Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: April 2007 Page 2 of 3

A Beautiful Thing

Whenever I return from travel to a city filled with billboards, I’m reminded how much I love the DC area’s near-complete absence of the horrible blight that is outdoor billboard advertising.   It seems that the residents of São Paulo felt the same way, and have banned all outdoor advertising from their city.  That is, not only are new billboards banned, but old ones must come down.  Here’s a flickr set showing some of the resulting bare infrastructure.  Background on the ban here.

(I wouldn’t personally support a US edition of the policy adopted by São Paulo – it reaches well beyond billboards and into protected speech, I think – but the results sure are a beautiful thing to contemplate.  Atlanta would do well to take a lesson.)

A DC Taxi Zone Map – And It’s Useful!

Via DCist, El Greg brings us the first useful DC taxi zone map I’ve encountered.   Better than anything those clowns at the DC Taxicab Commission have ever put together.  I don’t have any real objections to the archaic zone system, but the Commission’s insistence on utterly useless maps is absolutely ridiculous.

Friday Notes

There’s so much good and insight in Baratunde Thurston’s rather amusing post about not being amusing that you’ll have to read it yourself. And if you’re in DC, he’s at HR-57 on Saturday night, as part of the 4 Shades of Black show at the DC Comedy Festival.   Check him out.


But speaking of funny, the Arlington Republican Women’s Club is sponsoring a seminar next Thursday called “So, you want to be married?” 7 p.m. at Hunan Number One, $23.  Laughing right here, free.


I’ve got very little to say about Imus, beyond the fact that I’ve never really understood his appeal.  I don’t at all believe any of the spin that his firing is due to any genuine interest in decency by MSNBC, CBS, or any of the advertisers.   As Media Matters well illustrates, it’s not just Imus.

The big right-wing broadcast names – Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, etc. – don’t just poke fun at Chelsea Clinton and crazy enviros anymore – they’re downright hateful (and consistently go far beyond what Imus just said).  Here’s a few from the Media Matters list:

On the February 1 edition of his radio show, [Rush] Limbaugh responded to a Reuters report on a University of Chicago study that found that “a majority of young blacks feel alienated form today’s government” by asserting: “Why would that be? The government’s been taking care of them their whole lives.”

[ . . . ]

On the September 9, 2005, edition of his radio show, [CNN host Glenn] Beck referred to survivors of Hurricane Katrina who remained in New Orleans as “scumbags.” Also, after acknowledging that nobody “in their right mind is going to say this out loud,” Beck attacked victims of the disaster and the families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying: “I didn’t think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims.”

[ . . . ]

On the March 31, 2006, broadcast of his radio program, [widely syndicated radio host Neal] Boortz said that then-Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) “looks like a ghetto slut.” Boortz was commenting on a March 29 incident in which McKinney allegedly struck a police officer at a Capitol Hill security checkpoint. Boortz said that McKinney’s “new hair-do” makes her look “like a ghetto slut,” like “an explosion at a Brillo pad factory,” like “Tina Turner peeing on an electric fence,” and like “a shih tzu.”

[ . . . ]

While discussing the rape and murder of 18-year-old Jennifer Moore during the August 2, 2006, edition of his radio show, [Bill] O’Reilly appeared to suggest that the clothing she was wearing at the time helped incite her killer. O’Reilly discussed several factors that contributed to the “moronic” girl’s rape and murder, including that she was drunk and wandering the streets of New York City alone late at night. But in addition to those factors, O’Reilly added: “She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at 2 in the morning.”

It just goes on and on and on.  Bonus creep factor material:

On the February 28 edition of CNN Headline News’ Glenn Beck, while discussing racy photos of American Idol contestant Antonella Barba, Beck asked his female guest: “I’ve got some time and a camera. Why don’t you stop by?”

You’ve really got to see the video of that one to get the full slime effect.   But all of these guys – the biggest names in the business – spew this crap every day, and all the networks and advertisers that pretend to take issue with Imus continue to advertise with them.

The White House Is Stealing Your Property

And I’m stealing this Tim Grieve post, pretty much wholesale:

The problem with [the White House’s claim that preservation of staff email is a “grey area”]: The Presidential Records Act specifically acknowledges the existence of communications that are part official and part political — and it requires that they be preserved.

From 44 U.S.C. Section 2201: “The term ‘presidential records’ means documentary materials … created or received by the president, his immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise and assist the president, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the president. Such term … includes any documentary materials relating to the political activities of the president or members of his staff, but only if such activities relate to or have a direct effect upon the carrying out of constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the president.”

