

Last year, the Washington Post asserted that shinrin-yoku is the latest fitness trend to hit the U.S. and is "where yoga was 30 years ago."  There is an organization based in Santa Rosa, California, located about an hour's drive north of San Francisco, that is dedicated to shinrin-yoku and shares its name.  The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs offers a 6-month field training program for those wanting to become certified shinrin-yoku forest therapy guides.  According to USA Today, the association's founder has "certified 130 guides from 11 countries and this year plans on training another 120 in California, Massachusetts, British Columbia, Australia and Ottawa."

In 2005, Dr. Li Qing, an associate professor in the Department of Hygiene & Public Health at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan, conducted a research study that correlated extended walks through forests with possible reduced risks of cancer.  Study participants experienced lower levels of hydrocortisone and other stress hormones, lower blood pressure levels, and higher absorption rates of phytoncyde, a volatile organic compound released by trees and plants that scientists believe may trigger the production of cancer- and tumor-fighting white blood cells in humans.

Here is what Nippon Medical School has posted on its website (please take the translation with a grain of rice):

Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is not new to Japanese people.  Indeed, Japanese people have been enjoying a short walk in a forest for centuries.  This does not come as a surprise.  Among developed countries, Japan's rate of forest land is second to Finland, and thus Japan can be said to be one of the most heavily forested countries in the world.  For reference, the world's rate of forest land is approximately 30 percent whereas forests account for 67 percent of the land in Japan.  Given the rate of forest land in other countries, we could say forest walking is a pastime meant for Japanese.

Forest Medicine is a new branch of study in the field of public health.  It is recognized as a new research area within environmental immunology.  "Nippon Medical School has taken the lead in establishing this field of study,” says Dr. Li Qing.  His 2005 study showed the effects of forest bathing trips on human immune function.

“To clarify the medical effects of forest bathing, we investigated mainly natural killer (NK or white blood cell) activity, the number of NK cells, and the anti-cancer enzyme expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes during our visit to forest fields,” says Dr. Li.  "Increased NK activity lasted for more than 30 days after the trip, suggesting that merely a once-a-month forest bathing trip would enable individuals to maintain a higher level of NK activity.  These findings indicate that forest bathing could build bodies that may be resistant to cancer development.  We will continue with the research and will continue to popularize the concept of forest medicine around the world.”

While we do not have old growth forests in Alexandria, the U.S. National Park Service does maintain a sizeable area of conserved trees and wetlands on both sides of the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the north and south of Old Town.  For more information regarding recreational walks near Watergate, please visit the Neighborhood Parks page of this website.  The photos to the left show some of the forested nature trail that stretches from the back of Potowmack Crossing at the end of West Abingdon Drive to the back of Potomac Greens where Potomac Greens Drive turns into Carpenter Road near the proposed "back" entrance to the planned Potomac Yard Metro Station.

Sunday In Saigon and Nicecream Factory Open This Week

Vietnamese restaurant Sunday In Saigon, which took over the space previously occupied by Teaism directly across from Trader Joe's on North St. Asaph Street, has scheduled a "soft opening" for April 6th.  And on April 8th, the Nicecream Factory, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze ice cream made to order, opens its second worldwide location next to Eammon's A Dublin Chipper on King Street For more information on these and other area food stops, please visit the Local Food News page of this website.

Cherry Coke in China

By happenstance, this week's headlines all seem to have an Asian slant, so we might as well go all-in.  The Coca-Cola Company's first flavored extension of the Coke product line was Cherry Coke, which made its debut in the U.S. in 1985.  On March 10th, Cherry Coke hit the store shelves in Mainland China for the first time, and news sources and Coke itself revealed this week that legendary investor and well-known Cherry Coke fan Warren Buffet allowed the bottler to put his picture on aluminum cans and plastic bottles of the beverage for its launch.  You see, Mr. Buffet's firm, Berkshire Hathaway, is Coke's single largest shareholder, holding 400 million shares of the company's common stock valued at nearly $16.6 billion as of December 31, 2016, representing approximately 9.3 percent of Coke's outstanding shares.  And Mr. Buffet has a lot of thirsty fans in China, a market of tremendous importance to Coke.  According to it's 2016 Annual Report, the only company in which Bershire Hathaway owns a larger investment by market value is Wells Fargo Bank's parent holding company.  And since Monday was Opening Day, you might be interested in knowing that Coke is the Official Soft Drink of Major League Baseball.

