Wednesday, February 29, 2012


First Leg of Future DC Outer Beltway to
Reach U.S. Rt. 1 by 2014

Yesterday's announcement that Bethesda-based contractor ICC Constructors will complete a one mile extension of the ICC from I-95 east to U.S. 1 was another step towards a DC Outer Beltway.

News outlets and public officials, you may note, describe it as the "final" stretch/mile/leg, etc. In reality, this is just the beginning.

Once Route 1 is reached by 2014, further extensions west and east will be inevitable.

Next stop east? Bowie. Write that down. Bowie was long expected to be an exit on the Outer Beltway. Such an extension would revitalize Bowie's economy, and boost its property values.

While the rich pat themselves on the back in their New Urbanism $800,000-and-up transit-oriented condos in high-tax inner suburbs, future Beltways will allow easy movement for middle class workers between their jobs and affordable-yet-desirable single-family home neighborhoods in the exurbs.

Did I just say Beltways?

Surely you don't believe the Outer Beltway is the end?

Beijing has 5 Beltways. 5! And last time I checked, China's economic growth rate is ahead of ours.

Where is the next Beltway?

The Outer Outer Beltway will be what has been known as the Western Bypass. It will sweep westward from I-95, interchange with I-70, pass by southern Frederick County and Clarksburg, crossing the Potomac River near Point of Rocks. In Virginia, it will reach Fredericksburg as it turns southeast. NIMBYs and environmental groups will say it is going to cause sprawl (even as they heartily endorsed MoCo politicians who voted to build a city in the country around the Belward Farm - a city on farmland... now that's sprawl, ladies and gentlemen, and calls for a taking of the Hypocritic Oath!).

In fact, the areas that would be connected by an Outer Outer Beltway are currently growing as much as 800%, according to the latest Census data. That's without any new highways.

Eventually, you can expect yet another outer ring highway, this one reaching Hagerstown and Westminster.

The same politicians who talk about the environment so much are also approving all of their developer buddies' projects that will require these highways.

Mobility and affordable housing are good things. Future highways will be offset by zero-emission vehicles, and growing interest in sustainable local agriculture. This will minimize environmental harm, while expanding support for preservation of farmland.

Considering how long we've waited for the Outer Beltway (I-370) and the Rockville Freeway, future ring highways could be 50 or more years away.

Hopefully, we'll apply the same quick action to those two latter projects that developers forced politicians to apply to the ICC (Konterra) and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (National Harbor).

Rail vs. Trail is more than question of
surface vs. underground

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

The increasingly contentious battle over just what will end up inside the former B&O Railroad tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda is a substantive dispute.

Certainly, the surface trail option is far from the end of the world. 47th Street to Leland St. to Bethesda Avenue is the proposal on the table. As some have noted, we are gaining a grade separated crossing at Connecticut Avenue, even while losing one in Bethesda. And the signal-controlled crossing at Wisconsin - while risky - is more orderly than the non-controlled crossing at Connecticut.

But, of course, that is a bit of a red herring because we are guaranteed to get the Connecticut crossing regardless of the outcome in Bethesda.

With so much money at stake, it's worth reviewing some of the specific issues that haven't really been considered in the public narrative of Big Waste of Money Bike Tunnel vs. Bike Safety Catastrophe.


This is an ironic debate to be having when you consider that we are comparing a railbed trail with a vehicular street. The whole raison d'etre of the Rails to Trails movement - from a cyclist/runner perspective - was that the smooth and consistent gradation of rail lines made them ideal for this recreational use. It's not well known today, but the B&O Railroad was known for their engineering prowess over a century ago. This particular line, the Georgetown Branch, has been recognized as an engineering triumph by a textbook on the subject.

So when we talk about the tunnel vs. surface, or even the fairly wacky "Trail Over Trains" tubeway tunnel proposal, it should be noted that either change will add a steeper grade to this segment of the trail.

If the surface option is chosen, the obvious fact is that Bethesda Avenue eastbound to 355 is fairly steep. This presents a problem for more casual cyclists, senior citizens and the disabled. Sure, there's a bridge at River Road, but you have the option to bypass it if you want.


There are some cyclists who enjoy traveling on roads amidst vehicular traffic. But as an advocate of bicycle projects and connectivity, the surface route is a disincentive to people who may be considering a switch to bike commuting.

I'm thinking of two categories: casual riders and experienced professional riders. What do they have in common?

I believe there is a selling point to bike facilities with direct intercity connections that are separated from auto and pedestrian traffic. A selling point that appeals to those two groups in particular.

For the casual rider, it means no worry about cars at all, and keeping the pace comfortable for you. At the same time, a rider who is comfortable going fast can take advantage of the greatest commuter benefit available: blasting from home to work with no red lights, no stop-and-go traffic and no bike-car accidents. Say you live in Bethesda and work in Georgetown or on K Street. The CCT will be ideal for commuting for those riders.

This appeal, and regional trail linkage, will present the greatest appeal for potential bike commuters. That will be hurt by a surface route.


While Zen Tara Tea, Jimmy Johns and other businesses on upper Bethesda Avenue would gain from a street CCT route, there's no question that Mon Ami Gabi, Bethesda Row Cinema and Haagen Dazs would lose business if riders and joggers no longer pass by when exiting the tunnel. At the same time, I always felt the trains should absolutely come into the tunnel, and that people should be able to exit the station directly into Bethesda Row there. That is a world-class configuration. Have dinner at Bethesda Row, then walk over to the Purple Line and head to a concert at the Fillmore. Those type of activities would not be facilitated if riders have to walk up to Wisconsin Avenue.

Likewise, it is almost unthinkable to demolish the Apex and/or Air Rights Buildings. Destroying the only mainstream multiplex in town would hardly promote a "walkable" lifestyle.


Yes, the tunnel cost is excessive during a tough time. But these politicians and developers promised the tunnel in exchange for certain groups' support.

How can they resolve this? It's their problem, not ours. They made the promise. So they can't punish the public for not keeping their word.

I recall that the council said they couldn't break their word to Costco and Live Nation when writing huge checks to those wealthy companies. Can they break their word to citizens groups?

It means they'll need to collect a facility restoration tax on developers building along the Purple Line. And move money from pet projects to this.

There's no question officials are "in quite a pickle" as Derek "Clarksburg" Berlage once said.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Grinnell College Student Said to Have Attempted to
Outrace Iowa Freight Train

A miraculous ending to a dangerous act is being reported from near Des Moines Iowa tonight.

