Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Where goes quality of life?

According to an article printed the other day, U.S. wages are not keeping up with productivity--that is, wages for the majority of workers:
The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

Top executives are still doing quite well:
At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.

Basically, something about the way our country's economy is being managed is creepingly failing to reward the U.S. worker for working. Yet, isn't this what America is all about?

News like this is hardly a surprise. Of course, the fact that inflation is increasing adds insult to injury (not to mention more injury). The joke of all of this is that Republicans want to pass this off as a good economy because there is growth. One of the worst things a politician can be accused of is being out of touch, and it is an accusation Republicans have hurled at Democrats unapologetically over the years. Yet, anyone who would suggest our's is a great economy is woefully out of touch.

Living in an expensive city has really driven home for me how increasingly unaffordable a decent quality of life is. I'm not talking about a yuppy quality of life. I'm talking about simple things like living in working, comfortable living quarters that are an hour or less from one's place of work and avoiding getting into debt--a potentially debilitating state, especially for a younger person--in the process.

Yet, there is no shortage (yet) of luxury condos and apartments and no shortage of expensive restaurants and car dealerships and clothes stores, etc. Someone has to be getting richer--or perhaps, the already-rich are accumulating more wealth. In the meantime, everyone else is getting used to living lives of increasing inconvenience: with traffic, with expensive fuel prices, with being crunched for time (because we are so busy being productive at work!), etc. Improvements to quality of life are being stymied by politicians who do not want to do anything about infrastructure and public transportation, energy policy, pension reform, health care reform, and so on.

It seems this is the perfect moment for politicians--the ones who have an interest in the public good, that is (I don't have high hopes for the rest of them!)--to reevaulate the priorities we have set for ourselves. The era of Reagan selfishness and Bush even-more-selfishness is blindly dragging on by virtue of who is in power, though its values (or lack thereof) do not seem to represent the sentiments of most Americans.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stories and Citations

I recommend that everyone do a Google search of themselves at some point. You never know what you'll find. For one thing, my Google search of "Elaine Meyer" yields as the number one web hit the site, revealing that not only has someone else claimed my name as her domain (it helps her case that she happens to be named Elaine Meyer, as well), but that the more amazing feat of being mentioned in the Northwestern Observer isn't recognized by that site being the most highly visited of those that include the term "Elaine Meyer."

That's right, I got a mention here and a flattering description as a "new graduate" who "influenced" Barack Obama's Northwestern Commencement Speech. That is definitely a little generous but cool.

Elsewhere on the web, I found that someone quoted me in a blog about the New York Times' recent article on female versus male performance in college. The blog is called BlogHer, apparently about women's issues with a roundup of women bloggers' opinions on various stories.

Okay, self-promotion over, or, as an html nerd would put it .

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Thanks but No Thanks

One thing I don't presume to do is give advice to Republicans. As a Democrat, any advice I would offer would be laced with wistful thinking, such as suggesting the GOP be more honest with voters about Iraq to address Americans' skepticism about our presence there and the chaos it has wrought. I would not suggest that my sense of what the GOP should do would be the best strategic approach for the party, though it would be nice if telling the truth and focusing on good leadership were inherently winning issues.

Why then are members of the GOP presuming to give advice to Democrats about the Ned Lamont-Joe Lieberman matchup? After all, isn't their own interest in the race fueled by a conflict of interest, which is that their favorite Democrat, Joe Lieberman, faces a viable threat at the polls? Even Repulican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman and Bush and his press secretary, former Fox News guy Tony Snow have jumped into the frey.

For the worst example of unhelpful Republican commentary, check out David Brooks's pieces on the subject, the most recent in which he actually tries to compare Ned Lamont to Tom DeLay, from whom Brooks and fellow Republicans are trying to distance themselves faster than ABC did from Mel Gibson. Brooks is ironically inspired enough by the divisions his president exacerbated by invading Iraq to term Ned Lamont's approach as the "Sunni-Shiite style of politics."

Suddenly, according to Brooks, a "McCain-Lieberman" party is the answer, because the two are not polarizing political forces--except they are. John McCain is to the left only of Attila the Hun and Dick Cheney. That hardly means that he is not an extremist of the type Brooks ostensibly depolores. Joe Lieberman may be good at working with Republicans, but he has proven himself increasingly unable to work with his former party, the Democrats, even as they have been at their most united in recent memory on issues like the Iraq War.