 

Eaglet Update

DC4 started pipping on Tuesday, March 28th, around mid-morning, and hatched the following day in the early morning.  Mr. President stocked the pantry all day on Wednesday, dropping off fish so fresh that they continued to flop about the nest for a while (a half hour or so in one case).  DC5 started pipping on Wednesday and hatched on Thursday in the early afternoon.

Newest Members of the First Family

In the photo below, DC4 is shown the day after hatching leaning on sibling-in-waiting DC5, who was in the process of pipping.  DC5 hatched a couple hours after the picture was taken.

DC4 is quite a loud squawker, sending forth a steady stream of sqeaks, screeches and squeals.  Mom, seriously, what's for breakfast?

Above, The First Lady feeds tiny bits of yummy catfish sashimi to DC4.  Visit the Nest Cam page of this website for more eagle news.

 

 

Week 13 (March 27 to April 2, 2017)

Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

Back on February 19th (see Week 7 below) local celebrity bald eagles Mr. President and The First Lady laid their first egg of this year's mating season at the U.S. National Arboretum, followed by a second one a few days later.  The eggs are denoted DC4 and DC5 since DC1 (never named) arrived in 2015, and DC2 (Freedom) and DC3 (Liberty) showed up in 2016.  With an average incubation period of about 35 days, the official "pip" watch starts this week as eggsilarated observers throughout the country watch live video for signs of eaglets breaking through their shells.  This is the only government-authorized clandestine surveillance of a nesting president and his family not currently subject to federal criminal investigation.  This is huuuge!

Update on 72-Hour On-Street Parking Rule

In early January (see Week 1 below), the city announced that it was reconsidering its longstanding and widely despised rule prohibiting on-street parking for more than 72 continuous hours, even for residents.  The rule has been in force since 1963.  The results of a survey conducted on AlexEngage, the city's online civic engagement platform, show that:

  • 80% of respondents said that they sometimes need to park on the street for longer than 72 hours.
  • 63% believe that the 72-hour rule is "harmful" for residents who do not have driveways or garages.
  • 79% feel that the 72-hour rule is a burden for residents who need to park for extended periods of time.
  • 9% want to keep the rule unchanged, nearly 13% want to increase the time limit beyond 72 hours, 33% favor a repeal of the rule, and 28% support a permit-based system that would allow residents to park longer than 72 hours for vacations and business trips.

The survey results were published on January 23, 2017 and reflect 738 responses.  The margin of error is unknown but potentially large (see, for example, all electoral polling conducted ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election).  Fake polls!

On March 27th, the city's Traffic and Parking Board unanimously supported a temporary rule change, for a one-year pilot period, that would allow residents to apply for a 14-day exemption to the 72-hour rule up to four times per year, provided that the exemption is sought at least two weeks beforehand and the vehicle is parked within an eighth of a mile from home.  Up to two exemptions may strung together back-to-back, allowing a maximum of 28 days of continuous on-street parking.  The rule change would be re-evaluated at the end of the one-year trial period.

Update: The City Council approved the pilot program on May 13th, with a review scheduled for November 2018.

 

The Fool from the Rider-Waite tarot card deck, drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith, upon instructions of Amercian-born and British-based scholar and mystic Arthur Edward Waite, and first published in 1910 by Rider & Sons, Ltd. of London, England.  The set originally sold for five shillings, exclusive of shipping (which then cost a groat or fourpence).  The pack is currently available for purchase on Amazon for just under $12 (plus $5 for shipping).

 

  April Fool

The standard deck of 52 playing cards found in our homes today descends from the French royal court in the latter part of the 14th century.  Each pack includes 4 suits (spades-piques, hearts-cœurs, diamonds-carreaux, and clubs-trèfles) of 13 cards each – 9 plain numbered cards (2 through 10) plus 4 elaborately embellished face cards (ace, king-roi, queen-dame and jack-valet).  Most modern sets also include one or more jokers used in some games and as replacements for lost or damaged cards.

Historians generally acknowledge that playing cards were invented in China during the Tang Dynasty, a golden age for arts, literature and technology in the Middle Kingdom during the 7th through 9th centuries.  The popularization of cards – indeed, all reading materials -- was made possible by the proliferation of woodblock printing during that era.

