Archive for the ‘DC’ Category

Come, that’s Capital! or, harbingers of wasted time pt II

October 6, 2009

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance, that keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of arcane issues.

– some interview with Chomsky


I can’t claim to have any information or understanding about this topic, but I am experiencing a peculiar strain of nationalism: Capitals mania.

Last season the rag tag Mighty Ducks Capitals went up against their hated enemies the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were sleek, clad in black, mechanically precise with their movements on the ice. The Caps were clad in American flag colors, full of gusto and charm, if perhaps rough around the edges. So obviously this confrontation was sufficiently sports-movie-esque to get me interested in sports for pretty much the first time ever.

Now hockey season has begun anew and the Post recently published a magnificently detailed NHL page to get suckers like me primed for it. Hockey has even entered my morning routine: once I look through the style and front page sections of the Post, I head right down to sports for Tarik el-Bashir’s daily Capitals updates. Will newly acquired veteran Mike Knuble work out as planned? Will Ovechkin continue live up to the ever-escalating hype? Eep!


The Fiscal Problem of Being Washington, DC

February 3, 2009

“Washington, DC: America’s visible, invisible city. Actually two cities; one rich, one poor. One with power, another relatively powerless. It’s white, it’s black, it’s there…but it’s not.”
— Anthony Bordain (from a particularly good episode of No Reservations)

Public policy matters!

I sometimes find myself in the curious position of having to defend this idea from those who would dismiss government as a sham and policy as, “some kind of dodge, or hussle.” Of course I do have sympathy for these folks, because the State tends to be violent and oppressive and there is a good body of evidence to suggest that government is not particularly good at solving social problems. However, there *are* real gains in human happiness that can be achieved by tweaking bad policy into good.

Dr. Alice M. Rivlin from The Brookings Institution has provided a poignant example. (it’s a PDF)

The gist of the chapter is that DC can’t collect taxes for income earned within its borders by non-residents, creating a kind of tax haven for the federal government and those who provide goods and services to said government. These people are the rich (and white) who tend to work within DC but for the most part live outside of it. The District then finds itself cash strapped and unable to provide basic services to its largely poor, black population.

Why is DC so messed up? Rivlin estimates that it misses out on 2/3rds of its revenue base! That might have something to do with it!

The pecuniary problems of the District have been apparent to me at least since I started middle school. I would carpool in from the outskirts to go to a Catholic school in Northeast and every day I would see the obvious signs of poverty as we went eastward. You just don’t expect to see urban decay and de facto segregation in the capitol of the richest country in the world. Indeed the whole reason I was making this trek was to avoid the notorious DC public education system — which is only one aspect of the District’s creaking infrastructure.

It’s snowing as I write this. I like winter’s haunting beauty as much as the next guy, but it is annoying to know that the DC side of Western Avenue will not be plowed for days while the Montgomery County side gets the royal treatment…


January 23, 2009

It goes without saying that DC was the place to be over Inauguration weekend. I rarely feel that way about this city…but yeah. Lots of fun was had by all.

On Wednesday afternoon (after the dust settled) I was on my way back from campus huddled in a bus shelter trying to avoid the biting wind. I found myself leaning against a mural size Pepsi ad celebrating President Obama. I’ve seen similar Coke ads around; granted the Coke versions don’t mention the President, but they’re clearly in the same “inspirational” mode borrowed from his campaign. Now I think it’s a tremendous bulwark to President Obama’s reputation as a centrist that he’s made the two super rich multinational purveyors of sugar water unite in their adulation of him. But I also think there’s more than a touch of irony in the fact that big corporations apparently love him as much as us young left leaners!

So here I was contemplating the marketing wizardry behind Obama when one of my neighbors randomly spotted me and pulled up in her car.

“Hey! Good day today!” she proclaimed.
“Yeah, it’s not as cold as yesterday…” came my unassuming reply.
“…well, that was yesterday….” I attempted humor.
“OBAMA! YEAH!” she yelled, driving away.

My first impulse was to scoff.

