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Pregnant? Photograph courtesy National Zoo.

Mei Xiang, the National Zoo's adult female giant panda, may be pregnant again. Or she could be experiencing a pseudopregnancy. That's the finding from the zoo's scientists, who say Monday that the bear has experienced a secondary rise in her urinary progesterone levels, confirming that Mei Xiang has come to a crucial point in her gestational cycle.

But there will be no way of knowing if Mei Xiang is actually pregnant until she either has another cub or if her hormone levels return to normal without giving birth within 30 to 50 days. Giant panda fetuses do not develop until the final weeks of a pregnancy, making them all-but-impossible to detect on an ultrasound.

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Posted at 01:40 PM/ET, 08/10/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A close-up of the glass negative showing the Smithsonian Castle's construction. Image courtesy the Smithsonian Institution.

To commemorate the 169th anniversary of its founding today, the Smithsonian Institution is showing off a photograph of the construction of the Smithsonian Castle—dated 1850. The image, taken when only two of the castle's nine towers were finished, is believed to be the earliest photograph of the Smithsonian, the institution says in a press release.

The modern-day Smithsonian discovered the image in the possession of Arlington resident Tom Rall, who collects slides from the mid-19th century. The image of the Smithsonian was taken by Philadelphia photographers William and Frederick Langenheim using a process they developed called hyalotype, which produced glass negatives instead of the paper negatives that most photography until that point used. Glass negatives could be used to produce printed photos or a glass-lantern slide, which is what the Smithsonian collected from Rall.

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Posted at 10:16 AM/ET, 08/10/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
As more memorials and museums open, it's time to reconsider its boundaries. By Emma Foehringer Merchant
Photo via Shutterstock.com / Cvandyke

Ask a tourist how to find the National Mall and you’ll be directed to that expanse of patchy lawn between the US Capitol and Lincoln Memorial. But as a new shrine begins to take shape, DC insiders are rethinking the Mall’s boundaries—and even its purpose.

On July 21, designs were due in the open competition for a national World War I memorial, to be built at one end of Pershing Park. The mostly cement patch at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, across from the Willard Hotel, is a ten-minute walk from the northern edge of what most people think of as the Mall.

The choice of the park—pushed through Congress late last year by representatives Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Ted Poe of Texas and DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton—dashed the hopes of doughboy-advocacy groups that insisted space be found near the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam Veterans memorials. Their cause foundered against a moratorium, passed a decade ago by Congress, on adding to the Mall’s “core,” which it deemed a “substantially completed work of civic art.”

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Posted at 06:00 AM/ET, 08/10/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
All you have to do to find them is poke around Rock Creek Park. By Matt Blitz
The Capitol stones. Photograph courtesy Bill Lebovich.

Deep in Rock Creek Park, about a half-mile from the nature center and next to a maintenance building, sits one of DC’s most well-known urban myths: the Capitol stones.

It takes only a little venturing off the trail to find these eloquently carved, moss-covered, sandstone-and marble-blocks stacked several feet high and several rows deep. It is believed that many of these stones date back to the 19th century, perhaps as early as 1818. They were once part of the US Capitol, bearing witness to nearly 200 years of American history, though for at least the last 50, they’ve languished in obscurity in Rock Creek Park.

The story starts in 1958 with Architect of the Capitol J. George Stewart overseeing a Capitol Building renovation. As a former, one-term member of Congress from Delaware and not a trained architect, Stewart’s appointment in 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower was met with skepticism. So, when Stewart pushed for an extension and renovations on the east façade to create additional office space and a new subway terminal, many opposed the plan citing the historical importance of the façade and Stewart’s apparent inexperience. But Speaker House Sam Rayburn had Stewart’s back, and strongly supported the construction.

Demolition started in 1958 and continued into early 1959, with the East Front being dismantled and the portico being removed. The columns that had stood since Andrew Jackson’s inauguration were sent to the Capitol Power Plant. In 1987, they were relocated again to the National Arboretum, where they still stand today.

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Posted at 02:28 PM/ET, 08/07/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
How former DC high-school tennis star Leon Vessels got back in the game. By Josh Rosenblat
Leon Vessels prepares a court for a Citi Open match. Photograph by Josh Rosenblat.

Leon Vessels hadn’t picked up a tennis racket in a few years. The DC native had received an All-Met honorable mention during his senior year at DeMatha Catholic High School in 2005 and ranked as high, he estimates, as No. 150 in the US junior rankings, but he was nervous. It wasn’t some recreational player standing across the net.

It was summer 2010, and Vessels had just graduated from Hampton University, where he was supposed to play tennis but never joined the team because he was “gassed out.” As a summer job, Vessels landed a spot with the operations team at the Citi Open at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, maintaining the grounds for the week-long tournament.