Many believe that tarot cards are a derivation of common playing cards that took root in the mid-15th century in Milan, Italy.  The tarot deck adds 22 special picture cards that form a fifth permanent trump suit used originally in a card game called triomphe, the ancestor of most modern trick-taking games such as bridge, euchre and pinochle.

By the late 18th century, tarot cards came into wide use in parts of Europe as a divination tool by those interested in the occult.  They are used by seers in cartomancy, the interpretation of random selections and arrangements of symbolic cards in fortune telling.

Modern tarot decks contain 78 cards.  A knight-chevalier is added to the face cards of each of the 4 basic suits found in a standard set, increasing the total number of cards from 52 to 56. These 56 cards form what is called the Minor Arcana or lesser secrets.  In addition, the four suits are recast as swords, batons-rods-staves, coins-pentacles-disks, and cups.

The 22 added trump cards, consisting of 21 numbered cards and one unnumbered card, are known as the Major Arcana or greater secrets.  The numbered cards (in order from 1 to 21) are The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant or Priest, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgment and The World.

The sole unnumbered card is The Fool.  Like the ace card in a standard pack, The Fool, is considered both the first and last of the Major Arcana.  The Fool is variously depicted as a jester, joker, beggar, wild man, vagabond or bard.

The famous Rider-Waite tarot deck -- first published in 1910 and widely used in cartomancy ever since – portrays The Fool as a fair-faced young man, accompanied by a small white dog, walking blithely toward the edge of a mountain precipice (see image to the left).  In one hand, he is holding a long wooden staff resting on his shoulder, with a small cloth bundle tied to the end (a symbol of untapped knowledge). In his other hand, he holds a small white rose (an icon for purity).

In fortune telling, as well as storytelling writ large, The Fool is often cast as a not-quite-veiled protagonist used to propel the narrative.  Events and happenings are filtered through The Fool’s senses, and shaped by his keen observations and ruminations.  Consider R2D2 and C3PO in Star Wars, Forrest Gump, or Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Fool serves as a vital and compelling human archetype, not necessarily tragic or funny, and not just for lunar April but for all time.  Indeed, the Noble Fool is us.

 

 

 

Week 12 (March 20 to 26, 2017)

First Day of Spring

On Monday, denizens of earth's northern hemisphere mark the start of astronomical spring with the vernal equinox while our southern cousins herald the start of astronomical fall with the autumnal equinox.  What does this mean? 

Well, twice a year our planet reaches a point in its orbit around the sun when the solar terminator (the line separating day from night) is perpendicular to the earth's equator -- no part of the planet is tilted toward or away from the sun -- so the length of the day and the length of the night everywhere is about the same.  Those of us living up north are now entering a period where the days will get progressively longer than the nights, and those down south will experience the reverse where the nights will gradually get longer than the days. 

This will continue until June 21st, when northerners reach the summer solstice and southerners the winter solstice.  The former is the longest day and shortest night of the year, and the latter is the shortest day and longest night.  To round out the dates this year, the next paired equinoxes take place on September 22nd, and the following solstices occur on December 21st.  The word "vernal" is derived from various Latin words for "of spring" or "springtime."  The etymology of the word "autumnal" is oddly disputed, but some trace it back to the Etruscans.

Return of the 101st

There are 100 homes at Watergate.  Most of the owners reside here, a few lease their units to others, and a surprising number maintain pied à terres to support their cultural migration patterns.  Each spring for several years now, our population increases by one additional set of residents, the 101st, who fly in and settle down around our fishpond for a few months to mate and raise a clutch of ducklings.  Like the vernal equinox, it's another augury of spring, and we welcome the never-named pair back home this week.

 

Torpedo Factory Arts Center

"We're going to win so much you'll get tired of winning!"

 

Thanks for the Prophesies

 

 

 

Fake News and Alternate Facts Arrive in Old Town

Background.  For quite some time now, the City of Alexandria, which owns and operates the World War II-era Torpedo Factory, has been in aggressive negotiations with the artists in residence at the 43-year-old Torpedo Factory Arts Center regarding the terms of their occupancy.  Believe me!

Synopsis.  This is a standard slum lord-tenant political-reality drama best ignored on most days (but if you must know, read this May 11, 2016 Washington Post this article). Sad!

