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November 18, 2006

Where cold warriors would've gone to chill when things got hot


Look at the photo above: what do you see?

It's part of a dormitory in what used to be the most secure fallout shelter in the world, under the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

Once senators might have slept there.

Now it's a fading tourist attraction.

John Strausbaugh wrote about his visit there in an article which appeared in the November 12, 2006 New York Times Travel section, and follows.

    A West Virginia Cold War Bunker Now a Tourist Spot

    The town of White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., in the Allegheny Mountains has been a vacation spot for the powerful and the privileged since the early 1800s. And what began as an inn and scattered summer homes is now a 6,500-acre luxury resort, the Greenbrier, owned by CSX Corporation. It includes a spa, three golf courses, horseback trails, trout streams, skeet shooting, bowling, opulent shops, a culinary school, a museum and its own Amtrak station.

    But its most notable facility is far from luxurious, its grim purpose the antithesis of recreation. Built during the cold war and operated in secrecy for 30 years, it is a gargantuan underground fallout shelter, intended for use by the entire United States Congress in the event, as it was put in the movie “Dr. Strangelove,” of “nuke-u-lar combat toe to toe with the Rooskies.”

    Officially designated Project Greek Island but known colloquially as “the bunker,” it was decommissioned after its location was revealed by The Washington Post in 1992. Since its reopening this summer after a two-year renovation, it has again become a popular, if somewhat dreary, tourist attraction. The tours had been given since 1995.

    Putting the bunker under the Greenbrier was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s idea. He often visited the resort to hold high-level conferences and shoot golf with Sam Snead. The federal government was building scores of “emergency command and relocation centers,” boring into bedrock or carving out mountains in a wide arc around the nation’s capital from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. The Greenbrier, almost 250 miles southwest of Washington, was far enough away to survive a nuclear attack on the city, yet easily accessible by road, rail and air.

    Excavations began in 1958. By top-secret agreement, CSX built a new wing to the resort, the West Virginia Wing, and the bunker was surreptitiously constructed under it. The federal government leased the space from CSX. More than 100,000 square feet, with concrete walls up to five feet thick, it is the size of two football fields stacked underground. It was built to shelter 1,100 people: 535 senators and representatives and their aides. Construction was completed in October 1962 — just in time for the Cuban missile crisis, which turned out to be the only occasion when the bunker was put on high-alert status. For the next 30 years, government technicians posing as employees of a dummy company, Forsythe Associates, maintained the place, regularly checking its communications and scientific equipment as well as updating the magazines and the paperbacks in the lounge areas. As cover, they also repaired the televisions in the resort’s 800-plus rooms and suites.

    Robert S. Conte left the National Archives in Washington to become the resort’s staff historian in 1978. His job was to maintain the Greenbrier’s archives, present programs at its museum and tell anyone who asked that the bunker was “a silly rumor,” he recalled in a recent interview.

    He did that for the next 14 years, always suspecting that he was lying. The existence of the underground facility had been rumored in rural Greenbrier County since the hole was first dug.

    “I had heard stories,” Mr. Conte said. “When I got here, it was like, ‘Hey, here’s somebody new we can tell the rumors to!’ Everybody had heard something, but nobody knew for certain. It was sort of like sex for a teenager in the 1950s; you knew it existed, but you couldn’t confirm it for yourself.”

    When the bunker’s existence was revealed, the government cleared it of any sensitive equipment and ended its lease. In December 1995, the resort began giving tours for guests and the public; the lines became so long that for a while tours had to be limited to Greenbrier guests. Lynn Swann, the resort’s public relations manager (and no relation to the former pro football star of the same name), said recently that roughly 300,000 visitors have taken the tour.

    The tours, suspended in 2004 while CSX converted much of the upper level of the space into a data storage area, resumed in late July, with new information and exhibitions prepared by Mr. Conte to compensate for the smaller area. They are now open to Greenbrier guests and the public, for a fee of $30 for adults and $15 for children age 10 to 18.

    The tour begins at one of four entrances, gouged into the wooded hillside below the West Virginia Wing. The nuclear blast door, 10 feet wide, 12 feet high and 18 inches thick, weighs 25 tons. It was brought, along with three others (the largest weighing 40 tons), on special rail cars from Ohio. Three guard tunnel entrances lead out from the hillside; the fourth is inside the West Virginia Wing, where it was hidden behind a hinged, wallpapered panel.

    When shut, the giant doors hermetically sealed the entire structure. There would be enough air inside for 1,100 occupants to breathe for 72 hours; after that, vents had to be opened to let in potentially deadly air from outside.

    In contrast to the grand opulence above, the bunker exudes all the charm of an underground parking garage. Eerily, the tour proceeds down a long, echoing corridor of gray concrete to what would have been the distinguished guests’ first stop: the decontamination area. There they would have stripped, blasted by high-powered shower nozzles, then handed identical olive-drab military fatigues.

