Saturday, October 28, 2006

What do to? Career Confusion

I don't know whether to go to law school. I am not that interested in the Letter of the Law, the law for law's sake. I think law is necessary, not exciting theory. In fact, I wonder whether those juris doctors who think of law as a theoretical game rather than a practical matter understand the responsibility with which they are charged.

With this in mind, I think law school makes sense for me insofar as it could help me in a peripheral career like policy and problem solving in general--for instance, devising health policy. The problem is, I do not know whether it will. In D.C., it seems like everyone who has professional aspirations is a lawyer or plans to go to law school. Thus, the degree seems practical. This perhaps makes for a skewed perspective.

I also wonder whether law makes for a happy career. There seems to be a slew of books that suggest otherwise, or at least caution the prospective law student to think hard about the decision. Many books seem to suggest that well-meaning people who go into law are often the most let down because of what the practice of law has become. Now, I don't suggest that this should scare people away--ideally, a well-meaning person could have some influence on a profession and find some way to make it more palatable; but I know that it does not always work this way.

One delusion I admit to harboring is that any form of education should be intellectually stimulating. From what I have heard, law school, does not always meet these expectations. To put that in perspective any kind of pre-professional education is bound to get into less interesting territory.

More on this in coming entries...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Swarm of Type As

My biggest fear when riding the D.C. Metro on a daily basis during rush hour has to do with the crowds. I suppose people in Beijing and Tokyo are unphased by it, but when masses of people pour out of trains onto subway platforms, I get scared. Maybe this is because I've never seen people navigate a subway system with such intensity. For instance, not a day goes by where I don't see people making a mad dash from an escalator to a platform to catch a train, even when another one is a mere three minutes behind it. Not a day goes by when I don't imagine my transfer at L'Enfant Plaza from the blue or orange line to the yellow or green line to end in entrapment, with me being moved backward by the oncoming crowd of people that are trying to go the opposite direction, with little path for me to move against the crowd.

In my view there are two reasons for the intimidating D.C. subway crowds:

(1) The business and government districts are in a very compact, dense area; moreso than a larger city like New York or Chicago. Thus, more people are forced to interact in a smaller place.

(2) D.C. is the most Type A city in America.

So, one of the two above conclusions is probably a little easier to prove than the other, but I think I can make a fair case for both. D.C. is a city where a sizable amount of professionals gather: lawyers, politicians, etc. The types of people who fill these jobs tend to be overachievers. The young people who fill the jobs that assist the professionals--interns, legal assistants, consultants, etc.--also tend to be overachievers. Overachievers of course are Type A personalities. They are not known for stopping to smell the roses. I consider myself more Type A than Type B, but I like to stand on an escalator every once in awhile rather than scale it at a demon pace so I can enjoy the book or magazine I'm reading, and I don't need to run to miss a train if I know the next one is only 2 minutes away--as it almost invariably is during rush hour.

As I have found, this is not the D.C. way. People like to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time possible. The problem is, when most people have this mentality, there is no one who will yield his right of way. There is no one to pause and say, wait a minute, I'm going to let this frenzied man behind me pass me because he cares more about getting where he's going quickly. The people who yield, who think beyond shaving a few minutes down from their commute--the Type Bs--are just as useful as the Type As. Don't get me wrong, I think everyone should abide by typical subway protocol: stand on right side of escalator, walk on right; move towards the center of the train so you don't block people from getting in; have your ticket ready when you get to the turnstyles.

Perhaps the fact that I think so devotedly about train protocol makes me part of the swarm of Type As. I won't deny it. I'm just a little scared that there are so few Type Bs.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Words from the wise Zach Braff

The great thing about the Internets is that anyone can have a blog, and some celebrities, not content with merely being plastered all over supermarket periodicals and being sucked up to on Leno, have joined the exhibitionist fun. One of the most egregious examples of a celeb convinced that the masses want nothing more than to pick his brain is Zach Braff. Here are some examples of his pensive insights:
Hi. I know it has been awhile, but I have been uber busy. I lost my voice this week. I quite literally couldn’t speak; which is incredibly frustrating if you’ve ever had it happen to you. I was feeling very sorry for myself and then I saw “True Life: I’ve Got Tourettes” on MTV and I felt horrible for ever feeling shitty in my life- ever! I know it’s all relative, but man, I felt so bad for this girl. It truly made me stop and thank who’s ever in charge for not giving me Tourettes Syndrome. I like that show; it’s really well done.

