Monday, April 30, 2007

Giving myself and Eavsdrop D.C. shoutout

I just remembered that I had submitted two quotes to the blog Eavesdrop DC, which charitably posts lines that D.C. residents hear in passing that are generally unintentionally funny. Mine were posted a little while ago, but I forgot to check back until now. Well, here they are:

But the grass would be so whiny!

Guy to Woman friend in line at Murky Coffee in Clarendon: The floor here is so chic. They must have been like, how can we make this floor look chic? Let's strip off all of the tile. It's so emo. Hey, you know what I want? Emo grass. That stuff cuts itself.

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posted by EavesdropDC @ 11:51 AM 1 comments

Can’t get enough of your love, metro

Metrorail conductor with sensual Barry White-esque voice pulls his blue line train into Pentagon: "Pentagon."

Metrorail employee standing on platform: "Hey, you're sounding good."

Conductor: "Thanks, man. Keep it light."

--Pentagon Metro station

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posted by EavesdropDC @ 9:57 AM 0 comments

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Giving the North Shore a Bad Name

Blasts from the past are fun, especially when they remind you why you don't really miss the past all that much. I just came across the Facebook groups for my old high school and for the area in which it resided, the North Shore. First, I just have to thank my lucky stars that Facebook was not around in high school. Not only would it have eaten up more of my time, but it would have probably disenchanted me greatly. Case in point: the group dedicated to the North Shore. The description of the group embodies everything that people critcize about the area. It exhibits a vaguely ironic self-awareness--vaguely. The student(s) who wrote the description are clearly aware of the uglier perceptions about the North Shore but only seek to perpetuate them, which is unfortunate, especially as they come off sounding disgustingly entitled.

The first part of the description is fine, if not a little too boastful. Having movies filmed in the area is cool, but it's hard to get that excited about Risky Business being one of the most noted. The only North Shore-located movie I can be proud of among the otherwise forgettable string of John Hughes flicks set there is Robert Redford's Ordinary People. I digress. Most objectionable in the North Shore Facebook group is the way the area's perceived affluence and exclusivity is trumpeted: "As one of the most affluent areas in the nation, we have just about everything you could ever want -- and probably more." Even worse, the location is listed as "(The Good Parts of) Evanston to Lake Forest, IL." Personally, I'd rather be associated with some of the "bad" parts of Evanston than some of the toniest parts of Lake Forest.

(It's also somewhat mendacious for these girls to say that the North Shore is 20 minutes away from Chicago. The southernmost point in Wilmette is 20 minutes from the northernmost point of Chicago if you're driving late at night or early in the morning. Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, and Lake Forest are all at least 45-minutes away).

The ironic thing is that these folks champion their New Trier educations but appear to have absored nothing from them. People who effectively take credit for living in an appealing locale or attending an outstanding school are incredibly dense, unless they built the Greenbay bike trail or teach at New Trier, or maintain the beaches on Lake Michigan, or something. Usually, people who harbor these inflated views of their lot tend to have difficulty transitioning into jobs and sometimes even college, because they are so used to the entitlement of their first 18-years. Too bad this government increasingly rewards unearned wealth.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Review: Death of a President

Never has a movie filled me with such a feeling of dread as Death of a President, the chilling mockumentary that explores the morbid question of what would happen were George W. Bush assassinated. Splicing real footage together to depict the fatal assassination that follows a run-of-the-mill presidential appearance in front of business leaders in Chicago and the incredibly plausible reaction--an almost-immediate round-up of a suspect with a vague Al-Quaeda link who provides an excuse for new President Cheney (shudder) to go after dictatorship du jour Syria, the fortification and permanent passage of the Patriot Act, the idealization by political leaders of a late President Bush--Death of a President imparts the eeriness of living in a creeping surveillance state that is further egged on with each national tragedy.