    THE rest of the place is no more uplifting to the spirit. Eighteen dormitory rooms now devoted to data storage were once filled with narrow bunk beds and lockers. For meals, freeze-dried food was to be doled out in a bright but cheerless cafeteria, which now houses the culinary school. Narrow corridors with linoleum floors under buzzing fluorescent lights connect stuffy, windowless rooms.

    Thoughts of Dr. Strangelove come easily and often along the tour. In a briefing room, the legislators could stand in front of murals of either the Capitol dome or the White House to televise messages to their constituents, should any be alive and have electrical power. Two drab halls that look like high school auditoriums would have served as Senate and House chambers. Small lounge areas look like the waiting rooms in dentists’ offices.

    Under the living and working quarters, 64 feet below the surface, diesel generators supplied electricity, huge tanks held 75,000 gallons of water, and the incinerator could serve, if needed, as a crematory oven. Sealed off from Armageddon, the bunker could operate at full capacity for two months, after which it was hoped that the occupants could safely emerge.

    One of the most doleful aspects of the place is that it was built to shelter the politicians and their aides, but not their families, who would not have had the same level of protection. One tries to imagine leading legislators of the cold-war era — Lyndon B. Johnson, Sam Rayburn, Tip O’Neill, Mike Mansfield — prowling the dismal halls in their matching olive drab uniforms, contemplating the fate of their loved ones above. Not surprisingly, the bunker infirmary was well stocked with antidepressants.

    Mr. Conte recalled that when the bunker was first opened for tours, it seemed a morbid relic of cold-war paranoia. It had been a long time since Americans seriously contemplated being attacked on their own soil.

    Since Sept. 11, 2001, visitors find it harder to maintain a bemused detachment.

    “It sounds perverse to say it, but 9/11 was good for business,” Mr. Conte said.


If You Go

Tours of the bunker for those not registered at the Greenbrier are available twice a week, Sundays and Wednesdays, at 1 p.m., from the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center, 24 Tressel Street; 800-624-6070, extension 7810.

Greenbrier reservations (www.greenbrier.com): (304) 536-1110 or greenbrier@greenbrier.com.

November 18, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

AM/FM Duckie Radio


From the website:

    AM/FM Duckie Radio

    Waterproof duckie will have you singing in the tub or shower!

    Colorful radio floats in the tub as you rub-a-dub-dub.

    Twist his head to turn radio on/off/control volume.

    Adjust his tail to find your favorite station.

    Press his wing for AM or FM.

    Uses 3 AAA batteries.

    5" H.


$14.98 (batteries not included).

November 18, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Airplane House


It may the strangest house in Abuja — or all of Nigeria, for that matter.

Craig Timberg wrote about this architectural landmark (above) in a story which appears in today's Washington Post, and follows.

    Airplane House Keeps Marriage Grounded, if Not Wife

    A Monument to Love Is Landmark in Abuja

    Abuja's airplane house, as it has come to be known by its inhabitants and amazed passersby, has emerged haphazardly over the years as a rare triumph of architectural whimsy in this sleek, modernistic West African capital.

    Looking like a jetliner settled atop the two-story concrete home of Said and Liza Jammal, it was born not of an urban planner's cold logic but of something more elemental: a man's love for his wife, and a selfish desire that she spend more time at home.

    In a country that has experienced four major air disasters in little more than a year, including a fatal crash last month near Abuja's airport, the effect at first glance can be startling, even frightening. But to those who have watched its gradual emergence — fuselage, nose, tail, engines — the plane has become a pleasant symbol of aesthetic mirth in a city dominated by hulking, '70s-style hotels and an ever-growing supply of bland concrete-and-glass office towers.

    "It's beautiful," said Ponsak Luka Kudor, 20, a student waiting at a bus stop nearby. "This is the only star we have in Abuja."

    The city of 2.5 million residents was founded in 1976 to become the new, orderly capital of a hectic nation that often seems on the verge of breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines.

    Abuja became the official capital in 1991, taking over for the rambunctious southwestern port city of Lagos, and has emerged, for Nigerians, as everyone's city and no one's. On Friday afternoons, the wide, flawlessly paved streets empty as politicians and civil servants speed home, which means almost anywhere else.

    The airplane house grew from a long-neglected marital promise between the Jammals, members of Nigeria's prosperous Lebanese immigrant community that long has run hotels, restaurants and other businesses here.

    When the Jammals married in 1980, Said, now 48, taciturn and mustachioed, with a deep cleft in his chin, was a civil engineer with his own construction company. And Liza, now 42, chatty and dark-haired, was a devoted traveler.

    Liza asked her new husband to someday build a house for her in the shape of an airplane as a symbol of her hobby. In the flush of young love, he agreed.

