20 January 2009

Another day, another president

This morning I joined the throng on the Mall to see the Inauguration. So glad I went! I left the apartment at about 8:45 and headed south down 16th Street. At New Hampshire, I cut over to 17th and took that to Farragut Square, at which point the crowds started getting exceptionally heavy. As I made to to H Street, I looked east and saw a huge mass of people that spanned several blocks. We shuffled over to 18th and continued south towards the Mall. Once there, I noticed plenty of space on the hill around the Washington Monument, so I bee-lined it over there. Everything was relatively painless, except that the way the port-a-potties were arrayed caused the flow of people to bottleneck in places.

I attempted to get to the east side of the monument, so I could at least see the Capitol, even if I couldn't tell what was going on there. The crowd was too dense though, so I moved back to the north side from whence I came, and adopted a jumbotron.

My adopted jumbotron

At that point (about 9:30 or so), crowds were already stretching to the Lincoln Memorial, and all the space east of the monument looked totally full (which, apparently, it was). Once in my selected spot, I began to slowly freeze, but at least the folks around me were entertaining. Everyone was in exceptionally good spirits, and there were people from all walks of life. I heard at least 4 or 5 different languages spoken, and saw prim ladies in mink coats chatting it up with random folks in sweat pants. And, though I may be the only person in the blogosphere to say this, I thought the pieces by the San Francisco Boys and Girls Choruses were very good (yay choir kids!). Then all the dignitaries started being seated. It was funny because you could pick up little bits of their conversations over the loudspeaker -- must've been some very hot mics on that platform. Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, and the Clintons all got big cheers. George Bush's last official greeting from the American people, however, was a two-million-person boo.

As an aside, if you've never heard two million people clapping, it sounds kind of like a dinosaur walking around.

Then it was time for the stars of the show. Big cheers for Malia and Sasha! And Michelle Obama looked absolutely regal! And when Barack Obama walked on, imagine the sound of several really hungry dinosaurs running after the only chicken this side of the Mississippi. You could probably hear it from space.

Dianne Feinstein gave good remarks, I thought. The Rick Warren thing wasn't so much offensive as it was awkward, with some folks around me reminding him that the compassionate God he invoked really was loving and compassionate towards all people (plus, Sasha apparently equals "Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa!"). Aretha Franklin was stunning, of course, and I'm in love with her hat, which DCist described as "Sporting the Queen of Bows on the Queen of all Hats" Joe from Scranton was then duly sworn in, followed by that John Williams number that I simply must get a recording of.

Then there was, of course, Obama's swearing in, complete with fumbled oath of office, thanks to the Chief Justice.

And then there was the speech. An incredible, pitch-perfect speech. Well played, sir.

The crowded disappated quickly after the speech was over, but I stuck around (though was knocked a few feet back), and chatted with a cute slightly older couple decked out in matching bright neon British police jackets. These gentlemen had taken it upon themselves to stand over a rather massive hole in the ground for most of the morning, to prevent others from falling in it. They were hilarious. We got to hear the upbeat and perhaps quasi-ridiculous benediction, and then I started the long trek home.

And yes, it was a trek. I hung around for a bit snapping a few more bad photos, and then proceeded toward the port-a-potty bottleneck once more. Apparently, some brilliant planner decided to bring in all the military folks for the parade via bus down Consitution Avenue right as the main shindig was ending. The crowd I was in decided we should cut off the Air Force, and so it was. There was then the slow shuffle back up 18th Street to I Street, where I finally was able to break free from the herd. I was fortunate enough to find a warm bus headed towards my place, so that concluded the mission, successfully accomplished.

A final word on Obama's economic stimulus plans: T-shirt, button, and other swag makers the world over are making a killing off this event. I'm fully expecting to see Barack Obama's face on every flat surface in town when I head to work in the morning.

And, because I'm a dirty hippie, I leave you with this photo of the signs some of my fellow speech watchers were carrying. Peace out.

EDIT: I forgot to add that as part of my dorkiness, I checked out the new WhiteHouse.gov page. I was surprised by the good stuff found on the civil rights page, and I welcome the new blog.

EDIT x2: I also forgot to mention that I was walking off the Mall as Bush's helicopter took off. I shouted up "Go back to Texas and don't ever come back!" and some lady behind me shouted some sort of general agreement, and then we had a good hearty chuckle.

19 January 2009

Sponsor an executive today... You'll be saving a lifestyle

This was just too good not to pass on.

Goes along with my earlier rants about bailouts quite nicely, I think.

Hat tip: Armchair Generalist.

17 January 2009

Required Reading Alert

As those of us in the United States prepare for a long weekend that marks a national day of service, the commemoration of a fallen civil rights leader, and the inauguration of a new president, I encourage you to take five minutes to read this piece, no matter what country you hail from. The author was killed, very much in the way he described, just a few days before it was published.