Anika Manzoor, a 20 year old Bethesda resident attending Grinnell College in Iowa, is reported to have tried to cross in front of an oncoming Iowa Interstate freight train Monday afternoon.

According to Tom Alex, reporter for the Des Moines Register, Manzoor's two friends made it across, but Manzoor slipped and fell in front of the train.

Unbelievably, she was swept aside by a snowplow attachment on the locomotive, and was transported to the University of Iowa hospital, where she remains with non-life-threatening injuries.

We don't yet know Manzoor's side of the story, so it is premature to pass judgement.

However, thankfully this is a good reminder for people about respecting the rules of railroad safety without a tragic ending.

Never walk on railroad tracks. Stop, look and listen before crossing tracks on foot or by car. Never try to "beat the train."

In this time when folks move near railroads and then complain that there are trains passing through (Garrett Park, Randolph Hills, Kensington - the B&O was there long before they were), the rules of coexisting with the railroads that keep America running are more relevant than ever.

Funding a Functioning Metro Entrance is Far
Better Use of $ than Lining Wheaton Developer Pockets

Recent days have presented us with a false argument: Not only the nutty idea that the "redevelopment" (fancy replacement term for discredited old phrase "urban renewal") of downtown Wheaton means we can't build a second entrance to the Bethesda Metro station. And not only the even nuttier claim that county officials "don't really want to redevelop Wheaton (it has been a top priority of theirs and of the developers who fund their campaigns).

No, the biggest false argument is that downtown Wheaton needs to be redeveloped at the expense of other, critical infrastructure projects.

Wheaton and I go way back. I've always lived in Bethesda, but Wheaton and Aspen Hill are among the places I've spent considerable time since childhood through today. So I'm emotionally invested in both, and certainly want the best for Wheaton's future.

The reality is that the proposed redevelopment is not only unnecessary, but is not even wanted by many small business owners in Wheaton.

Those businesses, many owned by Latino and Asian entrepreneurs, will be forced out. So will low/middle income residents of apartments near the downtown. Our elected officials say it's not their fault, and that there is little they can do prevent these de facto evictions.

In fact, it is entirely their fault. It is exactly because of their votes to pass irresponsible sector plans in areas like Wheaton, Kensington, and later Long Branch and Takoma/Langley Crossroads, that this tragedy will occur. These plans are the equivalent of a TILT in pinball, literally flipping groups of parcels to entice sales by older landowners to waiting developers.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Wheaton. The most pressing issue has been crime. But crime is not a real estate problem. It is a police problem. Everyone from citizens to the police chief himself has said we need to hire more officers. $42 million could hire a lot of new officers.

When I think of Wheaton, I think of Wheaton Regional Park, Wheaton Library, The Anchor Inn, Wheaton Plaza (fully-leased, according to Westfield - hardly a failing mall despite desperate pro-developer claims otherwise), Toys R Us, Barry's Magic Shop, the martial arts supply store on Georgia Avenue, Barbarian Books, Chuck Levin's, Irene's Pupusas, Roy Rogers, IHOP, the old arcade on University Boulevard, Wheaton Music...

The list goes on and on. A lot of those are gone already, thanks to rents rising in expectation of the Wild West, anything-goes sector plan passage.

Most of the new people on the scene have no appreciation of those places. They don't mind if Irene's is replaced with a Chipotle. Or if working people are tossed out to make way for wealthy, luxury condo owners living in a taxpayer-subsidized Disneyland.

Clearly, if one has $42 million burning a hole in their pocket, a small portion of that could be used to provide more police resources, keep existing shopping and residential centers in good shape, and make highway and infrastructure improvements.

With pressing needs addressed, Wheaton is doing just fine. Visit sometime, and you'll find that - by golly - they do have good restaurants. Some of the best chicken can be ordered in Wheaton, and many critics have said the best dim sum is at Wheaton Plaza's Hollywood East Cafe.

Change will come to Wheaton, but let the market bring it, parcel by parcel.

Developer profit in Wheaton is not an urgent concern of 99.9% of people there or countywide.

What is urgent, is that we have a failing Metro entrance here in Bethesda. It not only threatens ridership and economic activity, but also the health of riders. Our deep station was never meant to be exited on a staircase.

The second, southern entrance has been on the books for many years. In fact, some elements were already laid out when the station was built.

Although the new entrance at Elm Street is not actually in a zero sum competition with downtown Wheaton, it is a no brainer that maintaining highly-used public infrastructure in Bethesda outweighs the need for developer profit in Wheaton. Besides, wouldn't a Wheaton Library and community recreation center expenditure binge more directly benefit Wheaton residents than building Paradise Towers and Chipotle?

Improving an area doesn't require demolition. So let me leave you with the wise words of legendary Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee:

"I reuse everything...I'm the true conservationist. (T)hese new, extravagant places...they just don't get the memo on the planet Earth that you're supposed to use old places, renovate 'em, conserve and save your fossil fuels and your money."

Sounds like good advice for making tough budget decisions.

Monday, February 27, 2012




Feline Was Hit by Car in Sioux City,

Now Finding a New Home in Bethesda

Bethesda resident Gail Bancroft traveled to Sioux City, Iowa, to adopt Oliver, a kitten who fell victim to a series of unfortunate events in the streets of his city.

As one newspaper and several TV stations in Sioux City have reported, Oliver was apparently struck by a hit-and-run driver. Whether he was thrown, or simply staggered away and collapsed, is unknown. What is known is that Sioux City Animal Adoption and Rescue found Oliver literally frozen to a sewer cover, near death.

Miraculously, Oliver recovered.

The biggest miracle came when Bancroft - originally from Iowa - heard about Oliver's plight. Flying across the country, Bancroft adopted Oliver, and brought him back here to live.

The following newspaper didn't have the whole story, but does have a photo and video of Oliver and his new owner:





After Yet Another Delay, Bethesda Ave. Parking

Lots Will Close Forever in 34 Days

They really mean it this time, folks! You gotta believe 'em! I mean, they wouldn't give us a date and then call it off, right?

The development project that cried wolf is back. Two mixed-use buildings will be constructed at the intersection of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues over the next few years. As we've all heard, Lot 31 and its diminutive brother across Woodmont are being destroyed to make room for luxe condo palace The Darcy and its sibling across the way.

Nearly 300 parking spaces will be lost for almost 3 years at Bethesda Row. As you also know, eventually, we'll regain those spaces and more within the new development's public-private parking garage.

In the meantime, this is really going to hurt business at Bethesda Row. Aside from offering free valet parking, there is little businesses can do. Given that the county owned the lots, this was poor planning. The sites should not have been developed without constructing a new garage or lot nearby first. Yet here we are nearing a virtual Parkmageddon at Bethesda Row.

