Friday, November 6, 2009

Harry Reid Emphasizes Value of STEM Education

Kudos to Senator Reid for his interest in educational activities in science, technology, engineering, and math for young people.

Check out this video:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Advice for Lobbyists


TO: High-paid DC Lobbyist

FROM: Congressional Staffer of 6 Years

RE: Do’s and Don’ts of Meetings with Congressional Staff

1. Do NOT touch your Blackberry when you are meeting with me.

I was once in a meeting with a well-paid lobbyist and six of his out-of-town clients. As the out-of-towners attempted to make their case to me, his Blackberry make sounds twice. Then, he had the nerve to pick it up, check it, and send a message during the meeting.

Finally, I looked at his client and said, “I am having trouble hearing the message that you are trying to deliver today because his Blackberry is so distracting.” The look she gave him suggested that his contract may be ending soon.

Same goes for your phones. Silence them prior to the meeting.

2. Don’t schedule a meeting with me without confirming.

A paid-for-hire “executive scheduler” named Kevin S. has this system for setting up meetings with our office:

(a) He contacts the Member’s scheduler to request a meeting for his client;

(b) Scheduler nixes the request and punts it to me;

(c) He sets a time of his choosing and informs me via voicemail that his out-of-town clients have been advised of this “tentative time.” Will I confirm.

(d) I’m busy and don’t get the chance to let Kevin S. know that I have a schedule conflict.

(e) Clients show up; I’m unable to meet with them due to conflict;

(f) I call Kevin S. to ask him not to set meetings until he has confirmed with me;

(g) Kevin hangs up on me and calls my superior to complain.

This, I tell you, is the perfect recipe for having your calls to a Congressional staffer never returned again.

3. Don’t openly break the rules.

A certain health care lobbyists drives a navy Maserati. Colleagues have seen the Maserati enter secure areas without a permit. Not sure how Capitol Police would explain that. Public records say he made half a million in 2007 off of lobbying.

4. Don’t go around me to my superior.

Maserati-lobbyist also loves to walk into the office and directly into our chief of staff’s office. He wants to talk health care. The chief asks me to handle it because chief is overwhelmed with multiple projects. Mr. Maserati continues to rarely make an appointment and expects me to drop everything when he walks in – once before 10am. I’m really busy. Please don’t do that.

5. Don’t try bribery.

I have actually been on more than one phone call, and the person on the other end wants to talk policy/legislation in the same breath as a fund raiser for my boss. At that moment, I immediately cut him off and say, “Ethics rules disallow me to discuss campaign matters with you at this time.”

‘Nuf said. Please check with the Ethics Committee for further clarification.

6. Don’t flaunt your money.

We all know that many of the lobbyists who come into our offices make big money. Especially if they work for: (1) Big Oil; (2) any health insurance company or conglomeration; (3) most “energy companies,” or (4) specialty health care physicians; (5) trial lawyers; or (6) Big Pharma.

While it’s your conscience about for whom you work, don’t flash your money while you are asking the federal government for money. No huge diamonds. No Rolexes. No designer labels. No obvious recent plastic surgery.

Better yet, hire yourself a 20-something “junior lobbyist” to do this work for you. It’s likely that the Congressional staffer is her age, and they’ll jive a lot better anyway.

7. Do keep the meeting less than 20 minutes.

It is not a good thing if a staffer starts to stack up her papers while you’re meeting with her. That means you have gone on too long, and please wrap it up. If she says, “Well, we need to wrap up the meeting,” that means that the meeting is over.

The folder that you gave us will end up on our desks, at best, in a huge stack of other folders. Today, I had seven meetings from 1:30-5pm. Following up increases the odds that your request will be considered. No follow-up signals to us that you don’t care that much.

8. Do bring 3 people or fewer.

Congressional offices are small places. More than 4 people coming in for a meeting means one thing: the meeting will occur out in the hallway. It’s not a sign of disrespect, it’s simple logistics.

9. Don’t flirt during the meeting OR afterward.

A lobbyist whom I find very charming and with whom I like to work serendipitously met me out at a bar a couple months ago. After a couple drinks, his compliments to me started to get uncomfortably personal. Now I feel awkward trying to work with him. Bleh.

