Monday, April 21, 2008

Local Update - Mostly Booze Related

I'm still here. Until yesterday, the weather has been perfect, I've been busy at work, and five out-of-town family members (three of them in the under 3 feet category) have been at my house. I took some pictures over the weekend but forgot to upload them so that will have to wait for later.

In the meantime, I will use this space to announce some very important happenings in Columbia Heights.

The Red Derby has started serving brunch, including $2 mimosas and $2 bloody marys. This is a fine complement to Red Rocks' brunch and $9 bottomless mimosa, which I must confess to having enjoyed the hell out of on many occasions.

Target has applied for a license to sell beer and wine! Things just keep getting better around here. I wonder if the awful line situation at Giant will improve as they feel pressure from Target. I, for one, will be going to Target instead of Giant for incidentals, and hopefully soon, for booze.

The Looking Glass Lounge has officially opened their new back patio. Well, I'm not sure it was ever closed, but it's gotten a major makeover compared to the Temperance Hall incarnation. New picnic tables, new fence, and as we would expect from Matt and Rose, lots of cool memorabilia on the walls. I was there for a while on Saturday at the official inauguration party. The space is nice, definitely go by this summer.

That's about it for now. I have some stuff from the weekend to write about later, and I may even have a home improvement post coming sometime soon!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Racial Tension in Columbia Heights

I was about to drop in to Red Rocks on my way home around 10 PM last night, when a frantic looking Hispanic man approached me and stammered something about the police. I couldn't understand what he was saying at first, but quickly realized that they had been attacked and didn't have a phone to call for help. I called 911 as he motioned that I follow him down the street. Another guy had been standing outside Red Rocks when he approached and we both went with him down 11th Street towards Monroe.

The man was with another younger guy who hadn't spoken and was holding his head, but looked like he was pretty dazed. Halfway down the block there is an alley that goes to an open lot behind 11th between Park and Monroe, and a third Hispanic guy was standing in the alley entrance, clearly having also been attacked. At this point I was still on the phone with 911, after having given them the address about six times. (For some reason, "11th Street Northwest between Park and Monroe" was baffling to the operator.)

A cop was there about two minutes later. An ambulance did not arrive for at least 15 minutes. In that time, what ensued was my first personal experience of how racial tensions exist on the street in my neighborhood.

The cop was black. The three victims were Hispanic. The first guy, who had originally asked me for help, spoke pretty good English. The other two guys who had been beaten up did not speak English. They were all clearly at various levels of drunkenness. I explained to the cop what had happened: they had been hanging out in the empty lot (presumably drinking) and had been attacked and robbed by five or six black guys. Did I see them? No, I wasn't there. Who called the police? I did. How long ago did this happen? About 5 minutes. Did anyone see the perps? I indicated that victim #1 had seen them.

The cop asked him to describe them. (Below is of course paraphrased, since I didn't take notes on the conversation, but this is basically how it went).

Vic: Why should I tell you? You're not going to do anything.
Cop (talking to me, not victim): I can't do anything if he won't talk to me.
Vic (to me): He doesn't give a crap about us.
Me (to Vic): You gotta tell him what they look like.
Vic: I know these guys. I know them.
Cop: Do you know where they live? Do you know who they are?
Vic: I know them. I don't know where they live, but I know them.
Cop (now holding a sketch pad): Just tell me what they look like. I can go after them.
Vic: You won't do anything anyway, why should I tell you?
Cop (to me): It's too late now. They'll be long gone.

The first cop had called in after he arrived and asked for a bilingual backup. Another cop eventually arrived, but did not speak Spanish. He said they were having trouble finding a bilingual officer. The other guy I had come from Red Rocks with went back there and grabbed a friend from there who spoke Spanish, but at that point it really didn't matter.

The subtext to this exchange was that there is massive mistrust of the police by the Hispanic community, and there is a lack of respect for the Hispanics by the police. The cop wasn't being a jerk or anything, but I basically felt like neither the victim nor the cop were interested in talking to each other. They were talking through me. The vic did not trust the cop. The cop did not take the vic especially seriously. Sure, he was drunk, but clearly he was also freaked out. His friends were bloody and beaten up pretty well, it was not a joke.

