A Washington lawyer aboard US Airways Flight 532 earlier this month from Miami to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, with a stopover in Charlotte, N.C., says the pilot of the flight made an intriguing, if not alarming, announcement over the intercom.
Shortly before touching down in Charlotte, the pilot announced to passengers that the landing was being delayed because somebody was "jamming" the plane's communications with the control tower.
"We have a jamming problem," the lawyer, who asks not to be identified, paraphrased the pilot. "We've gotten word from the tower that our radio frequencies are being jammed."
Then these words: The problem could "involve national security."
"Upon deplaning I went up to the captain and said, 'Did I hear you correctly ... that it could be by someone who is trying to do us harm?' And he said yes, there is a problem here. It's happened before."
In the 26 years he's been in the business, John Mazor, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, tells The Beltway Beat that every so often there is a "flurry" of such incidents, including cases where somebody gets on the same radio frequency and imitates an air traffic controller, or else pretends to be a pilot.
As far as frequency jamming, he says: "Unless you find the source, you're not sure if it's inadvertent or on purpose. As you know from reporting on the lasers (being beamed at pilots from the ground), laser incidents go back 10 years. But it wasn't until the Sept. 11 attacks that we have to look at everything through national security lines now."
Frequency jamming, like laser attacks, take on "a new dimension post-9/11. And it's better to be safe than sorry," he says.
Perhaps he's a Democrat. Or maybe he's just fed up with paying more than $2 for a gallon of gasoline.
Either way, observes the official White House pool report on one of President Bush's more recent motorcades: "Few people were out watching the passing convoy, though we did spot one man at a gas station doing an emphatic thumbs-down."
A memorable vignette in honor of the late Sen. J. James Exon, the three-term Nebraska Democrat who died Friday at the age of 83:
It was sometime in the mid-1990s and Exon was on the Senate floor offering an amendment to restore funding to some forgotten program in some forgotten spending bill. After arguing that opponents of his amendment were insulting the nuclear family, undermining national security and pretty much destroying the American way of life, he asked for a roll-call vote.
The roll call itself is a fascinating anthropological exercise, one part representative democracy and one part frat-house rush. The chamber's mandarins roll in from their offices, committee rooms, late lunches and fund-raisers to cast their vote, loudly greet colleagues, gossip and cut deals.
Exon, a big man even by Senate standards, corralled the late-arriving Sen. Hank Brown, a Republican from Colorado, by placing his large arm around Mr. Brown's neck as the two exchanged jokes and fake punches to the midsection.
The two were getting on famously when the Senate clerk called out "Mr. Brown," after which Brown disentangled himself from his good friend and made a swift downward motion with his outstretched index finger, voting against the Exon amendment.
He then returned to Exon, who put his arm back around his colleague. The two went on chatting as if nothing had happened.
"I read in the Times of India that Bill Clinton is trying to be a vegetarian, but that this lovely man, who has struggled with his weight and his heart, is having trouble."
Or so Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, gives as her reason for writing a letter of encouragement to the former president.
"I have a fondness for Bill," she admits, noting he's not the first worldly figure to go through cheeseburger withdrawals.
"You are in good company. From Mahatma Gandhi to Albert Einstein, some of the world's greatest historical figures and thinkers have chosen meat-free diets," she tells Clinton.
And to help Bubba along the vegetable path, Newkirk has shipped him a box of faux-chicken patties, a vegetarian starter kit and, last but not least, a video narrated by actor Alec Baldwin, who speaking of chickens says they are perhaps the most abused animals on the planet.
NEXT TO GOD
J.J. Wuerthner Jr. read last week that animal-rights activists confronted members of Congress about lip pain experienced by fish that get hooked by anglers.
"Your piece on 'Pierced Lips' deserves the wry humor of President Hoover, found in (the) small book 'Fishing for Fun and To Wash Your Soul,' published by Random House in 1963," he writes to The Beltway Beat.
