Thursday, May 22, 2014

World Cup 2014

All 32 World Cup National Slogans, Graded And (In Some Cases) Improved
(By Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 21 May 2014)
Brazilians pose with the World Cup trophy during a presentation in Manaus, May 19, 2014. Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup from June 12 through July 13. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)Brazilians pose with the World Cup trophy during a May 19 presentation in Manaus. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)
The official slogans of each of the 32 national teams taking part in this summer's soccer World Cup in Brazil are out and have been circulated — and ridiculed — online.  WorldViews presents our definitive grades for each nation's chosen slogan and, in some cases, offers correctives or alternative options. We welcome your own ideas for national team slogans in the comments section below and may publish the best ones in a subsequent post.

Official slogan: "Desert Warriors In Brazil"
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: Well, it's a bit dry, no? But the Algerians are a combative, tough squad and will want to live up to their billing this summer.

Official slogan: "Not Just A Team, We Are A Country"
WorldViews grade: F
Comments: Thanks, Capitan Obvious. In the history of nation-states, this has to be one of the most shamefully pointless patriotic cries imagined. The Argentines are a terrific side, with a relatively easy first-round group. They have a real chance to win the World Cup on Brazilian soil, a prospect that has their archrivals to the north very concerned. For the hosts, they're not just a country — they're a nightmare.
Suggested fix: "Don't cry for us, Brazil, we're going to win!"

Official slogan: "Socceroos: Hopping Our Way Into History!"
WorldViews grade: C+
Comments: Cute nickname? Check. Pun based on stereotypical national animal? Check. Potential for profound embarrassment after being routed by
three far superior teams in the first round? Definite check.
Suggested fix: "Socceroos: Hopping Our Way Out of Brazil!"

Official slogan: "Expect The Impossible!"
WorldViews grade: C-
Comments: This is anodyne corporate speak, worthy of a sportswear company — not one of the most exciting teams to emerge out of Europe in a generation. The Belgians are dark horses to win the whole tournament, buoyed by an astonishing array of talent that has a
particularly multicultural character. The squad, some of whose best players are the children of immigrants, have rallied a nation that to this day struggles to find unity off the field. Longstanding divisions between Belgium's French-speaking south and Flemish-speaking north look likely to flare after this weekend's European elections.
Suggested fix: "As Belgian as Belgium gets."

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Official slogan: Dragons In Heart, Dragons On The Field!
WorldViews grade: A
Comments: WorldViews likes dragons. This is also Bosnia's first appearance in the World Cup, an emotional moment for a country whose
sparring ethnic groups will hopefully rally around the flag, at least for a month.

Official slogan: "Brace Yourselves! The Sixth Is Coming!"
WorldViews grade: B-
Comments: This is a high-pressure occasion for Brazil. Expectations for the hosts are through the roof, as ever for one of the world's most celebrated soccer-playing nations, and the impetus to win the trophy for a sixth time will weigh heavily on the minds of the superstars lining up in the yellow of the Seleção. On top of that, a vociferous protest movement — sparked by anger over corruption and wasteful government spending — threatens to cloud the World Cup and distract the players. “Brace yourselves” is a fair warning. But it's one the Brazilian team will heed as much as its opponents.

Official slogan: "A Lion Remains A Lion"
WorldViews grade: A-
Comments: The Cameroon team is known as the "Indomitable Lions" so its slogan makes perfect sense, though it smacks a bit of laziness.

Official slogan: “Chi Chi Chi!, Le Le Le! Go Chile!
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: Who doesn’t remember
those heartwarming scenes in 2010 as miners trapped for days beneath the earth emerged to the rapturous chant that is also the Chilean team’s official slogan. The patriotic mood that surrounded the rescue of the miners has faded since. But Chile, a sparkling, effervescent attacking team, will likely be the neutral’s favorite.

Official slogan: “Here Travels A Nation, Not Just A Team!
WorldViews grade: D
Comments: This is just slightly better than Argentina’s dismal slogan, since it makes clearer the
long acknowledged truism that a soccer team is the nation made real in the flesh. But this is a Colombian team that has swagger and flair and may go deep into the tournament. It deserves something better. Any ideas?

Costa Rica
Official slogan: My Passion Is Football, My Strength Is My People, My Pride Is Costa Rica
WorldViews grade: B-
Comments: It’s hard to argue with any of the above, even though it’s rather earnest.

Official slogan: With Fire In Our Hearts, For Croatia All As One!
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: For a country of its size, Croatia has an incredible record of World Cup competitiveness, the best of any recent Balkan side. But their
distinctive uniforms are an eye-catching spread of red checks, not unlike tablecloth at a sunny bistro.
Suggested fix: “Can I take your order?”

Official slogan: "One Commitment, One Passion, Only One Heart, This Is For You Ecuador!"
WorldViews grade: B
Comments: This is not unlike Costa Rica’s slogan above and it’s similarly heartfelt and stirring.

Official slogan: “The Dream Of One Team, The Heartbeat Of Millions!!”
WorldViews grade: D
Comments: For years, a farcical optimism used to surround the English team each time it ventured to a World Cup, drummed up by the country’s jingoistic tabloid press. But now a delicious cynicism seems to follow the perennially overrated, underachieving English and there are few delusions that this year’s team — one of the youngest in the tournament — has a real chance.
Suggested fix: “The collapse of one team, the black humor of millions!!”

Official slogan: "Impossible Is Not A French Word"
WorldViews grade: B-
Comments: On first glance, one is inclined to give the French an “F” for this slogan, not least because impossible is a word in French. But it’s actually
a proverb meant to communicate bravado and guts. Perhaps more than any of Europe’s other top teams, the French have built incredibly integrated national teams during the past two decades, boasting stars who hailed from all corners of the faded French empire — from French Polynesia and Mauritius to West Africa and the Caribbean Antilles. The squad this year is no exception.
Suggested fix: “The only good thing about colonialism.”