The Mt. Pleasant riot, sparked by an altercation between a black rookie cop and a Salvadorean man, was 17 years ago next month. It is pretty obvious that those wounds are far from healed in this town. When I think of racial tension, I usually think of tension between upper-class white gentrifiers and the lower-middle class long-time residents in Columbia Heights, largely African American families but also Hispanic immigrants. I've always thought of that tension as driven just as much buy socioeconomic status as by race. But this conflict - working class Hispanic guys mugged by black guys, black cop responding, white guy translating, is completely different yet just as much a part of the challenges that our community is facing. I don't know what the answer is but the situation has apparently changed very little in 17 years.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Party Notes

Ice Sculptor 2I had my first real housewarming party despite living in my Columbia Heights house for a year. I was waiting until I had finished my kitchen. I didn't quite make it, but it's about 90 percent and I'd already scheduled the party, so what the heck. There are cabinets, a counter, running water, and places for people to sit so it's good enough for a house party.

As it turned out my friends Chris, Josh and Michael decided to return a favor from several parties in the past and showed up with an ice luge. Just look at the intensity with which Michael carves that channel! Clearly, this is a man with singularity of purpose.

The luge turned out so popular that we didn't even finish the keg despite a thick crowd for most of the night. There were a lot of empty bottles of disturbing-looking liquors, though. Why is it that an ice luge requires drinking stuff that some homeless people pass up? Anyway, it was a resounding success, and the block of ice just kept giving the next day as it was smashed into bits to cool the rest of the keg down.

I forgot to take pictures for much of the party. Disappointing, because the crowd was a lot of fun and also several worlds colliding. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, except for the agitated guy who adamantly demanded that the ice block must be destroyed. I am not sure what was up with him, but I managed to talk him down. I was less worried about the block of ice then about the lynch mob that would have formed had the centerpiece been broken, but in the end the night was without any major incidents.

I pretty much forgot to drink too. Such is life when being a host. Wierd, but I think my Sunday was better than a lot of people's.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Small Time Celebrity... Two Weeks In A Row

Today's post will be entirely self congratulatory. I made the WaPo Express blog log last Friday, and my pictures from the Mt. Pleasant fire got published in the April Intowner! There is no question that before long, my name will be as much a household word in DC as Vermin Supreme.

First, my little writeup of the Widespread Panic show at the Warner got quoted in Express. You can download the whole issue here.

Next, my pictures from the fire at The Deauville in Mt. Pleasant were printed in the April Intowner. It's online here.

Update 2:29 PM I have been recognized by DCist for the comment of the week. I expanded on that in my last post here. This, combined with my having twice transcended the virtual/physical barrier by having both my words and pictures appear in print, I feel that I deserve the title of "king of geeky bloggers and amateur photographers" for this week. Next week: I shall be attempting to obtain the elusive DCist "avatar of the week" award. If successful, that would be essentially the equivalent of a PGA grand slam and my blogging career would be complete. I shall then slip into obscurity and blog anonymously about pet peeves mostly involving Apple products.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Forget Big Brother.. Bring On The Collective

Everyone this week seems to be blogging about the city government handing the reins to DC's approximately 5,200 closed-circuit cameras over to MPD. I read the story first in DCist and made a comment there, sort of tongue in cheek, that they should just put the cameras online for the world to see.

I say sort of tongue in cheek, because even though it seems unlikely this would ever actually happen, I actually think it makes sense. Now, I am no fan of government watching of the daily lives of citizens. Unfortunately, that is reality. There are more than 5,000 cameras in this city. Think about that number. They all may have been intended for different purposes, but in the end, there is a video record covering activities in huge parts of this city.

At the present time, these don't do much except possibly provide evidence if one of them happens to capture a crime. But the quality is pretty poor and history shows that this data has rarely been used to succesfully prosecute a crime. So why couldn't they be used to help prevent a crime?

Commenter Mike Licht on DCist responds to a question from the above DCist story:

Do they have thousands of screen watchers on staff? Hundreds? Dozens, even?

I asked an Assistant Chief about this last month. She told me the MPD actively monitored hot-spots "as other duties allowed" (or words to that effect).

Clearly, few of the cameras are actively monitored, making the network effectively useless for crime prevention. So, we've already sacrificed our privacy to a permanent video record, yet they serve little purpose as far as intervening in crimes in progress. There is no question that the resources involved in monitoring all these cameras effectively would be enormous and impractical to implement.

So I say open the floodgates. Give everyone access to real-time video feeds from these cameras and let REAL community policing begin. First of all, the entertainment value would be enormous. What could be better than being able to flick through video from cameras in your favorite places of interest in DC? It would be a lot more fun than looking at traffic cams. Neighborhoods could organize feeds in their area and coordinate volunteer efforts to watch the most troublesome spots.

Finally, voyeurism is a basic part of human nature. Who doesn't slow down to rubberneck an accident on the side of the road? This puts that sinister human trait to effective use. I am willing to bet that with no active coordination whatsoever, hundreds of people would be looking at feeds at any given point in time. If something happened, the chance of it being seen by someone who could call the cops is pretty good.

