Friday, June 27, 2008

Woke Up This Morning, Got Myself a Gun

Okay, I didn't actually buy myself a gun this morning, nor did I watch the Sopranos but I could have! Yesterday the Supreme Court declared the DC ban on handguns unconstitutional. Since 1976, the District has had the strictest gun laws in the country. Until now, the Court has neglected to interpret the Second Amendment and the meaning of the right "to keep and bear arms" or the definition of "well regulated militia." It's a landmark decision and I'm excited that this is happening while I'm living in DC and working with so many conservatives. One of the guys at work said that he used to live in DC (he now lives in Virginia) and said, "It's the only place I've ever lived where I couldn't have a gun and the only place I ever felt I needed one."

It's no secret that DC has had a bit of a crime problem. It's interesting to talk to people here about the decision. I don't see the logic of those who are afraid that allowing law-abiding people to keep handguns is going to somehow make the crime rate skyrocket. I guess we shall soon find out - in 21 days or how ever long it's supposed to take the city to redraft their laws. I admit, I speak from a position of privilege. I haven't lived here that long, and have never lived in a neighborhood where gunfire is a nightly occurrence. Those who have are insistent that any guns in the District will eventually end up on the street. Where I stand (which is admittedly farther out of harm's way) it looks like there are plenty of irresponsible people who are breaking the law by owning handguns. Putting an end to the ban would permit law-abiding citizens to have guns in their home. In the end, I don't know that much will actually change. Certainly the possibility of an in-home accident with the weapon increases, but there's no way in hell DC will ever have a carry law, so we really are talking about allowing people to keep a gun in their home for the purpose of self-defense. Virginians love their guns and they have concealed carry and open carry laws, and from what I've seen - the areas of Virginia nearby are quite a bit safer than DC. It's impossible to determine how the gun laws affect the crime rates and vice-versa; there are just too many factors involved. What we can do is argue the language of the Second Amendment, and I've had some fascinating conversations. I have spoken with many DC residents, and they're strongly divided on this issue. Of course, some take it all in stride. Tonight someone told me, "People like me shouldn't have guns. If you knew my ex-husband you'd understand why." She was quite relieved that she didn't have a weapon by her nightstand during that ugly divorce. But you still have to admit - if she really wanted to off the guy, she could've found herself a gun - ban or no ban.

Of course she didn't really want to murder her ex-husband, she was making the point that perhaps guns shouldn't be available to women every 28 days or so. Let's test the constitutionality of that idea!

Monday, June 16, 2008

A friend you haven't met

Tonight was the George F. Will event at Politics & Prose, and I did not ask him to sign my Newsweek as I quipped last week but I did get there early enough to get a seat. He didn't get quite the audience of McClellan last week, but it's easy to fill a room with Bush-haters. An intellectual conservative is a harder sell. Even if you don't share George Will's sensibilities, it's hard not to appreciate his wit. I tend to do both. He took Q&A from the audience after offering some well-articulated opinions (his Doctor saw his Medicare card and said, "Great! Now we'll send your bills to your children.") He is a conservative, but I think of him as more of a libertarian. When one questioner asked about teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom, Will compared it to teaching alchemy in a Chemistry class. He's smart, he's funny, and I'm in awe of his command of the English language.

At the end of the event, I looked around for a bit (how cool is this - they have my U of I professor's book in stock!) I tried to decide if I wanted to look like a dummy and ask Mr. Will for a picture or not. I didn't feel entitled to take up his time when I wasn't shelling out for his book, but I eventually decided it might amuse my dad. Surely he'll feel better about me being so far away if he sees me hangin' w/George F. Will.

There were only a few people left in line when I mustered up my nerve, but the guy in front of me could not stop talking when it was his turn. It prolonged my wait, but it was quite endearing. The man was buying four books and had them signed and personalized for friends while he repeatedly expressed his appreciation for Will's work. After all four books were autographed, he handed George Will a gift he'd brought him - a book by another author that he thought he would enjoy. Yeah, it took a while - but it was fun to watch the enthusiasm; and what the hell do I have to complain about? I wasn't even making a purchase.