Official slogan: One Nation, One Team, One Dream!
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: It has a much better ring to it in German — Ein Land, Eine Mannschaft, Ein Traum — than in English.

Official slogan: Black Stars: Here To Illuminate Brazil
WorldViews grade: B
Comments: We deducted points for cheesiness. The Black Stars — the Ghanaian team’s nickname — are probably Africa’s strongest team and were
a controversial handball away from reaching the semifinals of the 2010 tournament in South Africa. They’ll be hoping to better their performance this year and WorldViews wishes them well.

Official slogan: “Heroes Play Like Greeks”
WorldViews grade: D
Comments: Forgive WorldViews's bias, but we cannot forget the eyesore that was
Greece’s unlikely victory in the Euro 2004 tournament, where they defended and dulled their opponents to submission. Sure, it was a dogged performance — but it was more soul-crushing than heroic.
Suggested fix: “No one needs to bail us out!"

Official slogan: “We Are One Country, One Nation, Five Stars On The Heart”
WorldViews grade: B
Comments: The
five stars refer to the arrangement in the middle of the Honduran flag, which evokes an earlier vision of a united Central American republic. It's a hubris that likely won't translate into sporting success in Brazil.

Official slogan: "Honor Of Persia"
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: Short and simple, the Iranian slogan does the trick. The Islamic republic's team achieves the rare feat of uniting both Iranians at home and in the diaspora, where many are staunchly opposed to the mullahs in charge in Tehran. Ahead of the World Cup, some of the Iranian squad have
joined Twitter, even though the social media site is technically unavailable in their home country.
Suggested fix: “Follow us on Twitter, if you can.”

Official slogan: “Let's Paint The FIFA World Cup Dream Blue”
WorldViews grade: C+
Comments: Beyond the confusing mixed metaphor — can you paint a dream? — one senses a real missed opportunity here. Sure, the Italian team are known as the Azzuri, the blues, but this is a country brimming with allusive potential. Please offer up your alternative Italian slogan below.

Ivory Coast
Official slogan: “Elephants Charging Towards Brazil!”
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: This is probably the last chance for Ivory Coast’s fabled “golden generation” of stars to make a collective impression on the international stage. The side, known as “Les Elephants,” have slipped up in previous tournaments and have yet to win a major trophy despite their great depth and talent. The elephants may be charging toward Brazil, but one wonders what they’ll do once they reach. Will they be complacent and get picked off by poachers?

Official slogan: Samurai, The Time Has Come To Fight!
WorldViews grade: A
Comments: How can you not like this one?

Official slogan: "Always United, Always Aztecas"
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: We like the historical invocation, but let's not mince words: The Mexican team is one of the
most divisive, dysfunctional squads out there, not helped by the pressure heaped on them by a passionate national audience, desperate for soccer success.

The Netherlands
Official slogan: "Real Men Wear Orange"
WorldViews grade: C-
Comments: We're not thrilled with this trite, gendered construction, even if it's tongue in cheek. The Dutch have acquired a reputation for their combustible, egotistical stars and frequent training ground bust-ups.
Suggested fix: "Millionaire divas wear orange."

Official slogan: "Only Together We Can Win"
WorldViews grade: B
Comments: This is unobjectionable and endearing, but let's be real ...
Suggested fix: “#BringBackOurGirls”
Official slogan: "The Past Is History, The Future Is Victory"
WorldViews grade: A-
Comments: This has the majesty of a great political campaign. And like all sloganeering, it falls short of the likely reality.

Official slogan: "No One Can Catch Us"
WorldView grade: B+
Comments: It's hard to hear this slogan and not think of Moscow's actions in Ukraine, where a power play instigated by President Vladimir Putin has sparked one of the most stark geopolitical crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Suggested fix: "
Glory to the heroes"

South Korea
Official slogan: "Enjoy It, Reds!"
WorldViews grade: B-
Comments: This is a real come down from South Korea's far more committed slogan in 2002: "Be the Reds!" Then, the tournament was hosted by the South Koreans and Japanese, and South Korea surprised many by reaching the semifinal. They clearly have reduced expectations this year.

Official slogan: "Inside Our Hearts, The Passion Of A Champion"
WorldViews grade: B
Comments: The defending World Cup champions may go down in history as the greatest national team ever assembled, at least based on their record of success beginning in the 2008 European championships. Its triumphs in recent years have stood
in contrast to the grim crises wracking the Spanish economy.

Official slogan: "Final Stop: 07-13-14 Maracana!"
WorldViews grade: A-
Comments: This is perfect. The Swiss, known for their clocks, stiffness and punctuality, put a date in their own World Cup slogan. It's the day of the tournament's final, to be played in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium. Incidentally, the Swiss will not be there.

Official slogan: "Three Million Dreams ... Let's Go Uruguay"
WorldViews grade: B+
Comments: Uruguay is a small country — just three million people, as its slogan trumpets — but it has a special place in the World Cup. It has won the tournament twice: in 1930, when Uruguay hosted the first ever World Cup, and in 1950, the last time Brazil hosted the tournament. That year, the Uruguayans beat Brazil at the Maracana, leading to a
national trauma that the Brazilians are desperate to finally put to bed.
Suggested fix: "1950 all over again!"

