The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Red Sox have traded Nomar Garciaparra. No, I'm not pleased. :(

UPDATE: They traded Nomar Garciaparra for two mediocre hitters who are both having bad years with the bat. Their defense is upgraded but their lineup has far too many easy outs in it for my taste for now. Even worse they didn't get any pitching in the deal, so they still have to deal with the drama of Derek Lowe every fifth day.

If this deal is the best they could get for Nomar they'd have been better off keeping him, even if he was going to walk at the end of the season. I don't really want either Cabrera or Mientkiewicz (or however you spell it) on this team.

Help Is On The Way (Part 2)

The Florida Republican Party sent a mailer to its supporters in South Florida urging them to obtain and use absentee ballots.

By all means, click on the image in the article and get a closer look.

I guess now we know what Jeb really thinks about those voting machines.

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Boston Rag (Part 3)

I loved Sen. Kerry's convention speech last night. I think both "We can do better" and "Hope is on the way" are great themes to invoke - trying to draw the starkest possible contrasts between the Kerry/Edwards ticket possible without veering too far into negativism.

A lot of swing voters want to be reassured that, no, it is not the case that a Democratic administration wouldbe "weak on terror" or "weak on national security."

The best line of the speech was when he quoted Lincoln saying that, rather than saying that God was on our side, hoping that we were on God's side.

The few digs at the Bush administration contained in the speech were relatively vague and attacked policy positions rather than personal character, which is the right move. If the Democrats keep the argument in that arena, it would make Bush and Cheney look like the villains if they decided to go into more personal issues. Most Presidential elections where there is an incumbent are more about that incumbent than they are about the challenger at any rate.

I originally backed Howard Dean because I thought - the "scream" notwithstanding - that he had experience as an executive and that the language and customs of the Senate do not translate well to the stage of a Presidential election. It used to worry me that Kerry, for serving two decades in the Senate, did not have a long list of legislative "accomplishments" to point to, but one of the historians on the panel analyzing the convention for PBS pointed out that the same could be said of John Kennedy and Warren Harding, the only two men to go directly from the Senate to the White House in the last century. The legendary legislators of the Senate - Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Bob Dole, Robert Taft, Pat Moynihan - by and large weren't well suited to Presidential politics.

Many in the news media were looking for some photo-negative of the 1992 Republican Convention, with one red-meat appeal after another. They were looking for a Democratic Party that could be easily caricatured as the party of Manhattan, Cambridge, Berkeley, and Hollywood, and no one in between. Though there were speakers preaching old-time Democratic religion to be sure, the bulk of the convention was an appeal to a nation.

I like our chances in November a little better than I did at the beignning of the week.

Help Is On The Way (Part 1)

Possibly the first in an occassional series.

Apparently, a Bush administration official has suggested that people dissatisfied with the way the job market is treating them should find a new job or take Prozac.

Of course, finding a job better than the one you're at now is easier said then done, and if you're like many who've had to take a job that didn't offer health coverage, good luck affording that Prozac.

In other news... to be in the audience at a Dick Cheney campaign stop in New Mexico, the campaign is apparently requiring that people sign an "endorsement" of the Bush/Cheney ticket in 2004.

While I'm going to refrain from throwing the "fascist" tag, I find the whole "see no evil, hear no evil" aspect of this administration, with its handpicked audiences for everything, and its distant "free speech zones." and its scripted-to-the-letter public appearances disturbing; while the image-managing of government is by no means unique to Bush, he seems to have taken it to a whole new level.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Crazy In Alabama

I worked late last night, so I didn't catch the Democratic National Convention last night. I missed not only John Edwards' speech, but also the "naming of the states," that time-honored tradition whereby each state delegation formally nominates their party's candidate for President.

I imagine the Alabama delegation probably didn't include "The great state of Alabama, where you can walk down the street with a semi-automatic rifle in one hand and a vibrator in the other hand and get arrested...for the vibrator...and only the vibrator!" in their spiel.

But they could have.

Only July 12, 2003, in my analysis of the possible after-effects of Lawrence v. Texas, I wrote the following:

Alabama’s infamous prohibition of sexual devices might be in trouble too. I’m not sure what to say about that, other than to express my sympathy with the people of Alabama, other than whoever is responsible for making Alabama such a ripe target for ridicule by passing this sort of legislation. I will charitably assume that no one actually campaigned on the issue of outlawing the dildo; I would hope that political campaigns in Alabama turned on issues more important or at least less silly.