But American pro Rajeev Ram needed a practice partner, and a tournament official asked Vessels to step in.

“He got me pretty much good with the cobwebs out,” Vessels says. “And once it was like, ‘Oh, he didn’t complain?’ they kept sending me out there.”

Vessels, 28, has become a staple on the Citi Open’s practice courts, preparing players for their matches and rediscovering his passion for a sport he had fallen out of love with.

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Posted at 02:24 PM/ET, 08/07/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Looking for a furry friend? One of these cuties—all available at Washington-area rescues—might be your match.

Thurman, a one-year-old Spaniel-mix, is shy at first, but once he gets to know you, he's as sweet as can be. His shyness is pretty understandable, too, since he was found with some bite wounds on his legs and must've been through something scary. Shelter staff are eager to place him in a home where he can feel safe and more comfortable. Meet Thurman at WHS's New York Avenue adoption center. Editor's note: I had the chance to meet Thurman and he is such a calm, friendly little guy. He has the face of a lab on the body of a much smaller dog. He's definitely a catch! -Marisa M. Kashino

Onyx is a domestic shorthair-mix who's been at the shelter for over 80 days. She seems to be in charge of the free-roaming cat room and likes to boss the other kitties around. She's about two years old, so she's past the crazy kitten phase. She's an independent cat who would love a windowsill where she can bask in the sun. Meet her at the Washington Humane Society's New York Ave adoption center.

Taco Tuesday is a tiny, timid guy. This one-year-old, oversized Chihuahua-mix wants to love and be loved but can be insecure and uncertain with new people. If you give him some time, however, he’ll crawl in your lap for some affection. Taco Tuesday is looking for a quiet, adult home with someone who will give him gentle encouragement and help boost his confidence. Stop by the Washington Animal Rescue League to meet him.

Rue arrived at the Washington Animal Rescue League in April with her three kittens. The little ones have all found homes, but Rue is still waiting. Rue is a quiet and unassuming four-year-old domestic shorthair. She takes her time exploring new environments and becoming acquainted with new people. Rue enjoys human companionship but is not an “in your face” kind of cat. She’ll be content on her own during the day and then happy to hang out with you in the evening. Stop by the Washington Animal Rescue League to meet her.

Izzy is a gorgeous lab-mix who was surrendered by her owners to the shelter when they could no longer care for her. She is about 10 months old. Izzy is a bit shy at first but has quickly warmed up to her foster family, and loved having a friend's five-year-old son come to visit. She was playful and gentle with him, showing no signs of nervousness at all. She even walked much more confidently on her walk after playing with the boy. To find out more about Izzy, please visit the Rural Dog Rescuewebsite.

Latch is a sweet, engaging hound who is looking for someone to be patient with him while he adjusts to life in the big city. Or even better, someone to take him to a home outside the city with a yard and another dog to show him the ropes. Even though Latch is very shy and skittish outside, he’s a happy dog at home with people he trusts. Latch is not a lazy hound. He will want to be by your side ready to get scratches, play a gentle game of tug, or help you get rid of your leftover dinner. Latch is house trained, giving clear signals that he needs to go outside, but like most rescue dogs, he may need a refresher when he goes to his forever home. He is also learning to walk politely on a leash. Latch gets along great with other dogs and is currently fostered with another dog and a cat. To find out more about Latch, please visit the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Posted at 01:43 PM/ET, 08/07/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Amazingly, he wasn't always the funniest guy. By Sherri Dalphonse
The author (front row, in red T-shirt) was one of Jon Stewart's earliest fans—he's at the far right—thanks to fun weekends at the Delaware shore. Photo courtesy of Sherri Dalphonse.

While Jon Stewart’s final episode of The Daily Show last night has caused loyal viewers to reminisce about his 16 years at the satirical news show, I’ve been awash in memories of a different sort. Sure, I loved “Indecision 2000” and his brilliant jabs at “fair and balanced” Fox News as much as the next fan. But sometimes when I watched his show, and Jon would laugh that great cackle of his, it would take me back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I had the pleasure of occasionally sharing a beach-house weekend with the man we then knew as Jon Leibowitz.

The amazing thing is: Jon wasn’t always the funniest guy in the beach house. Anthony Weiner often made me laugh just as hard.

How did I get into a beach house with a soon-to-be TV star and a future congressman? My housemate at the time was dating Weiner’s housemate. Anthony and the housemate had befriended some guys who all went to the College of William & Mary, Jon’s alma mater.

Jon Stewart, Bethany Beach, August 1993. Photo courtesy of Sherri Dalphonse.