And from 44 U.S.C. Section 2202: “The United States shall reserve and retain complete ownership, possession, and control of presidential records; and such records shall be administered in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.”

The not-so-hard-to-understand import of it all: Even if an e-mail message involves “the political activities of the president or members of his staff,” it belongs to the United States — and therefore must be preserved — so long as it relates to the official duties of the president.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the White House’s actions not only violate the law, but they make a mockery of the the efforts that thousands and thousands of civil servants and members of the military go through – every day – to make sure the their communications comply with the law.

(And I see that Sen. Leahy must have read my post the other day – he calls a liar a liar.)

Earthlink Wifi: Is it a good deal for Arlington?

I’ve had a chance to read through the proposed Arlington County/Earthlink agreement (PDF), and am throwing my summary up here in the hope that it might be useful to other Arlington residents interested in the matter. If you’re not an Arlington resident, you may still be interested, as a lot of cities are considering similar agreements. My summary is not legal advice, a comprehensive analysis, or a substitute for reading the agreement yourself. So, with that said, here are the quick and dirty basics of the proposed agreement:

  • In return for getting access to County owned light poles in public rights-of-way (e.g., medians and sidewalks) for the next 20 years, Earthlink will build out a wireless network in Arlington County.
  • Earthlink will pay Arlington County $40,000 a year.
  • The service will be available to home and business users for a yet-to-be determined fee.
  • Earthlink will provide free access in certain county parks.
  • Earthlink will provide, free of charge, access accounts to certain county recreation centers, and as-yet-unidentified Arlington non-profits. It will also make accounts available to selected county employees at a very low ($10) rate.
  • Earthlink will “establish, construct, own, operate, upgrade, and maintain” the network – so it won’t be Arlington County you’re buying service from. For the most part, unless you’re in a park or community center, it doesn’t appear that you’ll have any indication that the county was involved with this.
  • There are no apparent coverage requirements/benchmarks. Wherever the service is available, however, Earthlink will make sure than anyone can access, free of charge, certain county websites (i.e., “Walled Garden Service”).
  • The network is scheduled to be operational 6 to 8 months after the effective date of the agreement.

All in all, pretty standard stuff. They’re doing the right thing on a number of points, while I’m not so thrilled with a few others.

Blogger Code of Conduct? Bugger that.

Tim O’Reilly has had a lot of good ideas. A very smart guy. And what happened to Kathy Sierra (and lot of less famous people) is obscene. But this Blogger Code of Conduct business? Is an enormous waste of time. Does it move anyone to do anything they wouldn’t already? No. Is there anything stopping someone from throwing up one of those inane badges and then doing what he’d do already? No. But it’s not as if this is the first exercise in pointless wankery on web. So why does this particular project bother me?

It’s giving legitimacy to this idea that form is more important than substance. That so long as you say please and thank you, you ought not be held to account for anything you say between those two words. Oh, there’ve always been delicate flowers on the internet, ready to faint at the first “goddamn.” But more and more, I’ve seen people who spew the most hateful and ignorant things immediately retreat behind a claim that someone is being uncivil, if they’re called hateful or ignorant. And, astoundingly, a fair number of otherwise reasonable people appear ready to give them cover on that.

This was well-illustrated for me in the past year, as I discovered Virginia political blogs. Until I realized the impact that the Virginia Marriage Amendment would have on me, I’d generally treated Virginia politics as mostly irrelevant to my interests. But then we had an issue on the ballot where people from all over the state could decide that I ought not have control over my own life and family. So I got involved in the Virginia online (and off) conversation. And in many respects, I’m glad I did. I discovered good folks like Vivian, Waldo, and the Howling Latina. All great contributors to public life, I think. But I also discovered a whole lot of hate. A whole lot.

I discovered that a vast swath of Virginia political blogs are dedicated to promoting some of the most ignorant, hateful, and harmful lies out there. Islam is dedicated to killing you. Allowing equal rights for all will lead to the collapse of society. Black folks ought to be thankful for slavery. I’m not going to link them, as there’s nothing to be gained by it, but I’ve come across all of these sentiments and worse in the posts and comments sections of Virginia political blogs (and this is to say nothing of the daily homophobia and xenophobia). Ignorance like this ought not to be met with acquiescent silence, or a polite murmur of disagreement. It needs to be engaged head-on, called out for what it is, and exposed to the sort of ridicule that a flat-earther might experience at meeting of geophysicists.

