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

Winter | Spring | 2018 Headlines | 2017 Headlines | 2016 Headlines | Local Food News | Nest Cam

 

     

Week 21 (May 21 to May 27, 2018)

There are really just a small handful of plot lines or literary motifs that, individually or in combination, sum-up the entirety of human creative storytelling:

  • The grand adventure
  • War and heroism (aka saving the world)
  • Overcoming challenges, evil or suffering
  • Romance (aka boy meets girl, boy, alien, etc.)
  • Metamorphosis or redemption
  • A boy and his faithful (usually furry) companion

This week brings forth the latest film in the Star Wars universe, which tells the origin story of the buccaneer space pilot Han Solo, his Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca, and their souped-up Correllian light freighter, the Millennium Falcon. If this movie is like its predecessors, it will incorporate all the major tropes listed above.

Top Baby Names of 2017

 

 

Solo:  A Star Wars Story


Picture of the Week

The U.S. Social Security Administration and Canada's BabyCenter revealed the Top 10 names for baby boys and girls in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, in 2017 (see combined list at left).

And the picture of the week is presented below.  Gap-toothed 7-year old Brian Mulroney was one four page boys at this past weekend's wedding of their royal highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.  Mr. Mulroney and his identical twin brother, John, ecstatically fulfilled their duties in carrying the trailing edge of the bride's 16-foot embroidered silk veil (which flowed well beyond her extended train) as she entered St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle and began her stately procession down the nave's central aisle toward the altar where her prince waited.

The Mulroney twins are the bride's godsons.  Their father, Benedict, is a Canadian television host and the oldest son of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984-93).  Their mother, Jessica, is a very close friend of the bride and served as her "honorary" maid of honor.  The twins are apparently no strangers to media attention.  They have appeared on their father's CTV show, Your Morning, and have their own YouTube channel.

Brian is a name of Irish or Breton origin and means "hill," "high" or "noble."  In the year of Brian the Younger's birth, his name failed to crack the Top 100 boys' names in both Canada and America.  Thus, Brian confirms that popularity is overrated when it comes to exceptionalism and accomplishment.  Enthusiasm, style and irony matter more.

 

 

 

Week 20 (May 14 to May 20, 2018)

Braddock Road Metro Station

Farther afield, 13 other station platforms at West Hyattsville, College Park, Greenbelt, Rhode Island Avenue, Vienna, Dunn Loring, West Falls Church, East Falls Church, Cheverly, Landover, New Carrollton, Addison Road, and Arlington Cemetery will be rebuilt in 2020-21.  Metro says, "Rebuilding platforms is heavy construction activity that requires that tracks be taken out of service to allow for demolishing existing structures, access to the construction area, and concrete pouring."

Potomac Yard Metro Station, South Entrance

 

 

Metro's Planned Station Closures in 2019 Include Braddock Road

This spring, for the first time in its 42-year operating history, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority secured a firm financial commitment from its three regional governments to provide nearly $500 million to fund its long-term capital-improvement needs.  Pursuant to a pre-existing formula that allocates Metro's operating expenses among local governments -- the formula takes into account population density, average weekday ridership, and number of stations in each jurisdiction -- Virginia will pay $154 million, Maryland $167 million, and the District of Columbia $178.5 million towards the infrastructure program.  What will Metro do with this dedicated funding?

On May 7th, Metro announced that it would spend $300 to $400 million of the raised amount on "a three-year capital project that will reconstruct the outdoor platforms at 20 Metrorail stations to address structural deficiencies after decades of exposure to the elements.  At many of these stations, temporary measures have been installed to stabilize the platforms to ensure passenger safety until reconstruction can take place." 

Under the first phase of the plan, which will take place during the summer of 2019, Metro plans to demolish and rebuild the station platforms at Braddock Road, King Street and Eisenhower Avenue between Memorial Day and Labor day.  The 98-day construction project will also force the closure of the Huntington, Van Dorn Street, and Franconia-Springfield stations.  Those three stations, along with National Airport, will be rebuilt between September 2019 and May 2020, but the work will not require much in the way of service disruptions because the "location and configuration of these stations allows construction to take place while [they] remain open."

Why has Metro chosen to close six stations completely for more than three months rather than relying on single-tracking and working only at night and on weekends?  Metro's press release explains that the transit organization "has already rebuilt platforms at 10 of the system's 45 outdoor stations; however, the process used previously resulted in years of single tracking and customer inconvenience.  Rebuilding the two most recently reconstructed platforms . . . took approximately three years." 

It is apparent that SafeTrack has morphed monstrously into SafePlatform.  From the Dr. Oblivious Files, this Washington Post article includes a number of pithy quotes from area politicians about the terrible inconveniences this project will likely cause.

Cutbacks to the New Potomac Yard Metro Station

As you may already be aware, Alexandria's ambitious plans to build a new Potomac Yard Metro Station between National Airport to the north and Braddock Road to the south are very much behind schedule.  And now, based on a May 4th memo from City Manager Mark Jenks to the City Council, we also know that the overall project "costs have escalated significantly due in part to increased labor and materials costs."  As a result, Mr. Jenks proposes for the city to scale back its original plans for the metro station to save money.

The cuts would include a mezzanine, entrance and pedestrian bridge at the southern end of the new station near the intersection of East Glebe Road and Potomac Avenue.  This was anticipated to be the most heavily trafficked "main" entrance to the station.  In addition, east and west ramps and certain nearby park improvements would also be eliminated.  This is akin to buying a new car with three wheels, a compact spare tire, and no air conditioning -- it may not look right but it will get you there in a sweat.  City officials say that the dropped features may eventually be built after the station is placed into service in 2022 and Alexandria further gouges its residents raises additional funds.  The Neighborhood Development page of this website has more information about this project.

Week 19 (May 7 to May 13, 2018)

The Meal Tax Runneth Over

"No taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant."  President George Washington's Farewell Address to the People of the United States of America (1796)

 

 

Alexandria City Council Passes FY 2019 Municipal Budget

Last week on May 3rd, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously to approve a $748 million General Fund operating budget for FY 2019, the city's fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2018 and ends on June 30, 2019.  The adopted budget represents a 2.7 percent increase over the $728 million budget for the current fiscal year, and is $6 million more than the $742 million budget proposed by the City Manager on February 20th (see Week 8 below).

As noted in Week 12 below, this being a municipal election year (click here for more information on the 2018 Elections page of this website), the new budget leaves the existing real estate tax rate unchanged at $0.0113 per dollar of assessed value.  Watergate homeowners may click here to see the city's 2018 property valuations and the actual FY 2019 tax assessments for all 100 homes in our community.

With two exceptions, the city is putting off increases to all other taxes and fees for FY 2019.  One exception is that on May 12th, the City Council voted 4-3 to increase the tax on prepared meals (purchased from restaurants, grocery stores and other retail outlets) from 4 percent to 5 percent.  The stated purpose of the meals tax increase is to fund affordable housing initiatives in the city, which has reportedly lost more than 16,000 units of subsidized housing since 2000.  When added to Virginia's 6 percent tax on meals, the 11 percent combined tax will be one of the highest in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

At a contentious public meeting previously held on April 30th, the City Council heard from local restaurateurs who were largely unified in their opposition to the meals tax increase, as well as from community activists who asserted that the city was not doing enough to make housing affordable for all those who work in Alexandria.  Those supporting a boost in the meals tax rate say that the amount added to an individual bill is insignificant (20 cents on a $20 tab), and that the tax burden would be shared by the large number of non-resident visitors to the city.  According to news reports, a one percent increase in the meals tax would generate an additional $4.75 million annually for the city's affordable housing fund.

While all seven council members expressed support for more affordable housing, three of them voted against the meals tax increase because they opposed dedicated funding set-asides.  They felt that all proceeds from the tax increase should go to Alexandria's general fund to be allocated each year as deeemed necessary.

The second exception is that the new budget increases the sanitary sewer maintenance and capital fee by 25 percent to help fund the projected $385 million in major modifications to the city's combined sewer system to reduce storm water outflows into the Potomac River and its tributaries during heavy rains (click here to read more about this problem on the Development page of this website).

 

Week 18 (April 30 to May 6, 2018)

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Painting above of Saint Ignatius is by Peter Paul Rubens, circa 1622, oil on canvas, on display at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

Glossary

Religious Order -- an organized community of people devoted to a shared faith and common beliefs, principles, worship and practices.

Roman Catholicism -- a Christian religion founded by Jesus Christ and his apostles, led by a Pope, and supported by an estimated 1.3 billion followers throughout the world.

Priest -- an ordained minister or cleric authorized to perform rites and administer sacraments on behalf of a church.

Brother -- a male member of a religious order who is not an ordained priest and who often is not seeking to become one.

Scholastic -- in the Society of Jesus, one who is between the novitiate (probationary initiation period) and ordained priesthood, a period that can take a decade.

Papal Bull -- a public decree or charter issued by a Pope above his seal of office, called a bulla in Latin.

Evangelism -- the spreading of the Christian gospel and faith by public preaching and personal witness.

Ecumenism -- promoting understanding and unity among the world's religions.

Social Justice -- a progressive movement that pursues a more fair distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society.

Pope Francis I

Remembering happier days when a Jesuit priest is allowed to speak freely before a joint Session of Congress and his offerings are well received.

Father Patrick J. Conroy

 

 

What is a Jesuit?

The Society of Jesus is today the largest (over 16,000 members) -- and arguably most influential and controversial -- religious order of Roman Catholic priests, brothers and scholastics (see glossary at left).  The Jesuit order was founded by Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque nobleman and warrior (see portrait at left), in 16th century Spain.  It was formally recognized through the issuance of two Papal bulls -- one by Pope Paul III in 1540 and the other by Pope Julius III in 1550.  The order's headquarters are located at the Vatican in Rome.

From its beginning, the order has been dedicated foremost to evangelization, advancing Roman Catholicism, and religious and secular education.  Jesuits are known for their global missionary work, tireless efforts to advance human rights and social justice, ecumenism within and beyond Christianity, and historic ties to nearly 500 universities, colleges and schools throughout the world.

All Jesuits profess solemn vows of poverity, chastity and obedience to both the Pope and the order's Superior General.  Organized like a military unit from its earliest days, the order's members know that they may be assigned to serve anywhere in the world, and may be required to live in dangerous locations and work under extreme conditions.  According to its founding documents, the Society of Jesus is intended for men who "desire to serve as a soldier of God" and are willing to "defend and propagate the faith for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine." 