So in sum--and this is really interesting--Zach Braff was feeling bad for himself because he lost his voice. However, he put it all in perspective when he saw an awful MTV show.
He seems so down to earth, and he really cares about people. Plus, he watches the same crappy shows I watch, but he's DEEP. He signs off from his blog "peace and also love, zb." Awesome. Signing things "peace" is the sign of cool.

Zach Braff also proves that he is okay with criticism and that he likes to push the limits, to be edgy. He's not going to sugarcoat things, as he says in defense of his most recent movie, The Last Kiss:
To those who didn't like it, your comments are welcome too. It is not a movie for everyone, and it is most certainly not a "crowd pleaser". It is however the kind of movie that interests me.

Maybe people just didn't like The Last Kiss because it is trite and melodramatic, as the previews seem to indicate. Or, as Braff suggets, maybe they can't handle the truth. Braff isn't going to abandon the uncomfortable, fortunately:
And the next film I'm thinking about directing, "Open Hearts" is so dark it'll make "The Last Kiss" feel like "Naked Gun". I always want to be trying new things; that's the fun of being creative. I'm sure you all can relate.

Here, in another entry, Braff urges fans to see The Last Kiss right away in a tone more appropriate to urging people to vote or volunteer for a cause:

Dear Friends,

Alas the day has come! At midnight tonight (thursday), "The Last Kiss" officially opens. If you can, please go check it out this first weekend; it makes a huge difference as to how long the film will get to stay in theaters.

And look, Zach Braff uses cool slang:

Hey all, Just arrived in Boston after a day in Chicago pimping out the Last Kiss.

Zach Braff is a pimp!

Although every blog entry by Braff appears to be an advertisement of his insignificance and utter unoriginality, he gets hundreds of comments per entry. Sad indeed.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I do enjoy the District

Last time we spoke, I was not crazy about Washington, District of Columbia. I will say, now I am. I think it is one of the top ten cities to which I have been. Paris is still #1, but D.C. is up there. Here's why:
1. World Class museums
2. not too big
3. not too small
4. smart people

This is really all I need in a city, but let's add one more key requirement

5. Outstanding public transport (which makes sense, because the nation's capital caters to tourists and gets money from the federal government every so often...)
I can elaborate on this more later...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In Kansas, Former Republicans Leave Their Party

Why, in a solidly Republican state, are Republicans defecting en masse to the Democratic Party to run in 2006?

I want to work on relevant issues and not on a lot of things that don't matter.

The Kansas GOP has also moved so far to the right that lifelong Republicans have become somewhat alienated from the more recent conservative zeal of their party, but as the man quoted above implies, it is true that being a Republican today means shying away from real issues. Part of this must owe to the fact that Republican policy ideas aren't in tune with what more Americans want.

Enough NoVa v. RoVa

One thing that annoys me to no end are tired, hackneyed, red state versus blue state stereotyping. New York Times columnist David Brooks is especially good at this predictable routine of tarring cityfolk with charges of NPR listening and foreign film watching while framing countryfolk as old-fashioned, hunting outdoorsmen who also happen to have embraced American bix box chains like Wal-mart and Home Depot, unlike their elitist neighbors to the North.

The Washington Post takes part in this Brooksian exercise in today's paper, comparing Northern Virginia or NoVa to RoVa, or Rest of Virginia. According to recent polls, NoVa is more liberal than the rest of Virginia, which is not a surprise; however, the Post's writers equate this automatically with certain consumer preferences and behaviors that are more indicative of this particular writer's sense of the economic and socio-cultural differences between people who live in the two regions than any true reflection of NoVa's liberal or RoVa's conservative disposition. For instance, how does having Cracker Barrel rather than Crate & Barrel make RoVa less liberal? How does reading Lord Alfred Tennyson--"In RoVa, they like freshly killed venison. In NoVa, they like Alfred, Lord Tennyson"--make NoVa less conservative?