United States
Official slogan: "United By Team, Driven By Passion"
WorldViews grade: C
Comments: This is a bland, unremarkable slogan — not unlike the U.S. team itself. At the World Cup, the U.S. is far from the superpower it is in almost all other global arenas. Its players are good, but not great, and play in the shadow of Europe and South America's more established, more recognized stars. It is the team of a more humble, 21st century America.
Suggested fix: "We believe in American Unexceptionalism"

Monday, May 19, 2014

Travel Tips

Travelers’ Most Common Mistakes And How To Avoid Them
(By Christopher Elliott, Washington Post, 15 May 2014)
The secrets to a hassle-free summer vacation seem simple enough: Keep a checklist. Read the rules, especially if you’re flying. Take photos of your rental car. Don’t make assumptions about your hotel. And remember your paperwork when you’re traveling overseas.  But simple as that sounds, in practice it’s not always that easy.  Let me say right from the outset that I hardly started out as the world’s smartest traveler. But over the past decade and more, I’ve learned, from my own wide-ranging travels and from the many problems I’ve helped resolve for readers, what not to do when you’re on the road.  So what are the most common mistakes that travelers make? And, more important, how do you avoid them? How, in other words, can you vacation like the world’s smartest traveler?

1. Be prepared

Bob McCullough, a sales representative for a cheese company in Hainesport, N.J., admits that he’s a serial procrastinator, so he decided to start packing for a recent trip a full week in advance. He even booked a flight leaving Philadelphia on a Sunday to avoid the Monday crush of business travelers.  “I got to the airport two hours before my flight, found the parking garage pleasantly unpacked, and parked in a spot I had never dreamed of finding on a weekday,” he says. “I opened the trunk and reached in to grab my suitcase — which wasn’t there. I realized then, in shock with a cold sweat building, that I had left my suitcase in its normal pre-staging area of my laundry room.” 

The smartest travelers plan ahead, like McCullough, but they also have a fondness for checklists. Did you pack the right clothes? Remember all the power cords? Is your luggage in the trunk of your car? Lists are your friends. Smart travelers know when to wing it and when not to. Sure, your friends and family might poke fun at you for keeping a list for everything, but they’ll thank you when you’re the only one with a power adapter in France. Travelers who keep lists are far less likely to get into trouble on the road.

2. Read those airline rules

Airline policies can be counterintuitive, even bizarre. For example, a one-way ticket can sometimes cost more than a round-trip ticket on the same plane. A change fee can exceed the actual value of a ticket. Also, “non-refundable” means non-refundable, except when it doesn’t.  Confused yet? If it’s any consolation, even airline employees sometimes get mixed up about their own rules. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it.  Kelly Hayes-Raitt remembers seeing an unbeatable deal for a flight from Los Angeles to Tampa, Fla. But when she arrived at the airport, she noticed her itinerary. “The plane landed in Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and New Orleans before finally arriving in Tampa,” remembers the writer from Santa Monica, Calif. “I still groan when I think of how stupid I was.” 

Based on the cases I’ve mediated, my best advice is to familiarize yourself with the always-changing, often Byzantine rules developed by the airline industry — rules that are often created for the sole purpose of “protecting” an airline’s revenue or, to put it in terms that everyone else can understand, to separate you from your money.  They may make about as much sense as a coast-to-coast flight with four stops, but you — and you alone — are responsible for knowing the rules.

3. Take photos of your rental car

Anna Arreglado didn’t do that when she recently rented a car in Bardonia, N.Y. “My mistake,” says Arreglado, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Ridgefield, Conn. Sure enough, the car rental company came after her, insisting that she’d damaged the vehicle. She couldn’t prove that she’d returned the car unharmed. It was her word against the company’s.  Fortunately, Arreglado reads this column and knew how to fight back. She disputed the claim in writing and copied her state attorney general on the correspondence. “Within an hour of sending my e-mail, I got the case dropped,” she says.

Listen up, campers: Take pictures of your cars before and after your rental. Some customers allege that car rental companies have built a profitable business around charging you big bucks for small damage, and the only way to avoid a repair bill is to show an “after” image of your undented car. That, and maybe having the e-mail address of your attorney general.  Actually, the takeaway from Arreglado’s story applies to more than rental cars. Sometimes, a brief, polite e-mail to any travel company will get the resolution you want — if you copy the right people.

4. Assume nothing about your hotel

No segment of the travel industry — except perhaps the airlines — profits more from our collective ignorance than hotels. They would like you to think that they’re the only lodging option in town, but they’re not. Today’s accommodations cover the spectrum, from glamping to vacation rentals. Don’t lock yourself into a traditional hotel or resort, at least not without first shopping around. You might be able to find a bargain on with a better location and fewer hassles. 

Travelers make other assumptions about their accommodations that aren’t necessarily true, too. For example, you’d imagine that the room rate you’re quoted is the room rate you’ll actually pay, maybe not including sales taxes.  But when Tom Alderman recently tried to book a room at his favorite casino hotel in Las Vegas, he was broadsided by a mandatory $14-per-night “resort” fee, which supposedly covered in-room wireless Internet access, use of the fitness center and “printing of boarding passes.” He was particularly outraged because the resort had repeatedly promised on its Web site to “never” charge a resort fee, like other Vegas resorts. “I’ll never stay there again,” says Alderman, a retired documentary filmmaker.  Resort fees are normally disclosed just before you push the “book” button, so don’t thoughtlessly click through. If you see a fee you don’t like, stop what you’re doing and look elsewhere for a room.

