Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Change in blog address

I just wanted to let you all know that I'm re-locating blog address's so I can use wordpress software to snazz up my blog and take advantage of some of their neat features that blogger unfortunately lacks. Check me out and bookmark me at

Dan Seals is running in 2008

Good news! Dan Seals, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Rep for the 10th District of Illinois, with whom I volunteered last summer, is challenging incumbent Mark Kirk again in 2008. He already has a primary opponent too: Jay Footlik, an advsier to the 2004 Kerry campaign. I would be wary of anyone who's reaching out to John Kerry for campaign advice, as Footlik has reportedly done.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Terms That Annoy Me

And now for the annoying term of the day:

"power couple"

Usage: describes a successful and often pretty obnoxious husband and wife team
("husband and wife team" is another phrase which I hate)

Power couple examples that prove this to be true: Mary Matalin and James Carville, Lynne and Dick Cheney, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian

The term's high-intensity tenor is what gets me in particular. It's another one of those journalistic cliches that's often used in the context of politics or business to lend a snappy, knowing air to a piece.

Expressions in the power couple family: power lunch, business casual, power nap, heads down, suit up

The line blurs even more

Hillary Clinton's takeoff on the "Sopranos" finale, with special guest Bill and special reference to Chelsea is just about the blurriest that the line has been drawn between celebrity and politics--at least since Ronald Reagan got elected into public office. Just watching it, I felt like the Clintons were a television family that I had grown up with more than public officials. The jab at Bill's eating habits just puts it over the top.

Is it bad that,
(1) This stunt makes me like Hillary a little better?
(2) I've started to enjoy the Journey song after this and the Sopranos finale?

Yes, I think it is.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Boost for journalism school

I'm two years late on unearthing this, but for my purposes, it's okay:

The leaders of five of the nation's most prominent journalism programs are joining in a three-year, $6 million effort to try to elevate the standing of journalism in academia and find ways to prepare journalists better.

The unusual collaboration, which has been developing for three years, involves Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University; Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley; Loren Ghiglione, dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; Geoffrey Cowan, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California; and Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

Journalism school may be more useful than in the past, according to Berekley's dean:

While journalists have long debated the value of journalism schools, Mr. Schell, who did not attend journalism school, said he now thought such institutions were more vital than they might have been in the past.

"Things have changed substantially since we came up the journalistic food chain," he said. "As news cycles have gotten faster and more bottom-line driven, there has been less inclination and capacity in media outlets to train, mentor and guide upcoming generations."

I'll keep posting about my own investigation into journalism school. My first j-school visit is planned for the weekend of July 27th to Medill at Northwestern, my alma mater.

Friday, June 15, 2007

For the love of a non-scandal

Why oh why are blogs and news outlets implying that Barack Obama is guilty of something for which there is no evidence? In the next wave of "air of scandal" reporting that enjoyed such a following during the Clinton administration, Obama is being unfairly linked to a guy under federal investigation. Wonkette today links to Wizbang politics, which does this very thing, quoting a New York Times article which itself offers no evidence of wrongdoing on Obama's part but makes something out of Obama's connection with this guy Rezko anyway:

Mr. Obama says he never did any favors for Mr. Rezko, who raised about $150,000 for his campaigns over the years and was once one of the most powerful men in Illinois. There is no sign that Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, did anything improper.

Wizbang argues that "this presents a problem for Obama" because "[a]nything which clouds his pure-as-the-driven-snow image can damage his campaign, since he doesn't have a resume of experience to tout and depends upon that image." They are wrong. Rezko only presents a problem for Obama if blogs like Wizbang decide to talk it up. Obama has been proven guilty of nothing. It seems, as I have said before, that people love to knock down those who they see as perfect, or as Wizbang puts it "fresh face[d]." If Obama were an unabashed wheeler and dealer, I'm sure he wouldn't be getting this treatment. George W. Bush never did.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How do people afford this city?

In my new and unplanned blog series about how damn expensive life is, I explore D.C.'s cost-of-living and how increasingly unaffordable it is to live here on a non-profit or lower level government-worker's salary. I was reminded of this once again as I searched Craigslist for future housing options for the coming year. Considering that the once "cheap" and relatively well-located areas of the city like Columbia Heights are in the process of being uber-gentrified, it appears hope is lost for the automobile-lacking person who wants to live in a D.C. neighborhood that is in walking distance of a grocery store, Metro, and a few other commercial establishments that aren't liquor stores or Western Unions. The low-end of a 3 bedroom in Columbia Heights now appears to be 2800 per month or 933 per person, usually before utilities are added in.