Death of a President also paints a nuanced picture of the presidential assassin. The group of American presidential assassins and would-be assassins held idiosyncratic motives for their actions, almost invariably apart from the controversies of the day. In Death of a President, the most obvious suspect, the one whose motives so perfectly draw out the political issues of the day is immediately suspected, the unwitting victim of projection, in this case, of American society's need to bring feel-good closure to the war on terror.

The build-up to the assassination, featuring montages of a protest in Chicago's Loop with clips of a Bush speech on North Korea, is the least interesting sequence of this film. However, the denouement following the Bush assassination is gripping. Interviews with a Secret Service agent who bemoans the security hole that allows the assassination and with an overzealous but hesitant federal prosecutor seem realistic. The truth that eventually emerges about the assassination amounts to just the sort of tragedy caused by fighting in a war and untreated mental health conditions to which we are too accustomed. This one is definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Time to get back to gun control

As usual, it takes an act of morbid, deranged violence to get this country talking about its lax gun laws, and even then gun advocates use such an event to illogically bolster their case. (How often does a potential gun violence victim's own possession of a gun actually diffuse an attempted murder, as the NRA suggests it would have at Virginia Tech?). Indeed, the Virginia Tech shootings once again brought home how porous our gun laws are in the United States. That this most fatal weapon is easier to access than other regulated products like prescription medication, which is only potentially harmful to the person who buys the drug, not to an unrelated party, is disgraceful.

A background check into Cho Seung-Hui would have classified him as a "prohibited purchaser" of guns under existing federal law, according to the Brady Campaign. Too bad 40% of gun sales are not subject to background checks, or that, in the case of Cho Seung-Hui's purchase of two guns, one which, "in virtually every other country," is only available to police key information like Cho's mental health history was not available to the gun vendor. Even the background checks are flawed. As a recent New York Times article revealed, only 17 of 50 U.S. states check whether a potential gun purchaser has been "adjudicated as a mental defective" or involuntarily committed to a mental health center. (Though Virginia is one of those 17 states, reports suggest it does not enforce this standard with much bite).

There are those who say, as a representative from the Virginia Gun Owners Coalition does in this article, that a deranged person will somehow be able to scrounge up a gun; however, there is no compelling reason to believe this would have been the case for Cho because he obtained both of his guns through perfectly legal means. Moreover, media reports on his personality reveal an introverted, reserved young man, not necessarily the type of person who would seek an assault weapon through illegal means. Also, even if Cho had attempted to purchased a gun illegally, there is a chance Virginia Tech officials could have intercepted it, especially if he did it via a school Internet connection.

As Salon suggested recently, the Virginia Tech tragedy is an unwelcome clarion call to the Democrats to make their way back to their mid-1990s support of gun control laws. The rationale that Democrats lost key swing states like Arkansas and Tennesee in the 2000 presidential election because Al Gore alienated the pro-gun vote bloc has always struck me as problematic. For one, gun control has generally been supported by Americans, especially those in the country's suburbs and cities, and especially in light of the abnormal amount of gun violence that occurs in this country as compared with almost every other country.

Secondly, one can play the swing voter opportunity cost game with any group of people. For instance, I could prognosticate that George W. Bush would have picked up the key swing state of Pennsylvania in 2004 if he had appealed to pro-choice women who otherwise had Republican sympathies, but Bush would be abandoning what is (unfortunately) a core Republican party principle if he were to try and court this swing group. Basically, groups of swing voters emerge from the woodwork when you look for them. After 2000, many Democrats--several of whom I generally respect, like Jim Webb and Howard Dean--wanted to believe that they had lost pro-gun voters who otherwise supported Democratic party policies. Taken to its logical end, this approach to vote-getting leads to abandonment of core principles and the reign of highly subjective analysis of a party's interest by strategists.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Nixon Culture

Several books, a multitude of documentaries, one opera, and one college course later, my interest in late former President Richard Nixon does not wane. Neither, apparently, does the artistic community's. Last year I had the great luck to view a dress rehearsal of the widely-performed opera Nixon in China, which features an interesting, haunting, beautiful score. Nixon still stands out, in my opinion, as a rare tragicomic man in an era where leaders are seldom painted as momentous figures, and such a person is never more intriguingly explored than he is by a good artist (except maybe if explored by a good biographer).