5. Don’t forget the paperwork

Having the right visas and permits and an updated passport is your responsibility, no two ways about it. That’s a difficult message for many travelers to hear. They rely on the advice of a travel agent or what’s posted on a Web site and believe (incorrectly) that those third parties should reimburse them when something goes wrong. This is especially common in the case of cruises, where a birth certificate, instead of a passport, is often enough to board a ship.  The consequences can be heartbreaking. A worried mom from Sacramento recently contacted me because her daughter and son-in-law, en route to their honeymoon in St. Lucia, had been stopped at the airport and denied boarding. The reason? The bride’s passport was due to expire soon — too soon for her to be allowed into the country. Some countries require your passport to be valid for six months from the date of your entry. An alert travel agent might have caught the problem, but now it was too late. And without travel insurance, the entire trip would be lost. “Can this trip be salvaged?” the mom wrote to me, with only hours before the vacation was to have begun. Sadly, it couldn’t be.  Point is, the most common travel mistakes are easily avoided with a little planning and by taking common-sense precautions. It looks easy, and sometimes it is easy. But the truth is, in many cases, there’s often a lot more to it, and questions arise. And that’s what this column and I are here for.

Summer 2014: Best Vacation Escape Routes For Drivers Leaving The D.C. Area
(By Robert Thomson, Washington Post, 16 May 2014)

The Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional beginning of the summer travel season, and we’re back with our annual guide of problematic routes and roadways you might want to avoid in your rush to get out of the Washington region.  The 95 Express Lanes project is on a fast track, but that probably means summer vacationers won’t be going anywhere fast when they drive through that construction zone on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia.  Of all the compass points travelers will follow on their getaways from the D.C. area in 2014, the most difficult — for the second summer in a row — will be due south. The express lanes project, begun in late summer 2012, is building “29 miles in 29 months,” said Walter J. Lewis III, project director for Fluor-Lane 95, the construction company.  The 2013 work included construction of nine bridges, sometimes forcing weekend detours on I-95. Through the rest of this year, the remaining work will include frequent weekend shutdowns of the HOV lanes in the middle of the interstate, limiting its capacity to handle vacation traffic.  While that slow ride is likely to be the biggest challenge at the beginning and end of long trips, it won’t be the only one. Here’s a look at what’s ahead along the main summer escape routes.

Northeast corridor

Classic route: I-95 to I-295, across the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike to northern New Jersey approaches to New York (about 227 miles).

Alternatives: Consider I-95 to I-695, just before Baltimore, to I-83 to York, Pa., and Harrisburg, Pa., then I-81 to I-78. Options include staying on I-78 across New Jersey toward New York or taking a more northerly course: following Route 22 just before Allentown, Pa., to Route 33 to I-80 across the top of New Jersey.

Or take Route 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, follow Route 301 to Route 896 (Churchtown/Boyds Corner roads) to Route 1 (toll) or Route 13. From there, drivers can reach I-295 and the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which connects with the New Jersey Turnpike.  For those who want to vacation while they travel, consider driving about 120 miles from the District to take the 80-minute ferry ride from Lewes, Del., to Cape May, N.J. Reservations recommended: 800-643-3779 or

Travel tips: North of Baltimore on I-95, the Maryland House rest area has reopened, but 14 miles beyond that, the Chesapeake House in North East, Md., is now closed for reconstruction.

Approaching the Newark, Del., toll plaza, the two left lanes will take you to the highway-speed E-ZPass toll readers. Tune your radio to WTMC (1380 AM) for traffic reports.

Before leaving home, check the Delaware Department of Transportation Web site at for traffic conditions.

The widening of the New Jersey Turnpike continues between interchanges 6 and 9 in the central part of the state, but construction may end late this year. Tune to WKXW (101.5 FM) for New Jersey traffic reports.

New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge remains open as construction begins on a replacement span to take I-87/287 over the Hudson River.

Deep Creek Lake

Classic route: I-270 to I-70 west to I-68 west to Exit 14A at Keysers Ridge, Md., then follow Route 219 south (about 180 miles).

Alternatives: Between Frederick and Route 219, try portions of Route 144 and Alternate 40, which weave along with the interstates. Much of that route is the Historic National Road. Take it to enjoy a different drive to Western Maryland rather than to save time. Maryland travel maps, including a map of scenic byways, are available at ­

Travel tips: Maryland’s major roads — including I-270, I-70, and Routes 15 and 40 — pass through a bottleneck at Frederick. Try to avoid starting your trip between 1 and 8 p.m. Fridays.

Between school closing and Labor Day, the roads around Deep Creek Lake can get very crowded. There are peaceful state parks with cabins along the way west, including New Germany and Herrington Manor. At Frederick, vacationers could swing north on Route 15 to cabins at Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont.

Travelers can make reservations on the Department of Natural Resources Web site at ­

The Maryland State Highway Administration has some highway repair projects in the western part of the state this summer, but they are unlikely to severely affect traffic flow during the peak travel times.

Eastern Shore

Classic route: Route 50 east to Ocean City (about 150 miles).

Alternative: There really isn’t a good highway alternative to the Ocean Gateway (Route 50). Around Wye Mills, Md., Route 404 branches east from Route 50 and heads for Rehoboth Beach on the Delaware shore, but it’s narrow and crowded.

Along the Route 50 corridor, there are some short breaks, including Route 662 at Wye Mills. Approaching the shore, Route 90 (Ocean City Expressway) provides an alternative way into the city, at 62nd Street.

Travel tips: The best Bay Bridge travel times for summer weekend getaways are Thursday and Friday before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.; Saturday before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m.; and Sunday before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m. The regular car toll for the bridge is $6, paid eastbound.

Headlight use is required at all times on the bridge. At peak periods, the westbound span is sometimes realigned for two-way traffic. In that case, the five lanes on the left side of the toll plaza are directed to that span. Drivers who want an E-ZPass Only lane for the exclusively eastbound span should use toll lanes 6 or 9.

