Friday, December 23, 2005

Forgetting Where They Come From

I know two blogs operated by ex-patriate Minnesotans. The Pie-Eyed Picayune and The House of Wonks.

On December 10, one of Minnesota's most recognizable politicians, Eugene McCarthy, died. As an aside, there are a surprising number of recognizable Minnesota politicians from McCarthy's era- Humphrey and Mondale each held the vice-presidency. Neither has a peep to say about McCarthy's death.

I preemptively reply- for shame. Particularly given the timing of his death. McCarthy was a symbol- of resistance to an increasingly unpopular war, of the ethos of postwar liberalism- worth remembering, considering, and learning from as we face our own increasingly unpopular war and drift on the part of modern day liberalism.

Of course I can understand Minnesotans not standing up to take notice. He was, ultimately, a failure. Not as a man (as a man, he was probably too iconoclastic to be either a success or failure). But as a leader, as a standard bearer. A friend/ acquaintance of mine, Dominic Sandbrook, authored a political biography of McCarthy/ postwar liberalism last year- Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (see reviews here and here)- which argues McCarthy, and by extension the Democratic Party/ The Left/ Liberalism, "wasted his talent" for reasons both personal and structural.

The end result- of the promise of the early 1960s, the tumult at the end of that decade, the ensuing scandal and disarray of the 1970s, and the 1980s embrace of comfort- is the modern political moment. McCarthy and company are not solely responsible- the Moralistic Movement has its own role to play.

Let's learn this history and avoid another quarter century of disarray.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Kiss of Death?

Donald "Heck of a Good Job" Rumsfeld. So says the President.*

The Bubble strikes again? You have to think an engaged President would have banished that phrase from his vocabulary.

*Standard Disclaimer: the original source of this material is Fox News. As such, its reliability and veracity are inherently suspect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I just got it!

Until just a few minutes ago, I was in the dark. But now I understand the popularity, such as it is were, of the incomparable Neil Diamond (maybe popularity over shoots the mark, but we're at least on the right page).

Whether we are talking about Sweet Caroline or his newer Delirious Love, his songs- and singing- give you the feeling that you too can sing just as well as Neil can. If him, why not me! That's the only way to explain the phenomena, right?

Full Disclosure: If I can find a cheap copy of his new album, there's a good chance I will buy it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why I Love My Job

Reason #74

Among the highlights of the holiday season- workwise- is the office party. I am treated to two such shindigs each year- one for my division, the other for the entire agency. Unfortunately, my inbox received discouraging news last week:

For some time I have been concerned about the consumption of alcohol at XXX holiday parties. In thinking about the risk to staff and the Bureau, I have been worried about: ever mounting public concerns regarding drinking and driving, the associated increase in legal penalties, and the introduction of zero tolerance DUI standards; the large number of our staff that commute via private automobile (from XXX, Metro Stops, or Commuter lots); and the difficulties that supervisors encounter in attempting to effectively monitor and control alcohol consumption at XXX parties

In view of these considerations and the potential risk to XXX staff and others, as well as the potential harm to XXX, I will no longer be granting exceptions to the ban on the consumption of alcohol on Federal premises for holiday parties.

XXX, Director

Either that, or last year a couple of employees got more than a wee bit drunk. If you ask whether my officemate was one of the drunkies, I'll act like I didn't understand the question.

Yesterday afternoon, the bill came due. The division holiday party. Christ! Alcohol shouldn't just be available at holiday parties- it should be required. The food was good- until the head of the food committee (yes, seriously, that is what he calls himself) started talking (nay, going on) about the spreadsheet he used to plan the buffet.

The occasional conversation (usually a two or three person chat among actual friends) took off. Most crashed and burned- three sentences were bounced around before silence and stares returned:

Economist #1: Did you make the pretzels this year?
Economist #2: No.
Economist #3: Oh, those were really good. (return to silence)


Manager #1: Do you know who made the cake?
Economist #4: I'm not sure, but it looks good.
Manager #1: Sure does. (ditto)

In fairness there was one ongoing discussion about TurDucKens. The chatter more closely resembled a spoken Round than actual conversation- new people kept entering and recycling the same lines. Among the most commonly repeated lines were "doesn't that sound good" and "I've never had duck"- those two sentences were often uttered by the same people.