But then I paused for a second and it just finally clicked that the highest office in the land is no longer occupied by an aristocratic, dithering, “ethically challenged”, bible thumping, borderline retarded OIL INDUSTRY PUPPET! It’s like waking up from a nightmare — it takes a few moments to comprehend that it’s all over.

Personally I think that the political system is too slow to react, and its participants too reluctant to challenge corporate power, for there to be a viable avenue away from ecological ruin.

Still, it feels pretty great to have a President who can at least make you believe that he *understands* the issues that are important to you. And just based on what my friends in other countries think of him, perhaps Obama does have a chance at repairing the American image abroad and actually engaging the US with the fledgling institutions of international cooperation that we really need to make this “green” shit meaningful.

Nothing fundamental has changed about the way “the system” (man!) works.

But it’s pretty great nonetheless.

Bookstores make me happy

January 8, 2009

I’ve been on winter break for the past month or so, during which time I’ve observed a few things about myself.

First, I tend not to be terribly constructive with my free time!

Second, I like bookstores.

Discounting the recently (and tragically) defunct Olsson’s Books & Music on 19th St., there are three bookstores within a 3 block radius of each other in Dupont Circle. Now say whatever you like about DC, but a bookstore a block is a pretty impressive ratio if you like bookstores! And while you would be quite right to suppose that Dupont is not a representative sample of the entire District, it turns out that DC is a pretty bookstore dense environment over all. The city occupies number 12 on the list of US locales with the most booksellers per capita. Of course we’re lagging behind hippie hangouts like San Francisco, Seattle and Portland…no surprise there I suppose…but there are some wildcards in there too. Cincinatti? Louisville? Scottsdale, AZ?? Hmph.

At any rate, I worked in the Dupont area on and off for much of the past semester and I’ve noticed that each of the three bookstores in question have a particular style to them. Kramer’s Books and Afterwords is, of course, the most tasteful and expensive of the three. I usually take visitors there because it’s like getting a little whiff of the nightlife without having to actually socialize or buy drinks. The staff must spend a lot of time choosing books for the front display section specifically for people like me, since I always want to read everything I see whenever I walk in there. The problem — the fatal flaw of Kramer’s — is that, much as I want to read these books, they don’t provide me with anywhere to get busy doing so! Unless you buy a coffee or a dessert or other value-added item, you are barred from sitting down. They even look askance at you if you stand there too long, there being little room for loafers in the Kramer’s universe.

So I go to Second Story Books on P st, which is a completely different vibe. They house an enormous collection of used books, prints, and other dust covered items in amusingly haphazard piles. They have so many books that there’s a handwritten divider denoting an entire section on the history of Thailand. Not that Thailand’s history is a narrow topic, but it’s certainly not a broad based category either. And the fact that the category label is handwritten reinforces the sense of flux, like nobody really cares about these books because the stock is always changing. Second Story is like one of those library clearence sales, where the books seem desirable because they look kind of kooky and worn and because they’re so cheap — so you buy them, but you never actually read them. There’s no place to sit, but nobody will object if you sit on the floor whittling away at a pile of obscure volumes…the general attitude is that if you’re actually interested in this stuff, then you have a right to be there.

Now my favorite of the trio is Books-a-Million. It’s a spacious, florescent-lit, basement store peddling mostly best seller swill and possessing neither the trendiness of Kramer’s or the bookworm appeal of Second Story. Like the Crown Books at the airport, it’s honest about being second rate. And it’s not independent — it’s corporate capitalism to the bone. My inner Anthony Hopkins from 84 Charring Cross Road is angry at me for hanging out there. (I remind him that this would only be an issue were I to actually spend money there.) Still, it has a decisive advantage over the other two, i.e. a good number of comfy chairs. In all of its soullessness, the corporate machine works in my favor because the staff have all seen the mandatory customer service video and they won’t harass me for sitting in said chairs and reading comics for however long I please! Much like Dunkin’ Donuts in the world of coffee, Books-a-Million is reliable, it’s pedestrian, it’s not half bad. Bookstores make me happy, and one where you can sit and unabashedly enjoy Sandman or whatever else, makes me particularly happy.