Apparently the Eleventh Circuit disagrees with me.

This isn't a settled issue necessarily, as the Supreme Court hasn't ruled on this; they may decide to take a pass on it, but if they don't, I'm guessing the law is still in trouble.

But in the meantime, if women (or men) find themselves in need of a dildo to pleasure themselves, they could always use a sniper rifle on the relevant orifice. I just hope they unload the weapons first.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Boston Rag (Part 2)

Two nights of the Democratic National Convention down, two to go.

After hearing the inspiring speech of U.S. Senate hopeful Barack Obama on the radio, I think I speak for a lot of Democrats outside the Land of Lincoln when I say... can I cast a vote for this guy?

Hearing Theresa Heinz Kerry, on the other hand, made me almost wish I could vote for John Kerry and then vote for someone else for the office of First Lady.

I was hoping for a better speech by Howard Dean as well. He did discuss how his grass roots movement helped revive the party, but had the annoying tendency to repeat himself a lot.

But between great speeches by Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Obama, Edwards and Kerry have their work cut out for them, to say the least.

(Hearing that speech on the rain-soaked car ride back from Baltimore was perhaps the only redeeming thing about last night's rained-out Red Sox-Orioles game. That, and the Sox were still trailing - albeit rallying - when the game was first delayed; though the rain died down a little bit, it emerged again with a vengeance unseen by me since the days of Hurricane Floyd, and the game was called. Then I got to trudge across a long parking lot - I think I'd felt drier after jumping into the Potomac fully clothed.)

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Boston Rag

I hope that the attendees of the imminent Democratic National Convention enjoy themselves in Boston. There is perhaps no better major city in the country to be in during the hot months of July and August.

People who came early got to see the fever pitch of a city enthralled by a particularly contentious Red Sox-Yankees series.

Nonetheless, I was really opposed to the idea of a Boston DNC site from the beginning this year, even before one considers the infastructure issues raised by the ongoing Big Dig. I'd have preferred that the Democrats send a signal to a more marginal part of the country that - endless blather regarding "red" and "blue" America notwithstanding - the Democrats aren't going to concede the entire Heartland to the Republicans. Especially in an election like this, where Kerry should be more interested in appealing to the middle since the very notion of another four years of Bush/Cheney should be sufficient to motivate the Democratic base to turn out.

All things considered, it'd have been better if the Democrats could have found a way to reward a Democratic mayor and governor in a swing state with the economic benefits of a convention. Boston fits none of these characteristics, other than the mayor, and, well, not many major cities have Republican mayors anyway. The governor in Masachusetts is a Republican, who's busy trying to make mischief on behalf of President Bush and his campaign. Massachusetts is as far from a swing state as you can get - it's Kerry's home state, and Bush couldn't win here no matter what state the Democratic nominee would call home. And Boston, if anything, is losing tourist revenue from the convention, since many people who'd have otherwise taken their vacation in or around Boston chose to skip it; somewhere like Detroit, Kansas City, or Pittsburgh would be more likely to derive a positive revenue stream from a convention than Boston.

As for the convention itself...

Tonight is the night where Bill Clinton (along with his wife Hillary) returns to the national state in support of the Democratic ticket.

* The possibility that the Clintons aren't going to work too hard for this ticket, since Hillary would be first in line in 2008 in the event of a Bush victory is being discussed among the chattering classes, after being mostly the stuff of conspiracy theory earlier. I don't buy this meme now, since the rank and file will more likely be watching the Clintons for any sign for a reflection of this sort of calculation.

* Al Gore will be speaking as well. In his more recent public speaking engagements, he has attacked Bush and the GOP in harsh tones, speaking with a fire that seemed largely absent from his 2000 campaign.