Thus comes another installment in the saga of Nixon as art, the recently-New York debuted Frost/Nixon, depicting the series of interviews conducted by the British personality David Frost from 1977. I'm going to have to make a special trip to New York to see this one, not that it takes much to get me to New York, but the New York Times's review of the show, which is complete with a dramatic stage shot of a blown up, eerie Nixon bust--or what the Times reviewer Ben Brantley calls "some grotesque mythic creature in uncomfortable captivity"--is too tempting. Moreover, Frost/Nixon stars two acting greats, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen (aka the guy who always plays Tony Blair), who have both inhabited their share of political figures in performance roles, and it is written by Peter Morgan, screen author of last year's terrific examination of modern celebrity The Queen.

Still, I'm a little worried that Frost/Nixon will capture the Frost interviews with the easy knowingness of hindsight. It is tempting to view the build-up to such an event as if we already knew what was going to happen, and although from what I have read about the actual event, the Frost interviews were regarded as momentous by both sides, Frost did not seem to anticipate that he would have to trick Nixon into not evading answers, and Nixon did not seem to anticipate that Frost would treat the interviews as an opportunity to nail down the ex-president on the what did he know-when did he know chronology of Watergate. Unfortunately, the Times reviewer finds that Frost/Nixon indulges in hindsight bias:

Much of what happens behind the scenes, as Frost’s team prepares to take on the notoriously slippery Nixon, has an improbably na├»ve, college studentish air. (“Hey, guys, let’s put on a show to humiliate Tricky Dick.”)


And what a description of Langella's portrait of Nixon, which sounds like an apt incarantion of Nixon:

Throughout the production Mr. Langella’s Nixon has come across as a man of quick intellect, maudlin sentimentality, vulgar wit and studied social reflexes that have never acquired the semblance of natural grace. You are always aware of someone who struggles to conceal not only a defensive self-consciousness but also a cancerous anger and fear.


On another note, I've noticed in the last few years that there is an aching nostalgia for Nixon. Several scholars and observers of course have chronicled his progression, in the conventional historical view, from conservative lout to the last and most unappreciated New Deal/Great Society champion. Lest we forget, his penchant for invoking executive privilege to a constitutionally-endagering degree, which evokes a certain occupant of the White House whose tenure most of us have come to know and despise. Although Nixon himself may seem a more sympathetic figure than George W. Bush and the impact of Nixon's terms in office may not seem as bad as that of the Bush presidency--and the corruption of the current bunch is indeed unsurpassed--Nixon's lawlesness set the precedent for indiscriminate use of executive power. For that, we are foolish if we succumb to nostalgia--the simple belief that things were easier back then--and end up longing for another crook to replace the current one.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Advice, please

Something I fear most is that my desires are oblivious to that great caveat that "the grass is always greener on the other side." More specifically, I am afraid I will jump into a career about which I know little because those careers about which I know a fair amount seem daunting and uninteresting. This, I guess, is the existential worry that hovers around my interest in attending graduate school in journalism: I understand the career in broad terms but am not familiar with the headache aspects of the field.

A very wise person recently wrote this to me: in life, "we must make important decisions despite the obvious lack of essential data" and that "[p]art of becoming an adult and establishing one's own identity has to do with getting more comfortable making decisions with insufficient data." I have often operated under the idea that few things, if any, can be resolved and few conclusions can be made, and what conclusions people do attempt to make are figments of their belief that answers exist. Recently though, I'm beginning to see how, even if I don't believe I can arrive at certainty on many questions, I must at least try to make decisions "despite the obvious lack of essential data," because the alternative, which is awaiting the right amount of information in order to make a decision, mainly just leads to ruminating and unproductive stasis.

