He’s the poster boy for lawmakers’ quirky activity and props on floor of Congress

Al Kamen
Columnist November 6, 2013

The fan club for congressional charts — those bulky cardboard signs often bearing bar graphs or amateurish clip art that members of Congress employ when they want to make a particularly punchy point — is bigger than one might think.

Bill Gray, a C-SPAN producer by day, has been building up his Web site, Floor Charts (www.floorcharts.com), which archives images of the congressional poster boards, which range from the bizarre to the inscrutable. What started a year ago with only a few hundred images is now 2,000 shots strong and boasts more than 35,000 Tumblr followers.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

And there’s more geekiness to come: Gray just snagged a grant to improve his site’s bells and whistles. Of course the $1,000 from the local branch of the global Awesome Foundation isn’t enough on which to build a media empire, but Gray sees it as a validation of the site’s nerdy mission.

Which is? Gray says he just wants to record the ways in which elected leaders use visuals (he’s branched out from just documenting charts to include various props) to communicate with the public. So we get gems like Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) brandishing a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) waving around a plate of steak or Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) standing before a blown-up version of a Pink Floyd album cover.

Future historians, take note.

Gray himself seems a bit mystified by the project’s fans, which extends well beyond a loyal group of Capitol Hill journalists and junkies who often e-mail him with sightings of posters or other goofy gags. “I would like to say that it’s that they like Congress and like seeing their government at work,” he says. But he knows many visitors enjoy the sheer oddity of the members’ offerings and the often inelegant graphics.

No matter how tempting it is to mock, Gray prefers, much like his employer, C-SPAN, to simply offer the images without any editorial comment, whether it be snark or praise.

Call him the poster boy for “fair and balanced.”

Uncharted waters

They might have been good enough for the likes of Captain Ahab of “Moby Dick” or Captain Stubing (from that other classic, “The Love Boat”), but old-timey nautical charts are on the way out.

At least the ones provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are. NOAA recently marked the end of a century-plus era by announcing that it would no longer offer print versions of the charts it maintains of U.S. coastal waters.

The government has been printing such maps since 1862. But in the digital age (and a time of hyper-scrutinized federal spending), paper charts have apparently gone the way of the steam engine.

Too clunky, too outdated.

Even though NOAA is promising that the charts themselves will still be available in digital formats, the change is likely to provoke some angst, particularly from some old salts.

“Like most other mariners, I grew up on NOAA lithographic charts and have used them for years,” said Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, in a notice announcing the digital shift. “We know that changing chart formats and availability will be a difficult change for some mariners who love their traditional paper charts.”

Congrats to . . . me!

Announcements of new hirings and promotions are pro forma affairs. The boss always says the new person is ever-so-wonderful; the new hire is duly honored to have the prestigious post.

An announcement Tuesday that Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) had promoted his talented legislative aide, Sean Joyce, to be his new communications director followed standard template: Shuster called the promotion “a no-brainer,” and Joyce talked of how honored he was to continue working for Shuster.

But wait a minute! The news release says that if you’ve any questions about this you should contact, yes, communications director Sean Joyce. Now that’s odd, someone writing a news release about his own hiring.

As it turns out, Joyce explained, the announcement was written last week by Shuster’s chief of staff and press aide, but since Joyce took over the job Monday, it fell to him to put out the release.

Well, he probably couldn’t have written it better himself.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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