I don't expect much to happen the first night of the convention; the other two nights are much more important as to how things might go in November.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

My Opening Farewell

When I moved to moved to Adams-Morgan in 1997, Marion Barry was Mayor. Though Adams-Morgan by this time had some cachet as a happening, hip neighborhood, it was still not an especially safe place to be, especially at night.  The neighborhood was dirty and rat-infested, the block was loud, and I had some of the worst neighbors imaginable in terms of cleanliness, noise, and hangers-on congregating everywhere blocking sidewalks. Some of said hangers-on were running a drive-thru drug market at which you could get bad marijuana. In between transactions, there was much drinking from liquor bottles concealed by paperbags during dice games. In addition, from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, suburbanites, students, and the occasional tourist would invade my block, take all the parking spaces, and generally use it as a landfill.

On the three occasions I had to look for a roommate - twice in 1998 and again in early 2000 - I more or less ruled out women because I thought that the neighborhood wasn't safe enough for them.  Until my final year in my building, all the tenants living there were male.

And, like even many of the best neighborhoods in the District, it was...well...in the District. Which meant a basket case of a school system, unreliable city services, an often indifferent and/or incompetent police department, city leaders who played the race card like it was going out of style as an excuse for inept management, and of course the lack of effective representation in our national legislature.

These various and sundry inconveniences did have the beneficial side effect of making my rent affordable on a student's budget, since people unwilling or unable to put up with this sort of stuff could always opt for Maryland or Virginia - or, if they wanted to stay in the Adams-Morgan orbit, could spend a little more money and live west of 18th Street, north of Columbia Road, or in Dupont Circle to the south.

When I left Adams-Morgan for Arlington in 2004, Marion Barry was no longer Mayor. Anthony Williams had come in five-plus years ago with a mandate to make the city suitable for yuppies (and, more importantly, their tax dollars) again. Crime rates have dropped somewhat, but only to the same degree they've dropped across the board nationwide. As for my corner of Adams-Morgan, it felt a little safer in 2004 than it did back in 1997, at least as far as run-of-the-mill robberies, break-ins, and muggings; however, it seemed like gang activity was as robust as ever, and there was more than one shooting a bit too close to home in my final months in the neighborhood.  All four of the people left living in my former building are female.

As much has things changed around there, a lot of things didn't change much at all. The day I left for the last time, the neighborhood was still dirty and rat-infested, the block was still loud, and I still had some of the worst neighbors imaginable in terms of cleanliness, noise, and hangers-on congregating everywhere blocking sidewalks. It was business as usual at the drive-thru drug market.  I was still subjected to thousand-yard stares from men drinking and playing dice games on the sidewalk. And the outsiders still flocked to the block on the weekends and threw rubbish wherever they pleased.

One thing I have up until now failed to mention: my rent was a bargain of the sort you don't see in Washington anymore when I moved there. It increased about 50% in seven years, though it only increased to a point that it nearly matched going market rates in the neighborhood. I made the decision that the incredibly cheap rent I was getting in combination with the location and the proximity to many amenities was worth the risks and hassles of living on that block.  But as the gap between what I was paying to live there and what I would pay to live on my own somewhere it was easier to sleep at night grew smaller and smaller, I kept revisiting the trade-offs.  The last straw came when my roommate of four-plus years decided he was leaving, to move into a smaller place with his girfriend, and that staying would mean finding another roommate (after the luck I had with four guys in seven years, I was more than due for a Roommate From Hell) and swallowing another rent increase.

Adams-Morgan was already well on its way to being Ground Zero for the gentrification of D.C. when I showed up there, but it really took off during the last couple of years.

Not only were old houses being refurbished, but whole new buildings were going up all over the place. The parking lots that once lined both sides of Champlain Street - empty during the week, only to fill up with cars on Friday and Saturday nights - became construction sites, which then became high-end condominium complexes.  These complexes usually - but not always - had enough parking for the new residents, but not generally for anyone else, the net result being a more severe parking crunch on residents and visitors alike.

National chains that once tended to avoid Adams-Morgan as unprofitable began to creep in. There's a Starbucks at 18th & Columbia, and now a Caribou Coffee further down 18th, which is across the street from a Maggie Moos.  The McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Popeye's franchises on Columbia Road predate my living in the area, but the KFC and Burger King do not. The other eateries in the neighborhood gradually became more upscale, as did at least some of the many bars on 18th Street.  

