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January 2006 Archives

Alito Filibuster Fails - congressional procedure

Republican senators, aided by 19 Democrats, cleared the path yesterday for Samuel A. Alito Jr. to join the Supreme Court and for President Bush to put his stamp firmly on the nine-member bench.

The Senate voted 72 to 25 to end debate on Alito's nomination and to allow a roll call on his confirmation today, shortly before noon. Alito's supporters garnered a dozen more votes than the 60 they needed to choke off a Democratic filibuster effort, which would have allowed debate to continue indefinitely.

"Senate to Vote On Alito Today: Confirmation Near as Filibuster Fails," by Charles Babington, The Washington Post, January 31, 2006

If you want to learn more about Congressional procedure, we offer several courses, audio CDs, and publications.

Also see our previous post, "CRS reports about presidential nominations"

January 31, 2006 11:12 AM   Link    Legislative Process    Comments (0)

Newspapers need to worry about the best and the worst of the blogosphere

Like the long-gone typesetters, today's newspaper guild members believe that their job is somehow their "property," and that no amateur can step in to perform their difficult and arduous tasks. On one level, they're right. John Q. Blogger can't fly to Baghdad or Bosnia and do the work of a John F. Burns. But what a lot of guild members miss is that not everybody wants to read John F. Burns, not everybody who wants to read about Baghdad is going to demand coverage of the quality he produces, and not everybody wants Baghdad coverage, period. If you loosely define journalism as words and graphics about current events deliverable on tight deadline to a mass audience, the price of entry into the craft has dropped to a few hundred dollars. Hell, I can remember renting an IBM Selectric for $100 a month in the late 1970s just to make my freelance articles look more "professional" to my editors.

So, when newspaper reporters bellyache about shoot-from-the-hip bloggers who don't fully investigate the paper trail before writing a story or double-check their facts before posting, they're telling a valuable truth. Bad bloggers are almost as bad as bad journalists. But the prospect of a million amateurs doing something akin to their job unsettles the guild, making it feel like Maytag's factory rats whose jobs were poached by low-paid Chinese labor.

It's not just the best of the blogosphere drawing away big audiences that the guild need worry about. If Chris Anderson's Long Tail intuitions are right, the worst of the blogosphere—if it's big enough—presents just as much (or more) competition. Michael Kinsley made me laugh a decade ago when he argued against Web populists replacing professional writers, saying that when he goes to a restaurant, he wants the chef to cook his entree, not the guy sitting at the next table. I'm not laughing anymore: When there are millions of aspiring chefs in the room willing to make your dinner for free, a least a hundred of them are likely to deal a good meal. Mainstream publishers no longer have a lock on the means of production, making the future of reading and viewing anybody's game. To submit a tortured analogy, it's like the Roman Catholic church after Gutenberg. Soon, everyone starts thinking he's a priest.

I'm not about to predict what the collapsing cost of media creation will ultimately do to the news business, if only because my track record at prophesy is terrible. But this much I know: The newspaper guild (again, reporters, editors, publishers) can't compete by adding a few blogs here, blogging up coverage over there, and setting up "comment" sections. If newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters don't produce spectacular news coverage no blogger can match, they have no right to survive.

"Not Just Another Column About Blogging: What newspaper history says about newspaper future," by Jack Shafer, Slate, January 28, 2006


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January 30, 2006 06:07 AM   Link    Fourth Estate    Comments (0)

Song Que - Bahn Mi in Eden Center

We love the Vietnamese sandwiches (Bahn Mi) and bubble drinks at Song Que in Eden Center ...

Song Que in Eden Center, Falls Church, VA
Song Que in Eden Center, Falls Church, VA

Song Que #8 grilled pork bahn mi
This is the #8, Grilled Pork sandwich

Song Que #8 grilled pork bahn mi
Another pic of the #8, Grilled Pork sandwich

The #6, grilled chicken, is also very good ... we usually ask for extra jalapeño on the sandwiches ... our favorite bubble drinks are the mango, coconut, and guavabana ...

This is a phenomenal bargain. The #6 and #8 sandwiches are $2.50 each, the bubble drinks (also called "bubble tea") are $3.00 ... a fabulous meal for less than $6. During the summer we come here at least once a week ...

Song Que is owned by the same family that owns Four Sisters (Huong Que), a few doors away in Eden Center ...

