Wednesday, June 29, 2005

DC's Beltway: I Can't Drive 55 (or 25...or 15...or 5...)

(image courtesy of http://www.photo.net/photo/pcd0158/traffic-jam-washington-dc-3)

Inspired by the Pope's recent request that we all drive a little more carefully, I wanted to jot down some handy tips/tidbits about cruising the mean streets of DC.

1) Pedestrian crossing signals equipped with countdowns are handy devices that inform drivers how many seconds they have before the light turns red.

2) If you are behind a vehicle with Diplomat plates, DO WHATEVER YOU CAN TO GET AWAY FROM IT. Same goes for minivans in general. If you find yourself behind a minivan WITH Diplomat plates, all you can really do is pray.

3) Construction sites tie up traffic, even if there's no actual construction happening. I guess people expect that the construction workers are laying in wait behind the orange-and-white barrels, ready to begin jackhammering at a moment's notice.

4) Speed limit signs are an ironic statement.

5) Any kind of weather can and will be blamed for poor driving ability: rain guarantees you'll drive at 20 miles an hour below the speed limit, snow guarantees you'll drive at 40 miles an hour below the posted speed limit, and sunshine guarantees you'll come to a dead stop at any curve on the beltway.

6) The presence of police officers mean that people will drive at least 15 miles an hour below the speed limit, instead of their normal 20 miles an hour over it.

7) You will suddenly find yourself on the Rock Creek Parkway without having the foggiest idea how you got there. It's like Brigadoon. People who intentionally and functionally drive on the Rock Creek Parkway should be elected to public office.

8) The first time you are driving to Georgetown, you'll either end up at the Iwo Jima Memorial or the Pentagon parking lot, or possibly both.

9) If you live in Maryland, you know that drivers from Virginia are nuts. If you live in Virginia, you know that Maryland drivers are nuts. Both states believe that DC drivers are nuts.

10) Parking Enforcement officers are the worst parkers in the world. They double-park, park in front of hydrants, park in front of loading and unloading zones, and they park in front of bus stops. Plus, I'm convinced they slap you with a ticket 30 seconds after you park in a zoned area instead of the 2 hours you are allowed.

11) Do not kid yourself that you can park in Adams Morgan. They import cars on weekends so that they can laugh at the expression on your face as you are rejected from each and every pay parking lot within a 2 mile radius of Columbia and 18th Streets.

12) The only way to successfully navigate DuPont Circle is to pretend that you can't see other cars, pedestrians, or traffic lights.

13) Pedestrians would have better luck crossing main roads on a tightrope than in a crosswalk.

14) Many cyclists pretend that they can't see cars, pedestrians, or traffic lights. But don't be fooled -- there are traffic rules they are supposed to follow too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Monday, June 27, 2005

Burn, Baby Burn: Free Speech Inferno

(Supplied by FreeFoto.com)

Guess where I was when I heard that Congress passed a Constitutional amendment to ban burning of the American flag? In my Ford (where else would I be on a day that ends in "y"?). At that moment, I was stuck in traffic behind a Chevy that had American flag head rest covers. And it got me thinking...

Whaaaaaa? What year is this?

My guess is that proponents of the amendment think that burning a flag is tantamount to treason. Please. Burning the flag is respectful dissent. Any argument to the contrary was lost the day people slapped the Stars and Stripes on anything other than a square of canvas destined for a flagpole. To wit:
Yep, that's Will Ferrell in a Saturday Night Live skit (thanks to http://mmatsuura2.home.comcast.net/ for the image). If there were gobs of reverence for the American flag, would it be plastered on g-strings, pet baseball hats, diaper covers, and doormats? I mean, you literally scrape dirt off of your feet onto a doormat; is that how we want our flag treated? And don't tell me the diaper cover is OK because it's cute; I have a one-year-old, and it is most certainly NOT cute when I'm changing his soiled diapers and anything else that he might've contaminated.

Plenty of people will also argue that burning the flag is akin to burning a cross, and should thus be stamped out in a similar manner. Well, if my read of the Supreme Court's hearing of Virginia v. Black in 2002 is correct, it isn't the same thing -- not by a long shot.

Burning a cross, according to the esteemed nine, is a message of intimidation with immediate personal threat. This action is directly tied to a sad, oppressive chapter in U.S....well, I'd like to say history, but I'm not a moron. It still happens.

