Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: December 2008 Page 2 of 9

Inauguration Raffle?

Funny, this made me wonder, too, when I got the email today:

The Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC), the group designated to raise money for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, announced today that it will select ten supporters (and their guests) to receive tickets to Obama’s swearing in Jan. 20. The catch: supporters have to donate $5.

I’m a little ambivalent about it, in that the practical result is 10 more people at the inauguration that probably wouldn’t have been, otherwise.  But I’m uncomfortable with this walking up to the line of what is campaign and what is government.

Candidate Donations

Vivian Paige asks an interesting question:

[D]oes a candidate’s lack of contributions to other candidates in any way affect your decision about that candidate?

It’s a good question, and one that reminds us of the inside baseball that shapes intraparty politics (and therefore the state’s politics).  One of her commenters (Silence Dogood) responded with what I’d pretty much call my own take on the matter:

Honestly, I do look at the contribution reports, mainly to see if there are any patterns. If someone never donated very much and then suddenly started shelling out money left and right six months before he filed, it’s a pretty clear sign he’s the sort that thinks that support is bought, not earned. If someone donates to a few select candidates regularly, particularly local candidates, I know they’re probably connected to someone they support. If someone has zero donations, I start to wonder if they’re political neophytes–do they not understand elections enough to have donated to some candidate, ANY candidate in the past? Are they so poorly connected that no one ever thought to ask them for money?

Pop over and participate in the conversation.

DC Bike Rack Design Competition (This Means You!)

I’m lifting this wholesale from a DC-related listserv that I’m on, and posting it with the admonition that you – yes, you – consider having a go at it.  Bike racks aren’t complicated, and we might all benefit from a new perspective.   Plus, $1500 and a night at the Mayflower?  That could be fun (just ask Elliot Spitzer).  Here’s the Call for Entries:

Call for Entries
Creative Bicycle Rack Design
Deadline: Friday, February 9th at 5:00 p.m.
Honorarium:  $1,500

The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District is requesting drawn design entries for creative and unique bicycle racks.  The racks will be installed within the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District
in Washington, DC.

The call is open to the entire art community including visual artists, architects, graphic designers, urban designers and bicycling enthusiasts.

The winning entries will receive a $1500 honorarium plus a complimentary Saturday night stay for two at the luxurious Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW, in the heart of the Golden Triangle.

Just Ignoring Illinois, For Now

You know, this should be a perfect time to be a Democrat.  Solid electoral victories, a promising presidency ahead, etc.  But, as Democrats are wont to do, there’s someone spoiling it for everyone else.  Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is an assclown of the highest order and seems to be committed to taking the Ted Stevens path out of power, swinging and swearing all the way to the chopping block.  Blagojevich’s little appointment trick today was fairly clever, tho’, essentially using the rule of law to give everyone the finger on the way down.  His pick, Roland Burris, strikes me as an entirely decent fellow who is probably a good choice.  Except for the part where Mr. Burris accepted an appointment from such an obviously corrupt figure.  That he would willingly take the spoils from such an obviously corrupt process makes me wary.  I’m even more skeptical, however, of this Really Bad Idea of the Senate rejecting the appointment.  I’m not interested in the Senate deciding who gets to be a part of their club.  A complete mess, and everyone looks an idiot.  Hopefully, that covers it for now.

Feeling the Veil: A Reader Response

The following comes from a longtime reader (and friend), in response to my post highlighting Megan Stack’s article on her experience as a woman in Saudi Arabia:

I can’t believe you, of all people, would post that article on Saudi Arabia. I don’t mean so much about the content (although I do partly mean that, in some places) as to the whole way it was written. Parts of it read like Ann Coultier or whatever the fuck her name is. At least she is out and out nasty. This wolf in sheep’s clothing reporting.

I love the oh so subtle (and then sometimes not so) perpetuation of the idea that the great white race once again knows best how to ponder the shortcomings of the the inferiors, and feels defeat at not being able to liberate them. I loved the journalistic integrity in the piece that set such an objective tone right off the bat with the heavy abaya dragging her along and the comparison of sludgy Arabic coffee and the pure, clean American coffee.  I wonder if she, like Bush, also likes the brown people.