None of that, however, is as bad as my boss talking to me about the schedule for the rest of the week. Whoa, party foul! Here's a guy who can approach normal, but he needs a little help. But upper management is denying him the tools he needs to succeed.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Oh to be a Fly on the Wall

When Phil Jackson talks to Michael Jordan. The whole conversation would probably be fascinating. I am, however, mostly interested in the Kwame Brown portion of the conversation.

Do you think Phil begins aggressively- "What the hell were you thinking drafting this kid?" or sheepishly- "I too was fooled into believing the kid could be something."

What book does Phil recommend he and Jordan co-read? Something from the Fact or Crap series? The Fussy Baby Book? Or does the devil in PJ cause him to suggest My Favorite Mistake?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Why I Love My Job

Reason #42

Technical Writing Class. How do I love thee? Let me mention the ways:

Sitting across the table from some guy who's a disturbing cross between The Not Yet 40 Year Old Virgin (I know, I just violated that whole "Virgin: It's Not Dirty Word" thing that used to be on billboards. I'm sorta sorry. But there's an important distinction to be made between a choice and a condition) and Jason Schwartzman's character in Slackers. More of the latter than the former, sadly.

Only one actual writing exercise during three days of class.

Such useful phrases as "The only time a 1 or 2 sentence unit (you or I would call it a paragraph, but 1 to 2 sentences cannot constitute a paragraph under the instructor's definition) is acceptable is when it has a purpose." As opposed to all other groupings of words and sentences, apparently.

And, last but not least, the instructor's repeated assertion that the point of a document cannot simply be "To inform the reader." Simply informing the reader is merely dumping data in their lap- hardly the act of a responsible (or competent or even useful) author. Naturally, her assertion was met with confused stares from the class. You must understand- professionally, we're not allowed to have a 'point.' Because a point indicates (ahem, might indicate) bias- and we are a scrupulously unbiased organization. A caused B (according to the methodology we have established), sure. What that means is up to you. Where do I stand on this little disagreement? I'd love to sort that out for you, but I'm on the job right now.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

From the Unpublished Archives: Greening

A year ago today, I was thinking:
Green buildings

We're a rich country, we should do this. It's just plain smart.

But we won't. Afterall, we're a rich country. The watchwords of poverty are waste not, want not and penny pinching. We're ostentatious.

You know what? I agree with myself. I look forward to the day when the Prius-based conspicious consumption wave strikes the construction world. Wouldn't that be grand?

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Dream Wheezes

In my neighborhood, there's a building. More accurately, the shell of a building. Two stories of emptiness mere blocks from the heart of a redeveloped urban area. Some time ago, the building housed a bowling alley (20 lanes or so, plus plenty of extra space) but has since been barren. I used to walk by this building daily and dream. Primarily for reasons of immediate convenience, but also thanks to its blank canvas quality, the building struck me as the perfect place to launch my associated industries. Downstairs would be a segmented bar- part pub, part performance space (and possibly an affiliated musicians shop, lunch counter, or something else entirely- as space and whim dictated). Upstairs, a magazine and a radio station. All three of which would supplement the existence of the others. A beautifully symbiotic vision, if I do say so myself.

Well, the building is no longer available. My dream will have to find a new home. Not that I expected such a prime piece of real estate to wait for me to, eventually, assemble the pieces of my idea. But the process of dreaming and anthromorphizing led me to expect the building to ultimately be inhabited by something special. Maybe I was fated to be disappointed? But certainly not to the level that I am.

After several weeks of gutting the building- inside and out- a banner now announces the future occupant. A gym- LA Fitness to be exact. No, this is not a general purpose jeremiad against gyms, health clubs, and the like (though, that would be interesting. What we mean by 'the gym' surely cannot have a long history). For context, this club/ gym will be the third of its kind within 3 blocks (joining the long standing Gold's and the just opened Washington Sports Club). In addition there are already two quickie/ ladies gyms (of the Curves variety) within a similar 3 block radius. Oh, and let us not forget the mini- fitness centers in the numerous surrounding apartment complexes. That's plenty of dead weight, treads to nowhere, and recumbent bikes for such a small geographic area. Enough already.