10. Don’t lie to the scheduler.

We’ve actually had lobbyists come in and tell the scheduler that they were “cleared” to come in and give our Member an award and do a photo-op. Cleared by WHOM? That maneuver was shot down faster than you can say, “Cheese!”

Thursday, June 11, 2009


"Is it always this busy?"

Overheard, Cannon House Office Building, southwest entrance; one new guard spoke to another longer-time guard.  8:58am.

The answer is no. That entrance gets crowded only when there is a line waiting at Longworth's southeast entrance (across the street).  Normally it is among the least busy entrances to the House office buildings.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dr. Margaret Ellis Bourdeaux Saves the Life of Dr. Gene Dresselhaus

During the annual National Science Foundation Awards Gala, honors were being given for a lifetime achievement, a distinguished young investigator, and an organization that has done noteworthy outreach.

The event was a black-tie affair, and the guest list contained many influential people in the science policy community. Dr. John P. Holdren, the new Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, attended and addressed the guests. A sumptuous dinner was served, and the awards presentation commenced.

Dr. Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus was at the head table. After receiving an award for lifetime achievement, she was seated back at the side of her husband, Dr. Gene Dresselhaus. She held his hand, and he appeared to be falling asleep. She squeezed his palm with her fingers to try to awake him, to no avail. Within 30 seconds, Gene had slumped in his chair and was literally leaning on a member of the National Science Board.

For a few moments, the award presentations awkwardly continued. Finally, the men at the head table gently lowered Gene onto the carpet, on his back. He appeared to be unconscious.

Suddenly, from the adjacent table, Dr. Margaret Ellis Bourdeaux, who was in attendance, stood and rushed over, like a breeze. Her curly, bright red hair, fair skin, and teal full-length gown were striking, but not as striking as her calm and direct actions.

Dr. Bourdeaux, dress be damned, knelt down beside Dr. Dresselhaus, very close to his face.

“Gene. Gene! Gene, can you hear me? GENE, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” She calmly spoke to Dr. Dresselhaus. She leaned close to his face to ascertain whether he was breathing, her frizzy red hair covering his face. He was not breathing.

“I’m doing chest compressions,” she stated calmly. She leaned over him and promptly began doing CPR. Her fair arms began performing thirty gentle chest compressions. Then mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Two breaths. Thirty more chest compressions. Mouth…

Gene let out a very loud cough. “Gene, are you okay?” Dr. Bourdeaux asked.”

“Yes,” was the answer, in a weak voice.

Dr. Bourdeaux began talking quietly to him, asking him various questions to assess consciousness. His hand touched his chest. He drew his knees up a little. He remained lying on the floor.

Within ten minutes, an ambulance had arrived. Space was cleared in the dining hall, and paramedics transported him out on a stretcher.

Watching Dr. Bourdeaux save the life of Dr. Gene Dresselhaus, right there at my feet, was an amazing experience. It was an occurrence that deeply touched everyone in that room. It made me think about how transient and brief all of our lives are. How everything we strive for, all of the relationships, all of the education, everything…can be snuffed out like a candle suddenly. Life is so transient.

Dr. Margaret Ellis Bourdeaux should have received an award that night. She was the true hero of the evening.

We all will be forever indebted to her for what she did. A man could have died that night in the diplomatic rooms, just as his wife had received a career achievement award. Instead, Dr. Bourdeaux demonstrated incredible courage and skill to avert the crisis.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Compact Digital Camera with Flip Screen

Would somebody please create a compact digital camera that has a swivel LCD screen? My old Canon has one, but it's big and is getting old. So I'm looking for a fun, compact point-and-shoot. I know that adding a swivel screen adds a bit to the bulk of the camera, but there are things swivel-screen cameras can do that others can't, such as taking pictures from odd angles.

Example 1: From the ground.
Gorgeous crabapple trees were blooming in the median near 4th and Penn Ave, SE. My intention was to take a photo from ground-level, looking up. With a swivel screen, I could have easily set up the picture so that the shot was level with the ground. Instead, because I couldn't see the screen well, the ground was at an angle.

Example 2: Perfect backgrounds.
My friend and I were walking along the National Mall, and on impulse decided to take a hand-held snapshot of ourselves, with the U.S. Capitol in the background. It took 2 or 3 tries before we had a good shot of us, with the the dome perfectly aligned in the background. This would have been a piece of cake with a swivel screen.