And if the kingdom made her slouch, she maybe didn’t have much of a backbone to begin with. But then, it wouldn’t make for thrilling reading, would? Man, those chiropractors in SA must be shoveling in the money.

(I don’t claim to know anything about living day in and day out in Saudi Arabia, where I know women’s rights are far different and much more restricted, almost non existent[.]  But really, what does an article like this which still reads as inflammatory towards its very subjects, the woman, while trying to seem so above it all, hope to achieve?)

I must be missing something from this article from the view point of someone not from the Middle East, or my anger at the tone is too much and I am not seeing something. Because otherwise, I don’t get it. I hate this kind of journalistic reporting. You could have posted something much better addressing the same issues. Or, if you didn’t have it, you could have waited. Not this. Not this piece of crap that reduces hostile situations to “glares” (her) and “baring of teeth” (them, always with the animal references of course.)

Travel Notes: Omnibus Edition

[Part of my year-end omnibus series]

Mitch Altman’s story of a weekend in a new city captures one of the best parts of traveling – random connections with interesting people:

[My host] also organized an anti-war event at a community center, and somehow during the event the Coke machine they rented as the center-piece of the performance caught on fire while videos of “Dr. Strangelove” mixed with actual footage from Iraq on the floor.  I met Charlie through a journalist from Libération who interviewed me in the early days of TV-B-Gone media craziness.  As well as hosting me in his wonderful, government-subsidized apartment (they actually support the arts in France!), Charlie is a great connector, hosting get-togethers where journalists, film makers, artists of all sorts, many flavors of activists, and other interesting, creative, intelligent people mix and mingle in long nights of conversation and friendly debate.


Anil Dash lives the dream.  Almost.


I’m a sucker for certain historical travel narratives, and this was right down my alley.  It’s an account of two young women who set off in 1944 on a long circle through the eastern US (via bike, train, and riverboat).  What makes it particularly interesting is that the first half appears to be a contemporaneously written account, and the second finished by one of the women when she was in her 80s.


Does flying occasionally scare you?  Then don’t read this.


The best in travel usually entails taking some risk, in my experience.  This list wouldn’t be my own, but it’s not a bad place to start.


My trip to Argentina last month marked the first time I’d ever had my photo taken at a border, as a condition of entry.  Presumably, other countries will be following the United States further down that road:

The Homeland Security Department has announced plans to expand its biometric data collection program to include foreign permanent residents and refugees. Almost all noncitizens will be required to provide digital fingerprints and a photograph upon entry into the United States as of Jan. 18.

Because nothing keeps us safe like storing your biometric information in a one stop shop for identity thieves.


I’m going to have the opportunity to get to a new part of the world in the next year or two – Southeast Asia.  Shamefully, I have to admit that it’s never held that much interest for me, as a region.  Maybe I could start with Burma.


A little closer to home – the Yellow Arrow Capitol of Punk tour of DC’s punk history might be worth a look.  Punk was never really my thing, so I can’t speak to the quality of it, but the execution strikes me as really a good idea.   The Yellow Arrow concept goes well beyond DC – right now, it claims 467 cities.  Check it out.


Craig of Travelvice captures some of the, uh, cultural nuance of eastern Europe.


While I’m working on finishing this story (really, one day . . . ), you might enjoy this account of Dubai, which I think hits the marks pretty well:

Inside the airport, there was a 90-minute wait at passport control. Surrounding me were an international smorgasbord of travelers; Indian businessman, Arab millionaires, Palestinian refugees, Russian hookers, Japanese tourists, and women dressed head to toe in black robes, complete with leather gloves. With a population of 1.2 million, Dubai only has about a couple hundred thousands locals, the rest are migrant laborers from India, Pakistan, Philippines and Malaysia, not to mention the UK and USA. The guy in the line warns me of ever-present blonde Russian hookers, “There are 200 000 of them in Dubai!” he tells me, shaking his head in disapproval, as if they were an unpopular teenage accessory.


I probably won’t write about the Nova Scotia trip I took in October, and I have no clever way to work this into another story, so I’ll just post this link to the site of a restaurant we passed.  Because I am twelve.

