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  • Naturopathic Medicine in the District of Columbia

    Posted on July 16th, 2009 Brian No comments

    I doubt many of you have heard of B18-0060, the Practices of Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine Amendment Act of 2009.  I hadn’t either, until it was brought to my attention today in my capacity as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.  This bill, which was passed by the DC Council on April 7th, signed by the Mayor on April 28th, and passed the colonial review of Congress on July 6th, essentially re-defines medicine in the District of Columbia to exclude the practices of Naturopathic medicine.  I have been invited to a reception to discuss urging the Council to reconsider “whether there are alternatives to eliminating this source of health care from our city.”

    I was immediately suspicious of a so-called medical term with the prefix naturo- and the suffix -pathic, but I had never heard the term naturopathic before.  I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it turned out my suspicions were right.  Naturopathic medicine is a bag of tricks that includes all the biggest names in woo medicine, including acupuncture, homeopathy, hair analysis, and reflexology.

    To which I say: Nice job DC Council! Thank you for stripping these quacks of governmental imprimatur and the trappings of authenticity.  Citizens who have been fooled into believing these treatments are effective will hopefully think twice about putting their hands into such unscientific techniques, and instead seek treatment from licensed practitioners working with hard evidence.

  • Desi Deschaine – You Will Be Missed

    Posted on July 14th, 2009 Brian No comments

    Desi was always quick to smile, and quicker to raise a glass of wine! I write with a heavy heart that our good friend Desi Deschaine has passed away. As a staffer for Mayor Williams, and later Councilmember Jack Evans, Desi tirelessly worked for the betterment of the District of Columbia and Ward 2; and as the Vice-President of the Logan Circle Community Association, he continuously worked to improve our neighborhood.

    His boundless energy, enthusiasm, laughter, and love for life will be missed by everyone who knew him, and thousands more who didn’t.  His positive impact on our lives cannot be overstated.

    Update: Story in the Post

  • Blame for the Metro Crash

    Posted on June 24th, 2009 Brian No comments

    The Metrorail system is deeply inculcated into the fabric of transportation in the DC Metro Area.  Everyone uses it, at least once or twice.  It is a testament to the fantastic success a rapid transit rail system can be, especially one spanning several different conflicting jurisdictions and built during an era when the construction of public transportation usually gave way to highways, interchanges, and parking lots.  The tight integration into our everyday lives is what makes Monday’s crash so disturbing for so many.

    And now the blame starts circulating.  The results of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation will not likely be known for more than a year, but the root cause of the problem is obvious to anyone with a sense of the Metrorail’s history: The system has been underfunded for decades, robbing funds from necessary capital improvement and deferring maintenance in order to simply keep operating.  Just this past march, we played the same game again.

    The local jurisdictions have been wringing their hands over dedicated funding.  Metro must beg, borrow, and steal to keep the trains running, and this accident is the direct result.  Mayor Fenty recognizes this fact, and took some of the blame on Good Morning America today.

    The Federal government has also recognized both the lack of funding and that a significant portion of the Federal Government takes the Metro to work.  It has offered up $150 million per year to Metro if DC, Maryland, and Virginia all agreed to pony up $50 million each.  The offer has been on the table for years, and each jurisdiction has had its hand in stalling.  Virginia was the lone hold-out for a couple of years, but DC is currently to blame for the current delay.

    As shameful as the current lack of funding is, such a massive cash infusion should never have been necessary.  Local jurisdictions failed to fund the system correctly in the first place.  This accident rests squarely on the shoulders of every politician elected to the Virginia General Assembly, the Maryland General Assembly, and the DC Council in the past thirty years.  Everyone knew this was coming, and they failed to act; blood is on their hands.  Greater Greater Washington sums it up nicely:

    In the past, WMATA has followed some NTSB recommendations and not followed others. Two recommendations which they did not successfully complete include the installation of data recorders on all railcars and full retirement or reinforcement of the 1000 Series Railcars. They are currently taking a lot of heat for this, but in reality, they have had little choice in the matter.