Yes, this article is merely supposed to be funny, and though it fails to do that, it also propogates a more insidious and just plain cliched strain of political analysis that groups liberals as well-off, sophisticated city people who have gone too far astray from the respectable simplicities of a life in the country to view it as anything less than uncivillized. Never mind that rural areas of this country are rarely the pastoral farm towns of yore that people--usually city folk like Brooks and this WaPo writer--imagine.

This article comes on the same day that the Washington Post endorsed Democrat Jim Webb for U.S. Senate, for several good reasons, one being the belief that he will pay more attention to Virginia--Northern Virginia--than has George Allen. Allen, a native Californian, has decided that his political posture relies upon him seeming like an ol' Southern Virginia boy and therefore has frozen out the economically important North. As the Post says:
Mr. Allen has accomplished little for his state's most dynamic region, Northern Virginia. Other Republican members of Virginia's congressional delegation -- Sen. John W. Warner and Reps. Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf -- have played vital roles in advancing transit and other priorities while Mr. Allen was busy grooming himself for a possible 2008 presidential race.

This is useful commentary about NoVa.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bad Analogy, Chicago Tribune

I think it took living in D.C. for a couple months to solidify for me just how sensational the Chicago Tribune has gotten. It is still no New York Post or Chicago Sun Times, but it is no Washington Post or New York Times, either. It's no wonder too, given that the Tribune's parent company, the Tribune Company's main priorities seem to be in downsizing the staff as opposed to upgrading the news quality. Although the editorial page is not necessarily an indicator of bad journalism--just look at the disparity between the well-reported news in the Wall Street Journal and its more shrill and often mendacious editorial page, as one example--a look at the Tribune's editorial page may put some perspective on how some of its sensational reporting gets past the bosses.

Take today's endorsement of Tony Peraica for Cook County Board President: the Tribune indicts the "sorry" Cook County government for having a budget of 3.1 billion, saying that it is "bigger than those of many states." This comment is extremely misleading considering that Cook County, with a population of 5,303,683, is in fact bigger than many states. The massive County includes not only the city of Chicago but many of Chicago's suburbs (including my hometown and my university's town). There are 31 states (32, including Puerto Rico) with a population less than Cook County's. Granted, I agree with the Tribune that Todd Stroger appears to be relying on alarmist tactics to beat Tony Peraica, but the paper's editorial page negates its own reliability in analyzing Cook County politics if it cannot avoid such a blatantly simplistic and misleading analogy.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Facebook Profile Candidates

Now that it's a little chillier here in D.C. (if the low 50s can really be referred to as chilly), it is most decidedly election season. In this city, everyone seems to know the latest in election-related news, but with such wacky and bizarre incidents as the Foley Scandal and the Allen Gaffes, the rest of the nation seems to have become interested as well. However, it should be noted that with many voters saying Iraq is one of the most important issues to them in the upcoming elections, it appears that people aren't simply paying attention due to a salacious (and also troubling) scandal.

With this in mind, I have to give Facebook a thumbs up for having candidate profiles. It really augments their Web 2.0 cred, allowing Facebook users--mostly college students, recent college grads, and high school students--to connect with their favored candidated. Some candidates have taken advantage of this platform to come off as personable and relatable. Democratic Senatorial Candidate Jim Webb of Virginia actually lists his favorite music--Johnny Cash and Tom Petty--and favorite movies--Cool Hand Luke and Year of Living Dangerously. Perhaps Webb's tastes are too well matched with the campaign persona--or maybe the campaign persona comes from the rugged tastes. Webb also has updated his Facebook status, a feature that was introduced earlier this year that resembles an away message. Currently "Jim is very disappointed, but supportive of Mark Warner’s decision not to run in 2008."

