Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

If you weren't ready for Halloween, seeing this guy I saw on the subway Friday (whom I'd seen before, various times) would get you in a festive mood...

guy on subway selling trinkets that light up
Check out this dude's grill, which lit up as well! (Apparently, also ready to help with last-minute Christmas shopping gifts.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

ACKC DC (the hot spot for grown-up choc)...

outside the entrance to ackc dc
After a disappointing meeting, I suggested to Barbie that we try the ACKC chocolate gallery on 14th Street (which has been beckoning me for a while), so off we went. I should have known that it would be great, if only from the outside, as well as this welcoming entrance was a prelude to the friendly service and delicious noshes and drink...

inside the entrance to ackc dc
Shockingly, I showed a bit of restraint, and didn't purchase any of the chocolates in the display case, this time. (That will be my next ACKC mission, however.) Also showed restraint in that I didn't drool when I swooned over these beauties:

nondairy blackberry sugarcreme chocolates

nondairy blood orange sugarcreme chocolates

fleur de sel caramels
Enough already! (And this was only a small portion of the goodies.) We each decided on the regular Belgian hot chocolate and a slice of the pear William cake. Although chocolate and pears is a traditional French dessert combination, I'd never tried it before, in part because I didn't think I'd be able to taste the pear flavor against the chocolate. In this case, I was wrong, as the moist cake with chocolate was intensely flavorful. And the hot chocolate, rich and not too sweet. Heck, even the (few) tables there are vividly painted to accompany the rich flavors:

pear william cakes and hot chocolate on table
To mix it up, will try a different hot chocolate next time, one of the Divas (named after screen greats), probably the Rita Hayworth. And perhaps a different cake, if the Aztec lava is there when I come.

As great as the food and drink was, it has an amazing ability to summon the sandman. Barbie mentioned this while we were there (which I didn't notice at the time), but later, when I was on the subway, the rollicking rhythms of the rails conspired with the chocolate goodness to knock me out for a bit. (And I didn't order any of the dessert wines, either--although the sweet South African Shiraz is looking mighty tempting...)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Meetings of kindred spirits--unknown to each other...

Didn't go to the Green Festival last weekend and eat the vegetarian fare there, among other things (although I enjoyed a tasty, filling vegan brunch that same day at Everlasting Life for $10, which would have been cheaper than any lunch at the festival).

Strangely enough, only two weeks earlier across town, there was a gathering of professionals who are also keenly concerned about modern society's overreliance on petroleum--the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas) USA's World Oil Conference 2010, which convened at the Capitol Hill Hyatt. While I might have liked to attend (I think), the cost was too rich for my blood (even the discounted rates), but various of the discussions and transcripts of some events are can found online at Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum.

Many of the speakers and participants were knowledgeable energy consultants such as Robert Hirsch, who published the so-called Hirsch Report in 2005 at the behest of the Department of Energy, a document which posits that, according to estimates from knowledgeable investigators such as K. Deffeyes, world oil production could peak earlier than 2016. He was scheduled to speak about his lastest book, The Impending World Energy Mess, among other topics. Other speakers included Rear Admiral Lawrence Rice, former Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger (Carter administration), former CIBC economist Jeff Rubin, and many others.

Lest you think the perspective of ASPO members is overblown, reflect on this recent, underreported (as underreported as the ASPO conference) coincidence--in recent months, there have been reports issued by the US Forces Joint Command as well as the German military wondering about the consequences of dwindling levels of the world's petroleum reserves, and the effects on military operations. (Now the symbolism of President Obama bringing back solar panels back to the White House doesn't seem empty.)

Apparently, not everyone wants their fellow Americans (and others) to prepare themselves to withstand and thrive when petroleum reserve levels fall off the proverbial cliff. Allegedly, at each yearly ASPO conference, a couple of local demonstrators dressed as "Chicken Little" (believed to be hired by a Texas or Denver oil man) hand out flyers.

Hiring those demonstrators is of the same head-in-the-sand mindset as the Georgia county that sued a farmer for growing too many vegetables on his land, even after the zoning changed. View the insanity below.

