Bird’s eye view

January 19, 2009

Wondering if I-95 is clogged with inauguration goers?

What’s the Capitol look like right now?

If you’re curious, check out the following live web cams. TrafficLand has links to dozens (hundreds?) of live traffic cams on main roads all around the D.C. area and up and down I-95. The interstate doesn’t look busier than usual to me right now. Tomorrow may be another story.

Here’s a link to just the downtown D.C. traffic cams.

Here’s a link to a rotating live cam showing the Mall, including the Capitol.


Speech! Speech!

January 19, 2009

obama_inauguration.jpegIn less than 24 hours, Barack Obama will give his inaugural address. There will be lots of eyes — and ears — waiting for his words. Will his speech live up to the hype? The pressure? Can he speak simply and yet eloquently? Powerfully and also honestly? Will we remember what he said on Wednesday? Or next year? How about in 100 years? Does it matter?

We’ll see — and hear.

Here, several veteran speechwriters opine about how Obama could handle his inaugural address.

Here’s a chart showing the most-used words in previous inaugural addresses.

Here, a columnist for a Canadian paper asserts that few U.S. presidents have spoken memorably at their inaugurations.

martinlutherking.jpgmlk-speech-at-lincoln-memorial.JPGHere, watch a speech by a man who will almost certainly be alluded to tomorrow by the new president. This speech — made on Aug. 28, 1963, at the opposite end of the Washington Mall from tomorrow’s activities, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — is considered one of the greats of all time. Today’s when we remember that speaker’s birthday.

I minus four days

January 16, 2009

And counting.

I, of course, stands for Inauguration — though I Day will really be an “Us” kind of day (and a U.S. kind of day), not an “I” one if you want to pursue and stretch the “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team'” metaphor.

In the meantime, we’ve had farewells and some grousing.

As we move forward, you know me: I’m looking back.

Here, again, are glimpses of previous times when men first took the presidential oath of office. The two below occurred in times of great national duress. There were no inaugurations in these two cases, only situations where men were suddenly required to step up and in.

The latter video includes Ford’s remarkable speech following his taking of the oath — “Not an inaugural address,” he said. “Not a fireside chat, not a campaign speech — just a little straight talk among friends.”

This is when he declared “our long national nightmare is over.”

Why you should eyeball any mysterious teensy charge on your credit-card bill

January 14, 2009

quarter.jpgIt may have been placed there by scammers.

Maybe you think: So what? It’s for, like, a quarter, give or take a few cents. If that skates under your radar, no big deal. Right?

Not necessarily so. Brian Krebs of the Washington Post, who blogs about computer security issues, says the tiny charges that have been reported by numerous people in recent weeks may indicate those accounts are dangerously compromised.

While some consumer advocates think the crooks are trying to surreptitiously steal a bunch of money by taking teensy amounts from lots of people, Krebs said it’s more likely that the crooks are using the teensy charges to test whether the accounts are good for the looting.

The charges are coming from two alleged companies called Adele Services and GFDL — though no one’s located these outfits.

If one of these unauthorized charges shows up on your credit-card statement, you should contact your card issuer pronto and consider filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Video from long-past inaugurals

January 13, 2009

As prep for next week’s presidential inauguration continues, here are some looks at inaugural ceremonies from more than 100 years ago. These videos are grainy and silent (though one has a narrator) but they’re fascinating peeps at history, nonetheless.

Here’s newsreel footage of William McKinley’s inaugural in 1897.

Here’s film of McKinley taking the oath of office in 1901 for his second term, which would last just six months. The camera was operated by someone you may have heard of, Thomas Edison.

Here’s footage of Teddy Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural.

Powerful talk

January 9, 2009

In scary times.

No, not these times, though they’re scary

No, I’m still looking back to past presidential inaugurations as we head toward the next one, on Jan. 20.

If you want to read or hear powerful words, check out FDR’s first inaugural address, made on March 4, 1933, when the nation was mired in the Depression, unemployment had soared to 24 percent and nearly half of all U.S. banks had failed.

In his address, FDR acknowledged the difficulty of the times but also tried to rally and encourage Americans. This is when he famously declared that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn’t come up with those words. They were supposedly placed in the speech by one of his senior advisors, Louis Howe. But FDR did deliver them and he’ll forever be known for this powerful inaugural speech (among other things).

Click here or on the pic below to go to a site where you can watch a film of the speech or just listen to audio of it. Or read it. Note: For some reason, the film version excludes bits of the speech throughout.


Going to the inauguration?

January 8, 2009


Meanwhile, here are some logistical things you might want to know before you go:

metrorushhour.jpg*Transportation: In what’s probably a massive understatement, this site notes that it’s going to be “challenging” to get around the DC area from about Jan. 17 through Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. That period includes the weekend of Jan. 17-19.