Yet, I still seek data, of a sort. If anyone reading this has anything to say about the merits of a career in journalism, please speak. More broadly, if you can speak on the existential issue of how to figure out what to do for a living and how to avoid idealizing a lesser-known career path simply to escape the perceived monotonies of a greater-known one, please speak too. Or e-mail me.

Oh, and I guess I should say that I am interested in journalism for a few reasons, some of which might not actually make good reasons to go into the field:
(1) I like writing. Does this make me cut out for journalism, though? I don't know. After all, a lot of journalism is about unfurling an event, policy proposal, etc., and not about writing with creative flourish.
(2) I like editing and revising. I'm one of the few people I know who actually enjoys revising papers and articles. I figure this must cut me out for some sort of writing job.
(3) I am interested in a multitude of policy issues and issues in general but do not want to acquire specialized knowledge in one of them at the risk of knowing less about the others. I see journalism as a way to avoid the opportunity cost of specializing, because a journalist is a generalist who can, in theory, give a digestible account of anything.
(4) I often consider why certain issues are covered at the expense of others and what are the relevant facts in a story or the relevant aspects to be covered about a political campaign, and so forth. I figure I would have even more food for thought here if I became a journalist.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Piling on Obama

Though there are those grumblers who claim the media reports on Barack Obama with obsequious adulation, I have always sensed that what little bit of a honeymoon Obama might enjoy would end as soon as the Heglian contrarianism of the talking heads set in. At last, Obama would be subject to the typical Washington D.C. establishment pettiness that plagues so much of political commentary today, where you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. Damned if you're a "Washington insider," damned if you're a "rookie." Damned if you're a consensus-builder, damned if you're a maverick (unless you're John McCain and not actually a maverick).

John Dickerson's analysis in Slate of a recent health care forum that Obama moderated in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, displays all of the typical pettiness of a gotcha journalist and none of the concern for getting to the substance of the forum. At the event, Dickerson says, Obama heard "one depressing story after another from people who had no insurance, bills that had bankrupted them, sudden losses of coverage, or only enough money to pay for the thinnest catastrophic policy." Welcome to our health care system, John Dickerson. It's pretty depressing, and yet such stories are all too common.

Less concerned with the hallowed substance of Obama's response, Dickerson instead goes on to concoct a thesis that if Obama puts on an informative demeanor, he runs the risk of appearing professorial. According to Dickerson, "we're not electing a president to run a seminar." This to me seems about as petty as it gets: Obama is merely listening to people, providing answers to them, and expressing general knowledge about health care issues. Dickerson continues, "That Obama has to hold [forums] to show he's serious only reminds voters that he doesn't have a lot of national political experience." Don't most presidential candidates hold these? I thought townhalls and their ilk were run-of-the-mill events for campaigners and public officals.

The article goes on to make some riveting conclusions, like that Obama's contributors must like him a whole bunch. Slate, here's an idea: take a day or three off from pop political reporting and try to provide your readers with a better picture of our failing health care system and what reforms are currently on the table to address it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Book Review: Three Dollars

I just finished this one today and wrote a review on goodreads that I will include here too.

This is one of the best novels I've read in a long time, possibly one of the best I've read. Australian writer Elliot Pearlman's Eddie Harnovey is a decent man living in increasingly bankrupt times (i.e., now). He and his wife Tanya are young, aspiring professionals who find their truth-seeking inclinations stymied by the corporatist, deregulating world around them. The seismic shift of priorities that Western governments, particularly English-speaking ones, embraced in the 80s in the name of imparting "personal responsibility" exacts the sort of devastating toll on hard-working, well-meaning people that those gung-ho Reaganite/Thatcherites purport is impossible, the toll of defaulted mortage payments, perennial unemployment and untreated medical conditions. The tale of such unmitigated despair is perversely readable, and much of that owes to the acuity and perspicasiouness of Pearlman's writing.