    The 1000 Series makes up about one-third of the Metro Fleet. Removing them from the tracks would mean major cutbacks in rail service. They’re already scheduled for retirement when replaced by the new 7000 Series in a few years. And while data recorders would have made the NTSB investigation easier, it would probably have not prevented this crash. Perhaps this tragedy will serve as a wakeup call to everyone in the process. Metro is underfunded, and has been for years. Deferred maintenance is taking its toll, and is keeping railcars in service longer than they should be. Everyone, from the local jurisdictions to the federal government should be willing to fund upgrades, especially considering that lives are at stake.

    In the meantime, if you’re suddenly afraid of taking the Metro: Don’t be. Driving a car is still orders-of-magnitude more dangerous than transit. Two fatal crashes in over thirty years is a damn good record, and you’re a fool to fear the Metro more than your car.

  • DC Alerts Does It Again

    Posted on June 9th, 2009 Brian No comments

    I am really not intending to make this blog a running commentary on DC Alerts, but sometimes my hand just gets forced.  Though my last post on the issue was a bit tongue in cheek, my first post was leveled a serious criticism: DC Alerts needs to better train its operators about both when to send an alert and what to say in an alert.

    A line of thunderstorms rolled through DC this morning, and upon waking I discovered an alert in my inbox.  Though the timing and purpose is fine, the content is – shall we say – questionable.  (Highlight mine.)

    Subect: Alert DC – Severe Weather Watch

    NWS issued a Severe Thunder Storm WATCH for the District from 05:55 06/09/09 to 06:45 06/09/09 . Please add_protective_actions_here .

    This is just embarrassing.  Stupidity like this lessens the impact and usefulness of the system, and threatens the safety of the community.  The problem is entirely a human one, and it needs to be fixed.

  • DC Alerts Is Ready For the Zombie Apocalypse

    Posted on June 6th, 2009 Brian No comments

    Zombie Emergency KitI was pretty harsh on DC Alerts in my last post.  And I stand by that.  But say what I might about DC Alerts, I do have to give them props for one thing: They are ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

    If you’ve ever gotten an alert where a person might have been injured, the phrase “conscious and breathing” is often used to describe their state. It’s a curious turn of phrase, and makes one imagine the other possible permutations.  A nice table will be helpful here.

    Conscious Unconscious
    Breathing OK Just Unconscious
    Not Breathing Zombie Dead

    As you can see, DC Alerts really has their bases covered!  Hopefully, with their help, I’ll increase my odds of surviving.

    In Case Of Zombies by Drunken Monkey used under a CC-BY-NC license.

  • DC Alerts Needs To Take Its Role Seriously

    Posted on June 5th, 2009 Brian No comments

    The idea behind Alert DC’s text-messaging/email alert system is a good one: Broadcast information about emergency situations to interested and/or affected parties using a low-latency, high-value medium.  The technical implementation is slick, too, allowing you to pick the type of alerts you receive (traffic, weather, police alerts, etc.); and permitting you to limit the alerts you receive to geographical areas of interest to you (neighborhood, schools, by address, etc.).

    Unfortunately, though the concept and implementation of DC Alerts is pretty nice, the people using it have turned the system into a joke.  Let’s dissect a recent example:

    Subject: Weather Report Update

    Weather report update: Light to moderate rain will fall across the area through tomorrow morning.  The thunderstorms are well to the South of the District. NWS states that the heaviest rain will be in the area towards day break. Expect rainfall amounts through to the morning will range from one to two inches. WASA will have additional crews checking catch basins until the morning. DPW has provided 45 sandbags to the resident. DDOT have no problems to report.

    Let’s take this point-by-point:

    • It’s raining, and there’s severe weather, but not here.
    • The water company is doing its job, and has crews out cleaning catch basins.
    • Somebody got some sandbags.
    • There’s nothing wrong with the streets.

    Let’s see if I can summarize this in a Twitter-esque 140 characters or less:

    Alert! Everything’s OK! (Except for this one random dude someplace, and we got him some sandbags.)