Song Que, 6773 Wilson Boulevard, Falls Church, VA, 703-536-7900 [Washingtonian | MetroConnection | NYT | wCities | a capitol life]


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January 29, 2006 10:27 AM   Link    Dining    Comments (0)    TrackBacks (2)

Al's Steak House - Alexandria, VA

Al's Steak House, which says it is "Alexandria's First and Foremost Philly Cheese Steak Shop"

Al's Steak House, Alexandria, VA
Al's Steak House, Alexandria, VA

Al's cheeseburger sub - excellent
cheeseburger sub - excellent

Al's great greasy onion rings
great greasy onion rings

Al's very good hamburger
very good hamburger

Al's very good hamburger
very good hamburger

Al's fries look better than they are - get the onion rings
fries look better than they are - kind of limp - get the onion rings

web site, 1504 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA, 703-836-9443 (cash only) [The Best Phlly Cheesesteaks] Very good value. Recommended

January 28, 2006 10:47 AM   Link    Dining    Comments (0)    TrackBacks (1)

This Week in DC Reviews - January 27, 2006

Periodically, we will publish This Week in DC Reviews, a roundup of reviews of DC-area restaurants, with quick links to DC-area restaurant reviews and mentions from the previous seven days in blogs, magazines, and newspapers.

For a roundup of New York City restaurant reviews from NYC food bloggers and media, see This Week in NYC Reviews at A Guy In New York.

Did we miss your favorite DC restaurant review?

Let us know: hobnobblog -at- ... we're especially interested in hearing from DC bloggers ...

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January 27, 2006 10:47 AM   Link    Dining    Comments (0)    TrackBacks (1)

Kids and High School

School Without Walls’ 1996 valedictorian Wai-Ying Chow graduated summa cum laude from George Washington University, worked at the National Institutes of Health, and is now back in school for her doctorate. It’s a storybook ending, but not a common one for the District’s public-high-school valedictorians.

"Honor Roles," by Huan Hsu, Washington City Paper, Januray 20-26, 2006 (article follows up on 10 DC high school valedictorians from the classes of 1995 and 1996)

WELSH: We both agree that students need to be challenged, Jay, but you seem to think that they have to be in AP courses for that to happen. Your challenge index ignores the basic mission of schools and teachers: to take their students and stretch them as far as possible. The number of kids taking AP tests is but one tiny measure of whether a school fulfills that mission. You've unwittingly created an out-of-control monster, a smoke and mirrors numbers game, the equivalent of ranking the teams in the NCAA basketball tournament on the basis of the number of players who got in the game, instead of the final score. You have image-conscious public school officials so intimidated that they're putting as many kids as possible -- and I am not talking about average kids who are willing to do the work -- into AP courses so that they can get a higher ranking on your index. In fact, I already know the challenge index score you will give T.C. Williams on the basis of the 830 AP exams to be given here next month. Even if every one of those exams got a score of 1 (the lowest possible score on a 5-point scale) you will give us a 1.4 (830 divided by the 588 kids in the senior class) up from .949 last year. Are we a better school this year than last because more kids will take the AP test and we will finally make your Newsweek list? Hardly.

The result of this numbers game is the exact opposite of what you intend: The stronger students aren't getting the challenge they should be getting and the weaker students, instead of learning the basic things they will need for college, are being overwhelmed. Furthermore, at a time when high-paying jobs that demand two years of technical school or community college go begging because of the lack of skilled workers, your index is bolstering the myth that every kid needs to go to a four-year college or university -- a myth that Bill Gates has been busy reinforcing.

"Is AP Good for Everybody? It's Debatable," an debate with Jay Mathews and Patrick Welsh, The Washington Post, April 10, 2005

Who can argue against more kids taking challenging courses? Well, count me as one who can. School officials are deluding themselves that they're raising standards for more students. From what I've seen, this trend is starting to lead to more discouragement and less learning among students who do not have the skills or motivation to do the work in an AP course. It's also watering down the courses.

In the 25 years I have been teaching AP English, I have never seen such growth in the numbers of AP students as during the past three years. Last year, T.C. Williams had eight sections of AP English; this year, there are 11 — defining about half the senior class as “advanced.” Is this year's senior class so superior to last year's that three new sections had to be added? Hardly.

One reason for the increase nationwide is that the College Board has made a big effort to convince school districts and the public that the best way for kids to show “college-level mastery” of a subject — and impress colleges — is to get a score of 3 or above (on a scale of 1 to 5) on an AP test. This is a spurious claim — at least from my experience — given that any reasonably bright kid could get a 3 on the English literature test without taking the course. In fact, some universities, for this reason, are beginning to give college credits only for a score of 4 or 5.