When it was my turn, I gave my rehearsed explanation that I had just moved to Washington after graduation and apologized that I could not yet afford the book, but I was hoping he might have a picture with me. (If you've skipped to the end of this entry, you've aleady seen the spoiler on that one. Don't skip ahead - you'll miss the best part of the story!)

Before that photo came to be, the guy in front of me heard my question and immediately turned to me and said, "You want a book? I'll buy you a book." He insisted that I needed one and my Iowa hospitality prompted, "Oh no, I couldn't accept that. A picture is fine... it's for my dad." But the man was a dedicated fan and wanted to share his favorite author with anyone who wanted to read it... even if it's just the young lady standing in line next to him. I was shocked by his reaction and didn't know what to say. I protested again until George Will nodded at me and said, "Take the book."

"Okay, if George Will says take the book, I will take the book."

So, I am now the proud owner of an autographed copy of One Man's America. The only thing better than an autographed book is an autographed book with a fun story behind it. I walked to the cash register with the enthusiastic fan and between my "thank you"s, he raved about the book and explained: It's a collection of essays, something easy to pick up if you just have a few minutes here and there (like on a 20-minute commute on the Metro, for example!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

MSNBC won't be happy until I cry my eyes right out of my head

I'm watching the repeat of Meet the Press on MSNBC and it's a continuation of their "Remembering Tim Russert" weekend memorial. It takes a lot for me to shed a tear; I don't really cry very often. But when I see Tom Brokaw try not to break down on the air, saying, "I don't know if I can get through this..." well, I certainly couldn't make it through watching that.

It's not because I have any attachment to Brokaw; he always sounds to me like he's tossed back a few drinks before his broadcast. The sad truth is that we all suffer a loss with the passing of Tim Russert. When it comes to television journalists, it just doesn't get any better than Russert. If news & politics isn't your thing, maybe I can explain with a sports comparison.... Think of a player on a rival team that you hate to see your team go up against. The one guy who is so good that you would love to see him wear your team's jersey, but when he plays against your guys, you pray he'll be on the injured list. He's the Michael Jordan when your team plays the Bulls; he's Wayne Gretzky if your team plays the... er, Rangers, Kings or Oilers... depending on what year this particular analogy takes place.

That's the best way I can describe Russert, but it's not an ideal analogy. He doesn't play for a side. When he interviews politicians, it doesn't matter what their political affiliation is, he puts them all on the spot. If it's someone I don't especially like, I cheer when he catches them off guard. But last year when he interviewed Bill Richardson, I cringed. I have a lot of respect for Richardson, and Russert nailed him on everything. He even called the Governor out for claiming to be a Yankees fan at one time, and a Red Sox fan another time. It was brutal. I sat in my living room waving a white flag back and forth for poor Richardson.

It's really unfathomable that Russert is gone. I can't imagine who could replace him on Meet the Press. Surely there's someone with the same qualities as Russert - hard working, unintimidated by powerful people, someone who refuses to back down. Unfortunately, Big Media seems most interested in having a pretty face read soft news. Anything even resembling investigative journalism is rare.

I'm afraid that one of the last great journalists died suddenly on Friday the 13th, and left behind some impossible shoes to fill. It's sad to think that he's gone, while we're left with the mass of talking heads and partisan hacks. It's incredibly sad, but like I said - it takes a lot of heartache for me to shed a tear. I must admit that I've shed a few this weekend while watching the retrospective on MSNBC. They've repeatedly shown footage and interviews with Russert -one can imagine the amount of grief that is undoubtedly being suffered at NBC. The clips show Russert beaming and speaking about his father over the years. His Dad, "Big Russ" was the subject of his book, and watching the old footage of Russert speaking so proudly of his father is heartbreaking.