    When you put it that way, it’s suddenly very clear that this does not qualify as an alert-worthy event.  Nor do most of the other so-called alerts we get.  To add insult to injury, the messages we receive from DC Alerts are often riddled with spelling errors, grammar mistakes, ridiculous descriptions, and geography snafus.

    The DC Alerts system has great potential to become a powerful emergency-communications tool for the hyper-connected world we live in.  But it will never be taken seriously until the human beings using it dramatically ramp up both the quality and the relevance of the messages.

  • Two Birds With One Stone: What To Do With Vacant Properties

    Posted on July 15th, 2008 Brian No comments

    This is one of those posts where the title is disproportionately long with the post itself, but whatever.

    Vacant properties are a huge problem in DC, and a particular blight in our neighborhood. Owned by everyone from churches to foreign governments to local slumlords to even the DC government, they are dangerous, unsightly, and break up the mesh of our urban village. But what do you do about them?

    At the same time, one of my pet issues is the difficulty the people who serve our neighborhood have in finding places to live here. Our police should live in the neighborhoods they protect. Our teachers deserve to teach the students they meet in the street. Our fire fighters ought not live seventy miles away when a three-alarm blaze hits. But the city has so far provided no good ideas for addressing the lack of affordable housing for those who, while not below the poverty line, are underpaid thanks to our screwed-up value system.

    I can’t believe I’ve never thought of it before, but Cary Silverman, who we are supporting in his bid for the Ward 2 council seat currently occupied by Jack Evans, has a great idea about this. Turn vacant property into affordable housing for exactly this purpose! Simply brilliant!

  • Anecdotes in the Great Meter Debate

    Posted on March 14th, 2008 Brian No comments

    Though we usually walk most places, since we are without cars, Hedda and I will hop into a cab more often than many. The impending switch from the archaic zone system to standard modern taxi meters is a welcome change, from a consumer’s perspective. The drivers, though, have been in an uproar since the switch was announce. Or have they?

    Taxi Zone MapMore and more, the protest against meters seems manufactured by some power-that-is, that somehow benefits in some murky and little-understood manner, and not by the cabbies themselves. That this grass-roots movement is turning out to be astroturf is made firmer in my mind by our personal anecdotes. Whenever we grab a cab, we ask the driver his opinion on the impending switch.

    Our sense is that most of them really don’t care. They realize there may be a minor change in income – more for some, less for others – but that it will work out to be roughly the same. Further, almost all recognize the meters as an improvement to the customer experience, and an end to most of the fare arguments with customers. Finally, all of them felt the meters were a done deal, and there wasn’t anything to be done to change it.

    So who is behind all the hubbub? If it’s not the drivers, then who?

  • Bizarro World: No Stadium for the D.C. United

    Posted on July 21st, 2007 Brian No comments

    We must be living in Bizarro World, where Stupid Ideas rule the day, simply to spite Good Ideas for being too good. The Post is reporting that talks between the city and the D.C. United have fallen apart over the finances. It seems the city has balked at footing the bill for some $200 million in infrastructure to support the stadium, despite the team’s offer to pay for the entire cost of the stadium itself.

    Really? Don’t we live in the same city that just last year – against a fairly large chunk of public opinion, including myself – agreed to build at its own cost the entire stadium and all supporting infrastructure for a brand new, fairly lousy baseball team? I think so, but perhaps a review of the facts is in order.

    United Nationals
    Here Since 1996 2005
    Championships 4 0
    Approx. Home Games per Year 19 128
    Average Attendance 18,215 26,582
    Stadium’s Cost to City $200 million $611 million (and growing)
    Stadium’s Cost to Team $150 million $0 (nada, zilch, nothing)

    Now, I don’t dispute that baseball gets more fans per game, and plays a lot more games, than soccer. But the DC United, in addition to consistently being one of the best teams in Major League Soccer, have worked extremely hard to become a valued and loved member of the DC Sports community. They want a new stadium, and have been negotiating in good faith a very reasonable compromise that benefits all parties. The United’s behavior demonstrates their loyalty to the District, and are working hard to stay here!