Maryland offers traffic information for the bridge at To get information about your entire route, dial 511 from within the state and use the voice-recognition system, or use the Web site

Outer Banks

Classic route: I-95 south, to I-295 south, to I-64 east, to I-664 south, then I-64 to Exit 292 for Chesapeake Expressway/I-464/Route 17. Then keep left to continue to the Chesapeake Expressway (Route 168) and take Nags Head/Great Bridge Exit 291B to routes 168 and 158 and the Outer Banks (about 270 miles to Kitty Hawk, N.C.).

Alternatives: South of Fredericksburg, some I-95 drivers pick up Route 17 south at Exit 126 and take it to I-64 in the Hampton Roads area. Others take the I-295 bypass around Richmond into the Petersburg area, then take Route 460 east into Hampton Roads.

Drivers on the east side of the D.C. region could take Route 301, crossing the Potomac River on the Nice Bridge ($6 car toll collected southbound), then connect with Route 17 south. Drivers starting southbound trips from west of the D.C. area may avoid some of the I-95 congestion by taking Routes 29 and 17 to the Fredericksburg area.

Travel tips: I-95 traffic on Friday and Sunday afternoons can be stop and go between the District and Fredericksburg. Traffic volume is very high, plus there’s the 95 Express Lanes construction.

There will be lane closings on I-95 during off-peak hours and overnights, plus those weekend closings of the HOV lanes. Also watch for many construction vehicles turning into and out of the work areas.

Get information about Virginia traffic conditions through the 511 system. On the Web, it’s at You can also call 511 from any phone in Virginia.



Voters Send A Message Of Dissatisfaction To Arlington Officials Over Spending
(By Patricia Sullivan, Washington Post, 10 May 2014)

A groundswell of electoral unrest seems to be rattling the Arlington County establishment, a month after voters elected a non-Democrat to the County Board for the first time in 15 years.  Residents of the affluent suburb seem increasingly fed up with spending on what some call “vanity projects” and the perception that voters have little influence over them. And public officials are taking notice.  The May newsletter from the Arlington County Democratic Committee includes a scathing article by the party leadership that blames Alan Howze’s April 8 loss to independent John Vihstadt on the perceived “arrogance” of the board, particularly in regard to spending decisions.  In addition, momentum seems to be building for a referendum on the county’s much-debated Columbia Pike streetcar project. The idea was proposed last week by Howze and Patrick Hope, a state delegate who is one of 10 candidates for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District. This week, the county’s treasurer, Frank O’Leary, and commissioner of revenue, Ingrid Morroy, said they would push for a referendum, too.

“My sense from talking with residents around the county is they want and expect elected officials to listen to them,” said Howze, who will compete again for the same county board seat in November. “Large investments that will affect the future of the community, they expect they will have a say in that.”  To be sure, most of the concerns reverberating in Arlington could be defined as “first-world problems.  Property taxes are high, but so are property values. There are more jobs than working-age residents. Schools are crowded, but well regarded. Violent crime is low. The most recent county-sponsored survey of residents, in 2012, showed that 92 percent of Arlingtonians were satisfied with their quality of life. 

All of which makes the anger voiced in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s newsletter article even more notable. The piece was based on anonymous observations by members of a 20-person steering committee, said the newsletter’s editor, Warren L. Nelson.  One member attributes Howze’s loss to “the current ruling coalition on the County Board and their aloofness, hubris and tone-deaf attitude toward their constituents.” Another cited “deep resentment within the community. . . and the widely held belief that the Board refuses to consult and be held accountable.”  County Board Chairman Jay Fisette (D), who supports the streetcar project, said he takes the concerns seriously.  “Part of my job is to listen, learn and adjust,” he said. “The disruption, the discomfort and uncertainty in the community in connection to the streetcar issues can’t go on forever.” 

In interviews Friday, supporters and opponents of the streetcar said they thought there should be a vote on the issue.  “You want a plebiscite, sure,” said Donald Flage, a Virginia Square resident who was playing tennis at Bon Air Park in Bluemont. He said he opposes the construction of the streetcar line because “it’s going back to the past.”  Masha Sharma of Shirlington, leaving a bakery with a cup of coffee, said she likes the idea of a streetcar along Columbia Pike, but she also said residents should have a say on whether it goes forward.  “People who live in the area, their daily routines could be disrupted,” she said.  Fisette and other board members who support the streetcar liken the project to the construction of Metrorail, which brought prosperity to many formerly neglected areas. They say voters got plenty of input during a decade-long planning process, which included hundreds of community meetings.

Financing for the streetcar project remains uncertain. County officials were turned down for some federal funding last year because U.S. transportation officials said the project probably would cost $60 million to $150 million more than the $250 million the county was estimating at the time. Next week, County Manager Barbara Donnellan plans to propose a new financing plan as part of the long-range capital improvements budget.  Tamon Honda, a middle-aged Federal Aviation Administration employee who lives in Boulevard Manor, said he feels that the county board has ruled “by fiat” in approving projects that are controversial or do not enjoy widespread support.  The many community meetings about the streetcar, he said, “were carefully controlled from the start. . . . I thought it was such a foolish idea that it would be shot down at some point. But it never was.”