And what is the downside? We are already being taped. There's no real expectation of privacy in a public space anyway. You can sit in your house and watch a streetcorner through the window, or you can watch it online.

I have no idea what the legal implications might be, but given that the cameras are already there and rolling, I see no reason why the world shouldn't be able to tune in.

Monday, April 7, 2008

How To Be A Good Neighbor

On Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on the front porch of my friends A & O when two men walked by with a clipboard. My initial reaction was to run away, fast. The only three scenarios I could think of were:

  • I was about to be handed the latest edition of The Watchtower,
  • I would be asked to join PIRG or the Sierra Club, or, worst of all,
  • I would be guilted into buying some crappy product for an outrageous price to support a likely fictitious charity.
As it turned out, my fears were completely unfounded. One of the gentlemen in question was the owner of a building at Park Road and Sherman Avenue. The building occupies a rather prominent spot at the intersection where New Hampshire Avenue becomes Sherman Avenue, as pictured from above here. You can see it from well up New Hampshire, and there's an open park across from it.

This man spent at least a half an hour with us explaining his development plans. He was seeking a zoning variance in order to convert the former gas station into 8 high-end condominiums. As part of this process, he would be going before the ANC to explain the project, and was seeking feedback and signatures from the neighbors in support of his project. He discussed his architectural ideas, and seemed genuinely interested in the feedback from the residents in the immediate vicinity. He expressed the desire to create something that the negihborhood would genuinely appreciate and wanted the neighbors to feel as if they had been involved, rather than surprised, by the result.

Bear in mind that there are no historic regulations that govern construction in Columbia Heights and Petworth. A developer does not technically need to solicit any feedback, or get any support, from the neighbors. While I'm not 100% sure, I don't even think there's any requirement that the ANC be involved at all. A zoning variance is an issue with DCRA. Now certainly, there's a benefit for this individual to seek buy-in from the neighbors, because it could help reduce any possible resistance that individuals could mount. But this is far from the typical approach we see. Usually, developers come in and gut the building before anyone's heard the first thing. So while he certainly has his own interests and goals in mind as well, the fact that he was very open about his plans and the process was refreshing.

Only time will tell what happens with this, but the simple fact that a developer was taking the time to introduce himself, explain his plans, and solicit feedback is rare. If this man intended to build something cheap that would ruffle feathers, we'd have never heard a thing before the structure went up. I feel good about the exchange and wish that more builders would take the time to get some feedback from the residents. It would surely be better for the neighborhood, and would probably make for smoother sailing in any such project.

Cherry Blossom 10 miler

My rite of passage into Spring usually begins with the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run, one of the most popular road races in the area. It's a nice race because the course is pretty fast and flat, and it's a chance to enjoy the cherry blossoms without having to make an excuse and deal with hordes of clueless tourists. Of course you have to deal with hordes of clueless runners instead, a fact that was driven home yesterday. I unintentionally started the race in the purple corrall, which apparently is reserved for those expecting to finish the race somewhere around 2 hours and 45 minutes. Yes, mistakes were made. So I spent the first four or five miles of the race trying to pass people in the soggy dirt path next to the road on Haine's Point. It was rough going but at least it kept things interesting.

The weather was typical for Cherry Blossom. That is, rainy and cold. We did get a nice break, though, as the rain let up a little while before the race start, and I was mostly done by the time it started again. The skies opened up with a vengeance soon thereafter. I was a soggy mess my the time I got back to my car. Again, typical Cherry Blossom: run ten miles followed by contracting pneumonia.

As usual, my training for this race was woefully inadequate. I really hate running outside when it's cold, so I often slack over the winter. The whole point in signing up for it, for me, is to inspire me to get off my ass and start running as winter fades. I really pushed the limit this year, though. I had literally run 15 miles in three months before yesterday (see my running log, bottom right). Considering that, it wasn't bad. At 1:25:20 I was only 30 seconds off my best time, and I didn't even push myself too hard because I didn't want to start my running season with an injury. It all worked out - I got through it, felt good, and didn't pull anything. Somehow the typically crappy weather for this race is a good inspiration for jump-starting my running season: it reminds me that even when I'd much rather stay in bed then get up at 5:30 AM to go running in 46 degree rainy weather, I still enjoy it and love the sense of accomplishment when I cross the finish line. The hardest part is just making yourself get out of bed and go there. Somehow it takes something like this to remind me of that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Squeezing the Citizens, Part 11

The Washington Times today reports that DC is getting ready to enforce street sweeping violations using cameras mounted on the street sweepers. In the latest episode of DC finding ways to wring a few more dollars out of their already insanely taxed residents, we will get tickets from the street sweepers themselves, rather than the already incredibly efficient parking enforcement task force.