    "That was my wife's dream," Said Jammal said, smiling sheepishly as he puffed a cigarette at the end of a dark plastic holder. "You know, she likes to travel a lot, fly a lot."

    The vow went unfulfilled for the first two decades of their marriage, as the demands of seven children and a fast-growing business consumed the Jammals. But in 1999, they spotted a piece of land on a rise alongside the main highway heading north out of Abuja.

    The neighborhood was nice, with the Nigerian presidential villa, Aso Rock, next door, but what clinched the deal was the view. For more than a mile, pedestrians and motorists approaching from the south would be able to see the house and whatever the Jammals put on top of it.

    The work on the airplane began in 2002 and has moved slowly because Said Jammal insists on doing each phase by himself, despite a work schedule that keeps him frequently on the road. And though the airplane's interior remains unfinished, the exterior is nearing completion.

    The plane is about 100 feet long and, at its highest point at the top of the tail, 20 feet tall. Eventually, the plane will have a 50-foot wingspan, Said Jammal said. Each wing already has two mounted engines and sits atop an unfinished bedroom and a small bathroom.

    Inside the white fuselage, Said Jammal plans to build a kitchen and in a closed-off cockpit overlooking the city, a computer room.

    Completion remains at least several months off.

    "It's my personal house," he said. "I'm not in a hurry."

    The Jammals have also built a two-story guard post in the shape of a control tower, and they plan to add a smaller replica of the plane on a guest cottage. On another plot of land on a nearby hill, they are contemplating building another house, this one in the shape of a yacht.

    Though unfinished, the airplane house attracts a steady flow of unexpected visitors who knock at the Jammals' gate several times a month. The property's extravagance, meanwhile, has provoked some grumbling in a city where most houses are small.

    "Some people will feel they are wasting cement," said James Ojobo, 43, who is unemployed.

    But many passersby express affection for the project, even if they cannot fathom who would attempt it. The conventional wisdom along Murtala Mohammed Way, the four-lane highway that runs along the front of the airplane house a bit like a forsaken runway, is that a pilot owns it.

    "Very strange, but nice. Very nice," said Adamma Mercy Pius, 23, who came here six months ago in search of work. "When I first came to Abuja, this building attracted me. I thought, 'Is this a real plane?' "

    The Jammals say they have received inquiries from an airline interested in turning the plane into a giant winged billboard. For the right price, both said, they would be willing to sell.

    After all, despite the attention it has generated, the airplane house has failed at one of its missions. Said Jammal revealed that when he decided to go ahead with the project, he had a secret motive to clip his wife's wings: "Let me build the airplane so that I can keep her in all the time."

    To this, Liza Jammal smiled the kind of patient, indulgent smile that many wives save for their husbands' curmudgeonly moments. "It doesn't work," she said, thinking ahead to a planned trip to Singapore. "I'm going this weekend."

November 18, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ultimate Ice Scraper Mitt — Episode 2: Microwaves Strike Back


Last year, on December 31, 2005, I presented what I honestly did believe, at that time, was the "Ultimate Ice Scraper Mitt."

I so titled that post.

Well, guess what?

I was wrong.

So what's new? you ask.

My face forms a mild rictus as I consider your question.

But I digress.

Without further ado, then, the second coming of the "Ultimate Ice Scraper Mitt."

From the website:

    BareMitt™ Microwaveable Windshield Defrosting Mitt

    Not just a scraper, it’s an ice melter!

    Just pop the amazing BareMitt™ scraper glove [above] into the microwave for 60–90 seconds and it’s ready to go!

    Patented polymer palm-pad melts through the ice as you rub; built-in scraper clears it away.

    Tough Cordura-nylon shell with polyfleece lining keeps your hand warm; elasticized, gauntlet-style wristband keeps ice out.

    One size fits all.


No — just because this tricked-out version hadn't yet been invented last December 31 is no excuse for the earlier post's claim.

It's expected that not only will I feature the new and the weird but also anticipate what's coming in the future.

You pay a lot for your "All-Areas/Backstage" access here and you're entitled to your money's worth.

As always, my no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee applies: if you feel bookofjoe has not lived up to your expectations, simply let me know and I will cheerfully refund every penny of your subscription fee from day one.


$17.99 (microwave oven not included).

November 18, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saegreifinn in Reykjavik, Iceland: Home of humarsupa — 'archetypical lobster soup'


Mark Bittman's "Bites" feature in last Sunday's New York Times travel section reported on his visit to Saegreifinn, a prototypical North Atlantic coast seafood shack — in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Above, the soup.

Here's his review.

    Reykjavik, Iceland: Saegreifinn

    The archetypical lobster soup is in Reykjavik, exactly where you’d expect to find it: near the water, at a place called Saegreifinn, a sort of fish shack owned by a retired fisherman named Kjartan Halldorsson.