If the hippie types at the Green Festival and the good farmer in Georgia agree with the engineer and military types at the ASPO conference (and in many aspects, they DO agree) with the need to drastically reduce our petroleum usage within the next few years, how do they, and the rest of us, convince our elected (civilian) officials to take seriously the prospect that world oil reserves may peak within our lifetimes? And, what to do first, as a society, to keep functioning as a society? Perhaps press for the expansion and electrification of our railroad system?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Too close for comfort...

Decided to stay home to wait for the security alarm person to come by to switch out the old keypad, and the tech asked why there were fire trucks down the street. Huh? Then I went down the street and saw scenes like the following.

various local fire engines
firefighters about to enter townhouse
Even worse was when I went out back, and saw the horror:

charred backs of homes
Soon after (in the middle of the afternoon), the power went out; it only came back on this evening, after eight. After talking with a neighbor, I talked with a lady who lived in the third house (whom I later lent a blanket, as she ran out of her house with just nightclothes on this chilly day), which the firefighters used to fight the fire at the other two homes, suffered the least damage. Nonetheless, it was condemned like the other two, because of damage to the structural integrity of her home. Thankfully, she had somewhere to stay for the time being, but she was clearly, understandably, shaken.

county fire department spokesman with others

My neighbors and me wondered why the sprinkler system seemed to fail, why the fire got so out of hand. One firefighter said that the effectiveness of the sprinklers depends on where the fire begins--if it begins in the attic (the only place in the house with no sprinkler), then it spreads quickly to the roof. If it begins outside, it quickly spreads upward, again before the sprinkler can really begin to put out flames.

I was told later by a fireman that the fire began in the back, and that it was probably electric in nature. Which only makes me more nervous. What was the source of the electic failure leading to fire? The fire, from what I can tell, didn't take that long to really get roaring, with the wind whipping around. I called a neighbor to let her know not to come home too early, as the streets were blocked from both directions (turns out, for more than two hours), and the electricity was out most of this time.

All this chaos got me to wondering just how prepared am I, if at all, for such an emergency. After all, fires are, unfortunately, not that uncommon, especially during the colder months. I did have enough canned goods on hand to not have to immediately crack open the fridge to get something to eat. (And have a manual can opener to open them, if needed.) The immediate streets were closed off for a couple of hours, which wouldn't have been too much of a hardship to hoof if I had to, as I'm used to taking reasonably long walks in the area. But that could have been a problem for seniors or the disabled. (As no one could get in or out this afternoon except by foot, and this is no cul-de-sac.) Having some cash on hand would not have been a bad thing, either.

Now that the lights are back on, and the fire's been put out, I'll have to check with some neighbors to see how we're going to help the ones who are displaced; there's been talk of taking up a collection. I hope it'll be more than mere talk.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

National Harbor--not Disney on the Potomac (quite)

view of Potomac from the Gaylord Hotel atrium
I wasn't sure I'd like the hotel/tourist trap/convention/local shopping-dining destination known as National Harbor before I came here on business, and what I knew of it was primarily the Gaylord Hotel, the development's anchor. Don't get me wrong--it's an impressive space to hold a meeting (but don't know what its hotel service is like, as I didn't stay in a room, and won't, if I have to pay for it, as it's too rich for my blood), but I find the rest of National Harbor interesting. (Although I'd like to perhaps head to the Gaylord's day spa someday.) It's nice to have another, scenic spot in the Washington area that takes advantage of proximity to the Potomac.

One weak spot (for me) is the placement of the famous sculpture, The Awakening, relocated from Haines Point. It's too close to the crowded marina for my liking, and appears cramped:

The Awakening statue almost obscured by billboard

The Awakening statue near marina
It should have been placed further down the shore, in a more peaceful area, like this:

shore at National HarborOh, the parking situation. I didn't have to pay for parking the first few times I came (whew!); the next few times I came (for pleasure), I came via the NH1 bus from the Branch Avenue metro, scared as I was of the ridiculously high parking rates, which can reach $20 if you stay long enough! (And when you can find the parking lots, which I somehow think are mostly for the condo residents.) I've heard that it's easy to get a ticket if you park at a meter, so I'm not eager to try that either. For the 'burbs, the rates are a bit much.