Hat tip: wronging rights.

Inauguration questions: A little help, please?

So I've been reading up on security stuff (here, here, here and here) for ObamaCon 2K9, and, because this stuff was written by security types, and not actual people, I'm now more confused that I was before.

The boy and I are planning to walk to the Mall and plant ourselves before a jumbotron. We don't have tickets, and have no interest in the parade. We just want to be among the throng for a bit. I've even plotted out a path that goes completely around the security perimeter. Yet, as far as I can gather, the uber-long list of prohibited items found in all those places above seems to only apply to the Sunday concert, the seating area for the ceremony and the parade route. Is this correct? Cuz I'd really like to take more snacks than can be fit into a shaving kit sized bag.

So, my questions:
  • Will there be security screening along the part of the Mall opened to the general public?
  • Can I bring a bag slightly larger than my shaving kit? Nothing huge, mind you, just something with room for some sandwiches and extra water, and maybe my little fleece blanket (airplane sized).
  • It would appear that there is a preference for clear, plastic bottles, since glass bottles and thermoses are banned. Does this also preclude the boy from bringing his non-thermal yet metal water bottle?
If anybody, anybody, has a clue about what's going on with this mess, I'd appreciate it. God save the Queen, and all that.

Wait, wrong country. Uh... Hail to the Chief?

EDIT: As someone commented on the WaPo page linked to above, the NYT does in fact have better information, including in today's edition. Link is here.

14 January 2009

Sometimes mockery creates itself

So I was reading this little gem about this young gay boy who was buddies with Barbara Bush the Younger and used to get invited to party with Shrub the Younger after Barbara the Younger decided not to put her college education to use for a good number of years. He does the obligatory mention of how all his other homo friends thought he was an idiot for accepting so many invitations from the would-be murderer of all notions of civil rights, and frankly I think his friends should've knocked him over the head a few times. I'm all for being civil with those whom I disagree, but I will not tolerate their dogs' farts.

Shocker of shockers, this boy starts to question his country's leadership after 9/11, Iraq, the roughshod dismantling of the Constitution, etc. And, his little veil of being a poor working boy who just happened to graduate from Yale is of course blown by the fact that his parents are disappointed that he has failed to join the country club. I find it impossible to believe that his net worth ever existed solely in the cup holder of his beaten up Jeep. (And, etiquette note here: if you are invited to the White House and your car is literally falling apart, please dear lord either rent one or show up on foot).

Anyway, in spite of this boy's semi-cuteness yet blatant idiocy, I submit the following observation of why he's a yutz who gets no sympathy from me: he's a homo boy wearing too many dark colors for one outfit, a button-down collar, and pleated forest green pants. Fashion fail.

See, I told you I'd get back to blogging about things I know. :)

Hat tip: Wonkette.

And Sidebar: I'm exceptionally happy that Tennessee Democrats are savvier than their national counterparts. Way to play the game.

11 January 2009

A word on Gaza

I make no pretenses about knowing anything at all about the Middle East. I find that the conflicts there are both ridiculously intractable and feel that they probably get more than their fair share of airtime vis-a-vis other nasty, brutal conflicts going on in the world at any given time. This infuriates me. While I believe that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself, I often believe that particular tactics employed by the IDF are simply indefensible, and sometimes constitute breaches of international humanitarian law. Fighting rocks with helicopter gunships or rockets with infantry invasions blows any concept of proportionality to pieces. That said, certain Palestinian actors also need to learn/realize that violence clearly gets them nowhere except bombed back into the stone age. Should either side ever demonstrate the possession of a lick of common sense, I'll pay closer attention. This concludes my oversimplification.

Over the past day or so, I've read a few items that have put the conflict in perspective.
  • This post argues that this particular conflict has greater geopolitical implications for the region that will most likely require some sort of new dialogue between the United States and Iran. Worth reading.
  • Here we see the idea advanced that Israel's political leaders may lack the brainpower necessary to execute an effective strategy, and may not even have a strategy. They continue to count tactical advances as victories, when is a pretty low threshold of success.
  • Then, the IDF's narrative about how/why the UN school in Gaza was bombed earlier this week continues to shift, and in highly dubious ways.
  • And finally, let's bear in mind that Gaza has a higher population density than Los Angeles. We need to recognize that an all-out ground and air war is taking place is what is effectively one big city where the inhabitants are forbidden from leaving.
I'm now going to return to things I know a bit more about.

10 January 2009

Choose Your Own Peacebuilding Adventure

Over on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network, Craig Zelizer posted 10 Actions for Peace in 2009. In general, I think his list is a bit... academic. Nonetheless, his item number 10 was, basically, create your own, so here goes.