After several delays, Montgomery County has officially announced that the two lots will close "on or about April 1." I asked county spokeswoman Esther Bowring why the developers had stalled again. "It's my understanding that the paperwork has taken longer than expected," she said.

So reset your Doomsday Clocks again for a parking experience 300% more fun than we have now, coming April 1.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


State Planners Say "No!" to Trail in Bethesda
Purple Line Tunnel, But Where's Their Report?

The Maryland Transit Administration has told the Montgomery County Council that the Capital Crescent Trail should not continue to utilize the B&O Railroad Tunnel in Bethesda when the Purple Line is built.

But where is this written report? There is an article on the issue online from The Washington Post. But apparently we the people are not allowed to read the actual report. I have searched the MTA website, and spent half-an hour combing through the County Council website, only to come up empty handed.

I like to be able to analyze a report before judging it. Of course a tunnel alignment would be more expensive, but how thorough was the analysis?

This is an ongoing problem I've discussed before: lack of transparency in the county government. Despite all internet advances, county finances and line by line budget items remain unavailable in real time online.

As far as the new surface route for the trail, the current plan is to divert from the CCT as it and the Purple Line approach the Bethesda Row station. The trail would be moved onto a strip of 47th Street, then a right turn onto Leland St. and (after crossing Wisconsin Avenue) on to the right-hand parking lane on westbound Bethesda Avenue.

That will bring joggers, walkers and cyclists to the intersection of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenue, where they currently cross to regain the trail.

This does create a safety issue, as trail users will have to navigate a busy state highway to get to the next section. That is why trail advocates have called for the tunnel option.

The surface route concept doesn't sound too bad, and will certainly be safer than riding through a deserted tunnel.

Once the trail, Purple Line station, Capital Bikeshare stations, and new Bethesda Metro Center south entrance are completed, Bethesda will have nearly as many transportation options as a European city.

Council staff director Glenn Orlin suggested building the new trail route in FY 2015, so that trail users will not face an interruption when the tunnel closes for Purple Line construction in FY 2016, in his Memorandum to the Council.

But I think the MTA tunnel report should have been made available on both the MTA and Council websites as soon as it was delivered to the council.

There are many opinions on this and other Purple Line matters, and the people have a right to know what's going on.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Bethesda Rhythmic Gymnast is Headed to
London's Summer Olympics

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

This summer, it will be that time again. Time for the Summer Olympics, which will be held in London this time around.

It's always been an exciting television event. But how exciting would it be to go to the Games in person? Better yet, how exciting would it be to be an Olympic athlete competing in the Games?

Bethesda's Julie Zetlin is about to do just that. Yesterday morning, she announced publicly that she will officially be representing the United States in Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Which means we have an actual Olympian here in our town.

Zetlin is most famous for winning 3 - count 'em: 3! - gold medals at the 2011 Pan-American Games in Mexico.

In fact, they're talking a lot about Julie Zetlin in Mexico over the last 24 hours.

Not only did Zetlin win the games held in Mexico, but Mexico's own golden girl, Cynthia Valdez, failed to qualify for London. As you can imagine, they are not pleased!

"Goodbye to the Olympic ticket," sobs the headline in The Informador. The article says that Valdez's biggest rival is "the American, Julie Zetlin." Who is going to London.

I'm kind of surprised the local media hasn't really picked up on this story yet. You know, it's kind of a big deal, folks.

This will put Bethesda on the international sports map, and certainly generate more interest in the Games around here.

And it will be a compelling story, Zetlin had knee surgery only last year. She is the only American competing in the sport. She is ranked as the best rhythmic gymnast on our continent, and faces several formidable opponents. Last but not least, no American has ever won a medal in this sport - not even a bronze!

That may be about to change.

You can be sure Bethesda will be following along, and you can follow her on Twitter at @JulieZetlin as she tweets from London this summer.

Park Bethesda Suspects Remain at Large,
May Be Responsible for Bethesda/NW DC Attacks

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

A trio of armed and dangerous masked men may have attempted more than one armed robbery on February 13, in the Friendship Heights/West Bethesda area. It had previously been reported that a robbery occurred in the 5200 block of Western Avenue that evening. But the latest crime report indicates the same group may have tried - and failed - to rob another victim the same night.

According to the report, three masked, black males assaulted a pedestrian in the 5500 block of Wisconsin Avenue at 9:45 PM. Wearing ski masks, they were unsuccessful in obtaining personal property from the victim.

Presumably, they then walked to Western Avenue and attacked a second victim, this time successfully.

As reported here this week, police continue stepped up patrols in the Westbard area. They also continue to work with the Metropolitan Police Department, as the crime wave has hit both jurisdictions along the Western Avenue corridor. Tactical units are assisting on both sides of the border. Meanwhile, Westwood Shopping Center owner Capital Properties left large portions of its parking lot dark for the 8th consecutive night, casting a shadow over Westbard Ave. Patrons, especially those walking over from the Park Bethesda apartments, are at greater risk without the additional lighting.

Race Car Driver Truex Will Appear at
AAIA Aftermarket Legislative Summit

The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, headquarted here in Bethesda, will bring two-time NASCAR Nationwide Champion Martin Truex, Jr., to its annual Aftermarket Legislative Summit.

Truex will appear at a congressional reception on March 14, from 6:00-7:30 PM at the Rayburn office building on Capitol Hill. The driver will sign autographs and pose for photos. There is still time to register for the summit at

The actual summit will take place at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. Bipartisan speakers include George W. Bush administration official Ed Gillespie, and expected Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, Terry McAullife.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Site Will Also House 200 Room Hotel, 161 Condos;
Is There A Casino in Bethesda's Future?

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive

The Peterson Cos., developer of National Harbor, has rescued the long-languishing Rock Spring development in Bethesda from the abyss.

Peterson will help finance, build and 50% pre-lease 300,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space. The other 700,000 square feet will consist of Class A office space, a 200 room hotel and 161 luxury condos. That portion will be developed by DRI Development Services, LLC.

The only specific component revealed by Peterson is a multi-screen movieplex, which will directly compete with a new 15-screen theater at next-door neighbor Westfield Montgomery Mall, and a new iPic Entertainment Theaterplex being built by Federal Realty at its new Pike and Rose development at Rt. 355 and Montrose Parkway.

In general, this sounds like great news. National Harbor, for all of the negative talk about Prince Georges County, may well be the nicest development project in the entire DC area. Only Bethesda Row, Reston Town Center and the Rio/Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg can match it in terms of atmosphere, design and tenants, in my opinion.