As the summer's over, there are no more movies being screened over the Potomac Sunday nights (bummer!). However, there are decent walking paths along the shore (see above), and a walking trail to the nearby Wilson Bridge has been completed, if you're in the mood for more of a hike. In fact, there are lots of walking paths, and places to sit down, which makes this a good area for a leisurely stroll.

Closer to civilization, yet away from the hotel proper (as hotels themselves tend to have the most boring, yet pricey, shopping and dining options), the shops and restaurants are somewhat varied, if upscale. There's an intimate looking outpost of Mayorga Coffee that opens early for hot coffee and accompanying noshes.

outside of Mayorga CoffeeHowever, there's also coffee and tea available early at Aromi D'Italia, as well as breakfast (and later, lunch) panini/sandwiches, a view of the harbor, and frozen dessert (early in the morning).

gelato display at Aromi d'Italia
Better, you don't need to run back to a hotel to take care of certain necessities after eating, because on the same level as Aromi and the Cakelove outpost (which is next door to Aromi, and whose baked goods I have conflicted feelings about), as seen from the following sign from heaven.

(Better still is that the ladies room is kept quite clean.) Somehow, though, Desserts by Gerard (a local patisserie located down the road with the most luscious cakes) would seem a better fit for National Harbor than Cakelove. But then, Gerard's prices would probably have to increase.

I can't recommend Ketchup for a breakfast option, as it wasn't open for breakfast as it stated (on a door); an employee at another Nat Harbor store told me that Ketchup advertises somewhere that it serves breakfast, but doesn't. The manager I spoke with seemed less than friendly, so I won't be returning. (What kind of name is that for a restaurant anyway?)

Lunch and dinner are available at a number of restaurants, which tend to be on the pricier side. A cousin raves about Elevation Burger's grass-fed burgers, and a friend enjoyed dinner at Rosa Mexicano, but mentioned that it will flatten the wallet. Of course, there are various seafood establishments, including a McCormick and Schmick's, as well as upmarket Thai and Chinese restaurants (Thai Pavilion and Grace Mandarin), so there should be something to please everyone. Also, there's a Rita's Ice and a Ben and Jerry's for ice cream after dinner if you don't want gelato for a frozen treat.

As to shopping, there are a few upscale stores, some of which actually carry items I might like to splurge on. There's South Moon Under, but even better, Fossil. For the men, there's the venerable Joseph A. Banks, and for the ladies, not just cutey-patootie stores like Charming Charlie, but two, count 'em, two expensive shoe stores. The newer one, Simply Soles, has a good selection of quality shoes, at a variety of sizes (not just the size 6's of the world). However, as its goods are in the $300 to $400 range, I don't see myself buying pumps there anytime soon. The local chain, Comfort One Shoes, has a nice store here, with a variety of styles for women and men. But again, it would have to be a major sale (again) for me to shop here in the near future.

Now, the National Harbor project is still a work in progress, as the new National Children's Museum is being built there, as well as as a CVS and a gourmet market, presumably for the condo residents who need more than the snacks that can be procured from Onsite News. Perhaps a sign of the times is a ride that was supposed to be completed this past summer, the Calleva Challenge (a type of battering ram, I think).
But then, perhaps this is simply in keeping with the Children's Museum that's being built, and this might be somehow related to that, as a type of demonstration, when it's finally finished. As for the Disney property up the hill from this battering ram, who knows?

My final gripe about National Harbor is not with the development itself, but how it and the county have fallen down in promoting its own proximity to history, in Maryland as well as Virginia. For instance, you will find nowhere on the National Harbor website that the harbor is literally next door to the historic Oxon Hill Manor, a picturesque site often used for weddings (and, apparently used by a number of Gaylord guests in town for weddings held at the manor). Or that Fort Washington is also nearby. Why couldn't that be a water taxi stop in the summer? Oh well, nothing's perfect, so neither is National Harbor. But it's a scenic, varied place to hang out with family and friends once in a while.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water and nuclear power--the silence is not golden for Calvert Cliffs

Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Lusby MarylandCalvert Cliffs nuclear plant in Lusby, Maryland (photo from Wikipedia)

A few years back, when a drought in the South threatened several nuclear (and coal) power plants (nuclear plants are humonguous users of water, which is they tend to be situated near bodies of them) was the first time the impact of water in nuclear power generation really stood out in my mind.