The Jesuits have been controversial and misunderstood from the start.  Through the Middle Ages, religious orders were typically named after their founders or those who provided the spiritual underpinnings for their development.  For example, the Augustinians were named after Saint Augustine of Hippo, the Benedictines after Saint Benedict of Nursia, the Dominicans after Domingo Felix de Guzmán, later Saint Dominic, and the Franciscans after Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, later Saint Francis of Assisi.

Because the Jesuits appropriated Jesus's name rather than Saint Ignatius's name for their "company" of men (as they referred to themselves in Spanish), some found their chosen moniker to be offensive and blasphemous, and opposed the formation of the "society" (as translated into Latin) on those grounds alone.  Thereafter from time to time, the Jesuits have been reviled for their arrogance, ultra-conservatism, doctrinal rigidity, and aggressive efforts to acquire power and influence in the Catholic Church.

After Saint Ignatius, the most famous of the early Jesuits was Saint Francis Xavier of Navarre.  He was a traveling companion of Saint Ignatius, co-founded the Jesuit order, served for many years as a missionary to Asia, and converted more people to Roman Catholicism than any person before.  Until last week, the most famous contemporary Jesuit has been Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Pope Francis I is the first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas, the first pope from the southern hemisphere, and the first pope from outside of Europe since the reign of Gregory III, the 5th and last Syrian pope, in the mid-8th century.  Published reports suggest that the sitting Pope chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, but many Cathollics believe that his selection also or really honored Saint Francis Xavier.

For a few days last week, the most famous Amercian Jesuit was the Reverend Patrick J. Conroy, SJ., who was born in Everett, Washington, and raised in both Snohomish, Washington, and Arlington, Virginia.  Like most Jesuits, Father Pat, as he is widely known, is well educated.  He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Claremont Men's College (now co-educational Claremont McKenna College), a Master of Arts from Gonzaga University, a Juris Doctor from Saint Louis University, a Master of Divinity from Santa Clara University, and a Master of Sacred Theology from the University of Toronto.

Father Pat was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983.  In the years since, he has served as a parish priest, a pastor, a university chaplain (at both Georgetown University and Seattle University), and a lawyer representing American Indian tribes and their members in state courts and Salvadoran refugees in federal courts.  More recently, he worked as a high school theology teacher and a junior varsity softball coach at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon.  And most recently since May 25, 2011, Father Pat has served as the 60th Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, delivering non-denominational prayers and counseling Congressfolk, their families and staff, and others who have the honor of working in the U.S. Capitol.

On April 16, 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a press release announcing that Father Pat had resigned from his post as House Chaplain.  The public later learned that Speaker Ryan, a Roman Catholic, had demanded Father Pat's resignation.  Father Pat said that he had not been told and did not know the reason for the surprising action, but that Speaker Ryan had previously admonished him, "Padre, you just got to stay out of politics."

Some speculate that Father Pat's dismissal may have been the result of an opening prayer that he delivered on the House floor on November 6, 2017, in which he said, “As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle.  May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans”.  These remarks, underscoring the Jesuits' longstanding advocacy of social justice, have been viewed as possibly critical of policy positions and legislation favored by Republican Members of Congress.

But how different are those words from these remarks that Pope Francis delivered to a Joint Session of Congress on September 24, 2015 (see photo at left):  "Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent.  Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples.  * * *  A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.  Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.  To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you."

Or it may have been that Father Pat's downfall came about when several GOP House Members reportedly took issue with his inviting Imam Abdullah Antepli, a Turk who leads Muslim engagement at Duke University and teaches Islamic studies at Duke Divinity School, to offer a prayer on the House floor on October 4, 2017.  That prayer, offered in the spirit of ecumenism, included these words:  "Enable us to understand, appreciate and celebrate our differences.  Teach and guide us to turn these differences into opportunities, richness and strength.  Prevent us from turning them into sources of division, polarization, hate and bigotry."  These comments have been viewed as possibly critical of statements made by the President of the United States.

Others suggest that Father Pat is unable to provide effective pastoral care to Members of Congress because he is older, is not married, does not have children, is not away from a family for extended periods of time for work, and is otherwise unable to relate to the stresses and problems faced by modern lawmakers.  Some news reports claimed that Father Pat's demise was brought about by the "anti-Catholic bias" of Speaker Ryan's chief of staff.  It's hard to fathom the real reason for Father Pat being forced out when Speaker Ryan, himself soon leaving office, refuses to provide one.

Whatever the reason for his graceless termination, Father Pat is not the first Jesuit kicked out of a nice establishment joint because he was thoughtful, opinionated and vocal, and had the audacity to press those who govern to consider fairness, social justice and the well-being of all who are governed.  Heck, Jesuits have a long history of being thrown out of entire kingdoms, empires and countries -- and perhaps even the papacy one day -- for doing just that.  And if some Congressmen will not listen to save their souls, perhaps a few high school second basemen might.  Anyway, whatever lies ahead for Father Pat, it's likely to be a better and less dangerous assignment for him.

Notes:  Gonzaga University, Saint Louis University, Santa Clara University, Georgetown University and Seattle University are all Jesuit schools.  The University of Toronto was originally founded as King's College by English Royal Charter and was once controlled by the Church of England but is now an independent secular institution, as is Claremont McKenna College.  Duke University is nominally Methodist but avowedly committed to broad religious diversity.  The author of this post is the beneficiary of a fine Jesuit education, once believed everything dramatized in James Clavell's 1980 NBC mini-series Shogun about Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in feudal Japan in the early 17th century, and was traumatized when forced by a friend, an expert in Asian history and a video archivist, to watch Martin Scorsese's 2016 film Silence, which presents a far grittier version of the experiences of Jesuit missionaries sent from Portugal to Edo-period Japan.  Being a Jesuit has rarely been easy and may never be. 

Update:  On May 3rd, Speaker Ryan changed his mind and allowed Father Pat to rescind his "resignation" and continue serving as the House's Chaplain through the end of the year.  According to the Washington Post, Speaker "Ryan faced a bipartisan backlash, particularly among the more than 140 Catholics in the House, when word spread that he had forced the priest into retirement."  Social justice, indeed.

 

Week 17 (April 23 to April 29, 2018)

Cable Business
Comcast/Xfinity

Broadcast Networks
NBC
Telemundo

Cable Channels
MSNBC
CNBC
Bravo
E!
Golf Channel
The Olympic Channel
Oxygen

Syfy
Universal Kids
USA Network

Cable Networks
Regional sports and news networks, including NBC Sports Washington

Film Production & Distribution Companies
Universal Pictures
Illumination Entertainment
DreamWorks Animation
Focus Features

Universal Theme Parks
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Studios Japan in Osaka

The Universal Orlando Resort includes Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay and City Walk.  Universal Studios Hollywood also has a City Walk, and Universal Studios Japan got a new Minion Park in 2017. 

The theme parks are also home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  An icy mug of butterbeer will set you back about $177 in Florida -- $170 for admission to the park for a day and $7 for the incredibly satisfying and delicious concoction that roughly resembles vanilla soda with butterscotch topping.  It's well worth the $177.  Comcast is also currently developing a fourth theme park in Beijing.

Local Television Stations
Comcast owns 11 local NBC-affiliated television stations, including WRC TV NBC 4, which serves the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area

Comcast also owns 17 local Telemundo-affiliated television stations, none of which are located in our local broadcast market.

 

 

Where's Waldo?

Alexandria Living Magazine reported this past weekend that President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron and their respective wives, Melania and Brigitte, will tour George Washington's Mount Vernon and dine at The Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant on Monday evening.  Mr. and Mrs. Macron are in the United States for an official three-day visit. 

Visits to Mount Vernon by sitting presidents accompanied by foreign dignitaries are rare.  The first president's home and estate, which are normally open to the public, will close at 1:00 pm on Monday afternoon.  Due to enhanced security measures, there will be roadway, river and airspace restrictions throughout the Mount Vernon area that day.

Pictured at left (standing left to right) are former First Lady Laura and former President George W. Bush, former President Bill and former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Barack and former First Lady Michelle Obama, current First Lady Melania Trump, and (sitting) former President George H.W. Bush, at the April 21st funeral of former First Lady Barbara Bush in Houston, Texas.  Requiesce in pace.

Comcast

It’s earnings season for many public companies once more, and this web page committed a few years ago to do one deep dive each year on a business that dominates our locality.   Dominion Energy was the focus in 2016, and Verizon was featured in 2017 (click the links to read the posts).  As promised last year, we now turn to Comcast, Alexandria’s cable television and wired Internet provider.  I read corporate filings so you don’t have to, but click here if you want to read Comcast's 2017 Annual Report for yourself.

A line from its annual report summarizes Comcast's business as clearly as any other available description:  “We are a global media and technology company with two primary businesses, Comcast Cable and NBCUniversal.”

The cable business, which traces its roots back to 1963, deploys, manages and operates wired communications systems.  In the early years, these systems were analog and transmitted broadcast and other television programming.  Today, operating under the Xfinity brand name, the consolidated Comcast network is largely digital, provides high-speed Internet access, and carries a wide variety of streamed content, including video, music, voice, data, entertainment, sports, news and information.

A few years ago, the U.S. government blocked Comcast’s proposed acquisition of rival Time Warner Cable on anti-trust grounds.  Time Warner Cable was thereafter acquired by Charter SpectrumIn February of this year, Comcast offered to purchase Sky, Europe's leading pay-television network with 23 million customers, for $31 billion in cash.  Rupert Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox had previously offered to buy the 61 percent of the U.K.-based broadcasting group that it does not already own for about $26 billion in a stock exchange, but Britain's anti-trust watchdog, the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority, concluded in January that the deal "would not be in the public interest."

On the other side of the company, NBCUniversal, which Comcast acquired in 2011 and 2013, owns and operates the broadcast and content-creation businesses listed at left.  According to Nielsen, NBC's most popular television shows are NFL football and The Voice, and Telemundo is the most-watched Spanish-language broadcaster during prime time, Mondays through Fridays from 8:00 to 11:00 pm.  Universal Pictures has been making and distributing films since 1912.  It's most recent films include Pitch Perfect 3, Fifty Shades Freed, and Pacific Rim: Uprising.  Upcoming films include Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and Fast and Furious 9.  Illumination Entertainment is behind several popular animated films, including Despicable Me, Minions, Sing, The Secret Life of Pets, Dr. Seuss: The Grinch and their upcoming sequels.  DreamWorks Animation is known for several movie franchises, including How to Train Your Dragon, Boss Baby, The Croods, and Trolls.  Focus Features brought us Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels, Anna Karenina, and The World's End.