Honda, like others, also said he was frustrated by the County Board’s decision to build a $79.1 million aquatics center at Long Bridge Park, a project now on hold because bids came in significantly higher than expected. That issue was nominally approved by voters in a 2012 bond referendum, but it was contained within a “parks and recreation” ballot line and not explicitly spelled out. Critics also mention the $2.2 million that county taxpayers spend every year to support the money-losing Artisphere. Others decry the $1.5 million spent last summer to build a dog park.  “Long-time Arlingtonians, myself included, prided ourselves in ‘the Arlington Way.’ This meant all issues before the county were resolved though discussions,” Honda wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “Sometimes the discussions were very lengthy. . . . Still, at least everyone was satisfied that they were heard.”  Another flurry of online derision came in response to the announcement Tuesday of a 40 percent reduction in the cost of new streetcar-bus stopsalong Columbia Pike — from $1 million per stop to $469,000.  “Why don’t they just build a nice 4,000 square foot colonial with a two car garage and a pool at each bus stop,” 30-year-old Takoma Park, Md., resident Devin Chesney wrote in response to a Post article on the topic. “That would probably come in a little cheaper and give bus riders a nice place to relax while they wait.”

Arlington transportation officials say the new transit stations are seven times the size of a typical bus shelter and offer more durability and amenities.  Vihstadt, who campaigned on voter unhappiness over spending, is one of two board members who oppose the streetcar. The other is Libby Garvey (D), who stepped down from a party leadership post last week under pressure because she had endorsed Vihstadt over Howze.  “Many people have already stated that my election . . . was referendum enough on the wisdom of Arlington streetcars,” Vihstadt said. He said the county should suspend all streetcar-related expenditures until voters can make their will known.


Arlington Can’t Forget What Made It What It Is
(By David Alpert, Washington Post, 16 May 2014)

It’s a truism in politics that if you repeat a statement often enough, people will believe it, regardless of whether it’s true. In Arlington, a cohort of commentators and activists has been chanting that the County Board is full of profligate spenders. Now that claim has started to have currency in county politics , even though it’s grounded in little at all.  Fifty years ago, Arlington was an aging suburb that progress had passed by on the way to greener pastures in Fairfax County. Outdated retail strips, struggling businesses and a declining population portended a bleak future. State and federal planners saw Arlington mostly as space to be traversed between home and work, and they proposed cutting up its neighborhoods for commuter roads.

County residents and leaders did not respond to this challenge by spending as little as possible in the vain hope that doing so would attract people and economic growth. Instead, they campaigned to build an expensive Metrorail subway and put it under Wilson Boulevard, with the goal of transforming it from a tired suburban strip into a new downtown. They planned walkable centers with more housing, jobs and retail, plus new streets and sidewalks, while protecting the character of older neighborhoods.  It paid off. Now Arlington is a desirable place to live. It also saved money. Half of the county’s property tax assessment value comes from only 11 percent of its land, along the Metro corridors. As a result, Arlington typically enjoys the lowest property tax rate in Northern Virginia.

Still, as real estate booms, house prices rise and assessments go up. This year, Arlington cut its residential tax rate by a penny per $100 of value, but rising assessments meant that most people paid more. It’s not unfair for residents to dislike this or to demand a more thorough discussion of overall spending priorities. But it would be a big mistake to simply point at anything new and declare it wasteful.  The Columbia Pike streetcar is a great example. County leaders believe it will bring many of the benefits that Metro brought to places such as Clarendon. According to a projection released this week, 37,100 people will ride daily on the combined Columbia Pike and Crystal City lines. That’s more people than now ride the MARC system (34,100), Baltimore light rail (26,800) or the whole Fairfax Connector bus system (36,300).

The Columbia Pike line is estimated to cost $358 million, including a 20 percent contingency; the Crystal City segment will bring the total to $585 million, including the contingency. By comparison, the District is spending $663 million to replace the Frederick Douglass Bridge, which carries 77,000 vehicles per day; that’s more than the streetcar’s cost just to replace one short piece of the road system. Phase 1 of the Silver Line has cost more than eight times as much as the Columbia Pike streetcar to move just 2.3 times as many people – and that very worthwhile investment is setting up parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties for the future.  In comparison with other projects, a streetcar on Columbia Pike is a thrifty proposition. But that hadn’t stopped it from being a political punching bag for some who simply attack the price tag without context. News coverage that reports only the cost without discussing benefits does not help, either.

Streetcar opponents constantly hold up phantom alternative bus proposals with less capacity to move people and bring far fewer benefits, though indeed for lower cost. They point to high-quality bus rapid transit projects in other cities while opposing the price tag of every element, such as larger and fancier stations, that made those cities’ lines more than just ordinary bus routes. They seem to say Arlington’s only goal should be to spend as little as possible. Instead, the right goal is to make all parts of the county great places to live, in a cost-effective way.  Sadly, this chorus of negativity sounds a lot like, “I’ve got mine, so I don’t want to chip in for anybody else.” That attitude didn’t prevail in 1971, when there was talk about deleting the Virginia Square station during planning for Metrorail, or when the Orange Line could have gone in the median of Interstate 66 for much less expense than under Wilson Boulevard. They didn’t act this way when Clarendon, Ballston and Pentagon City needed new infrastructure to accommodate growth.  Arlington’s success today builds on yesterday’s investments. The next generation needs a similar investment, and now is the time. The county’s current plans, including the streetcar, will position it to succeed in the decades to come as Metrorail has helped it succeed today — as long as residents see through divisive and miserly rhetoric and are willing to get excited about the future.


Music Festivals

How Coachella, Bonnaroo and More Festivals Revamped the Music Industry
(By Steve Knopper, Rolling Stone, 13 May 2104)
In 2001, the last time Outkast hit the road for a major tour, they were coming off a multiplatinum album and a Number One single, "Ms. Jackson." André 3000 and Big Boi played 46 shows on the Stankonia tour, and grossed $4.8 million, according to Pollstar. That sounds impressive – until you compare it with the reunion tour they're launching this spring and summer. Outkast will play fewer gigs – 40 shows, every one at a festival – and make vastly more money: around $60 million, according to concert-business sources.