But in terms of scope, scale, planning and economic potential, I think National Harbor is in a class by itself. It has more of a resort feel, and makes ridiculously great use of its waterside setting. Washingtonian Center did this on a smaller, manmade scale. The use of water features really takes a development or resort to the next level, a concept that apparently escapes developers in Montgomery County.

National Harbor also has an incredible lineup of 5-star restaurants. It doesn't have as many famous chefs as Bethesda Row, but you're never going to get tired of dining out if you are a tourist staying at National Harbor.

One thing Rock Spring and National Harbor have in common is great transportation planning. We know from data that at least 85% of residents and patrons of any development will drive, even if the site is adjacent to Metro. National Harbor is placed right off of the Beltway, and the project was almost solely responsible for the construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge (which would have been unnecessary had I-95 been built through Washington as originally planned!).

Likewise, Rock Spring is right off of both I-270 and the Beltway. The only problem is that the sections it is right off of are among the most-congested in the DC area. This is because of several missing roads that had been designed to accomodate development in the area: the Rockville Freeway, the Outer Beltway, the Northwest Freeway, the North Central Freeway, M-83 Midcounty Highway extended.

Now do you understand why our existing roadways are jammed?!

So we really need to build those roads, starting with the Rockville Freeway and Outer Beltway (I-370) in particular. But in terms of planning, when you're moving a lot of cars, highway access is essential.

Finally, with Peterson pumped up about a proposed National Harbor casino, it's worth contemplating just what the future holds for gaming in Montgomery County.

Casinos are only placed within X-number of yards of an Interstate Highway, and here there are two.

Just 6 years ago, Martin O'Malley described slots as "morally bankrupt." Two years later, he was the preeminent champion of casino gambling in the state of Maryland. Montgomery County's councilmembers and legislators fell aside to allow slots. Voters who previously condemned slots statewide when Bob Ehrlich was governor, mysteriously developed a passion for one-armed bandits once the narrative changed.

Now the last bastion of anti-gaming resistance - Prince Georges County - is considering becoming the biggest gaming capital outside of Vegas and the Atlantic City boardwalk.

If we could learn to sing along with Kenny Rogers so easily then, what will stop casinos in Montgomery County when the time is convenient again?

To play devil's advocate, National Harbor sure is a great spot to put a fancy casino. Conventiongoers are amongst the easiest of targets for a gaming palace. A National Harbor-style development with casino could really turn around the economy in the Burtonsville area off I-95. Politicians need the money.

And this has all been planned anyway. I've heard that hotels at National Harbor and newer ones in Ocean City are all pre-wired and configured for slots. Voters have proven to be eager to flip-flop on any previously-inconceivable gaming proposal. Even in a mall!

Could slots come to Rock Spring or other developments in Montgomery County?

"Impossible!," you might say.

And you'd be right. For now.


Residents Overwhelmingly Favor
Mobile Cuisine Purveyors

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

Bethesda has spoken: residents and workers love food trucks.

An online poll created by Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, was taken by 47 people.

Hartman reports that just over 80% favor food trucks, and would like to have more in downtown Bethesda.

16% said food trucks are "OK but...there may be a problem if too many trucks set up in one place."

Just 3% said "they're awful and the county needs to regulate them more."

The results certainly reflect what I hear regularly from people in Bethesda. Most express that they wish more of the popular trucks that operate in the District would come here, too.

That may require the county to rework and enhance their regulations to make our jurisdiction more attractive to DC food trucks.

Bravo to the Red Hook Lobster Truck for being one of the very few DC trucks to venture out to Bethesda.

In fact, the Lobster Truck is scheduled to be at Wisconsin and Leland for lunch today! So show them some support.

The other great thing that's happening even as we try to figure out how to lure DC trucks here, is that a set of homegrown, Montgomery County trucks are popping up at lunch hours countywide.

Suburban Bros., Go Fish Truck, Thatsalata!, Cravin Cookies, Cupcake Blvd. (working in MoCo and Anne Arundel), and Corned Beef King - to name a few - are not just meeting consumer demands, but are actively cooperating and supporting each other's efforts.

That is helping to grow the whole market for food trucks in Bethesda and the county.

For that reason, I disagree with the complaint about multiple trucks stopping at once. Sometimes 2 or 3 trucks will stop at a spot, and it allows people to spread their money among several operators. Likewise, diners can get a salad from one, a sandwich from a second, and a cupcake for dessert.

Thanks to all those who took the poll and to Ken Hartman for posting it. This type of feedback ensures that if code changes are made, that they will be guided by the knowledge that a majority of residents support food trucks.

Of course, brick-and-mortar restaurants need to be heard from as well. But the more choices available, the better for the consumer.

This poll indicates that consumer wants more, not fewer, dining choices.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Montgomery County Police 2nd District Commander
Provides New Information on Recent Armed Robberies

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

Would-be armed robbers struck again in the Western Avenue corridor last Friday night, according to Bethesda's 2nd District Police Commander David Falcinelli Wednesday evening.

This group, apparently not related to the masked assailants who have robbed several people over the last month, were quickly taken into custody thanks to new cooperation between MCPD and the Metropolitan Police Department. Teaming up to work on the recent crime wave on both sides of the Maryland-DC border, MCPD tactical officers "observed a group of young black males approaching pedestrians in a manner that would attempt to corral the victim where he would have no escape," said Capt. Falcinelli.

Within DC territory at the time, MPD officers took the suspects into custody, and found they were armed with a pellet gun. They are expected to be charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

However, as I mentioned, these aren't the Park Bethesda robbers. They were masked, and carried a real gun. Or, at least the victim thought it was a real gun.

Falcinelli referred to the ongoing operations in the Westbard area that began following the January 19 Park Bethesda attack.

These include "uniformed patrols along with tactical covert officers," Falcinelli noted. Residents agree that officers have definitely been working every part of the Westbard sector the last few weeks. In addition to whatever undercover operations are taking place, county police cruisers have conveyed a stepped-up police presence in the area.

The MCPD's work seems to be paying off so far, as no additional armed robberies have been publicly reported in the West Bethesda area since their tactical operations began.

Falcinelli believes "multiple groups" may be involved in the recent crime wave, and as a result, both MCPD and MPD "will continue to commit resources to this area for the immediate future."

Despite what Capt. Falcinelli terms a "serious safety issue" in West Bethesda, large portions of the Westwood Shopping Center parking lot remained dark for a sixth night. Directly across the street from the Park Bethesda where the last armed robbery occurred on the Maryland side, the shopping center serves residents of that building. Most of them walk over to shop using the only signal-controlled crosswalk available at Westbard Avenue and Westbard Circle.

