One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Governing like it’s 1789

George Will says that, because early American governments were based either in the woods or on a swamp (in a developing country, to boot), and couldn’t really do much, the Obama Administration should go back to the country’s roots (pun discovered!) and just get out of people’s way.

gwhorse1The first president was head of one branch, not yet the dominant one, of a federal government housed in a few buildings on the southern tip of mostly agricultural or forested Manhattan. In 1801, Jefferson in his address said that “the sum of good government” is not very much — to be “wise and frugal,” to “restrain men from injuring one another,” to “leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits” and to “not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” The federal government had decamped to a Potomac River village, which, although unprepossessing, was commensurate with the federal government’s modest competencies.

This verges on Founderstalgia at its most literal — early American governments certainly had a different ideological perception of the world, but they also faced significant logistical limitations, having to do with, you know, living two hundred years ago.  To imply that the Washington Administration, for example, governed little primarily because it chose to govern little is — while proving the counterfactual is impossible — most probably disingenuous.  The development of advanced communication systems, of transportation infrastructure and new technology, not to mention an expanding roster of liberties and eligible citizens (“small government” here meaning government only for the white, the male, and the propertied) are as much responsible for the shift in America’s governing outlook as is any sort of drift from pure small government principles.

I agree with Eve Fairbanks that it’s about time to end the Right’s stranglehold on the legacy of Washington and, more broadly, on much of the mythology of “the Founding.”  Whether Washington was a small government conservative is a debatable premise — but doing so without taking into account the differences and limitations of government over two hundred years ago is not very intellectually honest.

(image from flick user wallyg under a Creative Commons license)


January 21, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, Washington DC | , , , | 1 Comment

First they came for the homeless…

homelesspersondcUpon learning of the District’s plans to “sweep” homeless people out the city for the inauguration, James Joyner sarcastically remarks that “Obama Hates the Homeless.”  He admits that he “do[es]n’t think Obama’s personally responsible” for the operation, but he does make a contrast with the lack of a similar “preparation” for Bush’s inauguration(s).  The reason behind the measure, ostensibly, is the enhanced security for this year’s only-slightly-momentous inauguration.  And while Joyner for some reason puzzles over why security is “exponentially more drastic” this time around, the real question is how forcing homeless people out of the District at all contributes to “security.”

This is a fiction, of course, and a sickening fiction at that, as the real reason behind the mass eviction of homeless people is to improve the District’s appearance.  With so many tourists flocking to the city, Washington officials are opting for the tried-and-true tactic of simply ignoring the problem and sweeping it under the rug.  This tendency can be seen in cities across the country, but its rank irony is surely the worst in DC, where a serious problem of homelessness and poverty only increases as the powerful federal government that lives takes shelter next door continues to refuse to address its root causes.

(image from flickr user matthew.rice. under a Creative Commons license)

January 16, 2009 Posted by | Washington DC | , | 1 Comment

State of emergency in the district

Panic in the District.

Panic in the District.

Fiji is not the only place to face a state of emergency.

It’s true, President Bush sounded alarms about Barack Obama during the campaign season. On Tuesday, Mr. Bush went one step further: He declared Mr. Obama’s inauguration an actual emergency.

This is a bureaucratic move, evidently, designed to secure more funding than the paltry $15 million that DC has been afforded from the federal government.  Odd as it sounds to say, declaring a state of emergency here is actually a fairly charitable gesture on Bush’s part — unlike his allegedly calling up former Australian Bush clone prime minister John Howard to stay in the Blair House so that the Obamas could not — to ease inauguration-related stress.  But if I wasn’t worried about the crowds in DC this weekend before, calling a state of emergency over it doesn’t exactly make me feel better.

(image from flickr user andrew.deci under a Creative Commons license)

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Washington DC | , , | 1 Comment

D.C. spending just enough to make crime easier

An example of a half-assed safety policy in the District:

While D.C. leaders have put an emphasis on spending more than $1 million to open Champlain Street under the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center to ease congestion along the business corridor, they refuse to allocate funds for the dilapidated recreation center on that street.

Having a couple friends who got mugged on this street [granted, they were piss-drunk and pissing in a dark corner], I can certify that it is not the safest of places.  And it seems that spending a million dollars to open a sketchy street that will make muggings easier is not a particularly effective way of deterring crime.

mariereed(image of Marie H. Reed Community Center from flickr user M.V. Jantzen under a Creative Commons license)

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Washington DC | , | 1 Comment

God is a bus-riding Facebook user

Michelangelo's painting on the 42 bus

Michelangelo's painting on the 42 bus

Christmas Warriors strike back…at Washington, DC buses.  JoEllen Murphy, God-believer and self-described “stay-at-home mum,” has responded to those vicious anti-religious ads (“Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”) with her own commandment, which can now be seen driving around the streets of DC:

“Why believe? Because I love you and I created you, for goodness sake – God”

In case God’s personal injunction is not enough to make the heathens believe, then hHis Christian soldiers have gone all 2.0.