Latest Provocation.  The Torpedo Factory Artists' Association, the plebeian workers' collective, commissioned an alt-research study by a local academic "who nobody ever heard of" that concludes that the Arts Center is the single-most important tourist attraction in the city, and is in dire need of better management, maintenance and marketing.  That's a shot!  The Trumped-up report also claims that 97 percent of Art Center visitors spend an average of almost $100 in Old Town per visit.  People say!

Fake News.  Not so, counter the city functionaries who have been in charge of the under-monetized facility since last summer.  They claim that Torpedo Factory visitors represent only 4 percent of total visitor spending in Alexandria, and many of them drop by the Arts Center just to use the bathroom.  Oh, snap!

Alternate Facts.  According to the nomenklatura's attack dogs at the city tourism bureau, "Our research shows that people choose Alexandria because of our restaurants, accessibility, walkability, access to D.C., historic ambiance and atmosphere.  The art and gallery scene were not among the top ten reasons.  However, once they're here, the Torpedo Factory is one of the top places people went to."  Haters!  Bigly!

Sears Deathwatch Begins

At the start of this year (see Week 2 below), conversation turned to news of nationwide store closings announced by Macy's and Sears, and the shuttering and long-awaited redevelopment of Landmark Mall.  The last sentence of that post reads, "Sears, currently managed by a private hedge fund, will eventually die, and it's just a matter now of when."  Well, this week Sears -- an iconic and enduring retailer started as a mail order catalog company 130 years ago by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in America's heartland -- disclosed in its annual report to investors that it may not have enough cash to get through the year and there is substantial doubt as to whether it will be able keep its doors open much longer.

Over the years, Sears launched or acquired dozens of well-known brands and business ventures, including Allstate insurance, Kenmore appliances, Craftsman tools, Die Hard batteries, Dean Witter Reynolds financial services, Coldwell Banker realtors, Prodigy online services (a joint venture with IBM), Discover credit cards, Silvertone and Supertone records, Sears portrait studios, Goolagong sportswear, Lands' End yachting-inspired fashions, Sears Auto Centers, Penske car parts, National Tire & Battery, Kmart and many, many others.  And how far would the American Arts and Crafts Movement have gone without the 70,000 craftsman-style mail order home kits sold by Sears Modern Homes between 1908 and 1940?

Sears was the Berkshire Hathaway of the 20th Century -- a retailer, innovator, venture capitalist and business incubator all in one.  Sadly, the business has lost more than $10 billion dollars over the past five years, and that is not sustainable even with deep private-equity pockets.  One of my mentors once warned me that large and sprawling business enterprises on the decline -- with sheer momentum and a ponderous life-force dragging them along -- often take a long time to die.  For Sears, its doom has been a couple decades in the making.  Yet, all things considered. it has been an amazing journey across 13 decades.  According to USA Today and its content-partner Reviewed.com, Sears is clearing the shelves and putting most everything on sale from now through April 9th.

 

 

 

Week 11 (March 13 to 19, 2017)

Watergate Home Sales

In 2016, eight Watergate homes changed ownership at a median sales price of $594,000, representing a 22 percent premium over last year's median city-assessed valuation of the eight units.  Several weeks ago, the first home of 2017 was sold after being on the market barely more than a week. Since then, another home went into escrow and three other homes are either on the market or will be quite soon.  This year's national housing outlook envisions a continuing seller's market, with demand easily outpacing supply notwithstanding a likely rise in interest rates.  Additional information regarding Watergate home sales is provided on the Board Minutes & Homeowner Documents page of this website.

Proposed 30 Percent Property Tax Increase

Meanwhile, on March 14th, the Alexandria city council announced that it was considering raising the real property tax rate by more than 21 percent, which would, when combined with this year's increased property valuations, lead to increases of more than 30 percent in the real property taxes paid by most Watergate homeowners.  See City Budget News on this page for more details about the city's proposed FY 2018 budget.

 

 

 

Week 10 (March 6 to 12, 2017)

Alexandria Schools Close For National Day of Protest

The Alexandria City Public Schools canceled classes for all students on March 8th because 300 teachers and staff had requested time off on International Women's Day to attend A Day Without A Woman -- a rally and march highlighting the importance of women in the labor force.  It was only one of two area school systems that chose to close (the other was Prince George's County in suburban Maryland), which was controversial because it forcesd parents, including many working mothers, to make alternate arrangements for child care.  The school closure reinforced Alexandria's image as a progressive enclave.  Six schools remained open that day so that children who rely on free or reduced-price meals would still be able to eat that day.