To reach the Giant or Rite Aid after crossing there, Park Bethesda residents must walk along the sidewalk or cut across that far end of the Westwood Center parking lot. However, with that end now being unlit at night, it is a dangerous situation for those shoppers, as they must pass through a pitch black area to reach the stores.

Nothing has been expressed to nearby residents by shopping center owner Capital Properties regarding the reduction in night lighting.

The result is two dark areas, and a darkened Westbard Avenue. This gives criminals more places to hide, even as the Westbard robbers remain at large. Certainly it makes the job of the police more difficult, as well, if those areas aren't well-illuminated.

Obviously, lighting is more expensive thanks to the county energy tax, but I would hope that public safety would be the top priority.

Circuit Court Issues Temporary Injunction
Requested by Bethesda's HMSHost

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson sided with Bethesda-based HMSHost in a dispute over who will renovate and operate two I-95 travel plazas.

The Maryland Transportation Authority had selected Spanish subsidiary Areas USA, but HMSHost charged that the state excluded it from a final round of negotiations. Areas has little experience in the travel plaza field, but its bid offered the best financial deal for the state.

Maryland's powerful Board of Public Works had delayed its ruling on the Areas contract Wednesday, in deference to Johnson's imminent ruling in Rockville. The BPW plans to take the matter up at its March 7 meeting.

But, in another dramatic twist in this rest stop soap opera, Johnson has scheduled a hearing for the same morning - just one hour prior to the BPW meeting!

One reason the issue has become unusually sensational by Maryland standards, is the perception that a taxpaying Bethesda, MD company has been rudely knocked aside in favor of a foreign subsidiary.

HMSHost's complaints are substantive. For example, the pie-in-the-sky financial projections in the Areas bid seem hard to believe.

While that has been noted in most media accounts, there's an additional obstacle to those rosy projections of massively-higher gas sales at Maryland travel plazas: the new gas tax hike expected to be passed by the General Assembly this session. Most drivers have smartphone apps that tell them gas prices at each station. If drivers know that gas is cheaper in Delaware and Virginia, who in their right mind would plan to fill up in Maryland along I-95?

Expect more twists and turns before this is over. But Johnson's ruling indicates that HMSHost's claims of exclusion are more than just sour grapes; the court would not have stopped the process otherwise. That bodes well for one of Bethesda's largest international firms going forward.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Breaking news: The Maryland Board of Public Works has decided to delay a final decision on a contract to renovate and run two I-95 travel plazas. Areas USA was the winning bidder.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson will rule on a challenge by Bethesda-based HMSHost in the next twenty-four hours.

HMSHost seeks to reopen the bidding process, claiming it was excluded from a final round of negotiation.

Johnson will decide whether or not to grant an injunction. For that reason, the Board will wait until its March 7 meeting to revisit the travel plaza issue.

The most anticipated game system release of 2012 is here: the Sony PS Vita went on sale at midnight, and is now available at GameStop in Westfield Montgomery Mall - while they last!

This system is a must-buy for die-hard gamers, with a huge set of launch titles, console-quality in a portable package, and innovative controls.

But for the casual gamer? You may want to test it out first, or wait until the inevitable price drop. The Vita has dropped like a rock in Japan so far, and there's not much reason to believe it will set sales records in the U.S., either. One advantage Sony has here is the lackluster performance of the competing portable, Nintendo's 3DS.

Sony has not made the mistake Nintendo did: leaving their big franchises out of the launch titles. In fact, they've brought their biggest and most popular franchise of all - Uncharted - to stores today.

If you are an Uncharted fan, then the Vita is probably a must-buy for you. If you are a die-hard Uncharted fan, in fact, your new Vita and Uncharted game are either within arm's length as you read this, or you are standing in a line to get them.

Casual gamers aren't likely to be buying today. The Vita is state-of-the-art as portables go, but a few years too late in market positioning. Back in the old days, if you wanted games on-the-go, you needed a Game Boy or PSP. Now you've likely got a smartphone that does everything, including games. A lot of those games are free, too.

"But the games aren't like the Vita's!," many would protest. True, and that's just the problem: only die-hard gamers care, and that is the audience Sony will have for now. Ironically, Sony does have market potential with female consumers: the Uncharted series appeals to women as much as men, there are many non-violent and clever games geared toward the same women who play casual iPhone games, and women have the advantage of carrying a purse - they can take a second device with them easily, unlike us guys with our pockets and wallets storage system.

The Wi-Fi+3G Vita seems like expensive overkill at $299.99 + data plan. There's that pesky smartphone issue again. Most will settle for the $249.99 Wi-Fi version.

No on-board memory is a cheap move at this price point, as well.

If you just have to be first with the latest gadget, are a die-hard gamer or Uncharted fan, or just want to tell friends that your Vita has double the processing power of their iPhone 4S, today is the day to pick up your new PS Vita.

It's also a day for casual gamers and the merely curious to stop by GameStop and try out this Ferrari of portable game systems, and guaranteed conversation piece.

Here are some of the launch titles to pick up:

UNCHARTED - An epic adventure movie and PS3 game shrunk down into a portable system.

WIPEOUT 2048 - Dust off that Prodigy CD; you'll be "Living in the '90s" with this futuristic, high-speed racer.

ULTIMATE MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3 - Strider is in this game - what more do you need to know?

Uncharted is impressive, but I can't say the Vita is a must-buy today for the average person. More blockbuster games (Arkham City!) are needed, a price cut even more so, and a sense of what the long-term future of the Vita will be could eventually make this a blockbuster system.

Immigrant Advocacy Group Opposes
"Failed" Federal Program

This morning at 11:00, immigrant advocacy group Casa de Maryland will hold a press conference at the Montgomery County Executive Office building in Rockville. Group representatives will be joined by unnamed elected officials, and religious and community leaders to speak against Montgomery County's involuntary participation in the federal Secure Communities program.

The program, which mandates reporting of data on those arrested to federal agencies, is described as a "failure" by Casa's Susana Flores.

Montgomery's current policy is to only report those charged in violent crimes, implemented several years ago by Police Chief Thomas Manger.

Critics have feared the program will snare primarily those arrested on minor offenses. Supporters have pointed to the fact that other jurisdictions like Fairfax County - Montgomery's biggest rival - already participate.

One speaker at the press conference will be Maria Bolanos, who was caught by the program, Casa says, after reporting a domestic violence incident in which she was the victim.

