As overheard on the DC Metro

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

This past Friday, I took the Metro into DC to attend a birthday party for one of my coworkers. Sitting directly across from me was a group of three girls — they looked rather young, but I’ll be charitable and say they were eighteen. They were definitely dressed up for a night on the town, so I’m going to guess they were headed to one of those clubs that lets eighteen-year-olds in. The one right across from me was a slightly chubby blond wearing clothes sexier than she was (not in a good way) with a mouth that was open obnoxiously often.

Not having anything else to do, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation. This blond was talking about her taste in men. Specifically, she was discussing what she considered to be “husband material”. And it was an earful, let me tell you. Her number one qualification was that the guy has to be Jewish. Not because that’s what she was, mind you (I would wager at least even odds that she was), but because she wanted a rich husband. Yes, that’s right, Jew=Rich to her, and so she wanted a Jew. She doesn’t want to reap the benefits of hard labor, oh no — she just wants to marry rich and have everything taken care of for her. And apparently that’s what Jewish men are for?

I was floored enough at this line as it was, but it was the next thing she said that really flabbergasted me. She said, and I quote, “And you know I’m too much of a fan of Coach handbags not to marry rich.” Her friends nodded along in agreement, as if being able to provide voluminous quantities of over-priced portable containers was a standard metric for assessing husband potential. I nearly spoke up right then and there, and perhaps I should have — I love a good argument — but I did manage to keep the resultant yelling strictly inside my own head.

What in the hell is wrong with these people? How is owning a certain brand of bag so important? Is this the Sex and the City culture that we’re living in now? I almost reminded this girl that there are people in Africa who don’t even own anything to carry around in a bag, and that the cost of a single high-end handbag could feed a person for life. But I didn’t feel the need to — she wasn’t attractive enough to make a good trophy wife, so sometime in the near future, when her mommy and daddy finally cut her loose and stop buying her expensive accessories — she’ll finally realize how inconsequential her worries over purses were. Real world, meet spoiled average-looking brat.

Fascism comes to DC

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Fascism is alive and well in Washington, D.C. Metropolitan police are planning on creating “Neighborhood Safety Zones”, which is apparently another way to say “ghetto with limited access security checkpoints”. Your papers, please?

I love how the Interim Attorney General defends this fascist scheme by saying it has “been used in other cities”. None of those are examples it helps to create a comparison with, of course — I’m thinking World War II-era Jewish ghettos and modern day Palestine. And it says a lot about how bad the crime problem has gotten in this nation that we are seriously considering creating fenced-in urban ghettos. Apparently the real solution to crime — fixing the economic factors that causes crime in the first place — is too hard, so let’s just try ghettoization instead.

Since fixing economic problems actually takes long-term commitment, and interim fixes seem to be all the rage with the government these days, wouldn’t it make more sense to just put more officers on patrol in the most dangerous neighborhoods? Won’t an officer on patrol be a lot more useful in stopping crime than an officer stuck manning a checkpoint? The officer at the checkpoint won’t be able to see nearly as many of the goings-on of the neighborhood than the officer on patrol. Heck, he won’t even see the people entering the neighborhood on foot. Also, very few criminals are going to be stupid enough to commit crimes in front of a stationary police checkpoint, while the cop on patrol has the possibility of rolling up on a crime in progress.

Now allow me to change the tone of this piece from outraged to literary-allusionary. Upon hearing of this plan, I almost immediately thought of the lawless zones in Robert A. Heinlein’s novel I Will Fear No Evil. This dystopian novel posits that crime has gotten so bad in the future that the police have simply given up on enforcing law in some of the country’s worst inner city areas. Anyone entering those areas is leaving the protection of law, with posted notices to that effect, and is likely to face extreme danger from humanity’s worst criminal elements inside.