500 First Street Groundbreaking Ceremony

The two companies redeveloping the Giant/ABC property -- Edens and Gables Residential -- held an onsite groundbreaking ceremony on March 8th with about 100 people in attendance.  The Giant/ABC Redevelopment page of this website provides most everything you might want to know about this project, and the Neighborhood Development page of this website offers details on other major construction projects in our area.

 

Better Than Duck Tours

 

 

Week 9 (February 27 to March 5, 2017)

American Disposal Services

Larry Edwards started his first garbage collection and disposal company, AAA Waste Disposal, in 1972.  Paul Coury began a separate outfit, Rainbow Disposal Services, in 1979.  The two men were fierce yet affable competitors in Northern Virginia for many years.  Republic Services was formed in 1996 in part through the acquisition of AAA and Rainbow.  After two decades of torrential growth and acquisitions, Republic is now the second largest trash firm in America after Waste Management.

In 2001, Mr. Edwards left Republic to return to his entrepreneurial roots and launch American Disposal Services.  Mr. Coury joined Mr. Edwards a few years later in 2004.  Over the past dozen years or so, the two men have grown their company to "over 325,000 customers, 650 employees, and 200 trucks serving residential, commercial, and industrial customers" in the City of Alexandria, and Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William counties.  As one of the largest solid waste disposal businesses in our region, ADS's trucks are everywhere seen on area roadways, and they sometimes pick-up unexpected admirers and hangers-on along the way (see photo at left).

ADS has been Watergate's trash and recyclables vendor since May 1, 2014.  They are a terrific company, but it seems that our unique needs and their standardized service offerings are no longer compatible.  Sometimes you just have to realize that, as pleasant as the ride has been, it's time to get off the truck and move on.

Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras arrives on February 28th and the day's revelries herald Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent the next day.

 

Colonel George Washington

 

 

Week 8 (February 20 to 26, 2017)

Presidents' Day

Alexandria celebrates the 285th birthday of its local founding father and the country's first President with a mile-long George Washington Birthday Parade through the streets of Old Town on February 20th from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.  The parade starts at the intersection of Gibbon and South Fairfax Streets, and the main reviewing stand is located at the intersection of King and North Royal Streets.  That's just blocks from Watergate.

Mount Vernon is offering free admission and hosting an open house and special events on February 20th.  The mansion and grounds will be open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

The portrait of George Washington to the left was painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1772, and shows the youngest known likeness of our country's first President.  It was commissioned by Martha Washington and depicts her husband in service as a "Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty's Colony" as his 1755 officer's commission reads.  The Virginia Regiment, comprised of about a thousand men-at-arms, was the first full-time military unit organized in the American Colonies, and was tasked with protecting Virginia's frontiers against the indigenous peoples.  The painting, oil on canvas, is part of the Washington-Custis-Lee Portrait Collection at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

Alexandria Restaurant Week

More than 60 Alexndria eateries are participating in Restaurant Week on February 17th through 26th.  They will be offering $35 three-course dinners or $35 dinners for two.  Half of the restaurants are also offering special lunch deals between $10 and $20.

 

 

 

Week 7 (February 13 to 19, 2017)

Metro SafeTrack Work Resumes

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Safe Track program, which compresses three years of long-deferred and essential track maintenance work into about a year, picks up again in early 2017.  The Blue Line from the Pentagon to Rossyln metro stations (see map at left) will be closed between February 11-28, 2017.  During this 18-day stretch, Metro will run additional Yellow Line trains originating from both the Franconia-Springfield and Huntington metro stations into the District, where train riders can connect to other lines to complete their journeys.  There will be no rail access to Arlington National Cemetary during this period. 

Other track work may impact your travels.  Click the SafeTrack link above for additional information regarding single-tracking that will take place south of the Braddock Road metro station for 37 days from March 4 to April 9, 2017.  Metro hopes to complete the SafeTrack work, which began June 4, 2016, sometime this summer.

Eggsighting News

Local celebrity bald eagle The First Lady dropped her first egg of the season on February 19th, and her second egg a few days later on February 23rd.  Egg-laying usually takes place about 5 days after successful mating during a two-week fertility window.  Pipping normally begins 35-40 days after egg-laying, so the hatch-watch starts around March 27th.  The First Lady's equally famous mate-for-life, Mr. President, was present for the eggceptional events.  To learn more about the goings-on of this eagle pair, please visit the Nest Cam page of this website.