As an advocate for victims of domestic violence, this has always been a primary concern of mine when any immigration program is discussed. Whatever program is utilized, a woman should never have to fear seeking help if she is a victim of domestic violence.

With no immigration reform on the horizon in Congress, expect such programs to remain controversial, with so many competing interests to be balanced.


Washington Radiology to Offer 3-D
Mammography at Rockledge Site by
End of March

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

A major breakthrough in women's health is coming to Bethesda in the next 30 days.

Washington Radiology, located at 10215 Fernwood Road in Suite 103 of the venerable Camalier Building, will soon offer the first 3-D mammograms in the Washington, D.C. area.

The technology, called Breast Tomosynthesis imaging, takes multiple low-dose images of the breast from different angles. Together, they create a true 3-D image, unlike standard 2-D mammograms, This allows doctors to get a clearer image of tumors, particularly in dense breasts that are more difficult to study with traditional tests.

Tomosynthesis "leads to fewer callbacks and less anxiety for our patients," said Edward R. Lipsit, M.D., President of Washington Radiology and a breast imaging specialist.

When WR installs the new equipment at all of its DC area locations, it will be the largest provider of tomosynthesis imaging in the world.

The equipment, manufactured by Hologic, will be installed before the end of March at all WR locations.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Courtroom Shocker Leaves
Maryland Board of Public Works
Free to Vote on Controversial
Contract Wednesday

Yet another twist in the ongoing soap opera over the future of Maryland's I-95 travel plazas occurred in court today. The Montgomery County judge weighing a 10-day restraining order requested by HMSHost now won't rule until Thursday. Just one problem: the Maryland Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote on the matter tomorrow.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson announced his decision today, leaving the Board with the option to approve the winning bid by Spanish subsidiary Areas USA, or table the matter until Johnson's final ruling.

Bethesda-based HMSHost has argued that Areas' bid has wildly-overblown financial projections, and that HMSHost was excluded from a final round of negotiations between Areas and the state.

Johnson's announcement sets up a double-cliffhanger. First, will the Board go ahead and vote on the matter despite the legal uncertainty? And will Johnson provide HMSHost, Airport Plazas LLC and others with the reopened bidding process they seek on Thursday?

Stay tuned!

It would be ideal to be in New Orleans today, but you just don't have the vacation time or money to do so. Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row to the rescue!

If you are seeking Cajun cuisine in Bethesda, Louisiana Kitchen and Bayou Bar at 4907 Cordell Avenue is the place to go. This is not a pretentious restaurant, but a place offering Cajun standards and Louisiana specialty beers. Now that Cacao Poulain has closed at Bethesda Row, Louisiana Kitchen is the only regular source of fresh beignets in town.

There are other choices in town for Mardi Gras dining:

Blackfinn Bethesda - Top on my list is their Shrimp and Grits entree, with Tasso ham (it doesn't get anymore authentic than that). Blackfinn also has a Bourbon Street Burger with Boursin cheese and peppercorn sauce (and a Hangover Burger if you need it on Wednesday!), and a real Fried Oyster Po'Boy.

Head to American Tap Room at Bethesda Row for lunch or dinner today: you can order the N'awlins Fish or Creole Sausage sandwiches at either time!

Rather stay in tonight?

Head to Giant and pick up boxes of Zatarain's New Orleans favorites, like Red Beans and Rice. That one gets five stars from me. Add a fresh or frozen catfish filet, and you have a full dinner.

Don't forget Zapp's potato chips! If you're lucky, they'll be in stock at Potbelly Sandwich Works on Elm Street, or one stop away on the Red Line at World Market in Friendship Heights.

Mardi Gras tip: before leaving Friendship Heights, stop by Lia's on Willard Ave, head into the bar, and order an Abita Turbodog, direct from Louisiana.

Top off your Mardi Gras evening with a fresh King Cake from the bakery at Giant, complete with beads and plastic baby hidden inside. A Mardi Gras tradition that goes back to the Old World.

Finally, what New Orleans Mardi Gras would be complete without a Hurricane from Pat O'Brien's?

The problem is, we're here, not in New Orleans. Not to worry, here is a Hurricane cocktail recipe I got from Phillips Seafood restaurants:


1 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
1/2 oz. grenadine
3 oz. orange juice
3 oz. pineapple juice

Shake and pour over ice.

Add pineapple slice and cherry as garnish.

Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row


The group of armed robbers who have struck multiple times in Northwest Washington, D.C., along Western Avenue, and in the Westbard area of Bethesda, are still at large.

Last Monday's attack was the most recent, occurring in the 5200 block of Western Avenue, which delineates the Maryland-D.C. border.

The victim's description of the robbers was very similar to that in the Park Bethesda parking lot robbery Jan. 19: Masked and armed assailants.

Montgomery County Police continue stepped-up patrols of the Westbard area, which has so far pushed crimes back to the DC side of the border. But the Western Avenue incident was only blocks away from the Westbard area.

On the DC side, District 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh is said to have scheduled a meeting with constituents for this Thursday evening. I would pass along the time and location, but both are apparently top secret, as they are not listed anywhere on the internet.

Finally, a local chapter of the Guardian Angels is deploying in Northwest DC beginning this morning, according to WJLA 7.

In contrast to these actions on both sides of the border, Capital Properties is taking a strange approach at the Westwood Shopping Center: eliminating lighting in a full third of the parking lot, thereby further darkening those areas of Westbard Avenue. This action was taken within 72 hours of the last Western Ave. incident.

A second robbery in January occurred at the old WDCA 20 building on River Road, but was a theft of property from a business,
rather than a hold-up.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Large Sections of Westwood Shopping Center

Remain Unlit for Fourth Consecutive Night

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

Two large parking areas at the Westwood Shopping Center remained in darkness for the fourth night in a row.

As I reported yesterday, the reduced lighting has also reduced safety for patrons, Westbard pedestrians, Bowlmor customers and residents of Park Bethesda and Kenwood Place.

Bowlmor patrons were shadowy figures on the sidewalk outside the bowling nightspot, now that illumination from the shopping center is gone.

It remains unknown why shopping center owner Capital Properties has ordered or allowed the blackout, or if the reduced lighting is permanent.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Happy President's Day! George Washington and Abe Lincoln knew firsthand the horrors of war, and would be as concerned about America's troops today as they were during their own times.

About a month ago, I posted here about a wounded soldier who had just arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center here in Bethesda.

Army Cpl. Joseph Mille had just gotten out of intensive care, and I posted the address where he could receive letters and cards.

Now I have an update, and despite the tragedy that occurred in Afghanistan - directly leading to Mille's stay at Walter Reed - all of the news is good!