Burning a flag, on the other hand, expresses "opposition to the thing that the symbol unburned represents." Additionally, "The flag is a symbol of our government, and one of the things about free speech is we can criticize the President, the Supreme Court, anybody, and feel totally free about doing that. It's the symbol of government. But the cross is not attacking the government. It's attacking people, threatening their lives and limbs."

So, banning the burning of a cross is reasonable since it is inextricably tied to threatening someone with bodily harm. This is not the case with the flag. Ask yourself: do you honestly feel threatened with bodily harm when someone domestically burns an American flag? My guess is no. I'll admit to prickly anxiety when I see footage of citizens of other nations torching Old Glory, because my assumption is that they want to harm U.S. citizens. But when an American burns our flag, I see it as political dissent, not a harbinger of being clubbed over the head.

My cynical self believes that there are two insidious reasons that this issue has such momentum right now:

1) There are loads of politicians who want you to be distracted by outrage over burning flags, as opposed being outraged by the root issues protested through flag burning.

2) This is something that they can actually accomplish, cross off a list, and put to bed, unlike a myriad of other issues on the table -- literacy, crime, poverty.

Don't doubt my patriotism. I consider myself fantastically lucky to have been born an American citizen, and there's no other soil I want to call home. The American flag, to which I pledged allegiance roughly 2,210 times, is partly mine. So, if I am incensed by the actions of my government which is symbolized by said flag, I should be permitted to destroy it in protest. I would not trample it, or desecrate it, or make a bikini out of it. I would burn it, as outlined in the flag etiquette standards of respect, because in my mind, it would no longer be fit to serve as a symbol of our country.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

DoD Base Closings: Shuffle Up and Deal

I'll admit up front that I'm biased about the Base Realignment and Closure Program (BRAC). My home in Laurel is situated at the nexus of Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard, and Anne Arundel Counties, all of which stand to benefit from the DoD's proposal to close and realign military bases in the DC Metro area.

That said, I'm sensitive to the NoVa contingent who don't want to pick up their families and follow a gubment job. Once your kids are in school, your spouse has a job s/he likes, and you've discovered hidden treasures in all of the nooks and crannies of your town, who wants to pick up and do it all over again? Who knows which hairstylist will get your blunt cut just right, or which grocery store carries the best produce? And what if you can't find a daycare provider your child likes? It's exhausting figuring all of that out.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like NoVa's side of the military poker table is stacked with compelling arguments for the status quo.

First and foremost, money talks. This plan projects that the federal government will save about $48 billion over the next 20 years. Of course, this is the number the DoD has supplied, and it may not be accurate. But it's easy to sell $48 billion in savings to your constituency.

Additionally, realigning military bases and their related defense agencies will theoretically promote information-sharing. Let's see...what's one of the top reasons cited for the attacks of 9/11? Oh, right. Lack of information-sharing. (See Chapter 13.3 of the 9/11 Commission Report.)

Those are just two reasons from the big fat list that the DoD submitted to Congress. Unless the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments' (COG's) study on environmental impact reveals that closures and realignments will cause irreparable damage to the areas currently playing host to these bases and agencies, the President and Congress will most likely approve the plans by their respective deadlines (September 23rd and November 7th).

Should the COG find that there will be damage, though, it's pretty clear that the DoD is prepared to refute those findings based on the shiny happy articles that are eating up real estate on their BRAC web pages.

Good luck, NoVa, and maybe I'll see ya 'round my neck of the woods.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Tape babies in DC! Check out Mark Jenkins' Storker Project. I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean, but it sure looks cool. I think that makes it art.

Dressed to Impress

Presidential Classroom has once again descended on Georgetown University. The purpose and offerings of the program are commendable, but it's unnatural to see so many teenagers in suits when the mercury rests at 80+ degrees (say it with me now, Washingtonians: "It's not the heat, it's the humidity") .

All things considered, though, I s'pose it's better that our esteemed heads of state see these kids puddling in their tweed than to bear witness to ultra-hip thongs, baby t's, and flip-flops.

Apparently, I'm "Roomy"

I was horrifed by a scene from "The Silence of the Lambs." Everyone was, right? The gory predilections of Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter and Buffalo Bill churn any normal person's stomach. But that's not what made me want to curl up in the fetal position.

Here it is: the victims in the film, women who are described by flattering words like "large" and "roomy," wear a size 14.

Hmmm...who else wears a size 14? Oh, right. ME. Gah! Someone might want to make a woman-suit outta my skin!