Hypothetical: If I'm making $15 per hour at a non-profit working 8 hour days, five days a week, I make 2400 per month, before taxes, or 31.2 K per year. My D.C. income tax alone would be $400 per year plus an additional 6% of the excess income above 10,000, which in my case would be $139 per month. Federal income tax is 4,220 plus 25% of the amount over 30,650, which amounts to $4357.50 or 363.13 per month. Medicare and Social Security taxes are 199, by my calculations, so after taxes, I make 1837.87 per month. My health care premium might be around 60 per month (more if I have a "pre-existing condition"), so I'm down to 1777.87 per month. Now, subtract my 933 rent and a 50 utility check (add at least 25 more if I have cable), and I am left with 794.87. I have to eat, which we can approximate at around 250 per month and buy work clothes which maybe be around 60 per month. If I'm paying back 250 in student loans per month, I am now down to about 245, some of which I probably want to put into a retirement account (though it won't amount to the 10% of income that is recommended), the rest of which I should put in a cash reserves account. Keep in mind that Hill staffers often make significantly less than this hypothetical non-profit salary.

So the question is, why, in spite of the high cost-of-living and relatively low salary do young, aspiring public servants move to this city after graduation? I guess my reason was that it seemed like the most likely place to get the sort of occupation I've described and to meet other people with the same priorities, but often enough, people like me come to D.C. and get disconcerted that their peers aren't here for these noble reasons but rather to feed their own ambition. Members of this group are willing to stick out their financial necks to live in a city whose lackluster city services, absent mid-range dining and shopping scene, and pretty uniform group of professionals (i.e., lawyers and aspiring lawyers) can make it at times a trying place to live. Note to my peers: as long as we keep forking over our rent money (and I'm guilty like you), D.C. will continue to be increasingly unaffordable to people like us.

This flight from affordability is of course egged on by D.C.'s subscription to the standard mode of urban renewal today: gentrify, gentrify, gentrify. The luxury condos and shopping complex with the likes of a Target that have swept through Columbia Heights within the past year are a clear culprit for the recently increased rents; they're also the culprit for the continued lack of entreprenuerial character that D.C. maintains. Increasingly, D.C. has become a city for the very well-off, the young cash-strapped, and the long-time residents who seem to have fairly little say in any of this planning. Why I continue to live here, I don't know.

Monday, June 11, 2007


One adjustments that I've endured going from collegiate to working stiff is coming to dislike things I used to like. Most notable right now is my palpable aversion to summer. What used to be the season of freedom and idling is now that of sweating and thirsting on the walk to work. When I had jobs and internships in Chicago between the school years, I started to feel a twitch of irritation at humid days, non-stimulating work assignments, long commutes, and early (for a college student) mornings. When this all becomes a consistent fact, it is even worse. Mind you, not morale crushing or dire, just a disappointment when recalling the way summer used to be. Especially here in D.C., where summers means a stultifying combination of work attire and ozone warnings, it becomes difficult to look forward to anything about the season ,save its end. Even in Chicago where it tends to get humid, Lake Michigan's unpredictable wind patterns can bring cool days, the kind that relieve you from the 80 and 90-degree days that are accompanied by glaring, cloudless sun that feels like it is an imperturbable spy following wherever you go. Summer is no longer a relief from school either now that I'm working full-time. It is just another season that blends in with the slow-moving quickness of all of the others in a working person's year. Seasons are no longer about events or milestones but about dressing for the weather.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Postcards from Utopia

I just returned from San Francisco and am still revelling in the beauty of all of its sites. One thing I thought about while there is how San Francisco is one of several municipalities that is sometimes preceded with the jabbing moniker "the Peoples' Republic of..." Other places I've heard this prefix attached to are Alexandria, Virginia, the state of Massachusetts, and Evanston, Illinois. The truth is, all of these "Peoples' Republics "are pretty great places to live. While none of them are similar to the Communist states to which the phrase alludes, the policies that make these places seem more socialist or communist can't be too bad if they are such nice parts of the country to visit and live. Furthermore, a place like San Francisco is really a place of thriving entrepreneurialism, not only because it was one of the headquarters to the dot com explosion but also because it has the fewest amount of chain establishments one will find in just about any American city and a bevvy of competing small businesses in their stead. Without further ado, here are some photos from this aforementioned utopia:

(Photo credit: Steph Pituc)

(Photo credit: Steph)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Travel Lists

After visiting SF, I will provide my current, top five global cities list (among the cities I've been to) along with some other travel lists:
1. Paris
2. San Francisco
3. Chicago
4. Rome
5. London

And the top 5 most scenic cites:
1. Salzburg
2. San Francisco
3. Florence
4. Paris
5. Geneva
Honorable mention: Washington D.C. and San Diego

And the top 5 best airports:
1. Chicago O'hare-United Terminal (reason: the neon lights in the moving walkway tunnel, the bevvy of good vendors, the brightness, the exciting people watching, a lot of vendors after the security checkpoint)
2. Detroit McNamara-Northwest Terminal (reason: state-of-the art monorail that shuttles back and and forth between this huge terminal, tons of vendors, sobering bright white interior, like O'hare there are a lot of vendors after the checkpoint)
3. Amsterdam Schipol (reason: like being on an Austin Power's set, lot of weird cafes)
4. Washington-Reagan National (reason: other than it being cumbersomely renamed after one of my least favorite American presidents, the main terminal is nice, airy, and bright with decent vendors and just about enough of them to pass the time before a flight. getting stuck here might be dull though, as it's not that big)
5. Portland (reason: lots of independent vendors and claims to have competitive prices)
Honorable Mention: Dulles for the terminals, though probably not for the security checkpoints and lines

Top 5 worst airports:
1. Paris Charles DeGaulle (reason: uncontrolled lines, long waits, few vendors, unnerving 60s spaceship interior)
2. Raleigh-Durham (reason: it doesn't help that I got stuck in this dull airport because of a cancelled flight with only a Cinnabon voucher to keep me enthused about the wait)
3. Zurich (reason: dull as all get out, and it doesn't help that I had to sleep on an uncomfortable airport chair there overnight with my grandparents)
4. Rome (not sure if it's Fiumicino or Ciampino) (reason: like being inside an 80s hotel lobby, pink and green with fake tropical feel is never a good interior design motif)
5. Boston Logan (reason: meh)
Honorable mention: Frankfurt (reason: haven't been here in awhile so it may look better now, but last i was there it was a mid-renovation madhouse!)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Do we want another self-anointed CEO president?

The Times has a good article about Mitt Romney's career at Bain, the prestigious investment bank. The article implicitly questions Romney's claims that his business experience makes him a good candidate for president. Romney's business was the business of equity maximization where he exhibited not the skills of a traditional businessman--budgeting and attentive management--but the skills of an investment banker--salesmanship and presentation. Private sector candidates have a tendency to sell themselves as embodying every quality of a sharp businessman, but there are sharp businessmen in different industries, and the skills of a candidate like Romney should not be sold as the skills of a Bill Gates or Andrew Carnegie. Whether Romney's investment bank skillset are the prime qualities we want in a president is a question worth asking, one that should preclude his being labelled a businessman in the traditional sense, especially when his career has made him accustomed to fighting for the corporate good (profits)--

But Mr. Romney’s Bain career — a source of money and contacts that he has used to finance his Massachusetts campaigns and to leap ahead of his presidential rivals in early fund-raising — also exposes him to criticism that he enriched himself excessively, sometimes by cutting jobs to increase profits.

He made his money mainly through leveraged buyouts — essentially, mortgaging companies to take them over in the hope of reselling them at big profits in just a few years. It is a bare-knuckle form of investing that is in the spotlight because of the exploding profits of buyout giants like Bain, Blackstone and the Carlyle Group. In Washington, Congress is considering ending a legal quirk that lets fund managers escape much of the income tax on their earnings.

--and not for the public good.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Silenced Majority

I know I often conjecture about the disparity of concerns between the media and the American people, often without any evidence save the nagging sense that the D.C. media's preoccupation with reporting on the trivialities of political strategy has indirectly contributed to the series of giant pickles we now find ourselves facing as a nation. The Andrea Mitchells and Chris Matthews are the Neros of our time, fiddling as the world--in some cases literally--burns.