"Watering down ‘advanced' classes: The nation's high schools are being flooded with AP, or Advanced Placement, courses. You'd think that would be a good thing. Think again." by Patrick Welsh, USA Today, March 7, 2005

Just before the school year ended in June, my colleagues in the English department at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and central office administrators discussed which textbook to adopt for the 9th- and 10th-grade World Literature course for next year.

Of the four texts that the state approved, the choices came down to two: the Elements of Literature: World Literature from Holt, Rinehart and Winston and The Language of Literature: World Literature from McDougal Littell.

The problems with these two tomes are similar to the problems with high school textbooks in most subjects.

First, there's the well-documented weight problem. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has said that an increase in back injuries among children might be attributed to the enormous textbooks they lug around in their backpacks. Injuries aside, what kid is going to sit in a chair and relax with a heavy hardcover, 9-inch-by-11-inch compendium?

Worse is the fact that for all their bulk, the textbooks are feather-weight intellectually.

"How schools are destroying the joy of reading," by Patrick Welsh, USA Today, August 3 2005

Like American society, schools are full of challenges, but I still don't think that my school or the schools nationwide are in as much trouble as many politicians and education experts would have us believe. The myth that American schools are in bad shape has a long history. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, points out that today's complaints about students' poor reading and math skills, ignorance of history, inadequate preparation for the work force, unfocused curriculums, lack of moral education—you name it—have been echoed for more than a century. In 1892, when fewer than 6 percent of high school graduates went to college, the Harvard Board of Overseers issued a report complaining that only 4 percent of the Harvard applicants "could write an essay, spell or properly punctuate a sentence."

"Touching Hearts and Minds," by Patrick Welsh, eJournal USA, July 2005

CRS Reports

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January 24, 2006 04:17 PM   Link    Living in DC    Comments (0)

Bankruptcy and Credit Cards

Americans are drowning in plastic, maxed out, buying too much — and more and more, forced into court as a last resort.

Cameras aren't allowed inside Judge John Ninfo's bankruptcy courtroom in Rochester, N.Y., but he's more than willing to talk about what goes on there.

"I'm not a sociologist and I'm not an academic," he told ABC News' "Nightline." "I'm just a bankruptcy judge from upstate New York who sees what I see around the system every day. But clearly, we live in this competitive, consumptive society where people are bombarded with advertising that tells them that they can have anything that they want, that they're entitled to.

"From what I see every day, is it the consumer credit that has resulted in the skyrocketed filings?" he asked. "There's no question about it."

"Credit Card Debt? Tell It to the Judge: Bankruptcies Are Up, and Judge John Ninfo Sees the Result," by Vicki Mabrey, ABC New, January 20, 2006

"Credit Card Debts Aren't Inherited," by Michelle Singletary, The Washington Post, December 29, 2005

Our tips:

  • Spend less than you earn.
  • Pay off your credit cards in full every month
  • If you use a credit card, use it like cash and get a no-annual-fee-cash-rebate card
  • Save at least 20% of everything you make, starting with the first dollar you earn.
  • Buy used cars
  • Buy the cheapest house in the most expensive neighborhood you can afford
  • Take full advantage of your employer's retirement plan and medical-spending and dependent-care reimbursement accounts
  • Don't borrow against your retirement savings or withdraw from them until you retire
  • Invest for the long term, in index mutual funds and in companies that have a history of increasing earnings.

10 Steps for Financial Independence - from "Financial Success Requires Saving, Spending Discipline," by Jonathan Clements, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 1998.

    1. Sign up for your employer's retirement plan. (make savings a habit)
    2. Pay off your credit cards. (leave your cards at home and stick to cash)
    3. Set up an automatic investment plan. (dollar cost averaging)
    4. Make a ritual sacrifice.
    5. Organize yourself.
    6. Invest all financial windfalls.
    7. Round up your mortgage check.
    8. Manage your cash for maximum return. (don't leave extra cash in a savings or checking account)
    9. Act your tax bracket. (or, better yet, act BELOW your tax bracket)
    10. Invest for the long haul. (five years)

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January 21, 2006 11:17 AM   Link    Comments (0)

This Week in DC Reviews - January 20, 2006

Periodically, we will publish This Week in DC Reviews, a roundup of reviews of DC-area restaurants, with quick links to DC-area restaurant reviews and mentions from the previous seven days in blogs, magazines, and newspapers.

For a roundup of New York City restaurant reviews from NYC food bloggers and media, see This Week in NYC Reviews at A Guy In New York.

Did we miss your favorite DC restaurant review?

Let us know: hobnobblog -at- ... we're especially interested in hearing from DC bloggers ...