 

C-SPAN Digital Bus

 

Brian Lamb conceived of C-SPAN in 1975 while serving as the Washington, D.C. bureau chief of a cable industry trade magazine.  He envisioned a private, viewer-financed, non-profit, advertisement-free cable television channel that would broadcast sessions of the U.S. Congress and produce public affairs programming.  His dream, Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, launched in 1979.  Today, C-SPAN is not only available on cable and satellite television, but also on FM and satellite radio, and via the Internet and mobile apps.  Although tens of millions of viewers regularly watch C-SPAN, few admit doing so because, well, it's kind of geeky . . . nerdy . . . dweeby . . . unfashionable.

In 1993, C-SPAN launched a bus program, packing a broadcast studio, production facilities and transmission equipment into a school bus.  That first bus and a second one added in 1996 visited more than 2,000 communities throughout the country before being retired in 2010.  The photo below shows C-SPAN's newest bus, which was seen February 8th on the football pitch at Gravelly Point near the northern end of National Airport.  A half-dozen people jumped off the bus and took selfies of themselves and the bus against the Washington skyline.  Then they hopped back aboard and headed into the District across the 14th Street Bridge.  Even after 40 years, the views never get stale.  The bus will be in Baltimore on February 14th, Bowie on February 15th, and Washington on February 16th.

 

New DASH Chief Josh Baker

These Aren't the Discs You're Looking For

 

 

Week 6 (February 6 to 12, 2017)

New Dash General Manager

Josh Baker is leaving his post as head of the Greater Lynchburg Transit Company for the last two years to become, starting February 6th, the new Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of the Alexandria Transit Company.  Our local DASH bus system, which operates independently of the regional Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's integrated Metrorail and Metrobus system, transports 4 million riders a year using a fleet of 85 buses serving 10 routes across the city, including the King Street Trolley.  Mr. Baker replaces Sandy Modell, who retires after serving for the past 28 years as DASH's first general manager.

Crooked Beat Records

Regular customers of Rick & Barbara Raunswinder and Au Domaine, their boutique European wine store located a few blocks from Watergate, knew that the end was near after six years in business at that location.  The couple wanted to move to a brickless business model selling wines and hosting local wine dinners.  Taking the wine shop's place at 802 North Fairfax Street is throwback vinyl record shop Crooked Beat Records, which moved from the Adams Morgan area in the District with an inventory of almost 9,000 new and used records.  If you think this presents an opportunity for you to monetize your aging album collection, you would be wrong.  Crooked is not interested in your mass-market geezer rock and pop collection.  They traffic in hard-to-find discs in the following alt-music genres --  import, punk, indie, soul, funk, jazz, new wave, novelty, reggae and garage rock.  The new store is not an obvious commercial fit for our neighborhood, but then again not much really succeeds in Old Town North. 

 

Platform at Braddock Road Metro Station

 

 

Week 5 (January 30 to February 5, 2017)

Metro Train Runs Red Light

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is investigating a train running a red light signal at the Braddock Road Metro Station -- the station nearest Watergate -- a little before 11:00 am on January 31st.  The train was out-of-service and not carrying passegers at the time of the incident.  A year ago, The Washington Post ran an article seeking to explain Why do Metro train operators keep running red lights?  Unfortunately, this is not the first red light transgression of 2017, as the Post noted Metro has its first red signal violation of 2017 on January 18th at the Silver Spring Metro Station.

Andy Parezo

Local master electrician Andrew Paul Parezo passed away on February 4th at age 56.  Andy was a former U.S. Navy Seabee and long-serving Watergate electrician.  A funeral mass for Andy was celebrated on February 10th at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Alexandria.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Andy's family.

Hoffman Town Center

If you want to know why the AMC Hoffman Center 22 cineplex surface parking lot is roped off and you must now park in the garage structure behind the theater, visit the Neighborhood Development page of this website and learn about the latest $400 million urban development project planned for Hoffman Town Center.  The budgeted cost of this project could solve the city's looming sewer outflow problem.

By the way, the parking is still free.  The popcorn is not.