Example 3: Timed photos.
Traveled to Giant's Causeway in Ireland last fall. I set the camera on the rocks, put the timer on 10 seconds, and swiveled the screen so that I could line up the picture. Swivel screen enabled me to simply press the button and back up a few paces.

Example 4: Taken from overhead.
I did see someone else make this point elsewhere, but if you're standing in a crowd and want to take a picture from a higher angle, the swivel screen enables you to see the shot before you press the button. Otherwise, it's not possible to see what you are photographing, and composing your picture becomes blind trial-and-error.

I really feel that there is a paucity of information out there singing the praises of swivel screen LCDs. Why doesn't some camera company respond to the call and make one? I'd be first in line to buy it. Others have been requesting it as well.

As far as I can tell, no such product exists. Entrepreneurs, go at it!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Up at Night

Sometimes, especially when life gets extra-busy, stressful, or there's a lot of change swirling 'round, I wake up at night and can't quickly fall back asleep.

Tonight, I awoke at 5. Usually, it's 4am.

I've noticed:

-The 30s Metro buses begin running at 5. I begin to hear their heavy, groaning engines, rumbling by, a block away. I think of my friend, who I call, "Squire," who is a teacher and who buses across town early in the morning.  Buses and 5am seem like a bad combo.  

-Traffic starts to pick up. What are all these people doing at this ungodly hour? I snuggle under soft flannel linens and am thankful that I'm not operating a car at this hour (nor any time!). I hear the whoosh sound of cars-gliding-across-pavement as they pass.  Sometimes, I'll hear a noisy service truck rumble by, and I mentally draft a letter to Mayor Fenty to try and ban large trucks from neighborhood streets.

-There's a bird in the budding sugar maple outside my window that sings like crazy. Actually, now I hear a small bird chorus. Why are all of these city birds singing their little souls out, in the hours before dawn?  Are they confused?  I can identify with that: they sing when they're not supposed to, but the song is in the soul, and must come out.

-The house is finally quiet. I am one of four group house occupants. We're a "Craigslist house," as are so many in the District, meaning that the roommates came together via Craigslist, rather than being friends prior to living together. Once in a while, someone is up at 4... but not tonight.

-I feel energetic, like I could jump up and run around the block. I lie here, curious about why I wake up at this hour.  I sift through emotions. Some nights, it bugs me that I wake up like this. Other nights, I'm awash with feelings of gratefulness about my life.   Still others, I analyze  old relationships or consider my next job move.  Tonight, I'm blogging.

When I woke up tonight, I checked my Blackberry and saw that someone I don't know had actually commented on my blog, in the wee hours of the morning. It encouraged me. So rarely do I receive a comment, that I often just feel like I blog in a vacuum, and no one else really reads it. But tonight was not the case. Maybe this is an example of the power of positive reinforcement.

The House votes today on a bill to allow the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco. I hope that it actually makes it to the President's desk. I need to go back to sleep, so that I can be of sharp mind at work. I'll try now. 

Goodnight, Internets.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cutting my Shin: a Memory Comes Flooding Back

It was in the early 1980s - I was 10 or 11 years old. Our new house was under construction. Mom, Dad, my sister, and my friend, Joy D., went to check on the progress.

Joy and I were playing on the front porch. There was a piece of aluminum sheet metal nearby. I pretended to stumble over it -- except that I cut it too close, and really stumbled over it.

I looked down at my left shin. There was a 1.5 inch slice in my shin, and the taut skin had pulled open into a surprise-mouth shape. Blood streamed down my leg.

The next few minutes were a blur. I remember Mom rushing me to the doctor's office. She worked for Dr. Brooks and must have put in a quick call. I remember sitting in the front seat of the car, applying pressure to the wound. There was a towel.

Then I remember being in the doctor's office, crying and wailing, lying on my back on a cushioned patient table. Dr. Brooks began to quickly sew up the wound. Ms. Donna, a lovely, young nurse, came over to hold me, to keep me from squirming.
I was really squirming and crying.

Ms. Donna leaned over my upper body, almost in a hug. Her long, layered dark hair was soft and perfume-scented. The weight of her, her gentle words, her soft hair...they soothed me. The memory is as vivid as if it happened yesterday.