It is moreover laughable but also typical that Brooks deigns himself a credible representative of the American voter who he assures wants a new style of politics that can only be encompassed by Joe Lieberman and John McCain, though Lieberman and McCain are hardly breaths of fresh hair, having served in the Senate for a combined 36-years. Brooks further writes off Democratic primary voters as "flamers" of "pulverizing rhetoric," rather than just plain old engaged citizens who are likely some of the most devoted participants in U.S. politics. To their detriment, these citizens do not vote how Brooks would like them to and therefore are part of a "jihad." (As you can see, Brooks goes a little overboard with the political Muslim metaphors).

Maybe I would appreciate David Brooks's political advice if I were a Republican, but the presumption of his coverage of the Lamont-Lieberman election, which is that he knows what is best for the Democratic party--and in a year when Republicans are poised to face great challenges from voters for their last six years of leadership, no less--is laughable. I would suggest that Brooks's time would be better spent advising his own party via his New York Times pulpit how to address the American people's concerns with their failed leadership rather than telling Ned Lamont and other Democrats how to lay down and roll over for the Republicans. Thanks but no thanks for the advice, David Brooks.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

D.C. is Not Bad

I realize that my previous posts about D.C. make it look as if I hate this city. Au contraire, there are many things I actually like about the District, and it does not help my cause that I've been here for a mere two weeks.

One thing I do like about D.C. is that it reminds me of Paris a bit. The low buildings and the big boulevards of Pierre L'Enfant are of course part of it. Also, there are certain "squares," like the one between 7th and 8th on F Street (across from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro) that are remniscent of the big squares in Paris like the ones at L'Opera and the Bourse. D.C. still seems newer than Paris, and rightly so, but it is nice to be walking along in an American city and be reminded of my favorite European one.

I also appreciate the size of D.C. One thing I got caught up in at first was feeling like I needed to live in The District, and though it is a bit more urban there, by living in Arlington, I am a mere five to ten minute train ride from D.C. nightlife and downtown D.C. In Chicago or New York, one can live within the city limits and still be a good thirty minute train ride from the downtown, if not more. With D.C.'s small size, of course, comes a lot of suburban development, but I can't say D.C. is any worse than Chicago in that regard, though I admit I haven't been out to scary places like Tyson's Corner and the Dulles-area yet.

So the moral of this post is, I like D.C. It seems like a great place to live.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

First Visit to Costco

I think the best way to explain this momentous event is by listing my purchases in no particular order:

-1 giant bag of Pita Chips for approximatelly 6.00
-Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Fifth Season for approximately 24.00
-3 jars of Newman's Own marinara sauce for 5.79
-2 camisoles for 10
-1 giant cereal box of Newman's Own Blueberry Macadamia Nut cereal

Thanks to my Aunt's membership, I was afforded this bargain of a shopping trip plus a hotdog and beverage for a mere 1.50. It is an odd place that sells hummus and pants under the same roof, but I'll take it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mel Gibson is also a Republican

If I needed anymore reason not to be a fan of Mel's, it turns out he is a Republican:

The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor on Wednesday lambasted Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade, distancing himself further from the actor-director a day after his campaign said it would no longer use a fundraising letter written by Gibson.

I think the funniest thing to come out of this event; however, is Mel's odd way of harassing a female police officer, calling her "sugar tits." I would say that Mel dates himself with a phrase like that, but I don't know that "sugar tits" is a remnant of any era. All I can hope will result from this episode is that Mel will give up attempting to make serious movies.

You're on Notice!

Pretty cool, eh? My own personal On Notice board. Make your own!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

D.C. is a Foreign Land

If I had cool blogger technology that allowed me to categorize my posts, I would categorize this under "Weird Things About D.C." and make it an ongoing list. In some ways, I feel more a foreigner here than I did in France, but I believe this is in part because I was prepared to be foreign in France and also because I don't know who the natives are here, in part because there aren't many natives. Anyway, without further adue are what I find particularly odd about this city. This list will be open-ended for future updates.

  • Never-ending escalators. I read on the whyhatedc blog that the Dupont Circle escalator was broken the other day. There's nothing wrong with walking up stairs, in fact it's great exercise, but try climbing this at 7:30 AM:
  • Happy Hours. I thought it was just called "going out for drinks." Here, going out for a bit after work is called a happy hour.
More to come, I'm sure.