Assuming we're talking about positive peace, with its implicit reduction/absence of structural violence, and bearing in mind that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," we can start to think of promoting peace in much more activist terms. Regardless of where we are in the world, most of us can probably walk down the street or drive down the road and see signs of injustice right around us. Those could include the shoddy state of schools in poor areas, veterans panhandling on the street, prisons full of men of color, referenda held on the rights of particular groups, watching the news and seeing civilians being killed by advanced armies, or companies where white men take the offices while women and people of color fill the cubicles and the production lines. So what, then, can we do?

Though this blog and my own interests remained focused largely on international issues of peace and justice, we should be mindful not to ignore the injustices we encounter in our own backyards. As Martin Luther King pointed out throughout his career, we cannot have peace locally, nationally, or globally, when unjust structures and systems are holding somebody -- anybody -- down. If we sit and think about it for a moment, that makes the absence of peace in this world seem massive, and it is, but rather than be daunted by that, we must instead rise to the challenge it presents.

In my day job, we discuss and promote the international exchange of students and scholars, and I believe strongly that promoting the international exchange of ideas is important to promoting international peace and understanding. Yet at the same time, discussing national policies and their international impacts seems a bit stratospheric. It's sometimes hard to feel connected to the effects of your work when you're merely a ripple in an ocean. Thus over the summer I started to get involved in activist work to ensure that the DC government complies with and enforces its own human rights law, which is one of the most progressive in the nation. My particular efforts, with many friends and seasoned activists young and old, have been around ensuring that the law is respected as it applies to transgender inmates in the DC jail. This issue is leaps and bounds away from my day job, but it's important. It's an "injustice anywhere" kind of issue, and it matters to world peace, even if you can't immediately see the connection (and I assure you, it's hard to make the mental jump).

Over the holiday, I read Lisa Schirch's Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding (an even shorter introduction to her concepts can be found here), which was a helpful reminder of how big building peace really is. In the book, she describes the concept of justpeace, which assumes that peace cannot exist without justice, and that if justice is pursued through violent means, it undermines peace. She goes on to describe how maximize resources and foster collaboration to ensure a successful peacebuilding process.

I've often thought of building peace as being similar to building a house. You draw a plan, prepare the land, lay the foundation and work up from there. It's not a small undertaking, and it can't be done singlehandedly, but each of us can find a way to help a friend build a house, just as we can each find a way to build peace in the world. The size of the task is sometimes incomprehensible, but collectively, we have the means to finish the job.

03 January 2009

Big dreams brought to you by The Little Man with Big Dreams

The above moniker was bestowed to me by a relative when I was a kid, and deployed whenever I'd get wistful about leaving our dinky little town to save the world, or at least be able to teach a really awesome high school history class. Given that I'm a towering 5'7", it's still basically appropriate. I'm still a big dreamer, but lately I've felt I'm getting a little distracted by life's minutiae, and not focusing on big things. Call it ennui, if you must. Call it "time for change," if you've consumed too much of the Obama kool-aid.

Anywho, when I read Prince's call for us all to dream big, I decided to ponder it for a bit, and then take him up on it. These aren't resolutions, per se, and if things don't go off in the calendar year of 2009, so be it, but I do like the idea of having some big life goals and a few measurables to work from. The big dreams, in no particular order:
  • Be more theoretically informed about the world around me. At the very tail end of 2008, I discovered something called the Africa Reading Challenge, wherein participants agreed to read any 6 books by African authors or about African issues over the course of the year. Since I missed that boat, I would like to expand it to African issues and authors plus works on conflict resolution, peace studies, and the like. My goal for this year: 10 books.
  • Be more dedicated to getting my thoughts out into the world. I tend to blog in spurts, and my friends' and my endeavor over at Practical Peaceniks seems to be hitting a quiet patch. I would like to revitalize this blog, perhaps including more non-international and local content, with a goal of 10 posts per month. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it's something. Also, as I start to think about graduate study again, I would like to pursue getting at least one piece -- even if it's just a book review -- selected for publication.
  • Be more engaged with my community. This year I started getting involved in the work of the DC Trans Coalition, and that has been incredibly rewarding after a too long lull in my activist adventures. I would like to continue that work, as well as find volunteer opportunities related to engaging local youth in international affairs and/or promoting peace and social justice issues.
  • Dramatically improve my level of personal and professional fulfillment. I think doing all of the above will help with that tremendously. More generally speaking, I need to stay on top of new opportunities as they develop, and I need to be more intentional about making sure my needs are met. Apathy is not a virtue, and I'm not going to get over my recent slump by sitting on my duff. I am, by nature, an optimistic and active person, with no particular fondness for sleeping too much (ok, sometimes). I need to get back in touch with that, daily.
Sounds modest enough, right? Let's see how it plans out. Perhaps I should file monthly reports with myself. :)