We should remember that there are key moments in a life, moments that have a lasting impact and are not forgotten. Ms. Donna's simple gesture of kindness and compassion meant the world to a terrified child in that moment.

I'll never forget it, for as long as I live.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Capitol Dome Tonight

I jogged around the Capitol grounds tonight. I passed others:

- A man with a tripod, intensely focused on a "blue light" sunset photo, with a female companion looking on, her arms crossed to ward off the spring chill;

- A young athlete, jogging, iPod strapped to his bicep;

- A woman in her 20s, passing by quickly, the words, "affirmative action," trailing behind her;

- A young man of 25ish in a suit strolled past, his swinging suitcase in one hand, an illuminated Blackberry in the other; and

- A white-haired, comb-over'ed man, in his 50s, in a tan trench coat, clinking house keys.

"Oh! It's so beautiful!" I heard, as the Capitol Dome glowed in a backdrop of soft yellow and clear blue.

The tourist-like exclamation, with voice full of wonder, was mine.

*Photo credit: Big Mike NYC

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Saffron Spring

Daffodils in bloom,

DC blushes bright yellow;

Forsythia's next!

*Photo by tlindenbaum

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Politically Incorrect

Overheard, said by one Congressional staffer to another, while walking through Rayburn:

"Hmf. Smells like Tourists."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Letter from my Father

"I knew you when...

You blew puffballs.

I changed your diapers, ughh!
We walked in the deep

Woods and found lucky buckeyes.

Mom terrified you by

Telling you to sweat.

Bonnie bit you.

You finally put your head

Under water at the pool.

You won the beauty contest.

We prayed together every night.

You danced the Nutcracker

In your pink tutu.

You picked peas in the pea patch.

You played with beagle puppies...

I knew you when, and the dreams
Will never end as long as Love

Endures and the soul ascends.

I watched you grow up

And knew that you and I were

The dreamers in our family.

All of my dreams did not

Come true, but you are one

That did. As a father, I am
Proud of you and will always love

And cherish you, daughter of my dreams.

And if you live your life on

Earth, full of love and forgiveness,

We will dream together with Him,

According to God's promises.

Mom and I will always love you

Because you are a part of our
Hearts, our happy dream, our joy.

(1 Corinthians 13)

happy birthday,


Friday, March 13, 2009

Mid-March Snow

It is snowing at our nation's Capitol! I watch flakes float by outside my fifth-floor window in nearby vicinity.

The daffodils, crocuses, and pansies will be toughing it out. The sky is a bright glare, as the sun shines behind the cirrus clouds.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Emperor's New Clothes are Made from Clean Coal

- Energy derived from coal is terrible for the environment. The coal must be mined, which is bad for the miners who must obtain it and often is strip mined.  Burning it emits more greenhouse gases than any other source, not to mention the soot in the air.  Greenhouse gases have led to global warming, which will be devastating within the next century.

- There is no such thing as "clean coal."

- The idea of long term storage of carbon dioxide in underground geological formatuons is absolutely ludicrous. Very "Emperor's New Clothes.". What happens if there is an earthquake or meteor hit?

- Members of Congress with a lot of coal in their districts should avoid self-interests from trumping good science and energy policy.

- It is wrong to pollute the air, emit tons of greenhouse gases, and stip-mine the land because it is "good business."

The American people deserve so much better.



"Be bald and proud."

Unsolicited advice from a staffer, sitting in a committe lounge and looking at today's front cover of The Hill newspaper.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Song that Sums It

From "Train Wreck"
- Sarah McLachlan

Your love in all its finery
Tear up the darkness all around me
Until I can breathe again
Until I believe again

But your eyes like midnight fireflies
Light up the trenches where my heart lies
Until I can see again
Find my way back again

From your mouth, it's all that I wish
Mercy of your lips, just one kiss
Until I can breathe again
Until I can sing again

Cause I'm a train wreck
Waiting to happen
Waiting for someone to come pick me up off the tracks
A wild fire born of frustration
born of the one love that gets me so high

I've no fear at all
To fall so deep into you
Loose myself completely
In your sweet embrace
All my pain's erased

Saturday, March 7, 2009

32 Bus, East Side

Overheard cell phone conversation:

"So, is that a birthmark, or is it that... uh uh...that thang you told me about, that's spreadin'?"