Pearlman gets so much right: office life ("Each day, I would say 'good morning' to the same people I said it to the day before. There were 'in' jokes about the standard of the coffee, the football tipping competition, or somebody's outrageous tie. Lunch was snatched hurriedly from the place next door, a little cafe where the regulars from the department jokes with the proprietor and his staff, small jokes, small business, small change, but these people were immensely important to each other. It might be that none of them were aware of their importance, each to the other, and it took me awhile to realize it myself but with each 'good morning' they were reminding each other, just slightly, who they were and that they were there" page 84), the transition into adulthood ([...] dinner parties had come upon us stealthily, imperceptibly, like winter and old age...[they] take hold of you like a virus and before too long you are a pregnant couple admiring vases and crystal decanters in shop windows and discounting the monetary cost of cnadlesticks because they are so lovely and because no one else will" p. 127), the strain differences in ideology and worldview can exact on friendships (see the arguments between Tanya and the couples' friend, Paul), the moral bankruptcy of modern institutions ("The universities seemed to her at the vanguard of society's unraveling. But I knew better because I was not there. They were not the first to retreat from what they had once stood for, they were not the first to turn their backs on any notion of common good and to prostiute themselves; they were not the first to promote a meaningless langauge designed to preserve their own pseudocultural and economic fiefdoms[...]But if the universities were not the first, neither were they the last" p. 248), the penchant au courant for seeing the world through the lens of silly corporatist platitudes ("The world was in the hands of animated self-parodies delivering Dale Carnegie wisodm to the bewildered mountain of their own banality." p. 293), among other things.

Pearlman masterfully weaves a story of conflict between people and their principles, especially as it comes out when young, educated people become professional and find that their careers drive them to embrace opposing values. We all need to justify ourselves and our priorities; often enough, such self-justification reaches a discomfiting cold-heartedness that frowns upon the behavior of friends in the name of adhering to one's principles.

My biggest criticism: I wondered whether the dialogue ascribed to the narrator as a child was realistic for someone that young.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friends with Money

Whatever you do, DON'T see this movie.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ephemerality in Movies and Life

One promise that D.C. residents make to transplants is that the spring and fall are beautiful and for those bursts of pink blossoms and golden leaves it is worth it to weather the stultifyingly humid summer and "cold" winter. Spring here is indeed beautiful but poignantly fleeting. Those famed cherry blossoms are here one minute, gone the next. I waded through the fallen flowers twice this week under the grove of those still attached to their trees and thought a bit about transience (while I wasn't busy ducking out of the way of family photos).

I finally saw Lost in Translation, which tells a story about transience. The relationship between Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen) and Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is impossibly pure, the age discrepancy is almost an afterthought, because both characters are themselves fully aware of it, especially Bob. One of my favorite illustrations of this is the overhead shot of Bob lying stick straight on his back in his hotel bed while Charlotte is rolled over on her left shoulder, knees bent towards her stomach, facing in towards Bob. Yet, Charlotte and Bob go no further; their relationship remains innocent, a meeting of two people yearning for something that goes even beyond the other. In a way, Bob is just as much a model to Charlotte as he is a potential mate--especially as it becomes clear that their union is short-lived. He has navigated through the apathy that Charlotte presently faces and has appreciated those moments of meaning, as he reveals when he recounts the day his first child was born the "most terrifying day" of his life.

Lost in Translation to me had the feel of a mature rendition of the themes in The Graduate. Where in the latter, Dustin Hoffman's brilliantly-played Benjamin Braddock single-mindedly set out to win the affection of Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) so that it became an end in itself, Bob's sense of the transitory nature of affection hovers around his interactions with Charlotte. This is of course attributable to his age: he has seen his marriage harden from affection to indifference at best, coldness at worst. The iconic scene in The Graduate where Benjamin and Elaine flee her wedding ceremony and collapse on the bus, destination unknown, is the end of spring, the end of cherry blossoms--forgive this sap--but it is the end of romance and the realization of romanticization. To see hopefulness and plaintiveness so effortlessly merge in film is to experience the end of spring.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Beltway Machine