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January 20, 2006 11:47 AM   Link    Dining    Comments (0)    TrackBacks (4)

"Lobbying for Locality Pay"

Some federal employees may have eyed their counterparts in Raleigh, N.C., covetously this year when workers there captured a 5.62 percent pay hike.

What's the Raleigh secret? The city, along with Phoenix and Buffalo, N.Y., were marked for the first time to receive special locality payments as part of their yearly raise. They were taken out of the "Rest of U.S." category for locality pay -- which this year received a 2.83 percent increase -- and were paid according to the labor market in their area.
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What does a successful lobbying effort for locality pay entail? According to Kim Ainsworth, executive director of the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board, it takes a close eye on the Federal Register, patience, a dash of political savvy and thorough research.

"Lobbying for Locality Pay," by Karen Rutzick,, January 19, 2006


January 19, 2006 02:07 AM   Link    Agencies    Comments (0)

Legislative Drafting Resources

We recently updated our "Legislative Drafting Reference and Research Tools" page.

On January 27, we will have a 90 minute telephone seminar, "Drafting Effective Federal Legislation and Amendments in a Nutshell." On March 15, we will sponsor a 1-day training course, "Drafting Effective Federal Legislation and Amendments."

This spring, we will publish a new book, "Legislative Drafter's Deskbook: A Practical Guide," by Tobias A. Dorsey, Contributing Author: Clint Brass.

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January 18, 2006 07:37 AM   Link    Research    Comments (0)

NASA map of space-related sights in DC-Baltimore

Rick Lesaar of Crabtree + Company sent us this link to an interactive map

of 21 venues in and around Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis all related to outer-space. Includes several most people have never heard of (the Moon rock at the National Cathedral, the space race murals at the Russian Cultural Center, etc.).

Click this link: Then select either Washington, DC Area or Baltimore-Washington, DC Area.

Thanks Rick!

January 17, 2006 04:37 PM   Link    Living in DC    Comments (0)

"Pizza's Next Act"

One of the nation's favorite junk foods is getting a makeover. Thanks to Atkins-style diets, gourmet chefs whose toppings extend as far as sashimi and heavy discounting by the big chains, the independent establishments that account for the majority of pizzerias have been getting squeezed for years. In response, many new places are dedicating themselves to the basics. Instead of stuffed crusts and Thai seasonings, the idea is to focus on pure ingredients: the dough, the cheese, the sauce.

"Pizza's Next Act: Buffeted by low-carb diets and chains that serve pineapple-topped pies, the local pizzerias that still dominate the business are fighting back -- focusing on basics like crust and cheese. Our look at the country's hottest joints," by Katy McLaughlin, The Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2006

According to a sidebar (1-page pdf) accompanying this article, the "pizza places that are getting buzz ["Hot"], as well as highly regarded but more traditional spots ["Classic"]" in New York and Washington, DC are



Although we're not pizza experts (see slice) ... Chug made hand-tossed pizzas and "little hats" (a calzone) for 2 years during high school in a pizza place that made everything from scratch ... we wonder why Pizzeria Paradiso wasn't on this list ...
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January 16, 2006 08:37 AM   Link    Dining    Comments (1)

CRS reports about presidential nominations

On October 12, 2005, we posted several CRS reports about presidential nominations.

We're going to keep this at the top for a few weeks, which is why it is dated January 15, 2006.

The Congressional Deskbook discusses presidential appointments and the confirmation process: Sec.10.80, Congress and the Executive: Appointments; Sec. 10.81, Confirmation Procedure; and Sec. 10.121, Nominations to Federal Courts.

"The Alito Nomination: First Day Jitters And Seconded Arguments, Half-Cocked Theories And Full-Bore Rants," The Blogometer, January 10, 2006. Good blog roundup.

From (Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania)

"Frist begins pre-emptive strategy on Alito vote: Says he’s prepared to block Democrats if they seek to filibuster nominee," AP on MSNBC, December 11, 2005

January 15, 2006 11:37 AM   Link    Research    Comments (0)

How not to get sick on an airplane

According to an ABC News story, the way to avoid getting sick on an airplane is to wrap yourself in a sterilized bubble before boarding ... or don't fly.

Actually, some of the advice is just as impractical: don't sit within 5 rows of anyone sneezing or 3 rows of anyone coughing.

Other suggestions are a bit more under your control: Don't use the lavatory. Don't use the tray table. Use a hand sanitizer. Use a surgical mask. Turn the overhead air on.

The longer you're on a packed airplane, the greater the chance you'll walk off sick.

A lot of travelers blame stale recycled air. But scientists say that's not the problem. Most larger planes now have special systems that filter out germs and let some outside air in.