Closer to home, an additional variation on this theme exists, as one of Washington area's nuclear plants, Calvert Cliffs (pictured above, via Wikipedia) in Lusby, MD, is located in the same town as the nearby Calvert Cliffs State Park (which I fondly remember visiting in middle school), and some residents.

As of late, these homeowners' properties have been subject to severe erosion, and some have recently been offered buyouts because of the gravity of the situation, as seen here:

Most of the previous news stories about their plight take the tack that the impasse in helping the homeowners stems from efforts to protect an endangered species, the tiger beetle. Oddly, none of these stories even mention in passing that a nuclear plant is in Lusby, and question whether it might also be affected by cliff erosion in the area. (Also, no one in the media has questioned the wisdom of purchasing homes near erosion-prone cliffs in the first place.) If folks are so worried about the environmental impact of homes falling into the Chesapeake Bay, imagine how much worse the impact would be if erosion caused part of the land immediately surrounding the nuclear plant to fall into the Bay. Are there any efforts being made to stabilize the power plant's land to keep it from falling into the Chesapeake?

Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant is not perfect, and faces other threats, not merely erosion of the nearby cliffs. It shut down briefly this past February because of problems caused by another form of water--melting snow. In a 2009 incident, a stray bullet from an onsite firing range (!!!) struck a command center near the reactors, which, mercifully, caused no major problems, as far as is known. A Washington Post article about the incident quoted Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokesperson Holly Harrington, "Firing ranges are common on the sprawling grounds of the nation's nuclear facilities." Bullets and nuke plants sound like a combination dreamed up by a B-movie producer (Bullets over the Bay).

Finally, if cliffside erosion near Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant potentially threatens the stability of the enterprise (a possibility which apparently even anti-nuclear groups such as the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition are not addressing), what about other nuclear plants across the U.S., which tend to be situated near bodies of water. Might the land near them also be facing erosion issues? Or are we, as a society, simultaneously so scared and complacent about the 800 pound gorilla of nuclear power that we dare not even ask such questions?|Start Petition

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sesame Street--helping girls to love their hair!

Leave it to the folks at Sesame Street, public television's long-running edu-tainment show, to put out a positive song for our young girls, I Love My Hair. (I wish this had come out when I was young and watching the show.) Oh, better late than never:

It's too bad that something like this wasn't first done by TV One or BET (but then, the latter wouldn't be living up to its new self-appointed role as Black Embarassment Television). (Originally saw this gem on The Root website today.) Enjoy!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Happy World Vegetarian Day--you could be a winner! (Or, if you give plants a chance.)

October 1 is World Vegetarian Day, and there have been interesting developments in the news lately regarding healthy diet, most notably former President Bill Clinton's interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, in which Clinton related that he turned to a (mostly) plant based diet in recent months to find out if it will help his cardiac condition. Typical of the media, it initially (and sensationally) reported on his weight loss ("Clinton's Weight Loss Secret--Plants"), which was merely a side effect (a good one) of his new eating habits.

Now, you know this man has had access to the best physicians over the years (and daughter Chelsea has been a vegetarian for years), but it took the fact that his stent, unfortunately, started to clog up again for him to consider eating a plant based regimen. (Apparently, the reclogging of arteries after a stent has been implanted is not uncommon.) He mentioned a few physicians and scientists by name, notably Caldwell Esselstyn, Dean Ornish, and T. Colin Campbell (epidemiologist and author of the eye-opening book, The China Study) whose studies persuaded him to give (more) plants a try.

* * *

To help others give (more) plants a chance, the North American Vegetarian Society, sponsor of World Vegetarian Day, has a contest: if meat-eating folk pledge to give up eating animals for a period of time--day, week, or month--they can enter a drawing to win cash. The bigger the pledge, the bigger the prize if you are a winner, up to $1,000! No matter what, that's a win-win situation, whether or not you win any money. (And don't let anti-soy scaremongers deter you from taking the challenge.) Bon appetit!