Comcast is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has a current market capitalization of about $156 billion (closer to $200 billion a year ago) and total assets of nearly $187 billion as of the end of 2017.  Last year, the company earned $22.7 billion in net income on $84.5 billion in gross revenues generated by 164,000 full-time equivalent employees.  Comcast serves more than 27 million residential customers and more than 2 million business customers.

Comcast is reportedly the largest television broadcast and cable communications company in the world by revenue.  In the U.S., Comcast is the largest residential Internet service provider (ISP), the second-largest pay-television company after AT&T, and the third-largest provider of voice services for the home.  The company claims that it has a 45 percent penetration rate for high-speed Internet services, a 39 percent penetration rate for cable television and other video services, and a 20 percent penetration rate for Voice over Internet Protocol and other related telecommunications services.

As with any large conglomerate, Comcast has drawn its share of criticism over the years.  Customers have reviled the company for its persistently dreadful and indifferent customer service; the lack of meaningful competition in the 40 states and District of Columbia where the company operates; its reluctance to allow customers to use their own hardware devices (e.g., modems, cable boxes and cards, digital tuners and video recorders) to access the company's offerings; the resultant monopolistic pricing of its services and equipment rental fees; its ferocious opposition to net neutrality; and its periodic throttling of Internet services that consume considerable bandwith and whose providers do not “pay-to-play.”  And Comcast has regularly been labeled the worst or most hated company in America by the news media and various opinion-shapers.

(Explanantory note:  ISPs like Comcast have both the financial motivation and technical means to serve as self-appointed gatekeepers of the Internet.  Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs should allow their customers equal and unfettered access to all web content and applications regardless of their source and without favoring or blocking particular services or websites.  Pay-to-play allows interested Internet content providers the ability to provide faster, better or preferential data throughput to its end-users if they compensate ISPs accordingly; it represents a major new revenue source for ISPs.  These topics have been hotly debated in recent years among industry participants, government regulators and consumer advocates.)

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Brian Roberts, Comcast's Chairman and CEO, advances a more positive take on the company.  In this year's Letter to Shareholders and Year in Review, he writes, "My father, Ralph, founded Comcast with a singular vision: to create a world-class organization that would be relevant to people’s lives and a place where employees would feel inspired and supported, all while maintaining a steadfast commitment to financial discipline and driving shareholder value. * * *  Our mission is to bring people around the world closer to the moments and experiences that matter most to them, and in 2017, Comcast NBCUniversal more than delivered."

 

Week 16 (April 16 to April 22, 2018)

The photo at far right, provided by the Alexandria Police Department, was taken in front of the recently designated Roman Catholic Basilica of Saint Mary on South Royal Street in Old Town just before the start of 7:00 am Mass on Sunday, April 8, 2018.  Authorities declined to say whether the unidentified driver, who was taken to the hospital, was rushing to get to morning services.

 

 

 

Dominion Energy Power Transmission Proposals

To stay ahead of increasing electricity usage by Alexandrians, Dominion Energy has long been planning to construct a new power transmission line to connect its Glebe Substation (located at the intersection of South Glebe Road and South Eads Street close to where Four Mile Run crosses U.S. Route 1) and Potomac Electric Power Company’s Potomac River Substation (co-located on the site of the decomissioned Mirant/GenOn coal-fired electric power generating plant a few blocks north of Watergate). 

Dominion originally identified nine possible routes for the two-mile-long underground 230 kilovolt lintransmission line (see diagram at left, click to enlarge).  The company's long-preferred route -- straight down U.S. Route 1 (see route highlighted in purple) -- was the most direct.  That route, however, was strongly opposed by the City of Alexandria, which spent upwards of $21 million in recent years to transform that stretch of roadway into a major transit corridor that is part of a regional transportation network called Metroway.  If a new transmission line were buried under Route 1, the carefully-laid road would need to be torn up once more after many years of disruptive construction.

This week, Dominion offered two new options -- a "New Line Solution" and a "Rebuild Solution."  The New Line option would run a new transmission line through either the CSX railroad corridor or along Potomac Avenue.  The Rebuild option would forego a new transmission line altogether and require Dominion to rebuild or upgrade its existing overhead and underground transmission lines in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, and make additional improvements at existing Domion Energy substations, to improve the "ampacity uprate" and transmission throughput of the company's existing infrastructure.

Update:  On May 12th, the city council voted unanimously to support the New Line option along Potomac Avenue.  News reports noted that Dominion's cost of the CSX alignment would be $420 million (including a $14.6 million right-of-way fee to Alexandria), and the cost of the Potomac Avenue routing would be $330 million ($43.3 million fee to the city).  Alexandria would receive no fee under the Rebuild option.

 

Lieutenant Uhura

Elroy Jetson

Maxwell Smart and The Chief

Modern Day Cone of Silence

 

Cone of Silence

For baby boomers directly exposed to the cultural milieu of the 1960s, broadcast television (at a time when there was no other kind of television) offered something more compelling than basic news and entertainment.  Back in the day, the small tube presented a portal into the future – one that was most certainly achievable in our lifetimes.

Take, for example, Star Trek, which was created by Gene Roddenberry, developed by Desilu Productions (which was founded and owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball), and originally televised in prime time by the National Broadcasting Company from 1966 to 1969.  The show's 79 original episodes have spawned numerous derivative works across an array of media platforms to this day, including feature films, streaming television, video games, music, visual arts and books.  Star Trek, described by Mr. Roddenberry as a wagon train to the stars, offered a stunning vision of what might lie ahead, including space and time travel, racial equality, social justice, purpose-driven lives not centered on wealth-accretion, ecological balance, and understated technological advances. 

For the young, all that mattered were the nifty technical baubles – warp drive, phasers, tractor beams, energy shields, teleportation-transporters, diagnostic medical beds, and scientific tricorders.  But the one device that really stood out – possibly because it seemed so ordinary, an inevitable progression just beyond human reach – was communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura’s small cordless in-ear communications device, which she appeared to control in large part by simply touching or manipulating its extended tip (see photo at left).  Fifty years later Apple finally introduced its AirPods, which are even more magical than what Star Trek had first envisioned because they are smaller, wireless and touchless.  And yours for $159.

Then there were The Jetsons.  Hanna-Barbera Productions created 24 original episodes of this animated classic from 1962 to 1963.  Seriously, a cartoon, you might ask?  Yes, this show was groundbreaking.  For example, it was the first program ever aired in color by the American Broadcasting Company.  It both showcased and satirized the travails of everyday life projected well into the space age – a time that featured robot maids, automated push-button conveniences, and aerocars.  The best of the mechanical advances, the one most craved-after, was six-year old Elroy Jetson’s personal jet pack (see picture at left).  What kid didn't want one of those?  Alas, as a civilization, we are still working to bring many of these innovations to market at an everyman price point.

Finally, we arrive at Get Smart, which was created by Mel Brooks and Henry Zuckerman and broadcast by NBC from 1965 to 1968, and the Columbia Broadcasting System from 1969 to 1970.  Because the show was a campy spoof of the James Bond-style secret agent genre, it lampooned the outlandish gadgetry that suffuses any 007 flick.  The program's famous aparati include Agent 86’s shoe phone (phones were concealed in more than 50 different objects throughout the show's run), a bullet-proof invisible wall in Maxwell Smart's apartment, Hymie the Robot, and miniaturized cameras, electromagnets, explosive devices and lasers.  (Please note that the plural of “apparatus” in Latin remains ”apparatus,” the plural of “apparatus” in English is “apparatuses,” and the plural of “apparatus” on this lonely website is the faux but cool “apparati.”)

The absolute best-conceived device on Get Smart was the Cone of Silence, which comprised two connected transparent plastic domes that were electrically lowered from an office ceiling at need and ostensibly allowed two people to speak with each other in private without being overhead by others (see image at left).  However, as a running joke, the Cone of Silence often malfunctioned, which required the users to shout at each other to be heard.  The shouting was often so loud that bystanders could hear the two shrouded speakers better than they could hear each other, and those outside the bubbles would serve as impromptu intermediaries relaying back and forth the comments of those inside the bubbles.  For a laugh, click here to see an iteration of this gag on YouTube.

On Monday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s wasteful spending watchdog, released a report to the U.S. Congress concluding that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s purchase last August of a nearly $43,000 Cone of Silence from Acoustical Solutions in Richmond, Virginia, was not an appropriate expenditure of taxpayer dollars and violated two separate federal laws.  The EPA's Cone of Silence, a modified audiometric booth, cost $24,570 and its custom installation added another $18,159 (which apparently included $7,978 to remove existing closed-circuit audio-video equipment, $3,470 to pour a 55-square-foot concrete slab that was more than two-feet thick, $3,361 to install a drop ceiling, and $3,350 for patching and painting).

The new sound-isolation booth (see photo at left from Acoustical Solutions' website) is typically used to perform hearing tests and has not been certified by U.S. intelligence agencies as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, for communicating classified or other sensitive government information.  The EPA, like most federal departments and agencies in Washington, D.C., maintains an official SCIF elsewhere in its Federal Triangle headquarters building.

Unfortunately, the GAO issued no findings regarding the propriety of the EPA hiring Mr. Pruitt's business partner to conduct an electronic security sweep of his office, installing new biometric door locks, leasing a well-equiped Chevy Suburban LT outfitted with bullet-resistant kevlar seat covers, run-flat tires and sirens that Mr. Pruitt reportedly likes to use to telegraph his arrival at Le Diplomate restaurant near Logan Circle, or allegedly misusing a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire and promote several of Mr. Pruitt's political appointees.  Nor did the GAO review Mr. Pruitt’s prolific use of costly military aircraft and first class travel on Delta Air Lines (not the federal government's designated commercial carrier but the one on which he accumulates his frequent flyer miles), his preference for staying at luxury hotels, his unusual round-the-clock personal security detail that has been tripled in size, or his many business trips with large entourages, few or no discernible ties to official EPA business, and frequent detours for opportunistic sight-seeing.  And the GAO was silent about his D.C.-area housing arrangements at below-market rates and on other sketchy leasing terms with the wife of an energy lobbyist having business before the EPA, and reports that at least five EPA employees who challenged Mr. Pruitt's expenses have been dismissed, reassigned or demoted.

All of this is covered by a disfunctional Washington Cone of Silence.  But isn't it worth the trouble so that we can all enjoy the environmentally clean and safe future being advanced by Mr. Pruitt and his cohorts?  A future like the ones promised to us in the exuberant sixties.