 

New Police Chief Michael Brown

 

 

Week 4 (January 23 to 29, 2017)

New City Police Chief

Michael Brown, a law enforcement officer with nearly 40 years of experience, takes over as Alexandria's new police chief on January 23rd.  The city is holding a public reception to welcome Mr. Brown on January 24th, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., in the Vola Lawson Lobby (located directly off the rear entrance on Cameron Street) at City Hall (located at 301 King Street).  Among his priorities, the new chief says that he wants to build upon recent efforts to improve community policing and address gang-related activities in Arlandria.  His predecessor, Earl Cook, retired on October 1, 2016 after 37 years of service to Alexandria.

National Airport | Metro Bus Barn | Windmill Hill Park

A $1 billion, 4-year construction project has begun at National Airport -- MWAA is building a new commuter concourse and 14 new gates at the northern end of the airfield, and relocating TSA security screening from the main concourse to the lower arrivals and baggage claim level.  Plans to redevelop the MWATA Bus Barn on North Royal Street have stalled indefinitely as stubborn stakeholders fight over environmental clean-up of the site.  The rehabilitation of Windmill Hill Park at the southern edge of Old Town has been delayed until later this year at the earliest due to a recently resolved legal dispute between the City of Alexandria and the developer who won the original, disputed contract to perform the work.  For an explanation of the preceding acronyms and more information regarding these and other nearby projects, please visit the Neighborhood Development page of this website.

 

New Signage Outside Pitmaster Barbeque

Don's Johns Presidential Thrones

 

 

Week 3 (January 16 to 22, 2017)

Two New Restaurants

Two new restaurants are scheduled to open on January 16th -- Myron Mixon's Pitmaster Barbeque at 220 North Lee Street (10 blocks from Watergate) and Northside 10 at 10 East Glebe Road in the Del Ray neighborhood of Arlandria (2 miles from Watergate).  Read about these and other new eateries on the Local Food News page of this website.

Don's Inaugural Johns

Don's Johns is the D.C. metro area's leading provider of portable rental restrooms for special events, construction sites, emegency situations and other temporary relief.  The company's award-winning DJ5000LX Luxury Presidential Restroom Trailer (see photo cluster below left) "boasts a beautiful interior with granite counters and shelves, black marbleized walls, wood panel doors, and a hardwood-designed floor . . . multi-zone, climate-controlled heat and air conditioning also . . . keep guests in maximum comfort during their restroom visit."  Founded in 1964 and based in Chantilly, Virginia, the local company provided rest facilities on the National Mall at President Barack Obama's two inaugurations in 2009 and 2013. 

The company is again providing 2,500 Deluxe Portable Restrooms and Wheelchair Accessible Portable Restrooms (see picture below) for Donald John Trump's inauguration on Friday.  This year, however, for the first time, workers hired by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee and the Architect of the Capitol covered up the company's name and logo on the outside of the toilets with wide strips of blue tape.  For an incoming President who made a fortune on corporate branding and attaching his name to many highly sought-after places, this was possibly a Don too far . . . a Johnny-come-lately . . . much a poo about anything . . . nothing more than a plot to piss in . . . a dirty cover-up in need of an airing out . . a piddle merged to history stained with stigma . . . a golden shower from Russia.

 

The Washington Post reported that those attending the Women's March on Washington the day after the inauguration could not use the inaugural porta potties, even though they had yet to be taken away, because they had been latched and locked by Imperial Sturmtruppen.  If Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi were advising the frustrated marchers trying to break into the sealed toilets, he might say, "These aren't the ovoids you're looking for . . . move along."

 

Pope Francis and Bishop Michael Burbidge

Landmark Mall

 

 

Week 2 (January 9 to 15, 2017)

New Catholic Bishop Celebrates MLK Mass in Old Town

As was previously reported at the end of last year, on December 6, 2016, Michael Burbidge was installed as the fourth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, which was formed in 1974 and oversees 69 Catholic parishes, 5 missions and 50 colleges and schools throughout Northern Virginia, including Alexandria.  For the past 10 years, Bishop Burbidge led the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Bishop Burbidge's Episcopal Mass of Installation was held at The Cathedral of Saint Thomas More.  In attendance were Christophe Pierre, the titular Archbishop of Gunela and since April 2016 the Apostolic Nuncio (Pope Francis' personal representative or ambassador) to the United States, William Lori, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Baltimore, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, Justin Cardinal Rigali, the Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia, and Paul S. Loverde, now the Bishop Emeritus of Arlington who retired after 17 years.  Bishop Loverde was widely considered one of the most conservative and controversial bishops in the Catholic Church -- he was one of only two U.S. bishops who long opposed young female laity -- alter girls -- assisting priests at Catholic Masses.