The joys of adulthood.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Health care reform

"Everyone's at the table b/c no one wants to be on the menu."

- Michael Cannon of Cato Institute, regarding health care reform

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To Reflect

I was just looking at some pictures from 2005. Contemplated on friends I had then, relatives I visited, houses I stayed in, places that were familiar and dear to me.

Things are so very different now. It just amazes me how much can happen in four years.

Relationships have developed and waned. Weight has been lost and gained. Hobbies have come and gone. Jobs have changed. Loves have been found and lost. Some folks are engaged – or with significant others who weren’t in the picture back then. Others have had their hearts broken, picked up the pieces, and learned lessons. Or not.

Change. It’s the only thing that we can count on.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cougar Age is 35, Apparently

[22-year-old Cute Boy on Dating Website]

"Wow. Just to let you know, I find you stunningly attractive. Your age has treated you well. It probably wouldn't work out but I felt I had to tell you anyways. Hope your weekend goes well. Southern girl with a Phd living in DC sounds to good to be true...."

[35-year-old Me, Replying to Boy]
"Hey hotness.

Thank you. Yeah...PhD...that's what happened to my 20s.

Going out with you would put me solidly in the cougar category, and while I've done it before, I try not to make a habit of that. You are a very attractive guy, though."


Friday, February 27, 2009

I Love Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is such a wonderful neighborhood.

I can not tell you how much richer my life is because I have zero commute. Okay; I have a 10-minute walk, but it's a gorgeous walk that is good for me.

And on nights like tonight, the festive restaurants and bars have people spilling out of them, sitting at outdoor tables or standing around outside, like flowers spilling out of a bouquet.

Capitol Hill truly has a "neighborhoodly feel," in that I know and am known by the local merchants. Folks are friendly here. Every morning, during my walk to work, I pass a gas station. Dane, who pumps gas there, always says hello to me, by name. The homeless man who hangs around there also says good morning to me. On cold days, I ask him if he's keeping warm.

I had Greek food tonight. It was this macaroni dish, with ground beef and bechamel sauce. It was delicious, and Dominic, the greeter, was so nice.

It's that iffy period just before spring's daffodils peek through the ground. Rain is often threatening, and the cloud cover and concomitant humidity make the night air balmy and mild.

In a way, Capitol Hill feels like a small town. After working on the Hill for 6 years and living here for 2 years; after countless trips to Eastern Market; after many visits to local churches; after even more visits to the Tune Inn - I'm starting to feel like a local.

Call me "Inside the Beltway" if you wish. But what I'll tell you is that the people who live and work here are genuine and kind. Most of them are hell-bent on making this world a better place in which to live. Just like me.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Almost Spring

I can not wait for spring. All of this warm-teaser weather is getting to me.

Southerners struggle more than most after moving northward.

In the fall, the days quickly shorten, and the period after Christmas is especially dark and depressing. It's not quite that dark in the South. Then there's the snow and ice. Granted, the past few winters in DC have been mild, compared to others, but still. This is the time of year when the oddly warm days become more and more common.

I can almost smell spring in the air. The dampness that I felt when I walked out of the house this morning reminded me of spring showers, daffodils, forsythia and these funny little flowers that bloom a lot on Capitol Hill.

Oh, spring. Where are you? I have missed your warm touch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


SmartCars and Snowflakes;

Capitol Hill on Wednesday;

President's Day week.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration Eve, 2009

I'm standing at East Capitol and 2nd Street right now. It's a clear, cold night. Not bitter cold, like last week, but a bearable chill, with proper bundling. The sightline to the Capitol from this spot is now unimpeded, thanks to the recent completion of the Capitol Visitors' Center.

It's a gorgeous winter night. The Capitol shines, and its elegant, white dome is set against a backdrop of deep, midnight navy. Not a military navy, but deeper, and nuanced in brightness.

This whole area, a 4-block radius from the Capitol, has been made pedestrian-only. It's a good thing, since literally millions of the world's citizens will be here tomorrow to witness, in person, the inauguration of Barack Obama.

I continue to walk home, in formal gown and sneakers. I hope that I will always remember this moment, so full of hope, as apparent as the night's chill upon my face.