 
Week 15 (April 9 to April 15, 2018)

2018 Elections

   

If you have lived in politically-involved Alexandria for any length of time, you will likely know that elections are held in our city every year.  In 2018, Alexandria is holding a primary election on June 12th and a general election on November 6th.  Registered Alexandria voters will be called upon to cast their votes for U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, Mayor and six other members of the City Council

With the candidate filing deadline having passed on March 29th, here are your 2018 candidates for elected office (click on a candidate's name to see his or her campaign website if one is available; photos are from official government, campaign or best available website; candidate notes are from official biographies and campaign websites):

U.S. Senate

Timothy Kaine (D).  Current U.S. Senator (since 2013).  Former Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Vice President (2016), Chairman of the Democratic National Party (2009-11), 70th Virginia Governor (2006-10), 38th Virginia Lieutenant Governor (2002-06), 76th Mayor of Richmond (1998-2001), member of the Richmond City Council (1994-2001), attorney.  Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, raised in Kansas City, resides in Richmond.

Nicholas “Nick” Freitas (R).  Current Member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing the 30th District (since 2016).  Former Chairman of the Culpeper County Republican Committee, U.S. Army Special Forces.  Born in Chico, California, resides in Culpeper.

Earl Walker "E.W." Jackson (R).  Current Christian minister and attorney.  Former Republican Party nominee for Virginia Lieutenant Governor (2013), GOP candidate for U.S. Senate from Virginia (2012), U.S. Marine Corps, member of the Democratic Party.  Born in Chester, Pennsylvania, resides in Chesapeake.

Ivan Raiklin (R).  Current businessman and attorney.  Former U.S. Army Special Forces.  Born in New York, resides in Arlington.

Corey Stewart (R).  Current Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors (since 2006), attorney.  Former GOP candidate for Virginia Governor (2017), Virginia Campaign Chairman for Donald Trump (2016), GOP candidate for Virginia Lieutenant Governor (2013), Occoquan District Supervisor (2003-06).  Born in Duluth, Minnesota, resides in Woodbridge.

Ron Wallace (R).  Former CEO of SOFTEL, candidate for U.S. Senate from Illinois (2016). Resides in Virginia Beach.  (No campaign website.)

Matt Waters (Libertarian).  Current non-profit and political fundraiser.  Born in Newport News, resides in Alexandria.

Tim Kaine

Nick Frietas

E.W. Jackson

Ivan Raiklin

Corey Stewart
Ron Wallace
Matt Waters
Don Beyers
Thomas Oh
Allison Silberberg

Justin Wilson

 

U.S. House of Representatives (Virginia’s 8th Congressional District)

Donald Beyer (D).  Current U.S. Congressman (since 2015).  Former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (2009-13), Democratic Party nominee for Virginia Governor (1997), 36th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia (1990-98), businessman.   Born in Trieste, Italy, raised in Washington, D.C., resides in Alexandria.

Thomas Oh (R).  Current U.S. government contractor, U.S. Army Reserve.  Former U.S. Army officer.  Born in western Fairfax County, resides in Alexandria.  (No campaign website.)

Alexandria Mayor

Allison Silberberg (D).   Current Mayor of Alexandria (since 2016).   Former Vice Mayor of Alexandria and member of the Alexandria City Council (2012-15), professional writer.   Born in Dallas, Texas, resides in the Parkfairfax neighborhood of Alexandria.

Justin Wilson (D).   Current Vice Mayor of Alexandria (since 2016), member of the Alexandria City Council (2007-09 and since 2012), Senior Director of Vendor & Contract Management with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).  Resides in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.

Alexandria City Council

Willie Bailey (D).  Current member of the Alexandria City Council (since 2016), Battalion Chief of Community Public Affairs & Outreach for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.  Former U.S. Army.  Born in Richmond, resides in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.

John Chapman (D).  Current Member of the Alexandria City Council (since 2012), Community Use Program Specialist for the Fairfax County Public Schools, educator, small business owner.  Former President of the Alexandria Virginia NAACP.  Born and raised in Alexandria, resides in the Taylor Run neighborhood of Alexandria.

Redella “Del” Pepper (D). Current member of the Alexandria City Council (since 1985).  Former Vice Mayor of Alexandria (1996-97, 2003-09), social worker.  Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, resides in Alexandria’s West End.

Paul Smedberg (D).  Current member of the Alexandria City Council (since 2003).  Born and raised in Connecticut, resides in Old Town.

Canek Aguirre (D).  Current community advocate, Chairman of the Alexandria Economic Opportunities Commission, President of the Tenants and Workers United Board of Directors, Vice Chairman of the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia Board of Directors, member of the Leadership Council for the Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy, member of the Steering Committee for the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria.  Born and raised in Los Angeles, resides in Alexandria’s West End.

Dak Hardwick (D).  Current Assistant Vice President for International Affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association.  Former member of the Alexandria Budget & Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, Chairman of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee (2012-13).  Resides in Alexandria’s West End.

Chris Hubbard (D).  Current owner of an Alexandria architecture and planning firm.  (No campaign website.)

Matt Feely (D).  Current adjunct professor at Columbia University.  Former U.S. Naval officer. Resides in Alexandria.

Amy Jackson (D).  Current community activist.  Former educator with the Fairfax County Public Schools.  Born, raised and resides in Alexandria’s West End.

Robert Ray (D).  Current furniture conservationist and owner of Cavalier Antiques.  Born, raised and resides in Old Town.

Mo Seifeldein (D).  Current attorney.  Born in Sudan, raised in Virginia, resides in Alexandria.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D). Current Co-Director of Together We Bake, Founder of Fruitcycle.  Born in Alexandria to two U.S. Navy officers, resides in the Taylor Run neighborhood of Alexandria.

Kevin Dunne (R).  Founder of Logos Risk Management, member of the Alexandria Beautification Commission.  Resident of Alexandria.

Willie Bailey

John Chapman

Del Pepper

Paul Smedberg

Canek Aguirre

Dak Hardwick

Chris Hubbard

Matt Feeley
Amy Jackson
Robert Ray

 

Timothy Lovain (D), an attorney and former Coast Guard officer who has served on the Alexandria City Council from 2006-09 and since 2012, is not running for re-election.

More Election Information

For more election information, please see the 2018 Election page of this website.

Mo Seifeldein
Elizabeth Bennett-Parker
Kevin Dunne
 

Week 14 (April 2 to April 8, 2018)

 

 

Old Town North Small Arts and Cultural District

On Tuesday, April 3rd, the Alexandria Planning Commission will consider and most likely approve a proposal to amend the city's zoning map and ordinance to implement a recommendation in the Old Town North Small Area Plan, which was updated on June 24, 2017, to establish an Arts and Cultural District in North Old Town (see shaded area delineated in the map at left, which has been excerpted from the city staff's report and edited to show Watergate of Alexandria outlined in red).  What does this mean for us? 

The designation of a neighborhood arts and cultural district is intended to encourage property owners and developers to allocate large blocks of space in new or rehabilitated buildings -- particularly at ground level fronting major streets -- for certain artistic and cultural uses, including theaters and other performance venues; museums, art galleries and other exhibition spaces; studios for artists and craftsfolk; and schools, academies, instructional areas and practice spaces for the visual, musical, dancing, dramatic and culinary arts.  Under the current proposal, these dedicated spaces must be between 5,000 and 50,000 square feet in area, endure for 15-30 years, and combine public access with significant public activity and participation.

In exchange for these long-term set-asides, developers may exclude the arts and cultural spaces from their maximum square-footage calculations and exceed existing zoning density limits on the remaining developed space by up to 30 percent.  A version of the proposal was previously approved by the Alexandria Commission for the Arts (which voted for a much higher 100,000 square foot limit).  The proposal does not apply to the redevelopment of the GenOn Power Plant site, which will be separately evaluated by the city in the years ahead.

MetroStage, our neighbor one block to the north, and The Art League, our neighbor one block to the south, are iintended beneficiaries of the new arts district.  For example, MetroStage hopes to move into a portion of the ground floor and first sub-level of the redeveloped Crowne Plaza Hotel, our neighbor one block to the east.  Occupying the entire frontage along North Fairfax Street, which will be reclad and reframed with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and hopefully replace the functional yet hulking porte cochère facing Montgomery Park (see photo at right), the new space will showcase MetroStage's lobby, box office and a planned street-level arts space.

 

Izvestia & Pravda

Izvestia is the Russian word for news, and the name of the state-sponsored news service of the government of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  Pravda is the Russian word for truth, and the name of the official propaganda organ of the Communist Party during the Soviet era. 

In that time, a popular joke darkly affirmed what all Russians knew too well:  "There is no Pravda in Izvestia, and no Izvestia in Pravda."  In English:  "There is no truth in News, and no news in Truth."

In his seminal dystopian novel, 1984, English futurist George Orwell warned us that in times of universal deceipt when information is completely controlled by authoritarian ruling parties, truth itself becomes a revolutionary act.

 

 

Informatsionnoye Agentstvo Rossii Amerika

Sinclair Broadcast Group -- a publicly held company that is based in Hunt Valley, Maryland south of Baltimore and owns/operates nearly 200 television stations in over 100 media markets, including WJLA ABC 7 (and its News Channel 8 cable affiliate) in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area -- had news anchors at company-owned stations read the following prepared script [intended to be customized for each locality within the bracketed text]:

"Hi, I’m [the editor of this local headline news page].  Our greatest responsibility is to serve our communities.  I am extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [this webpage] produces, but I’m concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country."

"The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.  More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories without checking facts first.  Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.  This is extremely dangerous to our democracy."

"At [Watergate of Alexandria], it is our responsibility to report and pursue the truth.  We understand the truth is neither politically left nor right.  Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility now more than ever."

"But we are human, and sometimes our reporting might fall short.  If you believe our coverage is unfair, please reach out through our [Watergate of Alexandria] website by clicking on Content Concerns."

"We value your comments and we will respond back to you.  We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced, and factual.  We consider it our honor and privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.  Thank you for watching, and we appreciate your feedback."

Click here to see a video montage that Deadspin created and posted on YouTube of Sinclair's news anchors reading the company-drafted script above.  This is extremely dangerous to our Democracy.

 

Week 13 (March 26 to April 1, 2018)

 

 

Easter Week

According to Wikipedia, the "United States has the largest Christian population in the world, with nearly 280 million Christians" representing "75% of polled American adults," in 2015.  Notwithstanding the numbers, many wonder whether the U.S. is becoming less religious or less religiously observant with each generation, and whether the celebration of Easter is either fading or gradually morphing into a springtime version of Thanksgiving -- a largely secular day with a gluttonous family supper.

For devout Christians, however, Easter is the most important date on the holy calendar as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead following his crucifixion by the Roman pagans at Calvary.  From a doctrinal perspective, Christmas, possibly the most celebrated holiday in America, doesn't hold a candle to Easter.  So, with apologies to those who do not adhere to the Christian faith, Happy Easter Week.