I know it's a work of fiction. It's still disconcerting, though.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Motherless Maids = Psychopaths

Last night Bestie and I had a bit of a girls' night and went to see "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." It's a little film; maybe you've heard of it? If not, my sympathies, because you must be in a coma. Okay, okay, that's probably too harsh since it's not really the movie that's getting all the buzz. The rumored affair between the leads, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and the subsequent (though theoretically unrelated) bust-up of Pitt's marriage to Jennifer Aniston has garnered roughly 97% of tabloid rags' real estate since January.

That's got nothin' to do with nothin', though. In an effort to squeeze every drop of value out of my Bachelor's in English (which I am still paying for eight years ex post facto), I analyze movies. Now, no one accused Simon Kinberg of writing think pieces, and a story about married hitmen (hitpeople?) certainly isn't Chekov. But there was one line in the film that caught my attention.

Mrs. Smith reveals that her parents died when she was five years old. Mr. Smith, shocked, learns she paid an actor to play her father at their wedding. Mostly, though, Mr. Smith seems annoyed that he was naive enough to invite his real parents.

Here's the subtext: men can enter this line of work without a load of people scratching their heads as to how he got there. Boys will be boys, after all. However, if a woman opts to become a gun-for-hire, something traumatic must lurk in her background. It's the only way to explain away her aberrant behavior, right?

Okay, so I'm overthinking this. I guess I just don't want people to speculate that I have a dark history when I finally become a hitwoman.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wisdom in the Weirdest Places

Last night while my husband sequestered himself in the basement to clean out his e-mail in-box, I watched VH1's (inside)out. It's more documentary than reality show, and this ep's subject was Juliette and the Licks, the pseudo-eponymous band of Juliette Lewis. I'm not sure if Juliette's musical stylings are to my taste yet -- it's kind of a Patty Smyth meets Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Throughout the doc, Juliette makes it pretty clear that people are overwhelmingly interested in her ability to maintain her acting career while she's jumpstarting her burgeoning career as a songstress. It seems most folks believe that she can't possibly have the energy to do well in both realms. At one point the interviewer asks something like, "Can anything stop Juliette Lewis?" She laughs it off and replies, "Can anything stop me? Just me."

Who knew that I'd be inspired by the chick who let Robert DeNiro's character stick his thumb in her mouth in "Cape Fear"?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Washingtonienne Speaks...and it Involves Lots of "Like" and "You Know"

On my journey into work, I listen to talk radio. It used to be NPR, but 24-hour-a-day reporting on the war in Iraq doesn't really pump me up for an 8-hour work-day bookended by sluggish commuting. I shouldn't really call it commuting, because that doesn't fully encapsulate the special experience of driving for an hour and a half to go 26 miles. That's an average speed of 17.3 miles per hour.

Anyway...

Typically, I listen to Howard Stern. But since audio from gerophile pornography isn't my cup of tea, I flipped over to Elliot in the Morning on DC 101. The guest this morning was Jessica Cutler, author of the infamous blog, "The Washingtonienne." Her novel of the same title is now in bookstores.

Salacious experiences aside, it's clear that Jessica Cutler has kind of a lemming-like mentality. On sundry topics like infidelity, threesomes, and abortion, she declared, "Everybody does it, right?" Conservatives bandy the term "moral relativism" around, but I think it kinda applies here. But it's not for me to judge; in the past I've been accused of expecting everyone to live by my same ethical code. My older and wiser self realizes that we all have different life experiences that shape us in different ways.

[Side note: for the record, I agree with her that its the responsibility of the married person to keep it in his (or her) pants. Having kinda sorta been the other woman, I know that people aren't always honest about their attachment status. Even if the extramarital relationship is rife with honesty, though, the single person isn't the one who took a vow to love, honor, and cherish anybody.]

That said...

Listening to the conversation caused me to have a very Jeanie "Shauna" Bueller moment.

Lemme give you some background...in August of 2004, I read about Jessica Cutler in the Washington Post Magazine. Ostensibly, the article was about her blog, but it morphed into a dissection of Jessica and folks like her who try on lifestyles 'til they figure out what fits. Time Magazine, which dubbed twenty-somethings like this "Twixters," ran an article on the phenomena in January, 2005.