In other words, people who repeatedly claim and perpetuate hateful, ignorant, and harmful things don’t deserve a thoughtful engagement, deconstruction, and explanation every time. They can – and should – be dismissed as bigots. Or liars. Or straight up loons. There is no reason in the world to be patient and polite with someone who claims that some humans don’t deserve the same basic rights as others, or that a whole swath of humanity ought to be killed because it will satisfy their uninformed selves.

You want to improve the blogosphere? Raise the bar on substance, instead of hiding behind form.

Arlington’s Proposed Agreement with Earthlink

Last week, I mentioned that Arlington had tentatively selected Earthlink as its contractor to build out a county-wide WiFi network. I also noted that Arlington would be holding a public hearing on the proposed agreement today (7:30p, Room 311, 2100 Clarendon Blvd.). Having both professional familiarity with municipal network projects, and a personal interest as an Arlington resident, I asked the County, in writing, for a copy of the proposed agreement. And waited. And then waited some more.

Yesterday, I received a note from a consultant (that I presume has been hired by the county to run the RFP) that a copy of the agreement would be available on the county website this morning. And, well, here it is. I don’t know what time it was posted, but I can’t help but being a little annoyed that the document was only released the day of the public hearing ON the document. I wrote and asked the consultant whether, in light of that, they planned to hold any additional public hearings on the matter between now and when the county board will (presumably) adopt the agreement without much discussion at the next board meeting. Nope, says the consultant.

Not exactly the Arlington Way, is it?

(Please note that this post has nothing to do with the merits of the proposed agreement. I’ll share my thoughts on that once I read it . . .)

Update:  Analysis here.

Is sharing *that* hard?

This exchange in the Washington Post – between a cyclist and pedestrian involved in an accident on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) – illustrates why you’ll rarely find me on that trail (or the Mt. Vernon Trail (MVT), on weekends).   Apparently, it is too much to expect that all users of a trail pay attention to each other.  While I agree with the general principle that larger and faster moving objects (i.e., cyclists & bladers) have an obligation to be more vigilant than other trail users (i.e., runners & walkers), this doesn’t absolve pedestrians of their responsibility to stay alert and out of the way of other trail traffic.

The pedestrian in this case really annoys me, apparently unable to comprehend her role – plugged into an iPod and evidently unable to hear the warning by the approaching cyclist – in the accident.  And after 8 years of riding these same trails (tho’ less and less, over the years), I can tell you that she’s hardly alone in her myopic approach to trail use. I have a good voice for yelling, and a better bell for ringing, on all of my bikes.  And I use them constantly.  Yet I have dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of stories of near-misses with pedestrians who either weren’t paying attention, didn’t understand how to stay out of the way, or simply decided that it was *their* trail.

So I have generally given up on riding these trails at any time other than early morning or the odd midday excursion, which is a shame.   While I’m comfortable that my approach to trail sharing is a fair one, riding the CCT or MVT isn’t  worth the hassle and possible harm to myself or the unaware pedestrian.  And then I’m reminded – I can use the Custis/W&OD most any time without these problems.  Granted, the W&OD is more of a commuter trail than recreational trail.  But it’s a high volume trail where people seem to have the stay-to-the-left, call-out-when-passing routine down pretty well.  The only difference I can think of between this trail and the other two is that the other two attract more recreational pedestrians.  Perhaps, then, that is where the safety education efforts should focus.

(Scott has his own take on this.)

Richmond Report: U.S. Open Cycling Championships

Svein Tuft, of the Canadian Symetrics team, dropped the entire field of the U.S. Open Cycling Championships for a decisive (:41!) win on Saturday. It was an impressive finish to a race that had come close to being canceled, by some reports. I – and everyone else there – would have missed out on something amazing, had that happened. This was the best time I’ve ever had in Richmond.

You can find a comprehensive race report from Velo News, and hopefully even watch it on an NBC rebroadcast, so I’ll just share some of my own experiences as a spectator. All of the pictures here (and more) can also be found here.

Due to an unexpected stop, I arrived in Richmond later than planned. Unfortunately, this meant I missed the end of the women’s race, which was confined to a shortened version of the men’s circuit. Fortunately (for both me and the riders, I think), the start of the men’s race had been delayed by snow. Yes. Snow. Lots of it. In April. While it gave the riders a little extra rest, and me a chance to see every lap of the peloton, I’m pretty sure that the weather contributed to a rather dismal spectator turnout. Not exactly a crowdMost of the folks there were obvious cycling fans – and more than a few of us had driven down from DC. The Libby Hill portion of the course was filled with local residents, and the remainder seemed to be families dragged out by dads.