In an article last week on Salon, Glen Greenwald criticizes the media reaction to Barack Obama's partially-formed health care policy. As Greenwald says, the Democratic primaries are a year away, the general election a year and a half. There's no reason a candidate should be expected to have formed a health care policy yet. Worst of all, if a candidate is to aspire to the media's idea of "substance," s/he could easily forget that many people in the country more than anything yearn for a candidate who is not afraid to address our systemic and cultural problems and that it is those problems that have so driven our country down this bumpy treacherous path we find ourselves on today. Even Obama, who is able to take a step back from the conventional candidate playbook to articulate a broader message about the political culture has only scratched the surface of the systemic and cultural "corrosion," as Greenwald calls it. Obama's frequent rhetoric about D.C.'s noxious partisanship touches on a symptom of a culture of crassness, of 24-hour cable, of rapid response opposition research, and, let's face it, of the Republican effort over the last 25 years or so to intensely politicize governance, but it does not get to the heart of the issue.

Greenwald goes on to identify the true culprit behind a political dialogue that has often devolved in pettiness: the Washington or Beltway machine, which in fact some Democrats are as much a part of as some Republicans. At a certain point, job security, comfort, and status quo breed complicity in a broken system, one that holds public relations in higher regard than public service, and this is what I believe we are seeing in many of these Beltway veterans. As Greenwald puts it about Hillary Clinton, who is the most blatant Beltway Democrat running for president:

The people who are attached to the Clinton campaign and who will be swept back into power with her -- the Terry McAuliffes and Mike McCurrys and Howard Wolfsons and Chris Lehanes and James Carvilles -- are pure embodiments of the whole corrupt and principle-less and worthless edifice. They're the people who, both when they were in power and throughout the Bush presidency, sleazily fed at the trough and they believe in nothing. Cheap and deceitful cynicism is the nourishment which sustains them and, most of all, they love the Beltway power system and can't wait to resume their place in it -- fully preserved and unchanged.

Though I think the criticism heaped on Clinton regarding her seeming insincerity has been unfair in that it lends the impression that her rudderless pandering makes her unique, she is still the worst option among the Democrats because she is so heavily relying upon a machine that is no longer equipped--if it ever was--to solving the dire problems our country faces. Yet, this group, consisting of many of the people fluidly move between government and the private sector, taking top lobbying jobs after stints in public service, seek mainly to devise myths about "electability" ultimately exacting of their candidate adherence to the questionable wisdom of not sounding threatening or shrill.

In this vain, the New Yorker recently featured an excellent piece by David Owen about former Democratic party operatives who are working to manage the public image of Wal-Mart. As employees of one of the nation's top public relations firm, Edelman, these veterans of public service and political campaigns are now making it their agenda to promote the virtues of Wal-Mart. It's not surprising that the people profiled in this article, such as Greg St. Claire, a former Republican congressional staffer, and Fred Baldassaro, a former aide for the Democratic National Committee, are ideal employees to a public relations firm, especially on a project that has so many implications for policy making. Their connections and familiarity with the PR apparatus in D.C. are valuable to an ambitious PR operation like that of Wal-Mart.

The nonchalance of this partnership should not obscure its insidiousness, though. The Edelman campaign has no regard for grassroots efforts. Indeed, most despicable about the Walmart campaign is its reliance on "Astoturf" techniques, such as the sham organization, Working Families for Wal-Mart, actually a project of St. Claire's, the former Republican staffer. Rather than trying to actually shape Wal-Mart into the benevolent organization that Edelman claims it to be, they are merely spinning Wal-Mart's virtues as an employer. Take the case of Working Families for Wal-Mart:


Working Families for Wal-Mart, which paid for [St. Claire's] sister, Laura St. Claire, to travel across America in a recreational vehicle and keep a blog about visits with Wal-Mart employees. Everyone she talked to was delighted with Wal-Mart. At about the time that the trip came to an end, Business Week revealed that Wal-Mart had financed the journey.