There was a great article in a Times blog about the disconnect between the Washington media and the general populace and it manifests itself every time a public figure is badgered to explain himself after criticizing Bush and his administration. As this Times piece points out, the recent upbraidal of Jimmy Carter seemed to be a case of D.C. media imposing cocktail party decorum:
Something seems a little out of whack between the mainstream media and the American people. Take the arguments of the past few days over former President Jimmy Carter's remarks about the Bush administration and the consequences of its particular brand of foreign policy. Carter didn't attack President Bush personally, but said that "as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," which can't really be too far out of line with what many Americans think.
In coverage typical of much of the media, however, NBC Nightly News asked whether Carter had broken "an unwritten rule when commenting on the current president," and portrayed Carter's words - unfairly it seems- as a personal attack on President Bush. Fox News called it "unprecedented." Yet as an article in this newspaper <> on Tuesday pointed out, "presidential scholars roll their eyes at the notion that former presidents do not speak ill of current ones."

This guy is absolutely right. I'm no presidential scholar, but I seem to recall reading many times of Teddy Roosevelt's vocieferous criticism of William Howard Taft's leadership. Anyway, getting in a tizzy over whether an ex-president criticizes a sitting president sanctions the office as a regal post where all former officeholders are loyal to the myth of the office, which runs counter to the fundmanetal tenets of this lower-case republican nation.

The recent acceding of the Democrats to the timetable-free Bush war funding bill is a prime example of the party being influenced by the popular though incorrect wisdom that their original war funding bill would be viewed as taking resources away from frontline troops. The writer offers a plausible exegis on the source of the Democrats dissonance and the resulting contrition it provokes on their part to the supremely unpopular Bush administration.

I wonder whether this media distortion also persists because it doesn't meet with enough criticism, and if that's partially because many Americans think that what they see in the major political media reflects what most other Americans really think - when actually it often doesn't.

Psychologists coined the term "pluralistic ignorance" in the 1930s to refer to this type of misperception - more a social than an individual phenomenon - to which even smart people might fall victim.
In pluralistic ignorance, as described by researchers Hubert O'Gorman and Stephen Garry in a 1976 paper published in Public Opinion Quarterly, "moral principles with relatively little popular support may exert considerable influence because they are mistakenly thought to represent the views of the majority, while normative imperatives actually favored by the majority may carry less weight because they are erroneously attributed to a minority." What is especially disturbing about the process is that it lends itself to control by the noisiest and most visible.
Think of the proposal to put a timetable on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, supported, the latest poll says, by 60 percent of Americans <> , but dropped Tuesday from the latest war funding bill <> .

As the title suggests, there is as much a silent majority today as there was back when Nixon first uttered the powerful phrase at the height of the Vietnam War, but this majority is even more silenced by the D.C. media's insistence upon what concerns the "average American." If you've listened to members of the mainstream media over the years, the average American has not been too concerned with the Downing Street Memo, the Abramoff scandal, the Libby conviction, the U.S. Attorneys firings, ad infinitum. Using this logic, some members of the media fail to report on any of these incidents in a meaningful way and instead analyze the culpabilty of the players as a question of how well they spin their innocence. As a result, the media has shirked its duty to bring attention to the plagues to a democratic society--venality and autocracy--by claiming unjustifiably that the American people are too stupid to care.

In San Francisco

I'm at my friend Steph's in San Francisco and have been up for almost 24-hours, though I did take some naps on the plane. My inclination when I visit new places is to make generalizations about the people who live there. When I walk into a coffee shop or store, I categorize everyone as a San Franciscan and view their actions as reflecting upon the vibe of their city. The crazy man who yelled at the clerk at Green Apple Books in Inner Richmond about how he "controls his own money" and "wants to be respected" (yeah, this guy was nuts--he was even carrying a rain stick!) is an emblem of the zany tendencies of some of the San Fran residents. The kind people who smiled at me when I moved my bags out of the way for them on the bus are imbued with a California calm that allows them to be much more considerate and thoughtful than the people out East. Today a car almost hit me making a right turn when I had the right of way, but rather than speeding through the turn or glaring at me, the driver actually waved apologetically. It's nice that people have some remorse for their unintended recklessness. Is this San Franciscan, though? Is speeding like a frazzled, over-caffeinated a-hole Distrcit of Columbian? Why is it so tempting to generalize about a locale, anyway?