I think I can claim partial credit for at least one convert, though. Deciding to grab a bite to eat while waiting for the peloton to arrive, we ducked into a small convenience store/grill. The owner didn’t seem to know why the road was closed, but we chatted with him and gave him an extra copy of the course map. I thought he might have ended up annoyed, but later on I saw both him and his wife out at various points on the course, cheering the riders.

The course was well designed for spectators – it wasn’t hard to cover most of it on foot, and there were plenty of places where you could catch the leaders and chase groups at one point, and then hoof it a block or two to catch them again at another point on the course. Course MapThe best point, by far, was the Libby Hill cobble climb. At the far east end of the course, it drew a lot of spectators (and neighborhood support). I spent a couple of laps there, in awe of the sound that is a hundred drivetrains rattling over cobbles. Up Libby HillAmazingly, there were no peloton-splitting wrecks, even though the the steep and narrow switchback nature of the hill seemed to be designed for exactly that.

After the riders made it up Libby Hill, it was a straight and fast descent down Franklin Street. Fast down FranklinThe riders must have been approaching 50mph on this descent, and FixedGear, driver of one of the neutral support vehicles, thinks he caught air in his car. I don’t doubt that at all. (I think I saw FixedGear stop and give a rider a wheel on that same stretch.)

From there, I (pretty much) ran from corner to corner, trying to get catch as much of it as I could on my way back to the starting line. I was happy with some of my pictures, but it mostly just reminded me that I need to pull the trigger on getting a new camera (unless one of these guys wants to offload some equipment). Here’s a smattering:

Jittery Joe Support Mini Long way to climbAlmost cyclocrossLast lap

As I made my way back up East Main Street, it wasn’t hard to notice that there were almost as many volunteers as spectators at a number of points. While this speaks well of local cycling clubs, I can’t help but be disappointed that the race didn’t get more local support. The problems of the race organizers were well publicized, and it never did come up with a title sponsor. If Richmond wants this race back, I think it’s going to have to step up. Otherwise, I sure would love to see Arlington/DC/Montgomery county put something together for next year . . .

The finishing line was full of people, without being crowded. They had a jumbotron set up, with live footage from the helicopters. Did you hear that? Helicopters. Plural. At an American race. NBC Sports broadcastBetween that and having Bob Roll & Al Trautwig in the tent behind us, it felt just like a real live ProTour race. I’m not sure who the officials pavilion announcer was, but he was doing a very good job of calling the race. (Nota bene for the announcer calling the race at Libby Hill: it is really not cool to repeatedly ID a rider solely as “the Mexican”, especially when 1) he has a name – Gregorio Ladino Vega 2) should get some respect for managing to keep his solo breakaway for two laps, and 3) he ISN’T MEXICAN (he’s Columbian).)

I watched the final laps from the finish line, surprised that Ivan Dominguez wasn’t able to make more out of his position in the breakaway, and impressed at Svein Tuft’s ability to draw deep on the Libby Hill climb for the :41 breakaway that ultimately secured his victory.

Svein Tuft

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (who lives only a couple of blocks away from the finish) was in attendance for most of the event, and did a decent job of talking up Virginia’s cycling attractions. While mostly your typical local boosterism, Gov. Kaine’s comments were much more believable than the over-the-top praise heaped on Richmond during the NBC broadcast. But if that’s the price for national cycling coverage, I’ll gladly pay it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch on camera the most cringe-inducing moments of the event. No, not a crash (in fact, I wasn’t aware of *any* crashes on the Richmond circuit). It was during the award ceremony, where both third place Alejandro Borrajo (Rite-Aid) and Svien Tuft both leaned over to accept the traditional flowers and kiss, and then got left hanging by Miss Greater “I Don’t Do Podium Kisses” Richmond. Somehow, though, I think they’ll be able to get over it.

All in all, though, it was a great way to spend a Saturday. I was thrilled to have an event like this so close to home, and I hope they’ll be able to pull it off next year. With this year’s lessons under their belt, I’m sure they could build this into a world-class cycling event. Here’s hoping.

U.S. Open Cycling Championships

Update: race report here.

Made it to Richmond to watch what turned out to be a great race. Write up soon, but in the mean time, here are some pics.

Be sure to check out FixedGear’s firsthand account of the race, from the perspective of the neutral support vehicle.

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