    DC Stadium Filled with MoneyContrast their behavior with that of Major League Baseball and the Nationals: They came on the scene demanding every concession, offering nothing but there mere presence in return, and making no compromises. The city was forced to build a boondoggle stadium at immense cost, and it was either their way or the highway. The baseball owners were quite happy to take their team someplace else if we failed to kowtow to their tantrums, and in the end they got their way, just like a spoiled, screaming child.

    We’ve shoveled an enormous pile of money at a team that hardly gives a damn about their home, so why are our leaders afraid of spending less than one-third of that on a team that has already demonstrated themselves worthy? Come on, Mr. Fenty, I know that you’re not happy with the baseball stadium. Sure, it was a raw deal, and we all knew it. But that’s no reason to ruin a good thing that we already have. We need to make a new stadium happen – but this time for a team that deserves it.

  • You Are Not The Most Important Person in The District

    Posted on July 6th, 2007 Brian No comments

    I appreciate the varied ways our communities communicate, and the ready accessibility of the public officials and government enabled via electronic communications. Things like the MPD-3D mailing list and the Logan Circle News mailing list allow us to cut through the morass of inefficiency and bureaucracy, straight to the heart of the matter – and often the solution.

    Lately, though, I find myself annoyed and frustrated by the continued degeneration of these tools into mere paging services for citizens, not to be bothered with seeking answers to questions on their own, as a sort of fact-well from which to pump gossip and stories to quench their own undying, self-indulgent curiosity.

    Here’s a prime example, posted to the MPD-3D list on June 23, 2007, at 12:54:

    Could anyone from the MPD give some details as to what happened at 8th and R
    Streets last night?

    It’s followed up by the same poster, a mere 27 hours later, with:

    I know that yesterday was a busy day with all of the events going on in DC
    but I was hoping that you may be able to tell me what happened on 8th Street
    between RI Ave and R Street on Friday night…thanks.

    When pressed for a little more specific information, he responds:

    Somewhere between 7 and 11? Seriously, it was a shooting but I am curious
    on details…right outside of the Lincoln Westmoreland

    Really? You’re curious? You’re pestering a very busy police officer for information because you’re curious? Here’s an idea: Control your curiosity, and restrain from harassing our officers just to satisfy your passing fancy. They have jobs to do.

    And how about this gem, sent tonight to the Logan Circle News list:


    Can someone from the ANC please advise about the Chinatown Bus Problems agenda item? I’m a regular user of these buses.


    [Name Removed]

    Now, it’s clear that you’ve seen the agenda for the upcoming ANC 2F meeting. It follows, then, that you know both the location of the meeting (Washington Plaza Hotel, 10 Thomas Circle NW) and the date and time of the meeting (July 11 at 19:00), since they’re both at the top of the agenda you read to pose your question. It seems a fair conclusion to draw that this topic, about which you’ve asked, is going to be discussed at this very meeting!

    Perhaps you should consider attending it, and learning – along with the rest of us – what the problems are, at which time you’ll probably be given a chance to raise any questions, along with everybody else. It will certainly be more useful than wasting the time of the too-polite commissioner who will respond, who I assure you is at least as busy and important as you are.

    What’s that? Are you going to be out of town? Perhaps you should consider contacting your own elected commissioner directly. After all, that’s why they ran for office. There’s a nice helpful list, including contact information, for just that purpose. Isn’t the Internet amazing!

    Of course, I don’t expect anything to really change. But the ever-increasing sense of personal entitlement, and the ensuing outrage when a response is not immediately forthcoming, exhibited by some of the residents on these lists is just so frustrating. I can only imagine at that the frustration of the officers and officials at which these incessant requests for hyper-personal attention are directed. It must be overwhelming at times. Please remember that we’re not all like that.

    And for those who are like that: Yes, you pay taxes and work hard and want results from your city. But please at least try to remember that you really aren’t the most important person in the District.