NOAA's Ark

By Al Kamen
Friday, April 3, 2009

Marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, finally confirmed March 19 as the undersecretary of commerce in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, went the next day to check out her new digs on the fifth floor of the Commerce Department headquarters.

She has a fine corner office at 15th and Constitution -- nothing fancy, but excellent views of the Ellipse and the Washington Monument. She also discovered that she has her own bathroom -- or at least a half-bath that she'll share with her yet-to-be named deputy.

But as Lubchenco opened the door to look in, she noticed that it was occupied -- by a massive Norwegian rat. The critter, equally startled, was, she guessed, about 10 inches long. (They usually have an equally long tail, we understand.)

The rat scurried back and forth and then hopped up on the toilet seat. There was a brief standoff. Then the rat did a swan dive into the bowl and disappeared into the system. The droppings were quickly cleaned up.

"As an ecologist, she finds it biologically fascinating that sewer rats have adapted so well to coexisting with humans," her spokesman, Scott Smullen, told us. (Studies show they have an especially easy time fitting in here.) The exterminator is scheduled to pay a visit today, he said, but "she's already been using the toilet."

"She thinks the rat was able to enter the pipe since the toilet hadn't been used for some time," Smullen explained. Her predecessor left several months ago. As a result, air pockets may have developed along the line, which apparently would allow the rat easier access. "But with regular flushes, it's less likely to pay a return visit."

Let's hope so.


There's good news and bad news on the congressional travel front. The bad news is that the congressional delegation headed by Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), which had been scheduled to go to Brazil today, has been canceled. Seems one of the House members who had signed up for the jaunt -- with stops in Rio, Iguazu Falls and the historic city of Salvador -- was unable to go. That dropped the number of House members signed up to four -- one below the minimum needed to qualify for a military jet -- the ones with the first-class-only seating. Without a miljet, of course, the trip was not workable.

And we were told several ethanol-plant tours and such had appeared on the schedule, which could have jeopardized its Loop-recommended status. (But, hey, it's Brazil.)

We apologize for incorrectly accusing Pastor of also trying to slip in a side trip to the capital, Brasilia, truly a place to be avoided. Turns out we had confused our codels.

The one that's actually stopping in Brasilia is the 11-member trip -- leaving today -- led by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md). They're off to Mexico, Panama, Colombia and then Brazil, stopping in Brasilia but then arriving in Rio in time for meetings on Good Friday and then flying out that day. No trips up Sugar Loaf Mountain or stuff like that.

We had heard most all members were taking spouses, but a spokeswoman in Hoyer's office, in a not overly expansive e-mail response to our inquiries, said that was not correct. (She declined to say how many spouses were on board.)

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