Bishop Burbidge has stated that his goal is to break down walls and promote unity and charity.  Toward that end, on January 15th, Bishop Burbidge celebrated Mass at Saint Joseph Catholic Church, located six blocks from Watergate, to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Saint Joseph was founded in 1915 by the Order of the Society of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, an interracial, intercultural religious community of Catholic priests and brothers committed to serving the African-American community and working for social justice.  The Josephites, as they call themselves, were formed in 1871 to minister to newly freed slaves in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

Macy's, Sears and Landmark Mall

On January 4th, Macy's announced that it was closing 68 stores and cutting more than 10,000 jobs as national sales continue to decline.  The retailer's 201,000-square-foot outpost next to Alexandria's Landmark Mall -- which opened in 1965 and has 119 employees -- is the region's only store affected by the chain's cost-saving decision. 

Several days later, on January 9th, The Howard Hughes Corporation, a publicly traded real estate development company, announced that it was purchasing the Macy's store and parking lot as part of its comprehensive plan, first approved by the Alexandria city council in 2013, to redevelop Landmark Mall from a three-story enclosed shopping center into an open-air, mixed-use "urban village" with retail, residential and entertainment options, open public spaces, and a new transit hub (see artist's renderings to the left).  Landmark Mall has been in decay for at least the past decade, and was purchased by Howard Hughes in 2009 with a view toward revitalization..

Meanwhile, Sears announced on January 5th that it was closing an additional 41 Sears and 109 K-Mart stores, selling its iconic Craftsman tools brand to Stanley Black & Decker for a reported $900 million, and hoping to spin off more of its nearly 50 separate product lines in an ongoing but mostly futile attempt to stave off further financial hemorrhaging.  After the Macy's deal is completed, Sears will own the last remaining parcel at Landmark Mall not owned by Howard Hughes (see aerial view at left).

Landmark Mall and its 20 or so remaining small retailers will shut down for good on January 31st.  The Macy's store will close at an as-yet-unannounced later date.  Sears, currently managed by a private hedge fund, will eventually die, and it's just a matter now of when.

Increased Metro Costs Ahead

On January 10th, the city council reviewed the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Proposed Budget for FY 2018 (effective July 1, 2017), which raises Alexandria's contribution to Metro's operating budget by $6.5 million from $33 million to $39.5 million (20% increase), and raises the city's contribution to Metro's capital budget by $26 million from $11 million to $37 million (236% increase).  These contributions will only go up in future years as Metro continues to address its long-deferred infrastructure issues, and Alexandria moves forward with its audacious plans to build a new $268 million rail station at Potomac Yard (see the Neighborhood Development page of this website for additional information about this project).

 

Happiness & Prosperity
(Kung Hee Fat Choy)

 

Week 1 (January 2 to 8, 2017)

Happy New Year!

Here are my three new year's resolutions from a year ago that I'm carrying forward into 2017 -- make do with less, reduce clutter, and lose weight.  I made terrific progress on all three goals over the past 12 months, but feel there's a lot more for me to do.  What have you resolved to accomplish this year?  As part of my decluttering of this website, I have added several new web pages -- By the Numbers, Local Food News and Nest Cam -- that offer news and information that used to appear on this Local Headlines page.  It's week one of a glorious new year!

Alexandria Reconsiders 72-Hour On-Street Parking Limit

On January 6th, Alexandria officials announced that they are seeking public comment through the city's online civic engagement platform, AlexEngage, regarding the municipality's longstanding parking rule, dating back to 1963, that prohibits residents from leaving their cars parked in the same spot on city streets for longer than 72 consecutive hours, excluding weekends and holidays, even if a car is parked in front of an owner's residence, is properly registered, displays a valid parking district decal, and has its personal property taxes fully paid.  The deadline for comments is January 20th.  In mid-February, 800 city residents attended an open house at City Hall to discuss the rule and proposed changes.

 

Follow us on Twitter for current updates

This website is powered by Formal Constructs. All original content Copyright © 2002-2017 Formal Constructs. All rights reserved.
Duplication or re-use of any of these pages in any form without permission of the owner is strictly prohibited.