First, I received word from Terry Dougherty, a teacher at Roland Rogers ES in New Jersey, that her class has mailed 70 Valentines to Cpl. Mille, and is gathering more letters and cards to send from well-wishers. That is fantastic!

But it gets even better:

The Press of Atlantic City reports that Cpl. Mille has asked his high school sweetheart, Hillary Martin, to marry him.

A custom wheelchair is being ordered for him, but Cpl. Mille not only is working towards walking again, he plans to stay in the Army!

Finally, the Brigantine Sons of the American Legion are generously donating the proceeds from their annual Jimmy Buffet Night to Cpl. Mille's recovery costs.

Cpl. Mille was wounded severely when he rushed to the aid of a comrade already wounded by an IED in Kandahar.

You can still give support to Cpl. Mille by sending cards and letters to:

Cpl. Joseph Mille

Room 458

8901 Rockville Pike

Bethesda, MD 20889

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Capital Properties Plunges One-Third of
Westwood Shopping Center into Darkness,
Reducing Safety of Patrons, Neighbors

Is County Energy Tax to Blame?

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

A full third of the Westwood Shopping Center property on Westbard Avenue in Bethesda has been shrouded in darkness for consecutive nights. This despite a recent spike in crime in the Westbard area.

In fact, as previously reported here, a resident of the Park Bethesda apartments directly across the street from the shopping center was a victim of armed robbery January 19. The crime occurred in the Park Bethesda parking lot.

Montgomery County Police have added additional officers to the area at night since then. Residents note that those officers continue to be in evidence as recently as last night. No further robberies have been publicly reported since police stepped up patrols.

It is therefore strange that shopping center owner Capital Properties, of New York, would order - or allow - major portions of the parking lot to be pitch black at night.

Ironically, the darkest area is the large parking area between the Rite Aid and the property line alongside the Kenwood Place condominium driveway. Kenwood Place continues to light its driveway. It's ironic, though, because that area of the shopping center is directly across the street from Park Bethesda, where the night robbery took place just four weeks ago.

This darkness is dangerous for several reasons. The robbers who struck in West Bethesda, and across the DC line in NW, are still at large.

Second, many Park Bethesda residents walk across that section of the lot after shopping, to reach the only signal-controlled crosswalk for the building on Westbard. They have no choice unless they drive. We keep hearing about walkable communities, so why would the county and Capital Properties discourage those practicing that lifestyle? The past several nights, those residents have had to make a dangerous walk through a dark area, where anyone could be lurking.

Third, the loss of lighting now makes the job of the police more difficult. If they spot or chase a suspect, they will have to employ their own flashlights or mounted light cannons on their cruisers to illuminate that area.

Fourth, both sidewalks along Westbard are now darker at night, without the illumination usually provided by the shopping center.

Fifth, with lights turned off at the other end as well, more opportunity for would-be thieves to lurk around that wing of Kenwood Place exists.

The portion of the lot directly in front of Giant, Rite Aid, and other businesses remains well-lit.

So why are the lights out? Of course there might be temporary repairs underway. But if this is intended to be permanent, one must assume it is to save money in regard to the county's punitive, draconian energy tax.

The darkened portions of the lot tend to be used only sporadically, for afterschool sports, nighttime patrons of Bowlmor, and those visiting businesses in the commercial wing of Kenwood Place.

But while "smart" growth gurus would claim that's "excessive, wasteful surface parking," the space has been much appreciated by everyone from truckers to the National Treasure 2 film crew. In fact, the Obama campaign used the Westwood Shopping Center parking lot as a staging area on the day of his historic election in 2008.

This is a well-regarded shopping center by longtime residents, and features what is arguably the best Giant in Montgomery County.

It's time to reconsider the unwise decision to severely reduce lighting in the property's parking lot. Particularly at a time when crime activity has been higher than usual in the area. This is another unforced error by Capital Properties, who are seeking to redevelop the Westbard area. Decreasing the safety of the area is not a winning public relations strategy. Also, why were the high-quality shopping center signs replaced with lesser designs that aren't illuminated? That move had reduced lighting already.

Perhaps the blackout was not a decision made in New York. But it's Capital Properties' shopping center now, and they have ultimate control over all decisions there.

In the wise words of Morgan Freeman, "Turn it back on, man!"

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Saxophonist to the Latin Stars
Brings His World-Class Band to Bethesda

Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

Even if you haven't heard of Rudy Gonzalez, you've probably heard him play. Tonight at The Parva, you'll not only hear him, but also 100 jukeboxes worth of Latin hits in every style.

What do you say about a guy who's played with Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Olga Tanon, Ozomatli and Jon Secada? "Wow," for starters.

Most musicians would hope to perform with even one of those stars. But you'll be the star tonight, because Rudy and his band, Rudy Gonzalez y Su Locura, will be taking requests.

From the great and beautiful country of El Salvador, to Duke Ellington School of the Arts, to Oberlin and stages all over the world... The Parva tonight!

That would be big enough news, but The Parva has sweetened the deal further:

The evening starts with a Happy Hour - which Parva regulars know as "Fiesta Hour" - from 6:30-9:30, with drink and appetizer specials.

Ladies enjoy unlimited drinks from the open bar between 9-10!!

Finally, the real parrandon gets underway with Rudy Gonzalez after 10, and goes until 2:30 AM.

Don't forget, ladies get in FREE until 11.

Everybody needs to be 21+. Dress to impress.

This isn't happening in Miami (although the venue takes all of its styling cues from South Beach), DC or hot Latin spots in Northern Virginia and Prince Georges County...'s happening right here in downtown Bethesda. Tonight!

Only at The Parva, 7904 Woodmont Avenue.

Friday, February 17, 2012


In a time when every single food has a day - and in many cases, a month - leave it up to Freddy's Lobster to keep us informed of ones that might still surprise us.

Tonight they're celebrating National Cabbage Day, and National Indian Pudding Day.

Just mention National Cabbage Day, and they will Super Size your Coleslaw!

Mention National Indian Pudding Day, and they'll upgrade you from Whipped Cream to "ice cream on top." But on top of which dessert? They didn't say.

I suppose the answer to that question will complete a trifecta of surprises from Freddy's Lobster tonight.

To close this report on National Cabbage Day, I have to salute the greatest coleslaw of all time: the coleslaw served at the Bethesda Roy Rogers Restaurant.

As expected, Bethesda hospitality firm HMSHost has asked for a legal injunction in the Montgomery County Circuit Court to stop the awarding of I-95 travel plaza contracts to Areas USA.

