Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just read this

It is possible, just barely possible, that this is the best article I have ever read. Even if it is not THE best ever, it certainly flirts dangerously with being the best high-concept story idea ever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The glamor and the glory

Once, long ago, the Washington Times maneuvered me into covering the White House. I was having a perfectly good time covering Congress, but the editors asked me just to head down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue "temporarily" until they found someone else who wanted to do it. I agreed, albeit extremely reluctantly. But immediately I realized that they had no intention of finding anyone else and everyone was acting as if this was my new beat. So I did what any reasonable person would have done: I screamed and cried like a little girl until they let me go back to Capitol Hill a few weeks later.

Now, many people have suggested I was crazy for this. After all, there is no more prestigious and sought-after beat than the White House. But, of course, I knew that anyone who said this to me had never covered the White House. The dirty secret is that it is boring, frustrating and tedious. Unless you are passionate and creative about the beat (someone like, say, Peter Baker of the Washington Post, who is now in Moscow but was in Washington at the time I was there) or don't give a damn what you do for a living, the White House beat is really a pain in the butt. I loved covering Congress and I had no particular interest in covering the White House on a regular basis, so nearly every minute I spent in the Press Room was agony.

Finally, I have found something to illustrate the banality and pointlessness of most of what passes for news in and around the White House. This is a bit of film by Ken Herman, who is a good reporter, and, judging by my passing acquaintance with him during the 2000 election, a nice guy. And he has accurately captured why the beat drove me away immediately.

The President and The Prime Minister

Update: In looking at the Post website this morning, I see that Peter Baker is back home from Moscow these days. Good. He's a very good White House reporter.

Update 2: I see that I am not the only one who admits this White House thing stinks. Karen Tumulty of Time is interviewed this week in Texas Monthly and here is one of the things she has to say:

"Covering the White House is the most prestigious bad job in journalism. You’re completely at the mercy of whoever deigns to return your phone calls. It’s not like Capitol Hill, where people can’t get away from you. If the Speaker wants to go from his office to the floor of the House, he has to walk past whichever reporters care to plant themselves in his way."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

You cannot make this up

Atlanta's alt-weekly, Creative Loafing, has a brilliant cover story this week, listing Atlanta's "Least Influential People." Leaving aside the fact that the mere concept is a withering and hilarious satire of the list-mania sweeping the media these days, some of the individual profiles are masterpieces in themselves. The one that trumps them all, however, is #4, Dawn Williams, the woman who tried starting a support group called the "Atlanta Panic Disorders and Phobia Meetup Group."

There follows a gently hilarious story of unplanned, but not entirely unpredictable, consequences.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tom for Prez?

Way back in 1998, when I was covering Congress for The Washington Times, a new member came to Capitol Hill and I was instantly fascinated. I sought this guy out in large part because I saw that he had signed a public declaration that he opposed funding for public schools. That, I concluded, was truly hard core. I had to know more.

He was more than a little surprised to find I was interested - in fact, I think I was the only reporter outside of Colorado who knew who he was at that point. I called him off the floor one day for some little issue that I don't even recall: just an excuse to meet him and hear what such a person might have to say (Yes, reporters can send messages to members on the floor and a clerk will personally deliver the message. Sometimes, if you're lucky, the member will come out into the Speaker's Lobby and talk with you. It's pretty cool). Tancredo's first reaction, delivered with genuine incredulity, was "you want to talk to me?" After that, I made a habit of asking his opinion on a wide variety of issues, though I don't think I quoted him often.

And now he's running for president. And doing pretty well for a guy way, way out there on the fringe (he's not doing as well as my other fringe favorite, Ron Paul, who is a story in his own right. Ron Paul, by the way, has signed the same public education statement as Tancredo, a fact I didn't learn until just now. Interesting).

Contrary to what you may glean from this clip and other Tancredo comments, he is actually quite a personable, intelligent guy. And one of the more quietly humorous men in Congress, which sometimes makes me wonder if the following is just a bit of twisted performance art. Probably not, unfortunately.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The best beer you will never have

Unless you are lucky enough to visit, or better yet live in, the Commonwealth of Virginia, you will probably never have this beer. Which is really sad, because it is incredible. It has suddenly vaulted into my top five or so favorite beers.

The brewery, which sits in a little regarded corner of the little regarded county of Nelson, has only been open for a few weeks. It released it's first beer in August and opened the restaurant and tasting room in late October.

It does excellent work on several beers, including the Blue Mountain Lager, which is nearly as good as Victory's Prima Pils and Troegs' Sunshine Pils, both of which are hard to beat.

It does a number of other beers, including a nice wheat beer, a tasty Kolsch, and a rich Imperial Porter. Two other beers are in the works, both Belgians (which are not my favorites, but I am sure they will be great, for those that like that kind of thing).

But the shining star of the line is the Full Nelson Pale Ale, which is rich and smooth, with an warm and enveloping hop aroma and the lovely bite of the Cascade hop, the signature of the seminal Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, on the finish. What's cool is that some of the hops were grown right there on the property.

And the restaurant is cute too. It sits on the edge of the Blue Ridge on a wooded lot. The inside is built like a warm mountain lodge and there is a large outdoor porch where you can sit and enjoy a beer while watching the beauty of the Virgina foothills.

The main downside is that the beer is so good that the restaurant is always packed and the brewmaster can't pump out enough beer to meet demand. His wife tells me they have no plans to distribute beyond Virginia because demand is so huge locally.

So if you're anywhere in spitting distance of Charlottesville anytime soon, and you enjoy a good American beer, make an effort to stop by this place - it's about 20 minutes west of Charlottesville, just at the foot of Afton Mountain, which is where I-64 crosses the first ridge of the Blue Ridge mountains.