The painting at left, The Resurrection, was painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1639.  It is one of five paintings in the artist's Passion of Christ series commissioned by Frederik Hendrik, the ruling sovereign Prince of Orange and stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders and Overijssel from 1625 to 1647.  Oil on canvas, the painting currently hangs in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Germany, which houses one of the largest and most famous collections of European Old Master paintings. 

Here are the notes on the painting from the museum's website (translated from German):  "Rembrandt ignores the pictorial tradition that Christ shows as the conqueror of death from the grave, and makes use of the gospel text.  An angel has come down and lifts the stone from the grave. In this Christ, as awakened from the death-sleep, raises himself up."

Because the painting represents a radical departure from longstanding tradition, it was widely disdained for many years.  In Rembrandt's version, Christ does not appear in human form but is instead depicted as amorphous light and energy radiating from the opened tomb in the background behind the angel.  Startled humans jostle one another in the dimly lit foreground.  To be clear, the glow is not coming from the angel.  The painting sets aside the well-recognized and classical notions of composition and iconography for the subject, perhaps lending itself more to an epiphany than a resurrection.

 

The Other Storm

Click here if you missed Sunday's other over-hyped event -- Anderson Cooper's interview with actress-director Stephanie Clifford on CBS's 60 Minutes.

 

 

Stormy Weather

The world waited patiently and anxiously to see the relentlessly teased broadcast spectacle that took place last Sunday.  First there was frightening talk of the other woman, nicknamed by some as Storky Daniels, who was seen lurking about, taunting The First Lady, and seeking to couple amorously with Mr. President.  Then there were widely voiced and written-about concerns suggesting either infidelity or infertility.  Some questioned whether The First Lady remained bonded to Mr. President, or whether he would soon abandon her.  And there have been continuous technical problems with the round-the-clock coverage of the first family through their current travails. 

But around 4:30 pm on March 25th, The First Lady laid a single egg at the nest she shares with Mr. President high up in their Tulip Poplar tree at the United States National Arboretum located just a few miles up-river from Watergate.  Click here to watch the official video posted by the American Eagle Foundation on YouTube of Palm Sunday's egg-laying.  The First Lady produced a second egg a few days later at 2:46 pm on March 28th. 

Click here to read all about our local celebrity bald eagle pair on the Nest Cam page of this website.  Eagles mate for life.  Humans not so much.

 

Week 12 (March 19 to March 25, 2018)

 

Meet Your Mayor

First-term Mayor Allison Silberberg, up for re-election in November and running against Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, is hosting her first ever monthly Meet with the Mayor session from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon on Monday, March 26, 2018.  The Mayor (in photo at left at NOTICe's Winter Party held on February 15th) will chat with each interested resident for up to 10 minutes about any issue or idea that the resident wishes to discuss on a first come, first served basis without an advance appointment.

No Increase in Alexandria Tax Rates for FY 2019

A post in Week 8 below reported that City Manager Mark Jinks formally kicked off the city's FY 2019 budget process by presenting his proposed $742 million operating budget for FY 2019 to the City Council on February 20th.  The post noted that the offered budget did not include a proposed increase in the property tax rates and suggested that, this being a municipal election year, no such increase would be forthcoming on May 3rd when the city council votes to finalize Alexandria's budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1st.  That forecast was not a difficult lift.  But the speed with which the City Council decided to freeze next year's tax rates is quite surprising.

The following notice was posted to the city's website last week Thursday:  "On March 14, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously not to consider any increases from calendar years 2017 to 2018 in the tax rates for real estate, vehicles, or business tangible property. The real estate tax rate City Council eventually adopts could be the same or lower than the current rate of $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, but cannot be higher."  You can be assured of two things -- the city council will not lower the tax rates for FY 2019 and will raise the tax rates for FY 2020.

Archaeologists Find Two Historic Ships at Construction Site

On Monday, the city announced that archaeologists discovered the remains of two historic ships from the late 1700s or early 1800s at the Robinson Landing construction site where Duke and Wolfe Streets meet the Potomac River.

A third ship of that era was found and removed in late 2015 from the Indigo Hotel construction site located across the street from the former Robinson Terminal South property (see Week 16, Week 14 and Week 2 from 2016 Headlines page of this website). 

The city's press release states, "The Alexandria Archaeological Protection Code requires developers to have archaeologists on site to monitor all phases of ground disturbance.  This ensures that any historic features encountered during demolition and construction are dealt with properly so that Alexandria’s history is enriched though archaeological study.  As development of the Alexandria waterfront continues, excavations have the potential to continue to unearth additional evidence of early wharves and piers, maritime vessels, early industries, and commercial and domestic activities." 

Unfortunately, "As part of a private construction site, the artifacts are not currently open to public view and are not visible from the street."  The photo of the dig site at left is taken from the city's press release.  Photo below shows the construction site as of this week.

 

Week 11 (March 12 to March 18, 2018)

 

 

Alexandria Library's Semi-Annual Used Book Sale and Fundraiser

This story is necessarily in the first person.  I'm sipping my iced coffee, looking for ideas for this Local News page, and reading an article in the Alexandria Gazette Packet about the Alexandria Library's upcoming semi-annual used book sale and fundraiser to be held next week on March 20-25.  The event is organized by the Friends of the Beatley Central Library.

In the news write-up, Nancy Blanton, who leads the book sale, notes that all books are donated by the community.  She names several of the more remarkable books that the library recently received, and then says that one of her favorite titles is World's Greatest Military Aircraft.  That's my book!!  I donated it to the library last year.  I'm so excited that I finally made it to the top of someone's list, kinda, sorta.

And I think that my contribution is definitely more interesting than Ms. Blanton's top pick from last year's sale, an unnamed book written in Tsalagi Gawonihisdi, the southern Iroquoian language spoken by the Cherokee people. 

Apparently, the most memorable book ever received and sold by the library was a signed antique George Gershwin songbook that the Friends of the Library sold online for $1,200.  The two annual used book sales raise $50,000 a year to support some of the non-core library programs that are not funded or fully funded by the city.  Unlike the Gershwin songbook, most offerings at the book sale are $3 for hardcovers and $2 for paperbacks.

 

New Development

Overview
Giant/ABC Site
2nd Street Green Project
Power Plant Site
Old Colony Inn Site
National Airport North
Metro Bus Barn Site
Travel Lodge Motel Site
The Towns at 1333
Powhatan Potomac Yard
Mount Vernon Trail
Robinson Terminal North
Robinson Terminal South
Old Dominion Boat Club
The Thornton
Hoffman Town Center
Landmark Mall
Potomac Yard Metro
Alexandria Sewer
Craddock/Smoot Lumber
Potomac Yard

Redevelopment

Montgomery Street
Crowne Plaza
Waterfront Center
Holiday Inn
Beach Drive

Park Development

Montgomery Park
Windmill Hill Park
Jones Point Park
Potomac Yard Park
King Street Waterfront Park

Completed Projects

National Airport South
Canal Center Plaza

 

New King Street Waterfront Park

Most of us share a common quirk of human nature -- we want to know everything now and unless we hate what we have learned we don't want that knowledge to change, which would force us to learn something else.  Those who inhabit the far end of this behavioral spectrum, should not go into real estate development.  For that profession -- from initial concept and artist's renderings, through groundbreaking and cornerstone-laying, and arriving at dedication and opening -- is permeated by change.

Take as an example, the Best Western Old Colony Inn, whose owners first proposed to add two additional stories of rooms and public spaces to their existing structure where the George Washington Memorial Parkway, East Abingdon Drive and Second Street converge.  Despite the fact that the developers received the city's approval for the expansion project over the widespread objections of neighbors, the developers have now decided to level the existing hotel and build 20 new garage townhomes.  Apparently, it is better for their return on investment and cash flow.  And our peace and parking.

Or consider the former Washington Post newsprint warehouse site at Robinson Terminal North, a patch of land wedged between Oronoco Bay Park and Founders Park.  Developers originally proposed to construct a 132-room hotel, 66 multi-family housing units, 25,000 square feet of commercial space, 4 restaurants with a total of 500 indoor and outdoor seats, a public pier, and other open space.  It formed a matching bookend to the mixed-use waterfront redevelopment effort now underway at the Robinson Terminal South site where Duke and Wolfe Streets meet the Potomac River.  Again, the visioneers of the northern parcel received the city's approval for their ambitious project, but were unable to find an interested hotelier and soon concluded that the venture was financially impractical as designed.

Or the former Metro Bus Barn acreage bounded by North Pitt Street to the west, Wythe Street to the north, North Royal Street to the east, and Pendleton Street to the south.  For most of the first half of the 20th century, the block was occupied by two-story row houses and other small buildings.  From the end of World War II in 1945 until 2014, the property was used as a bus garage and maintenance facility, first by the Alexandria, Barcroft and Washington Transit Company and later by its successor the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.  In 2015, WMATA released an initial solicitation of proposals for development of the site, but later canceled the process purportedly because none of the responses met the agency’s criteria.  Others suggested that the project became mired over disputes over liability for environmental remediation of the site.  In 2017, WMATA announced that it was preparing a second solicitation of proposals.  Yet there has been nothing other than crickets -- the disconcerting sound of urban and governmental silence -- since.

In 2012, Alexandria adopted an ambitious Waterfront Plan that envisioned uninterrupted public access along the entire Potomac River shoreline abutting Old Town, from Tide Lock Park in the north (which is part of Canal Center located two blocks from Watergate) to Windmill Hill Park/Shipyard Park in the south (near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge).  While the entire plan is designed to be implemented over the next 20 to 30 years, the city council, in full-on obsessive-compulsive mode, wanted some changes to take place immediately.

High on the city's redevelopment wish list is the site at the foot of King Street that has been occupied since 1923 by the venerable Old Dominion Boat Club.  While municipal bullying did not alone dislodge the rightful owners from their property, the addition of more than $6 million in publicly-financed bribes did.  And so, in January 2018, the ODBC moved into its newly built $10 million clubhouse a block away at the foot of Prince Street (see Week 2 below).

At the time its armistice with the ODBC was announced, the city revealed its plans to demolish the old clubhouse once it was vacated and reclaim the land for a new Fitzgerald Square Park.  Last week, the city updated its website to report that construction on the interim park, now named King Street Waterfront Park, will start soon and open to the public before the end of 2018.  However, the city warns that "it may be a decade or more before the planned flood mitigation infrastructure is in place and the permanent park can be constructed." 