It's sad for us all that we no longer have Tim Russert to hold our elected officials accountable. But when I think of today - Father's Day; it's hard to hold back the tears when I think of what his father and his son must be going through. My heart goes out to the family.

You win, MSNBC.

Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to go call my dad.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mark Your Calendars for the Iowa City Brewfest!

It's a tradition and it's officially on the calendar - the Iowa City Brewfest is on Saturday, September 20th from 11am to 5pm. I will be booking my flight back soon, and I can't wait to come back and see everyone. Many of you have told me you were "definitely coming" to the brewfest this year. I'm giving you plenty of advance notice so you can put your money where your mouth is. (and in a couple months put your lager where your mouth is... and your porter, your ale, your cider, your lambic, etc...)

Fans of Where's Waldo, try: Where's Scott McClellan

It looks like the back of peoples heads, but it sounds like Scott McClellan and smells like armpits.

Earlier this week I was looking through my NFT (Not For Tourists) Travel Guide for DC and realized that the bookstore Politics & Prose is not far from my new apartment. I know of this popular local store from watching BookTV on C-Span2. They host many book signings with famous (and infamous) authors. It was not until yesterday that I realized it was so close to me, and discovered some interesting events on their website.

Tonight the bookstore hosted former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, currently promoting his Bush-bashing memoir, What Happened. The event was packed, as you can see from the picture. I could see nothing, but I wasn't missing much. He had a microphone so I heard all I needed to hear. It was a miserably hot day and the place was so full that an employee began to turn people away right at 7pm because it was dangerously full. Eventually she let people in and had them file against the walls to leave the center path open. It was a fiasco. A very hot, sweaty, body-odory fiasco.

I left early so I'm not sure how long McClellan spoke. After about 45 minutes the heat got to me and my eyeballs were sore from repeatedly rolling toward the back of my head. It was difficult for me to stand and listen silently. Along with rolling my eyes, I was biting my tongue to avoid outbursts like, "Why Now?" and "Yeah, No Shit!" to McClellan stating the obvious. I was holding a glass bottle and had to put it down. I was so frustrated, I was afraid the beverage container would shatter in my hand from pressure. Listening to Scott McClellan was a lot like listening to Roger Clemens at the baseball steroid hearing. Just another Good Ol' Boy from Texas who trusted the wrong person.


It was difficult enough to hear McClellan talk about himself and how wonderful he is, but the real frustration came from the reaction of the crowd. Most of the people around me seemed to be listening patiently (at least their backsides suggested an attentive stature) and I saw no one close to reaching their boiling point the way I was. I looked around, desperately finding someone with whom to exchange a knowing glance. I did not find that person.

After speaking for a half hour, McClellan received a loud round of applause and some outbursts with an excited "Woot!" here and there in the crowd; he then took questions from the audience. I only stayed for three questions, but they were mostly statements and random Bush bashing. People love to hear themselves talk, and I realize the desperation that many people feel when it comes to the political climate in this country. It goes beyond that though, people really seem to like this guy. I don't get it. Most of what he said about Washington culture and the Bush administration was obvious. He spoke of himself as if he were so far above it, and so disturbed about the Iraq War and the outing of Valerie Plame. He even went on about how he feels that the death penalty is immoral and how he struggled with his personal feelings when he worked for Bush. I think listeners felt really sympathetic toward him, but I don't get it. McClellan started working for Bush in 2000. Bush was the king of executions when he first ran for president. This was something the Democrats brought up repeatedly in the 2000 campaign. Was McClellan on Prozac for six years? Did he cry himself to sleep every night working for this horrible man named Bush? It just doesn't add up.