For most of the time it seemed that most Adams-Morgan dwellers fit into a few distinct categories:
A. Longtime residents of a generation or more, mostly African-American.
B. Established residents of a few years, a large number of whom were Latino (predominantly Salvadoran or Guatemalan.)
C. Younger residents from the student or nonprofit communities, mostly white, who rented in the area.
D. Residents from the government or private sectors, again predominantly white.
E. Older residents, again mostly white, who had bought a house, whether to live in or as an investment property.

The biggest difference between Groups C and D was that, in general, Group D (and Group E) were interested in remaking Adams-Morgan while Group C was usually more interested in carving out a little niche for themselves while leaving the surrounding area untouched.  Groups A and B had never gotten along especially well, and many whites, especially in Groups D and E, saw both groups more as obstacles to overcome than as true neighbors.
The favor was generally returned as longtime residents resented being pushed around by newcomers. 

The most obvious fault lines in the neighborhood were racial, but they were not the only ones, nor was race the only thing separating comepting interests, in Adams-Morgan and citywide.  Many of the black and Hispanic households in the neighborhood had children; essentially none of the white residents were children.  Some residents mounted an effort to drive the residents of two houses in particular (if you recall, it was the subject of The Answer Guy Online's first ever true blog entry) out of the neighborhood; the issue did have strong racial overtones, but neither camp had a monopoly on one race or another.

It was hard to pinpoint a time, but I definitely got the sense that the "best" days of Adams-Morgan's were behind it. The neighborhood had gentrified for sure, but the crime and filth were still there. Rents and prices were going up, but the quality of life really wasn't. The feeling that I was paying more and more to get the same product increased over time.

Once upon a time it was easy to ignore the real "movers and shakers" in Washington up in Adams-Morgan. Sure, they would sometimes descend on 18th Street on the weekends when they got bored with Georgetown or Bethesda and temporarily wanted something more "authentic," but they didn't matter much the other five days of the week. But as speculative fever grew across the city during the 1990s economic climate, the profile of who was looking at what neighborhoods to buy or rent in changed. Adams-Morgan became a place of interest for the "mover and shaker" crowd like never before. People making a decent living but still trying to make their way, looking to make the neighborhood work for them in a give-and-take way, were gradually replaced by people with money to burn who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the next Dupont Circle.  The tensions seemed to increase as the gap between the preferences of longtime residents and newcomers in terms of what the neighborhood should look like grew.

(Fact I just found out randomly that really underscores my point: No other major city in America has a larger gap between haves and have-nots than the District.

But, hey, that's City Living, DC Style.

The above slogan was famously trotted out by Mayor Williams and his administration to try to sell the Distict as a hip place to live for singles and childless couples.

It's not as if I'm of the sort that reflexively goes to the barricades whenever the word "gentrification" is used. Any city, if it's going to be a vital city, needs some gentrification to survive.  Especially in the case of Washington, a city that, due in large part to factors beyond its control, operates at a structural deficit such that it could never hope to provide its residents with all the services they require.

For instance, the schools are likely to always be a basket case, since the bulk of their students are from poor households in neighborhoods with major crime problems.  So the District, quite rationally, aims its marketing at people for whom the schools aren't an issue - young singles, gays and lesbians, empty nesters, and the super-wealthy who can afford to send their children to a good private school, of which there are many in the area.

Public health programs in the District tend to be inadequate. So the District expends effort trying to recruit the sort of person who isn't likely to need to use the public health infrastructure much - again, people with money and no children.

 It's in a sense only fair that the District wants to cherry-pick the most "desirable" residents from across the region; Virginia and Maryland have been doing it for decades. The District has shouldered the burden of having most of the region's poor, while getting little help from the federal government and no help from Maryland, Virginia, or any subdivision thereof.  The way the rules of the game are set, it's always in the interest of any state or local government to ship its poor, its disabled, its homeless population somewhere else. It's something we as a nation ought not encourage our state local governments to do as a matter of course, but until that changes, we can't be too surprised when it happens.

From the standpoint of the District, I was a decent placeholder until they got the "mover and shaker" they're marginally likelier to get now that I'm not around. I paid a decent amount in income and sales taxes, at least for the last five years when I worked for a living. I have no children and therefore didn't take how bad the neighborhood's schools are into account when choosing where to live. I had no car and therefore didn't contribute to the parking, pollution, or car theft problems in the city. I hardly ever used the public health infrastucture. I sometimes complained when the trash wasn't taken, but less than many would have.  I put up with far more in terms of people I didn't want gathering on my stoop and making a racket than many people in my situation would have done. The only public assistance I ever received was a few relatively brief stints getting unemployment compensation, and the bulk of the money for that came from my employers, not the taxpayers.     