    Saegreifinn, or Sea Baron, is generally known as the best informal place in town to find this particular local specialty (some of the other offerings, like hakarl, cubes of putrefied shark, are far less appealing), and no wonder: Mr. Halldorsson’s version is a bold, rich stew, featuring the local lobster — which is, in form, somewhere between a very large shrimp and a very small lobster, with most of the meat in the tail.

    The concoction, called humarsupa, is straightforward, traditional, glaringly honest, delicious and the first thing you should eat when you arrive in town. Although the lobster is as local as it gets (it’s fished and cooked throughout Iceland, and featured in many if not most restaurants), other ingredients are hard to come by here, so the vegetable content is pretty much fixed at celery, red pepper and tomato. But the distinctive Northern European flavor profile — the soup is slightly sweet, with a bit of cream and hints of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and maybe coriander — doesn’t change, and neither does the generous amount of high-quality lobster.

    It’s unlikely that Reykjavik will ever be a culinary destination, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well here. The adventuresome diner will find a couple of other unusual temptations at Saegreifinn. First, there’s the not quite politically incorrect minke whale meat (a species that is not endangered, and perfectly legal in Iceland), served two ways: heavily smoked, on slices of bread, or skewered, flavored with soy sauce (how long has that been available in Iceland?) and grilled with vegetables. Either way, the meat is just about indistinguishable from tenderloin of beef.

    Even more exotic is the grilled cormorant, a sea bird that belies expectations by being not at all fishy but resembling squab in taste, color and texture. Shark is another option and, in season, the famous local puffin. Side dishes include good roasted potatoes and a standard potato salad.

    As you’ve probably guessed, Saegreifinn is not a sleek place. Rather it follows the near-universal North Atlantic pattern for seafood shacks — crude stools made from fish-packing containers, tables of barely finished wooden planks, plastic foam bowls and plastic spoons, and the ubiquitous nautical décor. There is no pretense, and at 750 kronur, about $11 at 70 kronur to the dollar, for its lobster soup, you cannot do better.


Saegreifinn, Geirsgata 8; 101 Reykjavik; 354-553-1500; www.saegreifinn.is. Open daily.

Save me a seat.

November 18, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's best laptop light


It's the IOGEAR 8 LED USB Flex Light pictured above and below.

From the website:

8 LED Flexible USB Light

A flexible USB light with a total of 8 LEDs sheds light on any situation through your computer's USB port.

IOGEAR's practical and aesthetically pleasing Flexible USB Light can illuminate a keyboard in even the murkiest situations.

Just plug it into your PC's or Mac's USB port and everything becomes perfectly clear.


The light is ideal for business travelers putting in late hours in the air, at the office, while giving a presentation or working at home, illuminating just the space you want brightened without disturbing others.

The sturdy flexible neck allows you to place the light in a comfortable position for optimum visibility.

A handy three-position switch turns the light on softly (4 LEDs), brightly (8 LEDs) or entirely off.

Your safety and comfort are ensured since the light's LEDs bulbs produce no heat.

It is like your own overhead light — without all the shadows!


• Cable: 1.5 ft. USB cable with USB 2.0 Type A plug (male)

• For use with any USB 1.1- or 2.0-compatible computer

• Light: 1"W x 3"H x 0.75"D; Bus-powered, 5.0V

• Easily configures to your needs

• Plastic


Nothing else comes close.

More details on the product's homepage at IOGEAR.


November 18, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

tinyurl.com doa@boj


In a nutshell, it's too simple.

Let me elaborate.

Albert Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

tinyurl goes one step too far for my own taste.

That step is masking the original URL so well that when someone gives me a link to a tinyurl.com/xyz, I haven't a clue what it's going to be about.

Most URLs give you at least a hint, if not a definitive idea: that lets you decide to if you want to see what's there or not.

With tinyurl technology you tend to go places you wouldn't have gone if only you'd known where it was you were heading.

Besides which, who cares about having a long URL?

So what?

It's not as if someone's making you write it out by hand: copy and paste works just as quickly with 50 characters as 5.

So what's the big excitement about abbreviating the URL?

I don't get it.

So I don't use it.

And if you do, I probably won't look at what's there.


And that's all I have to say about that.

November 18, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Armadillo Purse


From the website:

    Armadillo Purse

    There are some fashion accessories that transcend trends, time and the dictates of sanity, and this armadillo purse certainly fits the bill.

    This hilarious handbag is made of a wonderfully printed fabric that emulates a real armadillo's armor, plus it adds a stuffed tail, legs and head with appropriately too-cool-for-you expression.

    9"H x 19"L x 5"W.

    100% polyester.

    Zip closure.


Bag the Chanel, Prada and Gucci — they're boring and everywhere and so over.


Note: no armadillos were harmed in the creation of this bag — or this post.

November 18, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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