As far as I can tell, McClellan isn't getting too much scrutiny because people are actually relieved that someone finally validated their suspicions about Bush. So, the former Press Secretary writes a book and the American public tells him to say Two Hail Mary's and four Our Fathers and he's absolved of any guilt. I guess I'd make a crappy priest (too many x chromosomes anyway) but I can't just pat this guy on the back when he was complicit the whole time. Frankly, I'm a little disgusted that he's suddenly discovered his conscience several years and over 4,000 military casualties later. He finally reveals his inside information about the Bush White House, not for the good of the country, but to sell his book.


So, between the rolling of eyes, the boiling of blood pressure, and the gamy smell of an overly packed room in 100 degree heat, I left the event early. I figured I'd hear what he had to say when he testifies in front of Congress. I hope he took some direct questions after I left; but while I was there - everyone seemed pretty pleased with what Mr. McClellan had to say. Bush bashing is a popular (but not very challenging) thing to do these days.

While I'm pretty unimpressed with the former Press Secretary, I was impressed with Politics & Prose. It's popular among the locals and has a great reputation. Next week George Will is going to be signing copies of his new book and I may have to get there in time to get a seat for that one. George Will is someone I never expected to agree with, but when I read his columns in Newsweek or see his political commentary on television, I usually end up agreeing with him. Too bad I can't afford to buy his new book. Maybe I could get him to sign my Newsweek.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The People You Meet... and Avoid

As I learn my way around DC, I feel the need to constantly keep my guard up. I try not to look vulnerable when I make stupid mistakes - like waiting for the Metro to arrive for fifteen minutes, only to realize that I was waiting for the wrong train. That's what happened on Tuesday night. I was waiting for the Red Line to Glenmont. I live on the NW side of DC and Glenmont is Northeast in Maryland. So, I was on the right line, but headed in the opposite direction. And it took me a really long time to figure that out. So, when the wrong train arrived, I just joined the herd of people exiting that train, and walked inconspicuously over to the other side of the Metro station. I'm so smooth. It's not easy - I go to great lengths to look like I know where I'm going.

So, I may be smooth but my timing sucks. I was too late and had to wait another 15 minutes for my train. So, I walked to the other side and sat down on one of the two benches they kindly provide for their hundreds of thousands of customers each weekday. As I was reading my copy of Express (which I receive from a kind man in a bright yellow vest every morning) I had an eerie feeling like I was being watched. I looked up and saw a white haired old man in the middle of the station looking in my direction. I didn't feel threatened or anything like that - he was old and carried a cane. I think I could take him, but I would never have to, the station was very busy by this time. But I'm new to the city so I've always got my guard up.

I kept reading, but watching the old dude out of the corner of my eye. He was inching toward me ever-so-slowly. I look up, he's not moving, but he's looking right at me; I look away. I look up again and he's not moving, but he's a little bit closer and still looking right at me. It was kind of weird; like a senior citizen in stealth mode. Now I'm starting to get distracted from my paper b/c I'm thinking, "What is this guy's deal?" Is he a pervert? I'm leaning forward - is he looking down my shirt? Is he eyeballing my duffel bag? What? He keeps looking over at me!

While I was pretending to ignore him, he came up closer and was nearly standing right over me. It was time for a confrontation. He was about to invade my personal space.

I look up at him quickly and lock eyes to challenge him. I need to let him know I mean business. He speaks first: "Pardon me, but could you possibly move over a bit so I can sit down?"


How strange.

The man with a cane was actually just a physically handicapped person who wanted to sit down in a busy station. How was I to know??

This made me realize the extent of my hyper-awareness while I'm on my own out here. It's all about me. I was so busy trying to figure out what this guy was up to that I didn't even notice the obvious. I felt like a total jerk.

For now, I think I'm still better off in my hyper-aware state than to just assume every old man is just a nice but weary traveller in need of help. Once I feel confident that I know my way around I'll let my guard down a bit and perhaps stay out by myself later than 10pm. But while I'm still learning the bus schedule and the Metro lines, I'm afraid a few senior citizens may fall victim to my vigilance.