"That presidents have taken to fishing in an astonishing fashion seems to me worthy of investigation," Hoover noted. "Next to prayer, fishing is the most personal relationship of man; and of more importance, everyone concedes that the fish will not bite in the presence of the public, including newspapermen. . . . I have discovered the reason: it is a silent sport.'"
Every year at this time, we look forward to the invitation to Frank Luntz's annual Baseball All Star Party, if for no other reason than to see the latest addition to the political pollster's home (called "the Smithsonian McLean Branch" because of its unique collection of history, politics and sports memorabilia).
Under the pollster's expansive roof one finds everything from the most valuable newspaper collection in Washington, to the original Playboy magazine interview with Jimmy Carter, to rare tickets for every day of Bill Clinton's impeachment trial.
Some of our favorite acquisitions unveiled last year included the original "Addams Family" electric chair (and you wonder why Luntz isn't married?) and "The Terminator," a life-size statue of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Who doesn't want one of those in the living room?).
And what new is Luntz parking in his house this year? No less than the chopper from the 1969 movie "Easy Rider," starring Peter Fonda.
Marijuana has helped me a lot!
It's a marvel, this medical "pot"!
My condition's the same,
But I'm pleased to proclaim
I've forgotten what illness I've got!
In what could be a Capitol Hill first, a lawmaker last week attempted to cast a vote of "not present."
The moment straight out of Lewis Carroll came during Wednesday's markup of a U.N. reform bill in the House International Relations Committee. The bill calls on the administration to get tough over a multitude of misdeeds and scandals coming out of Turtle Bay, and members of both parties took politically popular potshots at the world body during the debate.
But then Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, principled libertarian and chronic skunk at congressional garden parties, offered an "American sovereignty restoration" amendment calling for the United States to pull out of the United Nations altogether. Paul noted, correctly, that the case for his amendment had just been made by all the negative comments his colleagues had been airing for the previous two hours.
Democrats, sensing the politically embarrassing nature of the amendment, immediately demanded a roll-call vote, requiring their Republican colleagues to go on record in support of U.S. membership in the blue helmet/black helicopter society.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, was absent when the clerk first called his name for the Paul amendment. But, perhaps mistiming his return to the committee room, Rohrabacher took his seat before the voting had officially closed.
His lips pressed firmly together, Mr. Rohrabacher only smiled and waved his hand when the clerk asked for his vote. "Present?" she helpfully asked, to which Mr. Rohrabacher simply shook his head, plainly hoping the clerk would just pass him by.
The performance elicited a few mocking chicken clucks from committee Democrats. In the end, the California Republican was recorded as voting "present" on the Paul amendment.
For the record, the amendment was rejected on a 39-3 (one present) vote, with just South Carolina Republican Reps. Joe Wilson and J. Gresham Barrett siding with the Texan.
Be careful what you promise.
Just ask Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who last November in ousting Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle became the first challenger to defeat a Senate leader in more than a half-century.
Thune promised the voters of his state that if they helped him make history by ousting the Democrat, he would see to it that Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota remain open. Wouldn't you know, Ellsworth is on the list of scheduled base closures.
Needless to say, Thune isn't happy. And as Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) notes, he is now "doing everything short of writing to Santa Claus to derail the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process."
This includes introducing legislation to delay BRAC indefinitely, threatening litigation against the Pentagon, and maybe changing his position on unrelated votes to "punish" the Bush administration.
"Senator Thune is understandably embarrassed after promising during his Senate campaign that if he won, the White House would not close bases in South Dakota," CAGW states. "But BRAC is designed to exclude such political favoritism, and taxpayers should not be forced to fund unnecessary bases just to satisfy one senator's campaign promise."
In light of Thune's threats, and considering this latest round of base closures would save taxpayers almost $50 billion over the next 20 years, CAGW has crowned him its "Porker of the Month."