I partnered with a non-profit organisation. Two friends designed and manage the website (, and another, a professional graphic designer, created the advert. We even have a Facebook group with over 2,000 members.

And if you don’t friend God, He will smite Poke you wrathfully.

(image from flickr user yosemitewu56 under a Creative Commons license)

December 23, 2008 Posted by | Humor, Religion, Washington DC | , , , | Leave a comment

Barack Obama to be elected today, thanks to D.C. and Vermont

Courtesy of America’s favorite classically democratic 18th century institution, the Electoral College.

And in case you made the mistake of thinking that it was some little state like Florida or Ohio that pushed Obama over the edge, various states are clamoring over one another to claim the honor.

Hartford claims that “Conn. Democratic electors to formalize Obama vote.”  Albany asserts that “NY electoral college meets to make Obama’s win official.”  Lansing triumphantly announces, “We’re electing the president of the United States today.”  And Maryland’s electors…may not be able to cast their crucial ballots because the State House is closed for repairs.  Oops.

According to this neat map (from flickr user oceandesetoiles under a Creative Commons license), which re-sizes states based on the influence of individual voters, Obama really has D.C. and Vermont electors from the epic swing states of D.C. and Vermont to thank for his upcoming move to the White House.


December 15, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics, Washington DC | , , | Leave a comment

Oh, go bomb something else

I agree that instituting a random search program at DC metro stations is neither good for mass transit efficiency nor the best way to prevent terrorist attacks, but still, it’s not to at least acknowledge the logic behind the system.  This quotation from security analyst Bruce Scheier, then, is a little over the top, even as he diagnoses the problem correctly.

Excuse me, miss, is that a bomb in your bag?

Excuse me, miss, is that a bomb in your bag?

“The threat is terrorism, and smart solutions reduce the threat overall. Dumb solutions move the threat around — from the Metro to buses, from D.C. to another city — and so on. But Metro officials have a different view; to them, the threat is terrorism on the Metro. If they institute this program and the terrorists go bomb something else, it’s a win for them. But for all of us, it’s a waste of money.”

I have my issues with Metro officials every now and then, but I’m not quite cynical enough to suggest that having a terrorist blow up something else in the city could in any way be a win for them.  They may be misguided, but they’re not evil.  Furthermore, this logic is based on the faulty premise that there are a finite number of terrorist attacks; if they don’t bomb the metro, they’ll bomb something else.  Unfortunately, terrorist could bomb both the metro and something else.

As much as the search program could represent a slippery slope — will we next be getting patted down by the maitre d’ at restaurants? — it’s at least understandable that it’s being implemented in a high traffic area.  It may not address the root causes of terrorism, but an attempt to mitigate the effects is not necessarily useless.  That said, I’d certainly prefer “smart solutions” to “dumb solutions.”

(photo from flickr user Robert Stromberg under a Creative Commons license)

November 16, 2008 Posted by | Washington DC | | Leave a comment

Me on NBC

Look at U Street!” That such a historic celebration happened on such a historic street is only perfectly fitting.

I can’t seem to get the embed code to work, but wait til about the 50 second mark of this video.

November 5, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics, Washington DC | , | 3 Comments

Miss Manners defends DC

When I praised Anne Applebaum for making the point that the “Washington” that reform-minded politicians love to trash does not really exist, I did not consider the charge that — in addition to greedy, dissimulating, corrupt, etc. — Washington is also impolite.  Thankfully, Miss Manners comes to DC’s rescue.

“I’m not rude,” I point out (gently and politely), “and I was born in Washington. My family and friends aren’t rude. You are talking about the [representatives] you sent there. You voted for them. Why? To get them out of your own town, I suppose. But how can you blame my town for that?”

The tell-tale can of corruption

The tell-tale can of corruption

This is what is so frustrating about the “clean up DC” movement.  It happens every election cycle, even though, theoretically, some of the people that voters are “sending down to Washington” — from Alaska, or somewhere equally provincial, presumably — are the clean ones.  Is there just a constant need to hit refresh, to clean up the cleaner-uppers, or are these would-be reformers just too quickly sullied by the irredeemable perfidy of our nice little town?

Though Miss Manners spends a good deal of time emphasizing DC’s virtues, the point is not that DC is overwhelmingly fantastic, and that its free museums make it a far superior city to New York — as incontrovertibly true as this may be.  The point is that there is something transparently hollow, and incredibly grating, about politicians’ constant need to excoriate our nation’s capital.  This tired campaign promise is so deceptive — and so completely meaningless — that the real corruption seems to be in so persistently continuing to utter it.

(Image from flickr user jcolman under a Creative Commons license)

November 1, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics, Washington DC | | Leave a comment