The city held a groundbreaking ceremony on March 17, 2018.  See artist's drawing of the park at left, photo of the site following demolition below, and photo of a construction worker using a remote-controlled bot to help clear the site below left.  The city has also posted interactive "360° Panoramic Renderings of King Street Park at the Waterfront."  Additional renderings are also posted to the King Street Waterfront Park page of this website.  If you like this news item, there are more like them on the Neighborhood Development page of this website (also see index above left). 

 

 

 

 

Week 10 (March 5 to March 11, 2018)

Top 10 U.S. Destinations
Alexandria, Virginia
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Stateline, Nevada
Glen Arbor, Michigan
Pompano Beach, Florida
Chicago, Illinois
Anaheim, California
Lake George, New York
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Top 10 International Destinations
Tokyo, Japan
Rome, Italy
Mérida, Mexico
Xi'an, China
London, England
Jeju Island, South Korea
Mallorca, Spain
Tbilisi, Georgia
Singapore
Granada, Nicaragua

 

 

Alexandria Tops List of Places to Go

This week, Money published its third annual list of the 20 Best Places To Go -- 10 in the U.S. and 10 abroad.  These are destinations "that deliver the highest value for your dollar" taking into consideration "more than 32,000 data points in total from dozens of sources, covering cost, year-over-year trends, and customer satisfaction."  And Alexandria ranked at the top of the stateside list, number 1, best of the field, the pinnacle "where quality, cost, and value come together to provide a terrific travel experience."

Money found:  "When you hit the cobblestone streets of Alexandria, you may feel like you’re a world away from the hubbub of the nation’s capital—but you’re actually less than 10 miles from national landmarks like the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. Alexandria’s red-brick homes and a historic waterfront promenade make it a surprisingly charming, inexpensive outpost for travelers to the D.C.-area."   Ditto for those of us who choose to actually live in Alexandria.  And best of all, we have the remaining cities on the list to visit.

And if you are not the exploring type, here are the inspiring opening words of Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!:

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You're on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

 

James River Breakfront

Jefferson Sideboard

Regent Arm Chair and Side Chair

 

 

Better Than Ikea

Benjamin S. Carson Sr. -- graduate of Yale University and University of Michigan Medical School, former pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, recipient of a 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom (highest U.S. civilian award) bestowed by then President George W. Bush, conferee of more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees, unsuccessful candidate for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination, 17th U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and only African-American senior official currently serving in the Trump Administration -- has been publicly chastised for purchasing a $31,651 dining set for his office at HUD's main headquarters building at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC.  Apparently, the cost exceeds a federally mandated cap of $5,000 for workspace redecorating by new political appointees.

According to its official mission statement, "The Department of Housing and Urban Development is the principal Federal agency responsible for programs concerned with the Nation's housing needs, fair housing opportunities, and improvement and development of the Nation's communities."  While $31,651 may seem like a lot of taxpayer money for furniture to be used by someone who is primarily responsible for championing affordable housing, the cost (as detailed in the chart at left) includes a dining table with two pedestal bases (see manufacturer's photo below), and a breakfront, sideboard and 10 chairs (see catalog photos below left).  Here are the details:

The solid mahogany dining table, two base pedestals and breakfront are from Hickory Chair Furniture Company's James River Collection, which seeks to recapture "the spirit and details that embody the fine aesthetics of 18th Century design . . . found in the elegantly appointed interiors of plantation homes found along the James River in Virginia."  The furniture possesses a "balance in scale, refinement in shapes and lines, intricate inlays and crisp carvings, acanthus leaves, shells, and ball and claw feet."  Each piece in the collection "is crafted to Old World standards with your finish selection patinas hand-rubbed to a depth that reflects beauty and personalization."

The table extends from 96 to 144 inches in length, and the pedestals "feature hand applied ebonized inlay with bell flowers topped by hand carved scrolls and a fluted column [atop] Antique Brass ferrules with casters."  The breakfront is "crafted of crotch mahogany, satin wood and quartered mahogany boarders, carved teardrop and dentil molding on crown."  Interestingly, most crotch mahogany is sourced from South America and is somewhat hard to obtain. The wood takes its name from the area on trees where limbs separate from trunks or where trunks split, and its outer grain tends to have a delicate feather-like appearance.

The dining set includes 10 chairs produced by Los Angeles-based interior and furniture designer David Phoenix -- 2 Regent Dining Arm Chairs and 8 Regent Dining Side Chairs.  According to his website, Mr. Phoenix's eponymous "collection personifies his own polished and dapper demeanor and exhibits his distinctive thoughtful, American perspective.  He focuses on meaningful, well-appointed choices, transporting us to a time when simple daily rituals were elevated and celebrated."  The Regent Chairs are "a curator’s favorite. With rich exposed wood detail on the back and a graciously sculpted leg, this is the chair for lingering dinner parties."  Mr. Carson's chairs will be upholstered in a luxurious blue velvet fabric.

Also ordered is a Jefferson Sideboard with a cathedral mahogany wood top by Alexa Hampton, who is based in New York City.  According to her website, Ms. Hampton, following in her father's footsteps, designs furniture that "translates the classical principles of good design and decoration into some of today’s most elegant, enduring, and functional domestic landscapes" found in "luxe, beautifully layered urban apartments, expansive town and country residences, private airplanes, and yachts."  The sideboard evinces "hand carved lambs tongue molding frames on doors and concave end panels."  According to Ms. Hampton, it is "based on a mid-20th Century sideboard with which I fell in love and bought, then proceeded to ebonize for added drama.  It is a beautifully detailed piece of furniture . . . that harkens back to a time of real glamour and a piece made for a room that is all about entertainment and timeless forms."

Confronted by his critics, Mr. Carson now says that he does not need or want the custom-manufactured furniture that was reportedly selected by his wife, claims that he did not know that it had been ordered by career employees who no longer work for the department and are entirely to blame for the unfortunate misunderstanding, and insists that the purchase, which is due to be delivered sometime in May, be canceled straight-away.  He also wants us to know that he has not replaced either the carpet or the drapery in his office.  Clearly, the gallant and well-trodden tradition of Cabinet Secretaries quietly offering to pay for any needed furniture and donating it to their respective departments never crossed his mind.  While the equally rooted tradition of whistleblowers reporting wasteful government spending by folks lacking decency and common sense before the fact, and honesty and contrition after the fact, persists.

On a positive note, if the President ever drops by for lunch, he and the Secretary will be able to eat their McDonalds and KFC meals in form-over-substance style befitting the swampy-comfy public offices they hold.

Week 9 (February 26 to March 4, 2018)

 

 

National Airport Redevelopment Project

Regular readers of the Neighborhood Development page of this website may know that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is building a new communter terminal to the immediate north of Terminal C (Gates 35-45) and a new TSA screening facility at National Airport, which hosts 24 million passengers each year.  This $1 billion undertaking is called Project Journey.  Demolition of Hanger 11 -- which served for eight years as the airport's Interim Terminal while the airport's current main concourse and Terminals B and C were built in the 1990s and more recently housed aircraft maintenance hangers and administrative offices -- started last October (see photos at left of the Hanger 11 site before and after demolition).

The construction phase starts this week Monday, when one or more of the four travel lanes immediately next to the arrivals area of Terminals B and C will close from time to time over the next year or so.  The Washington Post reports that, "By spring, the stretch of the lower-level roadway that provides access to the airport will be a round-the-clock work zone with more widespread lane shutdowns, the kind that will probably create traffic backups.  The work will not affect the upper-level access road used for departure drop-offs."  The immediate area around Terminal A should also remain mostly unaffected, but cars leaving Terminal A may find it easier to exit the airport via the departure rather than the arrivals level of Terminals B and C.  None of the airport's parking garages are expected to be affected.

Adds the Post, "The authority says that despite traffic-control measures, there’s no way around the construction. Drivers should prepare for backups and heavier traffic near the terminals.  Motorists also should anticipate changes to traffic patterns.  Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft could be diverted to pick up customers on the departures level instead of arrivals.  Metro might be your best bet for avoiding the construction zone."  Or not.

Later this year, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority resumes aggressive track maintenance on all its lines.  For example, Metro states that on August 11-26 it will be "working around the clock to . . . rebuild the track infrastructure, including installation of new rail, new fasteners, and repairs to the concrete pads that support the rails . . . [on] the tightest curve in the entire Metrorail system between . . . [the] McPherson Square and Smithsonian" stations, resulting in "significantly reduced service on [the] Orange, Blue and Silver lines."  Those two weeks you will want to take the Yellow Line to and from National Airport.

Then on November 2-5, "Metro will improve/upgrade several switches outside Reagan National Airport, as well as install new concrete pads beneath the rails along the aerial structure at the airport station" resulting in the closure of the National Airport and Crystal City rail stations on those dates.  And it gets worse:  "Immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend [November 26-December 9], Metro will begin a continuous 14-day capital project on the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River.  The project will include structural repairs, and rail infrastructure improvements, such as grout pad reconstruction and fastener replacement along the entire bridge."  As a consequence, there will be no Yellow Line Service between Virginia and the District, and riders will have to use the Blue Line instead.  During this two-week period, Yellow Line service will run only between the National Airport and Huntington stations.

As we learned during Metro's 2016 SafeTrack project, the work schedules above are subject to considerable changes of all types.  Bottom line, plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get where you are going.  And it will be more difficult to use National Airport as a short-cut over the railway tracks to Crystall City.

 

 

Proposed Firesale of National Airport and GW Parkway

Last week, as part of its proposed $200 million infrastructure plan, the Trump Administration floated the idea of selling a few of the Federal government's crown jewels to the highest bidder to help fund various unspecified projects that may or may not rhyme with border wall.  Potentially on the auction block?  Dulles Airport, the Dulles Access Road, National Airport and the George Washington Memorial Parkway among other valuable assets.

It is unlikely that privatization of these assets will ever come about.  According to the Washington Post, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, which has managed the two airports for the past 30 years, holds a lease on the airports until the year 2067, owns all capital improvements that it has made and continues to make at both airports since 1987, and has issued $4.5 billion in bonds to finance those substantial upgrades.  And can you imagine a private-sector owner selling the naming rights to and attempting to monetize the Amazon GW Parkway via E-Z Pass?

 

Week 8 (February 19 to 25, 2018)

Property Assessments at Watergate

For 2018, the city kept last year's property assessments at Watergate unchanged for 95 homes and decreased them between 2% and 5% for the remaining 5 homes.

For 2017, the city increased property assessments on 90 of Watergate's homes by 8%, left them unchanged for 8 homes, and made specific one-time adjustments to the remaining 2 homes.