"The problem is actually your [fellow] passengers that are seated in proximity to you," said Dr. Philip M. Tierno, Jr., director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at New York University Medical Center. "The closer the passengers are to you the worse it is for you if they have some sort of illness like a simple cold."

"Fliers Must Dodge Hidden Germs: Where Are the Germ Hotspots? Hint: Avoid the Restroom," ABC News, January 14, 2006

The longer you live, the greater your chance of getting sick...

See "Products that promise to keep you healthy on planes," by Conor Dougherty, The Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2006

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January 15, 2006 08:27 AM   Link    Travel    Comments (0)

This Week in DC Reviews - January 13, 2006

Periodically, we will publish This Week in DC Reviews, a roundup of reviews of DC-area restaurants, with quick links to DC-area restaurant reviews and mentions from the previous seven days in blogs, magazines, and newspapers.

For a roundup of New York City restaurant reviews from NYC food bloggers and media, see This Week in NYC Reviews at A Guy In New York.

Did we miss your favorite DC restaurant review?

Let us know: hobnobblog -at- ... we're especially interested in hearing from DC bloggers ...

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January 13, 2006 05:07 PM   Link    Dining    Comments (0)

"Survey Highlights Employees' Hankering for Training"

Most federal employees like their jobs and even more are motivated by pride in their work, but almost half would like additional training to improve their job performance, according to preliminary results of a survey by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Nearly 37,000 full-time government employees from 24 agencies participated in the survey, conducted last year. A summary of the findings appears in this month's Issues of Merit newsletter, published by the board's office of policy and evaluation, headed by Steve Nelson.

"Survey Highlights Employees' Hankering for Training," by Stephen Barr, The Washington Post, January 12, 2006

"Merit Principles Survey 2005: The Results Are In," Issues of Merit, MSPB, January 2006

TheCapitol.Net offers training about how Congress works, how to communicate more effectively, how to work with the media, and more.

January 12, 2006 04:47 PM   Link    Training    Comments (0)

CRS Reports on Terrorism

Here's an update to a previous post, "CRS Reports on Terrorism," November 1, 2005

Some commentary on the January 5, 2006 CRS Memorandum

January 11, 2006 06:37 AM   Link    CRS    Comments (0)

In the Loop's Name that Scandal contest

In the Loop is having a Name the Abramoff Scandal Contest ... deadline for entires, is midnight Jan. 18, 2006 ... "Names ending in -gate, while not automatically rejected, are frowned upon." ... see story for details (print version)

January 10, 2006 11:00 AM   Link    Humor    Comments (0)

This Week in DC Reviews - January 6, 2006

Periodically, we will publish This Week in DC Reviews, a roundup of reviews of DC-area restaurants, with quick links to DC-area restaurant reviews and mentions from the previous seven days in blogs, magazines, and newspapers.

For a roundup of New York City restaurant reviews from NYC food bloggers and media, see This Week in NYC Reviews at A Guy In New York.

Did we miss your favorite DC restaurant review?

Let us know: hobnobblog -at- ... we're especially interested in hearing from DC bloggers ...

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January 6, 2006 10:37 AM   Link    Dining    Comments (0)    TrackBacks (6)

Back up your data ....

When Linda Cerniglia went back to school, it took her almost seven years to get through all the prerequisites, the labs, the research. And it took a thief just moments to grab her purse, with the only copy of her master's thesis stored on a tiny jump drive inside.

For anyone who's ever obsessed about a project but forgotten to back up the data, watched a computer screen fizzle just before a deadline or left crucial documents in a cab -- here is a story about backing up, and moving forward.

It's about how Cerniglia almost went crazy, then took a deep breath and thought like a crook, acted like a cop and ended up in a big trash bin -- all in pursuit of her master's degree.

"Student Finds a Stolen Thesis by Thinking Like a Thief," by Susan Kinzie, The Washington Post, December 22, 2005

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January 4, 2006 07:17 AM   Link    Technology    Comments (0)

You Have Two Cows ...

We recently added to our "You have two cows. The government...." page, by adding a slew of international definitions, most from the Arab world by way of "How Arabs deal with cows," by Mahmood Al-Yousif, December 29, 2005

Some samples from our "Two Cows page:

BUREAUCRACY: You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. Then it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.

PLATONISM: You have a reflection of two perfect cows. Their milk tastes like water. You look for two real cows to milk.

SOCRATIC METHODISM: How many cows do I have? Why?

If you don't like ours or have others, feel free to add yours in the comments below or here (we reserve the right to edit).


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January 3, 2006 06:07 PM   Link    Humor ~   You Have 2 Cows    Comments (0)