The candidates who are actively participating with Facebook are reaching out to younger voters, an often ignored constituency because of their perceived and real apathy. The activity on many of the candidates' message boards suggest that us young people are interested--as we should be--and that reaching out through Web 2.0 technology is a great way to harness that interest. I'll be interested to see if it results in an increase in 18-24 year olds' voting.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

State of Denial Vs. Learning from Mistakes

Just one more comment about today's politics. One of the greatest accomplishments in Presidential history was the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which President John F. Kennedy was able to keep the military brass at bay to prevent a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. This achievement owes to Kennedy's amazing ability to learn from past mistakes, namely, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, as chronicled in Richard Reeves's President Kennedy: Profile of Power--and I'm sure other places as well. The root of learning from one's mistakes is admitting when one was wrong. Kennedy had it, George W. Bush apparently does not. From what I am reading about Bob Woodward's new book State of Denial, and from what I have seen over the years, Bush wants to feel like he's right even if he is not. This seems to explain why there are so many problems with how the war in Iraq was executed and how it has been managed. If a President is unwilling to admit there are problems with his strategy--and this is inevitable--how can he do his job well?

How Low Can They Go?

Why am I quoting a Chubby Checker song about limbo? Because after watching a roundup of Sunday talk shows, I am amazed at how low the Republicans have gone in trying to defend themselves in the Mark Foley cover-up. It was clear from Republican Congressman Adam Putnam's performance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulous," for instance, that the Republicans are out of ideas. All Putnam and his ilk can muster is "death tax," "Democrat party," etc. Their attempt to pin the Foley scandal on the Democrats--I still am unclear what their reasoning is here--would be rankling if it weren't so laughably predictable. What can a party that has survived on fear and lies possibly do other than try to demonize the other side?

My hope is that a more civil, truthful politics will come from the likely Democratic wins in November. The fundamental inability of the Republicans to take responsibility I believe has crept into the toxic equation that our country turns to when a problem comes up: blame someone else, obfuscate, fail to revise priorities. In Adminsitration-fueled problemes as evident as Hurricane Katrina and the War in Iraq and as less immediately evident as our country's crumbling infrastructure, under-funded education system, and wageless economic recovery the Republican way of dealing with these problems has been to deflect blame and to lie about facts, all the while trying to change the focus to issues that have less impact on most Americans such as gay marriage and flag burning. It will be a relief if, come November, this venomous politics that we have become so accustomed to is swept out with the detritus of the Mark Foley scandal and the lies about Iraq.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Hater and its Number One Target, Zach Braff

I have found my long lost twin, and she writes the A.V. Club's Hater blog. Granted, she's a little more in the know about pop culture than I, but her hilarious send-ups of celebrities--namely, the walking pet peeve, Zach Braff--are, as James Lipton would say (or maybe Will Ferrell's James Lipton would say) a delight! I have to thank John for showing me the light. It's common for people to be snarky about celebrities, but "fighting the good fight"--as one of the commenter's put it--against the eminently popular Braff is a cut above the average celebrity snark blog. Zach Braff's emo-quirky schtick is our generation's one-trick pony, less discernible than campy gimmicks of the past like Gary Coleman's "What you' talkin' 'bout Willis?" or Dwayne from "What's Happenin'"'s "Hey, hey, hey!" but still without originality or skill. Don't fall for the quirkiness! Don't doo it! And, check out this great clip, the quintessential Braff movie.

The Height of Partisanship

Just a brief comment on the Mark Foley episode that is roiling the House Republicans: the fact that these same people could get so worked up as to cost taxpayers 6.2 to 7 million dollars to investigate a consensual affair between two adults and meanwhile refuse to investigate a member of their own party who was sexually preying on teens puts these representatives at the height of partisanship. As Harold Myerson says,
After all, in not sharing what he knew about Foley with [Rep. Dale] Kildee [of Michigan, the only Democrat on the House Ethics Committee] Shimkus was merely following the Republicans' practice of cutting the other party out of all legislative deliberations and running the House of, by and emphatically for themselves.

The partisanship that fueled this cover-up is even more glaring when compared to how the House dealt with similar allegations in the 1980s, when, as Joseph Califano says, "the House could clean itself." Any attempt to paint their critics as partisan just indicates again how corrupt, cronyist, and unethical the House Republicans are for failing to realize just how much they breached the public's trust. The game of hot potato that members like Reynolds, Shimkus, Hastert, and Boehner are now engaged in represents yet another instance of the Republicans' failure to live by their supposed creed of taking personal responsibility.