To put this in context, the Consumer Price Index, All Urban Consumers, Housing, Not Seasonally Adjusted shows increases of 2.86% from year-end 2016 to year-end 2017, and a 3.04% increase in the preceding 12-month period.

 

 

City's FY 2019 Budget

On February 20th, at a public meeting to be held at City Hall, Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks formally presented to the City Council his proposed $742 million operating budget for FY 2019, the municipality's fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018 and ends June 30, 2019.  The city's operating budget for the current fiscal year is $728 million.

Mr. Jinks's budget does not include a proposed increase in the all-important tax rate.  Last year, the City Council raised the residential property tax rate a whopping 5.7 cents to $1.13 per $100 in assessed value.  The City Council could still raise the tax rate later this spring when the budget is finalized, but here are several reasons why they will not do so.

This is a city council election year.  The mayor has announced that she is running for re-election.  The vice mayor has declared that he will challenge her.  At least three of the remaining five councilors have already stated that they also are running for re-election.  Seven political newcomers have disclosed their intent to run for a seat on the council.  This year's recently-completed assessments of single-family housing and multi-family condominiums and apartment buildings (representing more than 75 percent of the city's property tax base) are up nearly $1.3 billion or 4.4% in the aggregate.  That amounts to $14.7 million in additional city revenues this year using the current tax rate.  The increase roughly matches the proposed increase in next year's budget over this year's budget.  However, city taxpayers should be prepared for another unpleasant increase in the tax rate a year from now.

2018 MetroStage Flyer

 

 

MetroStage

MetroStage, our "Off-Broadway On the River's Edge" neighbor one block to the north, is staging a trio of Spring Solo Performances "celebrating work by women, about women, starring women."  The series starts this week and continues through the end of April.  Here are the details (you can also click on the flyer at left to enlarge):

Resist -- A Revolutionary Cabaret (February 24-25)
Stories and songs from music's revolutionary women
Conceived and performed by Roz White

George -- Don't Do That! (March 8-25)
The music and magic of Joyce Grenfell
Devised and performed by Catherine Flye

I Did It My Way -- In Yiddish (April 13-19
Written and performed (in English) by Deb Filler

Normally, MetroStage schedules full-on repertory performances at this time of year, but there was a possibility that they would have to vacate their current perrformance space due to the planned redevelopment of the Craddock/Smoot Lumber Site where they are located (click here for more details on the Neighborhood Development page of this website).  Their upcoming move to the redeveloped Crowne Plaza building a couple blocks to the south has been pushed back by 12-24 months (click here for more details).  Please support MetroStage as they have been so supportive of Watergate in allowing us to hold board meetings there!

 

 

 

Shamrock Shake

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, McDonalds is bringing back to participating stores its minty Shamrock Shake for a limited time, February 21st through March 17th.  First introduced in 1970, the iconic green concoction was, especially for those growing up in the seventies, the epitome of cool. Shamrock Shakes have two basic components.

First, there is the vanilla reduced fat ice cream, which is milk, sugar, cream, corn syrup, natural flavors (one assumes vanilla), monoglycerides and diglycerides (emulsifiers that produce a more stable foam structure with smoother body and texture), cellulose gum (a thickening agent used to give food a thicker and creamier consistency), guar gum (a substance made from guar beans that is used to thicken and stabilize food products), carrageenan (a somewhat controversial food additive extracted from red seaweeds and used for its gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties), and vitamin A palmitate (an antioxidant and a source of vitamin A that is added to low fat milk and other dairy products to replace the vitamin content lost when milk fat is removed).

Second, there is the shamrock syrup, which consists of high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, more sugar, natural flavor (one assumes mint), xanthan gum (a thickening and stabilizing agent), citric acid (added to enhance flavors and as an emulsifying agent to keep fats from separating), sodium benzoate (a preservative), and Yellow 5 and Blue 1 (food dyes that produce a greenish hue when combined).

A medium Shamrock Shake (garnished with whipped cream) costs $2.89 and has 560 calories (140 calories from fat), 16 grams of total fat, 91 grams of total carbohydrates, 12 grams of protein, and no dietary fiber.  In full disclosure, that is about 25-35 percent of the recommended daily caloric intake for most adult women with average metabolisms, and 20-25 percent of the recommended daily caloric intake for simarly situated men.  Available now at the McDonalds located nearest to Watergate at 1000 North Henry Street.  I checked so you don't have to.  Go indulge yourself as in younger days.

 

Week 7 (February 12 to 18, 2018)

 

 

Presidents' Day

Presidents' Day is a federal holiday now held each year on the third Monday in February.  It originally celebrated the birthday of America's first president, George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732 and served as Jefe-in-Chief from 1789-1797, but now honors all our country's former presidents.  This year, Presidents' Day falls on February 19th.  Here are a few things that you can do that day for free:

Mount Vernon, General Washington's historic estate, will be open to the public from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm without the normal $20 admission.

The City of Alexandria hosts the world's "oldest and largest" George Washington Birthday Parade from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.  The parade will be preceded by an 11:00 am band concert at Market Square in front of City Hall.  The parade route starts and ends near Windmill Hill Park on the south side of Old Town, processing north along Fairfax Street and then south along Royal Street.  The turn-around point is on Queen Street between Fairfax and Royal Streets, and that is the closest viewing location from Watergate of Alexandria (6 blocks away).  Click on the parade route map to the left to see a full-size version, or click here to see the route map as a PDF.

The following city-operated museums will be open to the public at no cost: 

Week 6 (February 5 to 11, 2018)

2018 is the Year of the Earth-Dog

 

 

Lunar New Year

The official calendar in China, the Gregorian Calendar, is the same one used throughout the western world.  It is a solar calendar that takes its name from Pope Gregory XIII who introduced it in 1582, has 12 months and 365 days in so-called common years, and includes a realigning leap day in most years divisible by 4 (except those divisible by 100 but not 400, which occurs three times every 400 years).  The principal (religious) purpose of the Gregorian Calendar is to ensure that Easter falls each year on a date that roughly corresponds to the vernal or spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (click here to read more about equinoxes and solstices in Week 12 of last year's Headlines).  What you may not know is that all solar calendars, which are based on the annual cycles of the sun, evolved from lunar calendars, which are based on the monthly cylces of the moon.

While China formally adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1912, and the calendar has been in wide use for civil purposes since the Communist Party's ascension in 1949, a traditional Chinese Calendar remains popular in China and much of Asia, and within Chinese communities throughout the world, for marking important dates such as religous festivals, cultural events, national holidays, and other important occasions such as weddings, funerals and new ventures.

While the Chinese Calendar can be traced to the 14th century before the Christian era, the current version is less than 5,000 years old and dates back to only 2637 BCE.  It is a lunisolar calendar based on astronomical observations of the sun's longitude and the moon's phases, has 12 months and 353 to 355 days in common years, and features 13 months and 383 to 385 days in leap years (which occur about once every three years when it is projected that there would otherwise be 13 new moons over a twelve-month cycle).

The Chinese Calendar rotates on a 60-year repeating sexagenary cycle that incorporates two sets of symbols called stems and branches.  The first set of 10 celestial symbols (heavenly stems) -- representing five yin-yang pairs -- includes growing wood and cut timber, natural and artificial fire, earth and earthenware, natural and wrought metal, and running and standing water.  The second set of 12 terrestial symbols (earthly branches) features animals that many westerners associate with the Chinese zodiac and includes rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and boar/pig.  Many of us are familiar with Chinese years being named for the animals alone (for example, "Year of the Tiger").  However, each year of the Chinese Calendar is more fully represented by a heavenly stem paired with an earthly branch.

For example, each 60-year cycle begins with wood-rat, then progresses to timber-ox, fire-tiger, fire-rabbit, earth-dragon, etc., and eventually ends with water-boar before starting all over again with wood-rat.  Because of the way that the two sets of ten stems and twelve branches cycle, about half of the possible combinations never come together.  The Chinese partly explain this phenomenom by asserting that some yin-yang pairings are just not meant to be.  The current 60-year cycle began in 1984, making 2018 the Year of the Earth-Dog (see chart at left).  It probably sounds much better in Mandarin or Cantonese.  Coming up soon in 2021 is the Year of the Metal-Ox.  That looks to be a particularly head-strong and auspicious year.

This week marks the start of the countdown to the first day on the Chinese Calendar -- the Lunar New Year.  Here are the critical dates:

February 8thSpring Festival, a day for praying, honoring one's ancestors, and cleaning the home to sweep away any bad luck in advance of the new year.

February 15thNew Year’s Eve, when families gather for a reunion dinner, the most important meal of the year.

February 16thChinese New Year, which is celebrated with firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.  No home cleaning takes place on this day lest good fortune be swept away.

March 3rdLantern Festival, where traditional displays of (mostly) red lanterns hold back the darkness and ends the new year's celebrations.

 

24/7 Wall Street, which produces mainstream financial news and opinion, recently ranked the best U.S. communities in which to live based on the same socio-economic factors -- education, poverty and life expectancy -- that the U.N. Development Programme uses to prepare its global Human Development Index.  Eight D.C. area communities made the list, with Alexandria ranking 16th.

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Senate Passes Bill Allowing Men to Drive Inebriated on Private Property

On February 8th, the Virginia Senate voted 37-3 to approve a bill, SB 308, that would allow Virginia men to drive while inebriated so long as they do so on their own property.  Because the bill was rushed through the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, no one knows whether legislators will later amend the bill to include drunk women, whether the bill applies to shared-ownership property such as private roadways in planned communities and condominium parking lots, and whether the bill covers transgender men.  The bill was introduced by Richard Stuart, a Republican lawyer who has represented the 200,000+ residents of Virginia’s 28th Senate District since 2008.  That district includes a part of Fredericksburg and some or all of eight surrounding counties.  In 2015, Mr. Stuart was elected to a third term without facing either a primary or general election opponent.  Voting for Dummies begets Drunk Driving for Dummies.

 

Week 5 (January 29 to February 4, 2018)

 

 

Alexandria Restaurant Week

More than 60 Alexandria restaurants are participating in this year's annual winter Restaurant Week that features $35 three-course dinners for one or $35 dinners-for-two from January 26th through February 4th.  Half of those eateries will also be offering lunch specials during the week. 

Don't know where to go?  Try Sunday in Saigon, which opened last year next to Trader Joe's and is offering a 2-course lunch for $15 and a 3-course dinner for $35 (click here to see its Restaurant Week menu).  Or Arlandria's "cajun, creole and seafood" mainstay, RT's Restaurant, which is offering a truly indulgent 3-course lunch for $20 (click here to see its Restaurant Week lunch menu).