Now I'm in Virginia, the subject of some consternation on my part - and the feeling that I've made something of a devil's bargain. That subject is best left to a different blog entry. 

Is Adams-Morgan a "better" neighborhood now? Perhaps from the standpoint of the District government it is. From the standpoint of the people who bought land there hoping for the next speculative land boom it is. For the people who've lived there for years being pushed out, it isn't. It's hard to say, but there was an equilibrium and over seven years it's shifted. And it shifted from being a neighborhood that was right for someone like I was seven years ago to one that felt wrong for me by the time I moved out.  As wistful as I felt walking up 18th street at night those last month or so when I knew my days of having that walk as part of my commute were numbered, I was doing the right thing by leaving.  

Adams-Morgan was never a utopian place where everyone got along. It wasn't "ruined" when the "yuppies" "discovered" it. But there was a unique convergence of factors there - cultural diversity, nightlife, rents made affordable by some folks' fears (rational and otherwise) of the area, a location close enough to Metrorail to be convenient but far enough away from Metrorail not to attract the kind of high-rollers who otherwise would have held sway. But like all things in this life, it came to a close. It's a different neighborhood now. I'll still have my fond memories and my not-so-fond memories, but all in all, I'm glad I got the chance to live in a great neighborhood for seven years.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Back In The Saddle

Those of you still reading this blog after it's been dead so often for so long are to be commended for your patience.

I've returned from a week-plus vacation up north, seeing family and old friends and logging some well-earned relaxation time.

Hopefully, profound thoughts will soon follow. 

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Search Is Over

It's Kerry/Edwards.

I came around to the view that Gen. Clark was ultimately the man I'd have most preferred, but I'm still quite pleased with the choice of Sen. Edwards.

He doesn't bring a guaranteed state to the table, but he does send a signal that the Democrats aren't going to concede the South and that the Bush campaign is going to have to spend money and resoruces in an area they were likely hoping to not worry about much.
Edwards may put his home state of North Carolina in play, and helps in Applachian regions in the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio, and surrounding states. (Bush may win most of them anyway, but he'll have to work harder for them now, and he gives the Democrats a better chance at preserving Edwards' open seat in North Carolina as well as the South Carolina and Georgia seats.)

His dominant campaign theme of "two Americas" captured the anxiety of a lot of voters who feel that the poweful and privileged have enjoyed the benefit of a different set of rules and yet stressed that America can do better.

Props to Sen. Kerry for daring to choose a running mate with more charisma (granted, that's not difficult to do) than he has, and for not letting what appears to be a tremendous political talent go to waste.

The downside to this: For those of us who were looking forward to what one friend described as "the ultimate deposition," namely, Edwards tearing Dick Cheney a new orifice in the Vice Presidential debate, it might never happen. The speculation that Bush is going to pick a different running mate is likely to grow louder.

Update: I just heard that a Republican friend of a friend made his monthly donation to BushCo, and got back a bumper sticker that had Bush's name on it but not Cheney's. Very interesting...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Meet Virginia

Well, Answer Guy Central has moved across the Potomac River to Arlington.

I'm still trying to sort out how I feel about leaving the District after spending nearly eight years of my life living there, almost seven of those in the same house in Adams-Morgan.

I'm going to miss my roommate Jeff, with whom I had lived amicably since January 2000. I had incredibly good luck with living partners - a series of four guys with whom I got along generally well.

It's definitely the end of an era, as I'm on now my own in inner-ring suburbia. I can still walk to Metro, the supermarket, the drug store, and other shopping, but nightlife and ample green space is no longer as easily accessible.

My farewell to D.C. is still being composed. I just wanted to end my hiatus tonight.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

You Gotta Move

Answer Guy Central is moving across the Potomac to Arlington, Virginia. The next three days will be mostly given over to the relocation, so, as such, The Answer Guy Online will be going on what will hopefully be a brief hiatus.

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