The ACS Conspiracy

Could have told you this was coming:

Sixteen appointees and advisers helping president-elect Barack Obama’s Justice Department transition efforts all recently sat on the board of an organization little known outside legal circles: The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

I suspect we’ll hear more about this Big Liberal Plot in the coming years. To put it kindly (and honestly), the American Constitution Society (ACS) was a very late response to the conservative Federalist Society. Like the Federalist Society, it’s not a nefarious secret conspiracy – it’s a simple organization of like-minded lawyers who believe that supporting the organization can help advance their ideas about the law and government. I’ve been a member since the outset (2001), but haven’t participated all that much. There are lots of campus-based events, and (in DC, at least) ACS sponsors the occasional forum or lecture.  I think the last one I attended was this forum on human rights (co-sponsored with with Center for American Progress – you can view video of it here, if you like).  ACS also maintain a blog (natch), which you might find interesting.  I write all that in the hope that the next time you hear about “that liberal ACS”, you’ll have some measure of reality to compare to what will almost certainly be a mythologized version of the organization.

Feeling the Veil: A Woman’s Reporting in Saudi Arabia

[And sometimes we find pieces for which we simply never hit the “Publish” button.  This is about a year and a half old, but still perfectly relevant.]

Check out this excellent piece by Megan Stack, reporter for the LA Times, on her experiences in Saudi Arabia:

I was ready to cope, or so I thought. I arrived with a protective smirk in tow, planning to thicken the walls around myself. I’d report a few stories, and go home. I had no inkling that Saudi Arabia, the experience of being a woman there, would stick to me, follow me home on the plane and shadow me through my days, tainting the way I perceived men and women everywhere.

[ . . . ]

I spent my days in Saudi Arabia struggling unhappily between a lifetime of being taught to respect foreign cultures and the realization that this culture judged me a lesser being. I tried to draw parallels: If I went to South Africa during apartheid, would I feel compelled to be polite?

That last question is something I’ve considered myself, especially during my travels this past year.  The photo on the right was of a Dubai-based newspaper that I read on a flight from Mumbai to Dubai.  It was a little jarring, to see that as front page news (and not free of irony, with its position right under headline about “Fashion Week”).

Update: Here’s a response that I urge all to read.

Omnibus Notes

I’m going to try and clear my draft desk in the next couple of days, so I can concentrate on a few long form projects.  To do that, I’m going to push out a lot of stuff that I can’t give the treatment originally intended, but can’t in good conscience just push into the dustbin.*  They’ll be loosely organized around general themes (I hope).  So I’m asking for a bit of your indulgence, to see this place through to the new year.

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*My conscience occasionally works in odd ways.

Do the Right Thing: Webb & Prison Reform

The Washington Post has an article on the reaction to Sen. Webb (D-Va) and his plans to introduce legislation aimed at reforming the US prison system.  Webb – unlike just about every other politician – isn’t interested in grandstanding by adding penalties on top of penalties.  Rather, he’s interested in reducing prison population, improving conditions in prisons, and seeing better outcomes for those that are released from prison.   Of course, this doesn’t go over very well in Virginia:

It is a gamble for Webb, a fiery and cerebral Democrat from a staunchly law-and-order state. Virginia abolished parole in 1995, and it trails only Texas in the number of people it has executed. Moreover, as the country struggles with two wars overseas and an ailing economy, overflowing prisons are the last thing on many lawmakers’ minds.

But Webb has never been one to rely on polls or political indicators to guide his way. He seems instead to charge ahead on projects that he has decided are worthy of his time, regardless of how they play — or even whether they represent the priorities of the state he represents.

State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), who is running for attorney general, said the initiative sounds “out of line” with the desires of people in Virginia but not necessarily surprising for Webb. The senator, he said, “is more emotion than brain in terms of what leads his agenda.”

Some say Webb’s go-it-alone approach could come back to haunt him.

“He clearly has limited interest in the political art, you might say, of reelection,” said Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

I think most long-time readers will recall that I’ve got problems with Webb.  But on this, I’m 100% behind him.

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