As such, you’ll want to be well aware of what transportation options are available, what you need to do to take advantage of them, and what the restrictions are. Here, you can find out info for taking the metro or a commuter train, riding a bike or walking to Inaugural events. Lots of streets will be closed so driving would be migraine-worthy at best.

Note: The city’s public transportation system expects to run at “crush capacity.” So be careful if you plan to use it, especially if you’re with young children or elderly people.

inauguration_obama-dcpm101.JPG*Parade route: Figure on snagging a good spot to watch the inaugural parade? So are millions of other people. Study a map of the parade route to develop your plan.

*Whether the weather will cooperate: Wellll… it probably depends on your definition of “cooperate.” Unsurprisingly, Washington weather usually ranges from the mid to upper 20s to the low to mid 40s on Jan. 20. Sometimes it rains or snows.

Here‘s a look at what the weather has done on previous Inauguration Days.

dc-weather-forecast.JPGAnd here‘s the latest 10-day forecast for D.C. That goes through Jan. 17, three days before the inauguration. They’re calling for snow showers in the city on Jan. 15 and Jan. 16 and cloudy skies with a high of 40 degrees on Jan. 17.

Speaking from previous experience in standing around for long periods in freezing weather in D.C. (last spring break, we waited in line outside for a couple of really cold, early morning hours to tour the U.S. Capitol), you might want to consider taking along some of those hand- and body-warmer things that hunters use. I realized this too late and while I could stand the cold, my youngest son was miserable.

I assume those things would be allowed. But that brings me to my next subject:

*Are there things you won’t be allowed to have in the area of the inauguration? Well, guns — duh. Knives — likewise. Explosives — this is news? But they’re also prohibiting bunches of more mundane items that you might have been figuring on taking to ease the wait and the cold, including umbrellas, strollers, backpacks, coolers, thermoses and alcohol. For the full list, go here.

Best inaugural speeches — and worst

January 7, 2009

With the approach of Inauguration Day, it’s natural that we look forward — both to that ceremony and to our hopes for the administration that takes charge afterward.

But it’s also interesting to look back on past Inauguration Days — and the administrations and times that they ushered in.

Over the next few days, I’ll post some moments and facts from past Inauguration Days.

Here’s a 2005 list of best and worst inaugural addresses.

Best? No contest.


Worst? This one.


Rumored to be the deadliest? This one.


You can read the full text of each inaugural address at this link.

The Lincoln Bible

January 7, 2009

Here’s the Bible on which Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office in 1861. Barack Obama will use the same Bible when he takes the oath on Jan. 20. That’s the subject of today’s column.


According to historians at the Library of Congress, it’s not known what Bible Lincoln used when he took the oath in 1865, for his second term.

Not every president has actually taken the oath on a Bible.  For example, Teddy Roosevelt didn’t the first time he took the oath, following the death of William McKinley. Roosevelt did use a Bible the second time he took the oath.

Some presidents have sworn on closed Bibles, others on randomly opened Bibles and still others on Bibles opened to specific passages. You can see some of these details here.

Meanwhile, if you’d like more info on the Lincoln Inaugural Bible, check here and here. Below, on the left, you can see the Bible’s title page and, on the right, the 1861 note on a back page, along with the Supreme Court seal, attesting that this was the Bible that was used by Lincoln when he took the oath of office.

               lincoln-bible1.jpeg   lincoln-bible-annotation.jpeg

On the ball — the Red Ball

January 6, 2009

red-ball-express-sign.jpgToday’s column is about a huge World War II convoy operation called the Red Ball Express. It was created to get gas and other vital supplies from Normandy to the Allies’ rapidly advancing front lines, which were up to 400 miles away.

Without the supplies — and, accordingly, without the express and the drivers who manned it — the Allied war effort would have stalled. Who can say what might have happened then?

The express operated ’round the clock for three months, using thousands of trucks — and men — to ferry tons of supplies to the front. It used specific routes, which were off-limits to all other traffic.  Routes were all one-way. Some took the express to the front. The others led back to Normandy.

red-ball-express-drivers.jpgMeanwhile, because the U.S. military generally restricted blacks to noncombat roles in those days, many black service members drove supply trucks. Nearly three-quarters of the drivers in the express were black.

The Red Ball Express was the subject of a 1952 movie and a 2001 book. You can also find more information about it at this U.S. Army Transportation Museum site, at this U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum site, as well as here and here.

Below is a circa WW2 news clip about the express.

And now here’s a clip from the 1952 movie about it. Hang on ’til the end for an appearance by the young Sidney Poitier.