BLUE VS. OLIVE
Air Force officers, past and present, have replied in force to our item last week about being mistaken for mailmen and bus drivers because of the similarity of their blue uniforms.
"Let it be known that as a retired member of the USAF (1983-2004), we are still not happy about our uniforms," writes William Mayes. "At least they did get rid of the bus driver hat."
The Air Force blues could be worse, said John Rieman, considering what the other branches of the military sport.
"OK, here's a choice of going-to-work military clothes: olive-ugly drab, don't-sit-on-a-dirty-chair white, or my-favorite-color blue. Throw in fatigues. Blue is the winner. I never got the chance to knock around an old lady buying stamps, but I was kiddingly accused of driving a bus. Back then bus drivers were OK guys."
And they still are, of course.
Another Air Force insider, who asks not to be identified, took the opportunity to poke fun at the Army - not their uniforms, but what's upstairs. He recalls his Air Force JAG (judge advocate general) division sharing building space in Washington with several Army units.
"One Air Force captain (who you know, but should remain nameless) and his crazy boss (who will remain nameless) made a habit of picking on some of the Army guys who were, to be kind, a little slow on the uptake," he tells The Beltway Beat.
"On one memorable day, said captain and his boss, the major, were followed into an elevator car by an Army colonel. We tapped '7' to head for our office. The Army guy tapped '8.' The light on the button didn't come on, so he kept tapping the '8.'
"Again, again, and again, he tapped the button, and it didn't light up. Someone, who shall remain unidentified, leaned over and said, 'Hit 5 and 3, sir.' And he did." When the Army colonel realized he'd been had, his reply was unprintable.
We have good news for filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who will have the company of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta at a special Capitol Hill screening next Tuesday of his new TV documentary "30 Days."
As we reminded readers yesterday, Spurlock, a West Virginia native, is the guy who spent 30 days eating nothing but McDonald's food and lived to tell about it in the film "Super Size Me."
In his latest Hollywood endeavor, Mr. Spurlock and his fiancee, Alex, spend a month trying to live on the minimum wage in Columbus, Ohio, where they struggle to find jobs and affordable housing.
Mike Beeler of Columbus, Ohio, writes to The Beltway Beat that Spurlock's "experience in Columbus must be like a Michael Moore movie remake. I have owned several small businesses in Columbus, most recently a pizza restaurant.
"My experience in hiring staff is that you will never find kitchen help willing to accept the minimum wage. Hispanics here illegally demand as much as $9 per hour for washing dishes. Delivery drivers can make as much as $200 working just Friday and Saturday nights; that is $7 per hour plus tips, working only 14 hours," he says.
"Bartenders working in most small bars make an average $100 or more in tips per shift plus their hourly pay. Like most other Midwest cities, if you're willing to work you can make an honest living here in Columbus," he says.
"By the way, I will rent Mr. Spurlock a nice one-bedroom flat for only $475 a month and with some Section 8 money, he and his wife can live quite well courtesy of our government."
THAT'S THE ONE
"Is this the same Howard Dean who was criticized by Al Sharpton for not having any minorities on his (presidential campaign) staff?"
- Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, responding this week to Democrat National Committee chair Howard Dean's characterization of Republicans as a party of white Christians.
Recent "missteps" by Washington Republicans have resulted in a significant shift toward a second Clinton White House, says SportsInteraction.com, a licensed online sports book that now gives "5-to-1 odds" that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would occupy the White House in 2008.
The recent filibuster fight, Social Security privatization, the war in Iraq and uneasiness in Iran and North Korea are leveling the playing field for 2008, according to the sports book.
"The way we see it, battered Democrats will gladly take 5-to-1 odds," says spokesman Kevin Manning. "Conservatives may hope for a million-to-1, but when you're making a bet, one has to deal with reality."
"All fingers and toes are accounted for!"
- House Republican Conference Secretary Rep. John T. Doolittle, California Republican, welcoming the birth this week of his first grandchild, Lorelai Taylor Doolittle.