Arlandria Restaurant Tops Washington Post's Cheap Eats List

In case you missed it, Tim Carman, the Washington Post's self-appointed $20 Diner, named Royal Nepal, a farm-to-table eatery that opened last March at 3807 Mount Vernon Avenue (near East Glebe Road) in the Arlandria neighborhood of Alexandria (see photo at left), as his favorite cheap eats of 2017.

Says Carman, "I stopped at more than 100 restaurants in 2017, returning three, four and occasionally five times to make sure I had sampled widely enough to issue a fair opinion of the place. Sure, there were duds along the way, but more often than not, I encountered cooking informed by tradition, training, family history and the sheer love of the cuisine. . . .  My favorite dish of the year was produced in chef/co-owner Subash Rai’s [Royal Nepal] kitchen:  crusty, yogurt-marinated lamb chops served atop a slab of pink Himalayan salt. I gnawed on those bones like a dog."  Arf!

Click here to read Carman's full review of Royal Nepal.

 

Week 4 (January 22 to 28, 2018)

 

 

Town Hall Meeting

On Saturday, January 27th, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, our two representatives to the Viriginia General Assembly, Senator Adam Ebbin (see photo at far left) and Delegate Mark Levine (see photo at near left), are holding an Alexandria Town Hall Meeting at the Mount Vernon Community School, located at 2601 Commonwealth Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22305.  The event is open to the public.

Nest Cam Season 3

Washington's resident celebrity bald eagles, Mr. President and The First Lady, have returned to their nest high up in a Tulip Poplar tree amidst the Azalea Collection at the U.S. National Arboretum located just ten miles directly up-river from Old Town, Alexandria.  The 24/7 live-streamed high-definition newly-updated nest cams at dceaglecam.org went live on New Year's Day to start Season 3 of the most compelling reality programming available on the web.  For a recap of what happened during the first two seasons, please visit the borderline-obsessive Nest Cam page of this website.  On January 20-21, the nest cam mysteriously went dark immediately after the federal government shut down due to Congress's failure to pass a short-term funding bill over uninvited immigrants -- like this eagle pair.

 

Week 3 (January 15 to 21, 2018)

Papal Keys, Conopaeum and Trintinnabulum

 

Pope Francis Bestows Honor on St. Mary's Church

On Sunday, January 14th, the Most Reverend Michael Burbidge, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, concelebrated early morning Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Old Town, Alexandria.  At the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Burbidge announced that his Holiness, Pope Francis, had exercised his canonical authority to designate St. Mary’s Church, which is the oldest Catholic Church in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a basilica, making it the 1,762nd basilica in the world, 84th basilica in the United States, 2nd basilica in Virginia, and 2nd basilica in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

In the Catholic tradition, a basilica is a church formally recognized by a Pope for its antiquity, dignity, religious relics, architectural significance, or historical importance as a center of worship.  There are four “great” or “major” Catholic basilicas, all of which are all located in Rome – the Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran (also known as the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran), the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican (also popularly known as St. Peter’s Basilica), the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (also known as the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major).  The rest of the basilicas throughout the world are referred to as “minor” basilicas.

The first-named basilica in Virginia is the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, which was built in 1858 but traces its roots back to 1791. It became a minor basilica in 1991 upon the 200th anniversary of the parish’s original establishment as St. Patrick’s Church.

The first D.C.-area basilica is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is adjacent to the Catholic University of America and is the largest Catholic Church in North America.  Construction of the shrine began in 1920. It opened unfinished in 1959, was named a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and was finally dedicated on December 8, 2017 following the completion of the stunning Trinity Dome.

The original St. Mary’s church was built in 1795 at Church and South Royal Streets.  According to parish records, support for its construction came from President George Washington; his military aide Lieutenant Colonel John Fitzgerald; Thorton Alexander, the scion of Alexandria’s founder, John Alexander; Colonel Robert Hooe, the then Mayor of Alexandria and one of the central political figures in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, which firmly established the doctrine of judicial review in the United States; and John Carroll, a Jesuit priest who served as America’s first bishop and archbishop, and who founded Georgetown University, the oldest and best Catholic university in the United States.

In 1810, St. Mary’s moved to its current location at 310 South Royal Street, a dozen blocks away from Watergate of Alexandria.  The current church building was completed in 1827.  Henceforth, the church will be known as the Basilica of Saint Mary.  St. Mary’s new-found status as a basilica carries with it two special privileges – the right of the church to display the papal insignia of the crossed golden and silver keys of Saint Peter representing the power of loosing and binding (see photo at far left), and the right of the basilica’s rector to wear a special mozzetta (a short cape with a small ornamental hood) over his other vestments or ceremonial garments.  In olden days, basilicas also had the privilege of displaying two other papal symbols (see photo at near left) the umbraculum/conopaeum/pavilion (an umbrella or canopy often sewn from red and gold velvet fabric) and the trintinnabulum (a small golden bell).  But alas and sadly, such exhibitions of papal regalia are no longer widely encouraged. 

Basilicas also tend to attract pilgrims, which is a very old word for tourists.  So, Old Town's secular leaders should find something to like in this week's honors.

 

Gravelly Point

Washington National Airport opened on June 16, 1941, just months before the U.S. entered World War II.  It is built on 861 acres of land atop the site of the historic Abingdon Plantation (which was owned by the Alexander family for whom the City of Alexandria is named), mudflats near Gravelly Point, and landfill dredged from the Potomac River. 

Twenty years ago, in 1998, the U.S. Congress -- against the wishes of local government officials, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority that operates National Airport, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that operates the National Airport Metro Station -- renamed the airport to honor Ronald Reagan, who served as our nation's 40th President from 1981-89.

On June 13, 2016, nearly 75 years to the day that National Airport opened its doors, Congressman Jody Hice, who has represented Georgia's 10th Congressional District (stretching from Atlanta in the west to Augusta in the east) since 2015, introduced a bill to change the name of Gravelly Point Park to Nancy Reagan Memorial Park to honor the former First Lady, who died in March 2016. 

The park (marked with a small red crosshair in the center of the satellite image above right) is situated just a few hundred feet removed from the northern end of National Airport's primary runway, making it a popular spot for folks to watch airplane arrivals and departures (see photo below).  The park also offers stunning waterside views of the airport terminal and Washington, D.C. (see photos at right).

Mr. Hice's original bill died in committee at the end of the 114th Congress on January 3, 2018.  A few days ago, on January 13th, Mr. Hice re-introduced his bill in the current 115th Congress. 

This week, on January 17th, the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation on a strict party-line vote that did not consider local viewpoints, and then forwarded the bill to the full House where it is expected to pass in a similarly partisan fashion over the objections of minority-party Democrats.

It's a shame that Mr. Hice has disregarded what Mr. Reagan said at a Spirit of America Rally held in Atlanta on January 26, 1984:  "The best view of big government is in the rearview mirror as we leave it behind."  Sadly, it's none for the Gipper.  Click here to read an interesting Washington Post column about the history of Gravelly Point.

 

 

 

Week 2 (January 8 to 14, 2018)

10 U.S. Counties Losing The Most Weight
1.  Arlington County, Virginia
2.  Prince William County, Virginia
3.  City of Fairfax, Virginia
4.  Monroe County, Indiana
5.  City of Alexandria, Virginia
6.  Dodge County, Georgia
7.  Monroe County, Florida
8.  Sierra County, New Mexico
9.  Madison County, Mississippi
10. Craig County, Oklahoma

10 U.S. Counties Gaining The Most Weight
1.  Somerset County, Maryland
2.  Clarendon County, South Carolina
3.  Murray County, Oklahoma
4.  Indiana County, Pennsylvania
5.  Leslie County, Kentucky
6.  Ashley County, Arkansas
7.  Evangeline Parish, Louisiana
8.  Seward County, Kansas
9.  Calhoun County, Florida
10. Phillips County, Arkansas

 

 

Now Back to Reality

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which serves as our national public health institute, reports that 36.5 percent of all U.S. adults are obese.  This is of concern because, according to the CDC, "People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol."  However, as the CDC optimistically notes, "Even a small weight loss (just 10% of your current weight) may help lower the risk of disease."

Here are some general obesity trends identified by the CDC:

  • By region, the South has the greatest prevalence of obesity, followed by the Midwest, Northeast and West.
  • By state, the highest rates of obesity are found in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia, and the lowest rates of obesity are found in Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  Click here to see the CDC's color-coded obesity map of the U.S.
  • By education, obesity rates decline as educational levels rise.
  • By age, obesity rates rise as folks get older.

This week, 24/7 Wall St., which produces mainstream financial news and opinion, published the results of a deep dive into the CDC's county-level obesity data.  The report notes the 10 U.S. counties losing the most weight in the past few years (Northern Virginia is doing quite well) and the 10 U.S. counties gaining the most weight (see charts at left).

Obesity is based on one's body mass index, a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters.  Click here to determine your BMI using the CDC's BMI calculator, your height in feet and inches, and your weight in pounds.  The calculator will also tell you whether you are considered "underweight," "normal," "overweight" or "obese."

 

Old Dominion Boat Club

Construction of the Old Dominion Boat Club's new clubhouse at the foot of Prince Street on the Potomac River, which fronts Waterfront Park and is across the street from Chadwicks, was completed in late 2017.

It was previewed for members at a New Year's Eve party held on December 31, 2017, and formally opened to its members on January 12, 2018.  The old facility closed on December 25, 2017 after a final event held on Christmas Eve, and will be turned over to the city on January 31, 2018.

Please visit the Neighborhood Development page of this website to learn more about the tortuous development of this new building, which was forced by Alexandria's relentless threats to seize the property via eminent domain, as well as the city's plans to raze the current building and develop a new Fitzgerald Square Park over the coming years.

 

 

Week 1 (January 1 to 7, 2018)

Happy New Year!

Eggs offer a simple and enduring symbol for the start of a new year.  They represent creation, life, hope, fertility, renewal, growth, health, wealth and the vast world around us. 

As found in nature, they are delicate yet protected, sheathed yet accessible.  In the kitchen, they are versatile and can be boiled, scrambled, fried, poached, basted, coddled, baked, beaten, whipped, emulsified, foamed and combined.  Eaten, they are nutritious, delicious and satisfying.

Every culture seems to have created some version of an egg custard or flan, the most sublime expression for an egg.  For example, Chinese chefs in Hong Kong and Macau bake bite-sized Dan Tarts -- delicacies served with tea at Dim Sum.  It's the perfect start to a happy new year everywhere.  Wishing you a happy new year.

 

 

Follow us on Twitter for current updates

This website is powered by Formal Constructs. All original content Copyright © 2002-2018 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.