Areas USA, a subsidiary of a Spanish company, is set to have its $56 million contract voted on by the Maryland Board of Public Works on February 22.

HMSHost and Airport Plazas LLC/Tishman Construction have formally complained that the state did not have a fully transparent bidding process. Neither was allowed to counter Areas' final offer, according to the companies, and they've raised questions about the accuracy of the winning bid's financial projections.

Bethesda's HMSHost May File Suit,
Questions Raised About Areas USA

After the Maryland Transportation Authority's strong rejection of HMSHost and Airport Plazas complaints of an unfair bidding process, new questions have been raised about the Spanish subsidiary, Areas USA, primed to renovate and operate two I-95 travel plazas.

HMSHost may go to court over the matter.

One interesting note is that the Baltimore Sun coverage is now acknowledging that Areas is in fact a subsidiary of a Spanish firm.

That's one of the most compelling storylines about this matter. Even as state elected officials stress job creation, they would be choosing a foreign firm over one that pays heavy state and Montgomery County taxes.

Areas also lacks experience in managing travel plazas, though that doesn't mean they wouldn't be successful; the company has a large portfolio in related transportation services.

It is not known if Airport Plazas intends to pursue legal options in the matter, as well.

Meanwhile, losing bidders are questioning the Areas bid, saying that there's no way Areas can operate a plaza for the relatively small amount it has claimed.

One other twist to consider: when this matter goes to the Board of Public Works on February 22, all three board members hail from Montgomery County, home to HMSHost.

Last week, I reported on the death of two bills in the Virginia House which would have required studies related to a future DC Outer Beltway.

Yet, as has been the style of Gov. Bob McDonnell and the Commonwealth Transportation Board, several even more dramatic steps toward the highway were quietly taken this week.

First, the Prince William Parkway, Fairfax County Parkway (which, like the Rockville Freeway on the Maryland side, was actually part of the original Outer Beltway), and Franconia-Springfield Parkway (Fairfax County) were all designated as "primary roads."

What does that mean? It means they are now eligible for Federal funding for maintenance and upgrades. And for Federal help if they decide to make them part of a future Outer Beltway.

Second, on Wednesday, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board approved the Battlefield Bypass through Manassas.

The Battlefield Bypass is another road which could become part of the Outer Beltway.

Predictably, Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is not pleased. But it's time that we stop allowing obstructionist groups to control the agenda, and build the long missing roads from our region's freeway system.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

The concessions at Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema have added many new items to an already-upscale menu.

Among the new offerings:

Crab pretzels
Chocolate or Candy-coated pretzels
Chicken tenders
Mozarella sticks
Egg rolls
Sweet potato tater tots
Curly fries

Enjoy the finest in international cinema, with some decidedly All-American fare from the snack bar at Bethesda Row Cinema tonight!

The Bethesda Library is starting to rival the Bethesda Row Barnes & Noble for author events and book signings. Perhaps the biggest event yet will be held this evening at 5 PM.

Andrea Cremer, author of the Nightshade series and a history professor at Macalester College, will discuss and sign "Bloodrose." The heroine of the series, Calla Tor, is destined to be the next "alpha female of the next generation of Guardian wolves." Translation: Something for the Twilight fan who has finished that series, and wants a less-helpless female protagonist than those novels offered.

Marie Lu will talk about her novel, "Legend." A dystopian novel of the future, it presents the story of a teenage boy being hunted down by a teenage "girl prodigy." She is also an artist, and has a pretty impressive portfolio linked from her website at Some of her art would be at home in video games, but a couple pieces recall Roger Dean. If this book thing doesn't work out, I may have to hire her to do a Yes-style cover for a future album. So anyway, I'm sure she'll be ready to talk about art, too.

Beth Revis has written two novels in her "Across the Universe" series, including the month-old sequel, "A Million Suns." Protagonist Amy was just trying to take a restful, 300-year nap aboard the Starship Godspeed. Oh, and she was frozen, too. But she is unfrozen early (hate when that happens!). Now, three months after her adventures in the first novel, the Godspeed is getting "more and more out of control." Amy has to deal with terrorists, a wanna-be starship captain, and - surprise - romance. What's a girl to do? By the way, no vampires or werewolves are involved!

Last but not least, is Jessica Spotswood, author of "Born Wicked: The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book One." Spotswood is a local; she lives in Washington, D.C. Cate Cahill and her sisters are - you guessed it - witches. If this gets out, the book says, Cate could end up on a prison ship. So Cate has to be discrete, but she is also "too pretty for her own good." This means dealing with "shocking marriage proposals" and "forbidden romance." Beats being frozen!

Obviously, all of these books will find a most receptive audience among young women. But many of those women will likely catch the writing bug themselves. Tonight's event is a great opportunity for such aspiring authors to get advice from these successful writers, and book sales aside, it's free to get in.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012




The Shamrock Shake has returned to both Bethesda McDonald's. Here is my exclusive video review of the 2012 edition of this classic favorite:


Maryland media missed an important study on offshore wind farms and hurricanes released this week.

The study - by engineers at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University - posits that offshore turbines, like those proposed to be built off the coast of Ocean City, are vulnerable to hurricanes of Category 3 and higher.

Computer simulations showed that high, sustained winds would tear off the massive turbine blades, and send them spinning through the air like massive shuriken. The towers supporting the propellers would be damaged and potentially collapse.

Ocean City lies between two of the "riskiest" areas to build offshore wind farms, according to the report - Atlantic City and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I cannot recall state officials discussing the issue of hurricanes in public debates about the turbines. So I'm surprised that local and state media have not pursued this story.

Skeptics have already noted the threat to wildlife posed by the turbines, as well as the incredibly-inefficient power they generate.

I have opposed them for those reasons, and for the fact that - until these towers are built - the offshore view from Ocean City is the same today as it was when Native Americans ruled the land. Also, wind power creates fewer jobs than it destroys in fossil fuel industries (however, the effect is naturally-limited by the fact that wind can only create a small amount of electricity).

Finally, the sheer inefficiency of wind is a clue that it is not the energy source of the future. That source, I believe, has yet to be discovered.

Money going to wind power would be better spent on the search for that new energy, and on NASA. If America doesn't get to the vast resources surely available on other moons and planets, China and Russia will be glad to help themselves.

Just as we should not spend tax money on biofuels that raise the price of food on the world's poorest inhabitants, we should not jump to spend scarce revenue on power sources simply because they are the only ones immediately available.

The fuel of the future will be highly efficient, potentially infinite, and have little impact on the environment and the cost of living.

Why do we want to postpone the future for empty "achievements" today?