Commuters Everywhere

If someone had taken me from one of the Chicago El's Loop stations and then plunked me right down in the D.C. transportation hub, Metro Center, I would have guessed that D.C. was the city with nearly 3 million residents and Chicago the city with 580 thousand--not the other way around. On the website I referenced in an earlier blog, whyihatedc, the blog's authors complain about the brusque nature of D.C. commuters, people who they say are unconcerned about nothing but coming and going as fast as possible. This is definitely true, and I still don't understand why people here rush to catch a train if the next one is coming a mere few minutes later. However, I can understand why people would run into each other quite frequently in the hub Metro stations: because there are a ridiculous amount of us converging and transferring from one train line to another in the big stations like Metro Center, Gallery Place, and so on.

On the left is Metro Center, but one would be hard-pressed to differentiate it from every. other. subway station in this city. Tourists, service workers, and Important People bump into each other here.

In Chicago, people seemed more spread out. Even the El's Loop stations, which serve the metropolitan area's ostensible hub, do not seem terribly crowded at all. In fact, D.C. is an inverse of Chicago: as I walked down the streets today, past huge government buildings that take up whole city blocks, I saw few people. On the other hand, on any given day in the Loop at around 5:30, I would have seen many people on the streets, but not as many in the train station. This seems a weird thing to harp on, but I guess it is another thing I miss about Chicago: there is evidence of human life on the streets, evidence of people talking, laughing, and enjoying (unhealthy) food. Here in D.C., there is evidence of people rushing around from train to train. I'm a little sad that I was subjected to the Midwestern inferiority complex when I was growing up, because, besides its aged public transportation, there is a whole lot to appreciate about Chicago that is lacking in this city of Northern Charm.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

D.C., Day Three

My boredom combined with exhaustian and lack of anything better to do has brought me back to this blog. I'm afraid I'm already turning into what used to annoy me about some people from Northwestern. These people, almost always from New York City or California liked to tell you what was better about their hometown compared to Chicago. Whether it was In n' Out Burger or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the weather or the cool places to go out, the native Chicagoan was left feeling a little provincial next to this type.

Being in D.C.; however, has helped me appreciate a lot about Chicago (while still maintaining that it is better than New York--L.A. and San Francisco I'm not at all familiar with). For one thing, though I've always found Chicago almost endless in its length, I miss the amount of cool neighborhoods that its large land mass accomodated. D.C. is surprisingly small for a Nation's Capital.

The size alone isn't the problem, but the size combined with the socio-economic situation makes for a difficult housing market for someone like me. I remember reading an article last year in my Sociology of Crime class about cities and crime rates, and D.C.'s crime rate which is relatively high was explained in part by the bipolar socio-economic make-up of its residents. It seemed that people were either working professionals or part of an underclass employed in very low-paying jobs like food service and custodian work. There isn't much room here, the article said, for a socially mobile class. The housing market--with either luxury condos in sought-after neighborhoods in the Northwest part of the city or older, less-maintained homes in out of the way (and sometimes unsafe) areas of the city reflects this. The thought that one can live in a nice neighborhood of Chicago for 600-700 per month is pretty exciting in comparison.

So as I think about D.C., with its lack of a lake, its unbearable heat (though that is many places in the country right now), its bear of a housing market, and its hyper-yuppie neighborhoods, I have to respect my hometown. I'm afraid I will be a Chicago snob, if there is such thing. I feel like people out East have a hard time believing happiness can be found in the Midwest. It's just as well, it will keep the housing market sane.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Welcome to D.C.

I am just about 24-hours into my at least year-long residence in our nation's capital, and my curiosity about what it will be like to live here has brought be back to a blog I stumbled upon a couple of years ago. This blog has the provocative title, Why I Hate D.C., and it has me wondering about what I will like and dislike about living here.

As someone who knows D.C. somewhat well from having a lot of family here and from visiting a lot of the museums, monuments, and just walking around, I don't feel tremendously frightened--yet. At the same time, the tourist/visiting relative's impression of a city is different from the worker's impression.

One of the guest-bloggers sums up what he doesn't like in D.C. in strong words:

And finally, I just want to say that there are lots of things to hate about this city. They come in all shapes and sizes, all creeds and colors, all philosophies and theologies. But the one thing that unites them all is a soul-crushing lack of respect for other human beings, the elevation of status above all else.

It's an interesting monologue that might be worth reading, though it is also rather depressing. This is definitely different from Chicago where I came from and which I find a generally friendly city (save the driving) where jobs are often thought of as more a burden than a source of bragging rights. We'll see though, it should be an exciting year either way!