Without even touching on the potential invasion of privacy issues related to yet another legion of video cameras that feed to One Judiciary Square, this seems no different than red light cameras, speeding cameras and other automated devices that are supposedly put in place to increase safety, but conveniently bring in boatloads of cash for DC, despite mounting evidence that they actually increase accident rates.

Of course, I've never heard of a street sweeper-related accident due to a parked car. So there's not even a veil of public benefit here. It's simply a previously untapped opportunity to squeeze us.

Councilmember Jim Graham says, cryptically:

"What we're going to find is with these increased violations, we're going to find a source of revenue generation, which is not our purpose at all," Mr. Graham said. "Our purpose here is to get clean streets."

The obtuse statement seems to indicate that he is fully aware that this will be a new revenue stream. Yet, points out that that is not the goal. But, if the goal is to get clean streets, then one must assume that they are not clean at this time. Hence the need to act on achieving this goal.

Do you have street sweeping? Do you find that the one or two cars a week that are left there on any given day are resulting in an unsanitary buildup of detritus on your street? Have you ever thought to yourself, I am so mad at my neighbor who overslept and forgot to move his car, because that 20 foot section of street won't be cleaned until next week, I just wish that ticketer had come around to slap a ticket on him before he moved his car because he's a bad person and should pay?

The ultimate irony is that on my street, the streetsweeper often comes by before the designated time. That doesn't stop the meter maid from making a quick buck when she comes by 15 minutes later at 9:35, though. Finally, it seems very unlikely to me that increasing enforcement will have any effect on the number of violations. As it is, nobody purposely leaves their car parked during street sweeping. Enforcement is so efficient already, you'd be a fool to do so. The end result of this isn't likely to be fewer violations, just more money. As an example, violations for parking in rush hour are $100. It used to be $50. Is there anyone on earth who would have said before they changed it, "Oh, it's only $50, I'll just leave my car there, what the hell." The fine has no bearing on the fact that sometimes you just screw up. And this just ensures that you'll get no mercy, ever, when that happens.

Please. Stop with the revenue generation programs that serve no public good. If there's a problem, then I am all for aggressive enforcement of the law. But there is no problem here. It's time to stop hating the citizens under the veil of doing us a favor. You aren't fooling anyone.

You fools

Ok.. based on some off-blog feedback I received from yesterday's post, and the fact that the only comment I received was from someone I don't know who bought it hook, line and sinker, I thought I should clarify a few things:

1) Yesterday was April 1.
2) Everything is fine, and I have not joined a self empowerment cult.
3) Yes, I have a twisted sense of humor.

Of course it's also possible that nobody even reads this blog. Except for my ever-popular post from a year ago on removing spyware which gets like 40 hits a day.

Note to Landmark people: While I personally think that Landmark is a phenomenally successful way to part people with their money, if you are a victim... er, student and have found that it brainwashed.... er, helped you in some way then more power to you. I am sure that everyone finds their own way. My own position is that I inherently mistrust any organization that makes money from desperate people, and I have a hard time distinguishing between self-empowerment groups, televangelists, The Franklin Mint, and the Catholic church.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A "Landmark" In My Life

As many of you know, I have been going through a difficult period in my life following my divorce. I've had a couple somewhat significant relationships but don't seem to be able to find exactly what I'm looking for. Or maybe I don't exactly know what I'm looking for. Well, all that changed recently. With the help of friends - and a lot of hard soul searching - I've got a new direction in my life.

After my most recent breakup, I felt completely alone and lost in the world. A friend of mine invited me to come with him to what he described as basically a support group for people needing direction in their lives. I didn't have anything better to do so I went. I had no idea at the time what a change was coming for me.

Where he brought me was the Landmark Forum. I had never heard of it before, but I can say without hyperbole that it has changed my life. I have found a sense of power that I never knew anyone, much less little ol' me, could feel. I have gone from a state of borderline depression to an incredible sense of optimism and control.

And what a difference it has made in my life! In the last month I have had two job offers, numerous business opportunities in the works, and am dating four different women - they can't get enough of me! I know that when I'm ready for a serious relationship, I will have my pick. But I'm still the same Jamie on the outside. So how did all this happen? The Forum gave me the power to take control of my life from the inside. And it worked.

So, old friends, you may notice something different about me. But it's still me, I've just been freed of the bonds that had been holding me down. In just a couple short months, I've already turned my life around. Just imagine where I'll be in a couple years!

I encourage each of you to take a hard look inside, and ask yourselves what's been missing in your life. You can find it too.. it's always been there, you just need help finding the key to unlock it. The next DC session is April 31, and I encourage anyone who is interested to join me.