It is amazing to me--and yet so emblematic of corporate values today--that Wal-Mart would rather shell out for an orchestrated PR campaign than use that money to actually improve the notoriously unpleasant working conditions and to raise the low wages of their employees, but such is the PR culture of today. The Beltway machine about which Greenwald laments--whether Democratic or Republican--is perfectly happy with the spin-to-win tactics of the executives the serve, whether these execs be private CEOS or public officials. If the last eight years has taught us anything, though, it is that accountability must be sought and that Herculean efforts to change the spin cycle rather than address serious problems have been to the detriment of effective government.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Paradigm shift or incremental change?

One argument that has arisen among my co-workers and I lately addresses the issue of human behavior and how to get people to do things that are "good" for them. The resulting discussions have produced some rather daunting conclusions about our society, some which are controversial, others which have been long obvious but somewhat mind-bending when one tries to take a stab at how to change things. Namely, the inefficiency and waste of some modes of living, which is a large part of the problem with how we live today, as I see it, and will be the subject of my rant of the day, where I explore whether we should proceed to address our problems moderately with changes in zoning laws and regulations on greenhouse gas emissions or whether we should just start setting fire to McMansions (kidding, kidding!). What I mean to say is, does America need a cultural shift where our whole paradigm for success is redefined or at the very least moderated so that people don't feel they need to "live large"--which would involve some sort of attempt at trying to influence human behavior, or do we just need to chip away at the problems. Or both? How do "paradigm shifts" happen anyway?

I don't really know, so maybe I'll just rant for now about what went through my mind upon a recent visit through Farifax County. Some people use too many resources. The reason I hated Hollywood's collective global warming lecture at this year's Oscars is because the lifestyle of those privileged people of inconceivable wealth are much more consumptive than the rest of us. This culture is promoted to the rest of us by magazines, tabloids, and music videos that idealize big cars, fancy (though often gaudy) homes, and general profligate living. I don't know how to change that immediately unless some of what people value changes and some of what the media prioritizes changes. Daunting, right?

Furthermore, the ambitions of developers and automakers to ever-expand their business growth has hijacked policy making for many years. The resulting communities are by virtue of their design promoting wasteful habits, like driving to a nearby store that may only be a few blocks away because sidewalks don't exist and there are only arterial (not artillery) roads. Accompanying this sprawl is an aesthetic discordance, between the noise pollution of cars and trucks, the bland, gaudy excess of the homes, and that proliferation of one of the ugliest sights created by humanity--though today one of the most necessary: the parking lot.
A drive through parts of Fairfax County is case in point of the increasing decadence of many well-heeled people who build or buy sprawling mansions in gaudy Italianate, French Maison, or Georgian style. Not too far away at Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington, one can marvel at the (relatively) small domicile of one of Virginia's then-wealthiest men. How did we go from that to this:



I don't know, perhaps I'm being too aphoristic didactic and condescending. I guess I just don't feel like I need twin Sub Zs, vacation homes, elaborate sculptures in my front yard, and 30 feet ceilings. (P.S., through "researching" this article, I came across a pretty funny website called LA Curbed, which has a McMansions archive that details the real estate listings in that most ostentatious part of the country).

Writer's Block

To those of you out there constantly hitting your refresh button in anticipation of a new blog entry from me, I'm sorry I've been such a slacker. I've been feeling some writer's block lately, and I'm not even a writer. For some reason, I've not had as much to say about world and national events as I used to, I believe for a few reasons: (1) other people have expressed my thoughts very well (the Frank Riches, Paul Krugmans, and Glen Greenwalds of the world) (2) the opinions seem self-evident (3) I feel I don't have enough knowledge upon which to form a valid opinion. Perhaps I need to focus my energies on more local, conquerable issues, but this impasse does make me re-evaluate my interest in a writing or journalist career. What I like about journalism, though, is that there's little way around starting as a reporter as opposed to a columnist, and I think I need to know things--by virtue of being on a beat, or the like--before I analyze them.