I fear that the creation of DC’s proposed “Neighborhood Safety Zones” is the first step towards seeing lawless zones in our own society. Sure, the police say they are only checkpointing people on the way in — but how long is it until they start harassing people who are leaving as well? Also, law will be enforced strongly at the checkpoints themselves, with the intent that the police won’t have to patrol that much inside the zone. It’s not a big step from this to a setup in which law is only enforced along the perimeter, creating a modern day Heinleinian lawless zone on the interior. The checkpoints themselves effectively send the message “if you don’t live within these boundaries, it isn’t safe to come in”. Creating a boundary between the outside and the inside is the largest and hardest step in creating lawless zones — and DC is jumping into it full force.

The worst possible outcome of this is if it actually works to reduce crime. DC could end up as a thoroughly segmented city, with documentation required at many checkpoints just as you’re driving through the city. What a terrible fate that would be — crime is down, but only because you’re living in a police state. It isn’t worth it to give up freedoms to that degree just to gain a little security (some old man said as much). And what a terrible message to send to all our international visitors.

DC needs to step off this dangerous path towards a city full of walled-off ghettos and put into place strategies that aren’t nearly so offensive to liberty.

Wikipedia meet-up in Washington D.C.

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

Yesterday was the first meet-up in a long while (maybe since 2002?) of Wikipedians in Washington D.C. As far as I can tell, a great time was had by all. It had the same kind of feeling to me as Wikimania 2006, a convention held just about a year ago. It’s quite interesting to finally meet people in person who you’ve been talking with and seeing online for years. Twenty-five people showed up in total. The demographics were quite skewed. Only two females showed up, one of whom was Kat Walsh, current member of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation; I’ve known her since I met her last year at Wikimania. I was also the youngest (or maybe second youngest) person there, yet I had the oldest Wikipedia user account (I started editing in 2002). The majority of the people there were men in their forties and older; exactly the kind of crowd I had expected to see at a meet-up in DC. A good number of people came from far away, like Richmond, New York City, and Philadelphia.

We started the night with group introductions and dinner at Uno Pizzeria in Union Station. I can’t complain about the food. This was also the first time since I was a single digit age that I’ve even been in Union Station, and it’s quite different than I remember it. I’ve been to Grand Central Station in New York recently, which is what I expected Union Station to be like, but Union’s main open-air space is significantly larger. It has multiple levels of mezzanine and floor exposed to the airy vaulted ceiling. It was quite a nice place to eat dinner in.

By sheer chance, I ended up sitting across from Mike Godwin, General Counsel to the Wikimedia Foundation, at dinner. Yes, that Mike Godwin. I was tempted to wear a shirt with a large swastika on it and announce “Dinner’s over” as soon as Mike showed up, but really, that’d be a stupid thing to do; when would I have another occasion to wear that shirt? Maybe fifty years from now, when World War II reenactment becomes a lot more commonplace?

After dinner the majority of the group ended up leaving, but eleven of us went to Brickskeller, a bar/tavern renowned for its world-record-holding selection of beers (over a thousand). We stayed there until midnight, chatting, discussing, and feverishly planning cabal activities, while several of our number got a good ways toward drunk. The bar was a much more intimate setting; our numbers were reduced and the table was smaller and more cramped. Not that that’s a bad thing. Finally, right before midnight, we all headed out. I didn’t get home until 1am because I seemed to just miss all of the trains on the Metro. Waiting for fifteen minutes each at two separate stops is no fun, though it was a nice opportunity for people-watching.

So that was the meet-up. Hopefully we’ll be doing another one soon enough. I think I heard someone tossing around a date in September. Meeting people once is nice, but meeting people twice is what’s really significant to me — that allows you the opportunity to, having remembered what they said they were up to the first time, ask them what they’ve been up to in the intervening period. This information I typically find more relevant than a general life story.

On feline politics

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

You know you’re living in the Washington D.C. suburbs, with all the air of political intrigue that entails, when your cat doesn’t just merely beg for food, he lobbies for it.