So, as I'm listening to her go on and on and on and on about how it was no big deal and she was just having fun, I'm thinking, why does SHE have a published novel? I mean, I'm not an idiot. I know why she has a novel (see Thomas Hardy's "The Ruined Maid"). But like a good girl/dummy I did what I thought I was s'posed to do in my twenties -- earned a degree from a respected university, had a job lined up before graduation, have been gainfully employed since graduation, etc. -- and I fruitlessly tap away at my keyboard with no book deal to show for it. She, on the other hand, took an admittedly brainless Capitol Hill job, slept around and bang! Now she's doing readings and has an Amazon.com sales rank of 1,299. That's higher than "Moby Dick."

Sigh.

Then I started thinking about Jeanie from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and how she was one of the villains of the movie because she couldn't live and let live. And that's when I kinda recognized that I shouldn't be a playa hater; I should just keep on trying to get in the game.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Rules of Engagement

Last night at the weekly congregation of my ginourmas family, my younger brother announced that he and his girlfriend of a year are getting married. It is the smartest thing he's ever done. She's a really great girl and isn't intimidated by the twenty-one members of the immediate family, which says something about her fortitude.

I'm very happy for them, and am trying hard not to overwhelm them with bits of information about planning a wedding. Even though mine was more than five years ago, I somehow feel like the experience is relevant.

For the longest time I thought it would be weird when my little brother became engaged. I haven't had to think about it a lot, though, because his fiancee (hee!) is the first woman I could see him marrying.  Anyway...it isn't weird. At all. It's just a happy thing. Weird, huh?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Reliving a Teeny Portion of My Youth

Last night, Bestie and I went to see the last show of Erasure's tour in support of their latest album, "Nightbird." It was a lot of fun to go see an actual performance instead of these nerds who get up there and think it's your privilege to witness their songsmithing, not their privilege to put on a show for paying fans. It's a shame that this was their very last show, 'cause I'd recommend that you catch the spectacle. Inflatable trees, angel wings, black back-up singers in lamé Marilyn Monroe dress á la "Some Like It Hot" -- yep, definitely a spectacle. And Andy Bell has some cajones, man. One of his costume changes resulted in his appearance on stage in rhinestone speedos and ankle boots (bear in mind that the audience was about 75% gay men who, I think, can be the harshest critics in the world). But he made it work, even if he was reminiscent of the dancing baby.

Monday, June 06, 2005

PostSecret

When I'm narcissistically perusing my own blog, I sometimes click "next blog" and for once, I stumbled across something kinda interesting entitled "PostSecret." What would my secret be? Sometimes I use my child as an excuse for why I haven't yet achieved my writing goals.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Baby's Got a Brand New Tooth

So, the boy has six teeth now. For a nursing Mom, let me just say, "Ouch!" He's actually mostly weaned himself from nursing, which I was having mixed feelings about. But this biting thing, even though it's only happened once, kind of un-mixes the feelings and sorts them all directly into the "Thank God he's weaned himself" category.

The teeth are also the first crystal clear "I want to raise my child a little differently than my parents raised me" moment. Per my bio, I'm sister to six other kids, and I'm the sixth in the lineup. For those of you who are the youngest children in your brood, you already know that childhood rules and lessons become a little more lax for us. We may be able to stay out a little later, dress a little more provacatively, and get away with a little more. But we also aren't explicitly taught (or forced to do) some of the basics. Like how often we should brush our teeth.

I'm not taking my parents to task on this. If you watched every single one of your seven kids brush their teeth, it'd take an hour out of your evening. Being the parent of one child is pretty exhausting -- though I'm beyond delighted that my boy's in my life, I am also thrilled to pieces when his bedtime rolls around. So I understand that maybe we didn't all get the careful attention and instruction we might have needed so that my parents could have a little time to themselves and preserve their sanity.

But I don't remember being asked if I brushed my teeth each night before bed. To be perfectly honest, I made the decision to brush them regularly when I was eleven. I started a new school, and it dawned on me that maybe it was a little gross that I didn't brush every morning and night. That maybe it wasn't normal that I'd had about five of my baby teeth pulled because of cavities.

Now I'm learning that the care that's taken of baby teeth has a dramatic impact on the quality and placement of adult teeth. And it's no shock to me that despite my best brushing and flossing efforts, I've had to have two root canals before my 27th birthday.

Again, I'm not taking my parents to task. I've just decided to do things a little differently.

But it makes me wonder...if I have a little mental wrestling match over something like this, what's it going to be like when the bigger issues come up -- like faith, death, right and wrong, and (yikes) love and sex?