Welcome to the strange economics of the modern rock festival, where every summer, defunct or dormant bands reunite to earn more for a few gigs than they did in years of touring and recording. Outkast, who haven't released so much as a new song in eight years, are the most extreme example yet: Unlike many big festival acts, they're not famous for their live performances. "For the good bands, there's always going to be demand if you're away a long time," says Charles Attal, a partner with C3 Presents, which produces Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. Outkast's success reflects a new reality: Thanks to huge competition for "event bookings" that sell $300 tickets and even more expensive VIP packages, festivals can afford to pay headliners up to $4 million.

All of this is possible because festivals have come to dominate the music industry, with more than 60 slated to take place in the U.S. this year. Fifteen years ago, when Coachella organizers got 25,000 people to see Rage Against the Machine and Beck in the California desert, nobody could have predicted that an event like Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival would draw more than 400,000 people for a single weekend. "Festivals have become a huge part of American culture," says Pasquale Rotella, chief executive of Insomniac, promoter of Electric Daisy, which began as a rave in 1997. "When we first started, it was really foreign – all people could remember was Woodstock. It made it really difficult to explain. That's no longer true." 

Festivals have changed the way music is experienced – and released. A fan with a Spotify account and a Bonnaroo ticket can sample hundreds of bands, live or on record, in one weekend. "It's a good time to be a fan, if you just want a piece of everything," says Ben Dickey, manager of indie band Spoon, whose new album coincides with a tour that includes dates at Governors Ball and Shaky Knees this summer. "[Spoon] is going to play to tens of thousands of people at each festival – that's a pretty huge promotional platform for new songs."  It's not just big names who are cashing in. In the Nineties, when Neutral Milk Hotel recorded their landmark album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the group was lucky to make a few hundred dollars per show. But this summer, the band, whose last LP came out 16 years ago, will pull down much more money a night at festivals like Bonnaroo and Pitchfork. "You can add a lot of zeroes, basically, to what they made," says Jim Romeo, the group's booking agent.

A decade ago, festivals had distinct personalities: Coachella had the alt-rockers, Bonnaroo was more of a jam-band event. But as crowds grew, major headliners became harder to find, which meant more pressure to score high-profile reunions or megastars like Bruce Springsteen, whom Bonnaroo's promoters spent years wooing before he agreed to headline in 2009. The fiercest competition is regional. Cliff Burnstein, co-manager for Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, says California is one of this summer's big battlegrounds, now that Jay Z's Made in America will be in Los Angeles, joining Outside Lands in San Francisco and BottleRock in Napa Valley. "They will fight over the acts," he says.

Major festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza regularly sell out within hours of announcing their lineups. One way those fests stay on top is with "radius clauses," which means bands can't perform at any other show – not even a club gig – within, say, 300 miles and four or five months of their festival date. That can make bands' summer schedules increasingly complicated, to the point that mega-booking agency William Morris has had to create a separate department devoted exclusively to making bands' deals with festivals and managing their touring routes. "It's like playing air traffic control," says William Morris' Kirk Sommer, agent for the Killers and the Arctic Monkeys. "You have to think about how playing Governors Ball in June could affect another festival in the fall."

Of course, not every festival succeeds – in recent years, Rothbury in Michigan, Bamboozle in New Jersey and Kanrocksas have folded, despite snagging strong headlining names such as the Black Keys and Foo Fighters. Bamboozle suffered from promoter infighting, Kanrocksas had trouble selling tickets and Rothbury couldn't line up consistently huge headliners.  "It sometimes takes years of development to get these events into profitability," says Bob Roux, Live Nation's co­president of U.S. concerts. In the earlier days of U.S. festivals, it was easier for independent companies to build a festival on niche music, like jam bands or electronic-dance DJs. That's not the case today. "There's a lot more politics and a lot more investment to make something happen," says Insomniac's Rotella.

Given the recent boom, you might think festivals have hit a saturation point. But numerous band managers and promoters say there's still room for growth. "It's getting dense," says Attal. "But I don't think it's peaked – it's just hit a pretty good stride."  Even for baby bands – if they get the right time slots and are able to play effectively to big crowds – festivals can make the difference between just surviving and thriving. "A festival pays three and a half or four times more than the average club show," says Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings, who are playing Bonnaroo, Pitchfork and several European fests this summer. "We're still a small-scale band, but the festival shows make you realize what happens when you try to become more popular."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Kevin Smith On Batman At 75: The Enduring Heartbreak & Why We Still Worship Him

(By Kevin Smith, Hollywood Reporter, 02 May 2014)

As Bruce Wayne's alter ego continues to pervade pop culture, TV and film, a very famous Hollywood fanboy expounds on the primal fear at the heart of his appeal.

Since he was created 75 years ago by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman has captured more fancies than he has colorful characters from Gotham's Rogues Gallery en route to the revolving door of Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The appeal of the Batman has become so undeniable that at the conclusion of his latest multi-billion dollar franchise, the Caped Crusader wasn't gifted with the eight-year vacation his character was afforded by Christopher Nolan between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.  Instead, Warner Bros. lit the Bat-Signal and put his Bat-ass right back to work: on TV in Fox's Gotham, in video games like Batman: Arkham Origins, in animation like the short-lived Beware the Batman on Cartoon Network and on the big screen again, in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel sequel, the tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman, and the director's just-announced Justice League.

But why does Batman endure? In the age of the Marvel movie, a mild-mannered doctor can lose his temper and become a giant green monster, or a rich guy can put on a flying suit of armor and blow away bad guys with repulsor technology.  In The Avengers, a whole slew of super souls battled side by side, giving us so much ass-kickin' eye candy, the worldwide audience collectively screamed, "JUST TAKE ALL MY MONEY NOW!" The Marvel heroes were unwittingly designed for today's modern movie, where digital artists can finally depict not only what it looks like but also how it feels to be Spider-Man swinging through the canyons of Manhattan.