Returning to the building, its new tenant wouldn't seem to add to the local tapestry. Oh look- another gym. What a waste of space.

This in an area which, as I mentioned, is only recently being redeveloped/ redeveloping itself. The community which stayed through the tough times has been actively involved in shaping the redevelopment plans- keeping true to the existing residents, cognizant of the neighborhood's history, and generally not ending up as another Bethesda. The local tapestry does matter. Not as much as it used to- as luxury condo, after luxury condo, after luxury loft rise from formerly decrepit or underused lots.

I am of the opinion that a region needs a critical mass of resources in order to thrive- anything less and the effort fails. My neighborhood did an admirable job in assembling that critical mass while refusing to compromise its identity. But the gym forces me to wonder: After an area 'takes off', is control of its direction lost?

Let's stockpile our thoughts on gentrification for another day and end this post on that note. And mourn the building- whose potential will go unfulfilled- and my dream's newly homeless status.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How Good We Had It

After some recent thinking, a dose of timely dreaming, and a re-invigorated spirit I mean to resume posting. Not just resume- for that implies merely continuing as things were- but to improve as well.

After such a lengthy hiatus, sliding back into the habit will not happen as smoothly as I might wish. Foremost among my hindrances: What type of post would suitably announce my return? An introspective 'why did I stop' piece? A prospective 'what inspires me to put finger to molded plastic' statement? The next idea in my head, pulled off with a certain nonchalance toward the publishing gap? None of those felt quite right.

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon my answer. Along with the published posts, I have a small collections of draft posts which are in various states of completeness and coherence (much the same could be said about the published posts, but I certainly hope none are moved to make such an observation). As luck would have it, the last post of any sort was one of those drafts- in a nearly complete form. I wrote it the same day as the last published post- January 17th. There's a pleasing symmetry there, wouldn't you say? (the title to this post, in fact, is the title of that draft)

For my reintroduction post, I've decided to quote that post and then expand upon it. Voila.

I had no idea how good we had it. For nearly a year now, I have highlighted some of the glaring deficiencies in the Dear Abby column. For fun, mostly. But also in hopes of making a point about what good advice is and is not.

The spirit of those critiques have been heard- only indirectly I'm sure. Well, partially. Beginning with the New Year, the Post dropped Dear Abby as a daily column (she is now a twice a week feature). This is almost certainly for the best. From seven days worth of Abby columns, two columns of worthwhile material can certainly be culled.

Unfortunately, Abby's daily slot has been given to Amy- as in Ask Amy (evidently, my parents destroyed my syndicated advice columnist career by the time the ink on my birth certificate dried). I do not like Amy. Less you begin to think I am some sort of advice column hater, I was a fan of the deceased Ann Landers and am a proponent of Tell Me About It's Carolyn Hax.

Abby is, as I believe I titled a posting, that judgmental bitch at the old ladies tea party. Always chipping in her two cents, only occasionally usefully. Amy is that recklessly reaffirming member of the tea circle. She's an ego fluffer.

What neither Amy or Abby grasp- unlike both Ann and Carolyn: the column and the advice is not about them or their biases. It's about the writer and counseling their decision-making processes- in both particular and general terms.

That post stops exactly when the story turns interesting. When I wrote it, I intended to involve a fun profile of Amy from that month's Atlantic Monthly. That profile endeared Amy to me- in particular her reaction to reader comments and a certain 'horseshit' stamp. I put the post on hold while I reconsidered my position. For a month or two, I had myself thinking she was pretty good with her advice. Somewhere around the onset of Spring, I came back around. Amy is an interesting cross of the Amy I described, the Abby I described, a terribly disinterested listener ('please, stop your whining. It's tiresome'), and the worst parodies of an aloof Martha Stewart. I figure now is as good a time as any to say so. I believe in the sentiment. I believe in the usefulness of saying so. I believe saying so matters, even if it doesn't. None of which I could say last January.

(Yes, there's a mildly allegorical quality to the parallel journeys which, ultimately, are the point of this post)