For several years, I went in on a share of whatever summer house they rented in Dewey and later Bethany Beach. When I met Jon, he lived in New York City—he was trying to make a go of standup comedy. That included gigs on most weekends, so he only came to the Delaware shore now and then. But even today I have memories of the times he visited.

We weren’t a particularly wild bunch. Sure, some of us probably drank too much, but we never trashed the houses (although I do recall occasional sand-clogged showers). Even now, I have more recollections of dancing to the English Beat and REM, of afternoons of beach volleyball, and of long Scrabble games than of playing quarters (although we did that too). Every summer now, when I think about those carefree weekends, it brings a smile.

We were an ambitious lot, and some were already fairly accomplished for their ages. That’s Washington for you—even in your twenties, you could see who might be a future leader, and who was whip-smart. But did we envision Jon becoming such a mega-star? I certainly didn’t.

In the early 1990s, a few years after we stopped doing summer rentals—people were moving away, getting married, having children—some of us gathered for a weeklong reunion in Bethany. Jon came, armed with a VHS tape of a new comedy segment he was working on, I believe for MTV. It was an exciting time for him—shortly after that, he’d be a finalist to take over David Letterman’s position (a job he lost to Conan O’Brien). Even then, maybe because it’s hard to imagine someone you know as a celebrity, I never predicted the heights to which he’d rise.

We were so young then, in our twenties, with so much of our lives ahead. This was before spouses and kids and mortgages, before deaths that came too soon, and before international fame and Twitter missteps. Not to say those days were all idyllic—your twenties come with their own set of challenges, usually involving money or romance. But looking back now, my biggest concern was often not big at all: getting to the beach house early enough on a Friday night—many of us drove there after happy hour at the Fox and Hounds in Dupont Circle—to get a bed for the weekend. (Although, I do recall some men gallantly sacking out on the floor to give a woman a bed.)

I once asked Jon why he had changed his name—he was born Jon Stuart Leibowitz. He said it was after he had auditioned for someone who cracked, “Great, another Jewish comedian.” I don’t know if that's true; maybe it was a joke. The beach-house crew included some very sharp, quick wits—of which I admit I was not one. Even then, it was fun for me to sit back and be part of the audience. And laugh. A lot.

Posted at 11:09 AM/ET, 08/07/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Good thing the pope is as media-savvy as his followers. By Elissa Miolene
Photo by Giulio Napolitano / Shutterstock.com.

Erik Salmi is not who you would expect to work at the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the charity group that will be hosting Pope Francis during his visit in September. He is young, tall, and blond—but bringing in the unexpected seems to be exactly what the current pontiff is all about.

In the two-plus years since his election, Pope Francis has become a globally popular figure for his personality and humanity, qualities that his predecessor, Bendict XVI, often seemed to lack. He also has a very active social media presence—qualities that have spurred the Archdiocese of Washington to get people engaged in the papal visit through routes outside the church's traditional methods.

Catholics in DC are pledging to “Walk With Francis" by participating in a social media and charity campaign they are hoping will go viral.

Participants can sign up in three ways: One option is pledging to pray regularly; another is to volunteer with charitiable or service-based organizations. The third is to engage in direct advocacy or action, with the end goal of "promoting human life and dignity." People can submit a pledge on Salmi's website, and tweet their contributions using the hashtag #WalkWithFrancis.

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Posted at 10:41 AM/ET, 08/07/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Photographs by Hong Le.

The goats are back at Historic Congressional Cemetery. For the second time in the graveyard's history, 30 goats, hailing from a farm in Sunderland, Maryland, will graze the weeds, brush, and bushes of 1.6 acres of wooded area surrounding the burial grounds, providing the cemetery with an environmentally friendly—and not to mention adorable and furry—method for foliage control.

Browsing Green Goats, owned by family-run farm Prosperity Acres in Sunderland, supplies the animals to the cemetery, as well as to other historic sites that could be damaged through the use of traditional mowing machines and herbicides. The goats, which first trimmed the graveyard in 2013, are funded by an anonymous donor.

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Posted at 03:59 PM/ET, 08/06/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A conservative website seeks to advance the news, not comment on it. By Andrew Beaujon
Illustration by Jeffrey Everett.

If the measure of a conservative publication is how bonkers it makes members of the media, the Washington Free Beacon, a three-year-old news website, has been a spectacular success.

David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, has called it a “dumping ground for Republican opposition research.” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf torched its “flawed, soulless mission.” In June, after the Beacon charged that a New York Times scoop about Marco Rubio bore the fingerprints of Democratic oppo trolls, the newspaper declined the Beacon’s request for comment, noting its record of responding to “serious inquiries.”

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Posted at 06:00 AM/ET, 08/06/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()