By comparison, however, on paper Batman comes across as kinda dull. He pulls on a mask and a cape and fights street-level bad guys. He has no superpowers. He has cool tech like Iron Man, but he likes to rely on his brains and brawn more than anything else. In a world of super- heroes, he's pretty uncinematically normal. When you take away the Batmobile and the Batcave, Batman is just a guy fighting mad men in makeup. He's not invulnerable: He's a human being.  And therein lies the appeal of the Batman: He is one of us. We can't identify with Superman because, in the real world, he'd be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. We can't identify with Wonder Woman because, in the real world, we don't know any Amazonian women made from clay. We can't identify with Green Lantern because, in the real world, there are no aliens giving out power rings.

But in the real world, parents die. Sometimes it's a car crash that does it, and sometimes it's a natural disaster. Sometimes it's merely something mundane and medical. And sometimes, it's a grisly crime at the hands of the desperate or demented. The thought of losing both parents is a primal fear that preoccupies our childhood imagination: There never has been a child who hasn't fretted, at one point in their lives, "What if Mom and Dad disappear and I'm left all alone?" It's a terrifying thought for a kid: "What would happen to me if the only two people in the world who love me the most were suddenly dead?"  See, it's the Passion Play aspect that keeps us coming back to Batman. In 1966, Batman went mainstream in a campy television show that only once mentioned the heartbreaking origin of the Dark Knight. This was a fun Batman, Biff-ing and Bam-ing bad guys -- in Dutch tilt shots -- simply because it was the right thing to do. But after Watergate and Vietnam, the bubbly Batman was returned to his onerous origins as the boy whose life would be forever altered in Crime Alley. And to a country and world that had lost its innocence with the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK, the more somber Dark Knight Batman had a deeper impact than the Bright Knight that was the Adam West iteration of the character.

Ask someone in 1966 why Bruce Wayne became Batman and they couldn't tell you. Ask anyone now? Even the least geeky of us can tell you a young Bruce Wayne watched a mugger murder his parents in the midst of a back-alley robbery. We take this aspect of the story to heart because it's what appeals to us about Batman the most: his humanity. Before he was punching the Riddler in his turkey neck, Batman was a boy who survived the worst thing that can happen to a child.  Yes, we love the look of a man in uniform -- particularly when that uniform includes a cape and cowl. But while Batman is visually arresting, it's what lies at the heart of the character beneath the bat emblazoned across his chest that we respond to. We root for him with a mix of pity and power, the way we silently cheer on any kid we read about in the news who has to deal with issues and complications some full-grown adults couldn't be expected to weather.

And in this less innocent age, where greed and corruption are so commonplace it makes our world more like Gotham and less like shiny-happy Metropolis, we trust the establishment less and less. When even priests and politicians are pederasts, what authority figure can you believe in anymore without including caveats or excuses? Although he's a fictional character, Batman presents an adult any child (and most adults for that matter) can feel safe with, knowing that this masked man with his hidden identity will ironically never betray your trust. He will lay down his life to save yours. But because he spent his formative years honing his body and mind for a lifelong war on crime, we know he won't have to die for us: Unlike most messiahs, you can't stop the Batman.

At the core of the character is an arrested development of sorts: Only a child makes a vow as untenable as “I will spend my life avenging my parents.”  And even though he's a lethal fighting machine who refuses to kill, at the heart of the heroic adult is just a broken boy -- so broken, in fact, that the man adheres to the juvenile promise he made as a child.  But without parents to tell him he's mounting an impossible task, the shattered kid becomes the driven adult, and his dark days make him a Dark Knight.  Bruce Wayne is the original "boy who lived," but his Voldemort isn't the Joker -- it's injustice. The injustice of loving parents taken too young. The injustice of a ruined childhood. The injustice of those superstitious and cowardly criminals taking not only things that don't belong to them, but also the innocence, joy, safety and security of the wonder years.

It wasn't fair what happened to Bruce Wayne, so instantly, we're on Bruce Wayne's side. But he wins our loyalty not because he's the victim we never want to be, but because he's the survivor and champion every one of us dreams we are, with or without childhood trauma and tragedy. Bruce the Boy vows to avenge his parents' murders, and Bruce the Adult makes good on the promise, taking it all one step further: On his watch, no child will ever have to know the pain of losing Mom and Dad. So even though this billionaire playboy has mountains of money with which to dry his eyes or can boo-hoo into the bosoms of any woman (or man) he desires, Bruce Wayne spends every waking hour as a soldier in the service of strangers. And because of this, we feel more connected to Bruce Wayne and Batman than Tony Stark and Iron Man, or Clark Kent and Superman.  Or the pope.  Or the president.  Even the good ones.

We won't let Batman go because, for such a ridiculous notion, he's so easy to believe in. He's a spiritual icon of survival for so many that it doesn't matter if he's a fictional character. He endures because of that young boy who made it through the worst thing that can ever happen to a child and came out stronger for it. And since every one of us has either faced or will face their own personal Crime Alley, where we lose someone precious to us, it's good to know there's someone out there who can show us how to survive heartbreak -- even if he does it by overdressing and socking bad guys in the mush.


Kevin Smith is the writer-director of Clerks, Dogma and the upcoming Tusk, starring Justin Long and Michael Parks.   For DC, he has written Green Arrow: Quiver and Batman: The Widening Gyre. He also is the executive producer of Comic Book Men on AMC.