Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Columbia Heights has come a long way, but...

Last Friday, Petula Dvorak, the metro columnist for the Washington Post, published this article entitled "Columbia Heights still has far to go." The piece is a dismal portrayal of the neighborhood that is my home from the perspective of two poor neighborhood residents.

The article left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Because I am really not sure what the point is. It seemed to say that despite the incredible changes that we've seen in the last few years, for the "have nots" in Columbia Heights, life is just as bad, and there's no hope. It casts Columbia Heights as a place where the gentrifiers gleefuly dance around in our new parks and malls while the long-time poor residents are still just poor and desperate.

Today, a new resident responded with a letter to the editor rebutting her characterization of the neighborhood. I wish that I had taken the time to write to The Post, because unfortunately, this response is in many ways just as bad as the original piece.

The author writes:

...As for criminals lurking in the shadows waiting to prey on immigrants carrying wads of cash, I could not help but chuckle as I thought about my own experience. I am often out after dark in professional attire or jeans and shirts appropriate for someone in their mid-20s going to a bar. To anyone looking, it is clear that I carry a Blackberry and an iPod, not to mention a wallet and a rather unthreatening stature. Yet, I have never felt uncomfortable or at risk of being accosted.

To this, I can only say, are you out of your mind? I am, frankly, dumbfounded that anyone would choose to move to Columbia Heights without so much as looking at a crime report. As much as Ms. Dvorak's portrayal of the neighborhood is absurdly one-sided and bleak, this response is just as idiotic in its ignorance of the reality of life in the city.

Crime exists in Columbia Heights. When Target/DCUSA opened, the poor did not magically become wealthy. Nor did they disappear. Their lives went on, just like everyone else's. And with poverty comes crime.

Ms. Dvorak paints an absurdly dismal picture of the effects of the development on the most desperate. Without a doubt, the availability of Target, Giant, and many other stores and services that did not exist a few years ago has benefitted everyone -- especially the poorest, who probably do not own cars. Shopping for basic necessities of life would have meant a trip on public transit to who knows where. I seriously doubt that anyone would say they preferred NOT being able to walk to Target and Giant. This has brought convenience, basic services, and jobs to the neighborhood.

But the author of the letter I quote above seems equally ignorant of the reality of life in an inner-city neighborhood. Crime happens. You can never forget that.

I love Columbia Heights. I can think of nowhere else I'd rather live in DC. But I never forget that safety cannot be taken for granted. I don't think it's unsafe here, but I certainly wouldn't walk around late at night advertising my iPod to anyone who happened to see me. At least, if I wanted to keep my iPod. I wouldn't do that anywhere in DC, frankly, becase that's just plain stupid.

Ms. Dvorak's piece is, at best, a misleading and badly-researched article with a hyper-narrow focus, and at worst, gentrification-hating and fear-mongering. While her point still eludes me despite discussing and thinking about it several days later, she's right about one thing: there are, apparently, some people in the nieghborhood who are totally unaware that all is not completely right here. At the same time, the vast majority of people who live here do not live in fear. We love our home and community, and there is certainly hope for the future.

The development has brought many positive changes to the neighborhood, especially for the poorest residents. But it's still new. This place is truly a grand experiment. I can think of nowhere else that's had such a dramatic transformation in such a short time. The fact that there are still many problems is hardly a surprise. But so far, there are many positive signs. The Target is the first-of-its-kind store: a big-box plunked in the middle of a walking community. You know what? It works. It offers amazing convenience without requiring a drive to the suburbs. It keeps people in the neighborhood and out of cars. It saves time and money.

But social problems don't disappear overnight. No amount of development, no matter how big and shiny and new, can make poverty magically vanish. We have a long way to go, sure. But we've come a very long way, too. Just because our problems haven't gone away completely doesn't mean we shouldn't recognize the positive things that we have accomplished and keep working to make things even better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Repent, for the end is near!

I had the pleasure of seeing 2012 on Friday night with N. It met my expectations exactly: really cool special effects, repeated brushes with near death at the hands of billowing clouds of smoke and fire, and only brief stints of unpleasant character-developing dialogue.

It was pretty much exactly the same move as "The Day After Tomorrow," unsurprisingly, also directed by Roland Emmerich. You know, scientists realize that the end of the world is coming, nobody listens until it's too late, earth plunges into apocalyptic mayhem, intrepid heroes embark on perilous quest against astronomical odds, and miraculously prevail. It was predictable, preposterous, over-the top, and absolutely without artistic merit. It was awesome.

Sure, there were a few plot holes. Like the premise, which is that neutrinos will cause the earth's core to heat up and the crust to shift around. Then there was a lot of general silliness, like the airport security guy telling people they can't take off in their plane because they aren't cleared. While the city of Las Vegas is busy collapsing into giant flaming rifts in the earth about a half-mile away, and the entire West Coast has already gone fully Lex Luthor. Umm, yeah, like anyone would really give a rat's ass who does what at that point. Most likely he'd be taking advantage of his status of possesing a firearm to get aboard any available plane himself. But whatever, fire and brimstone! Entire cities collapsing in huge chasms filled with flaming lava! Cool!!

Anyway, I don't usually pay much attention to harbingers of the apocalypse from thousands of years ago, but I was curious about what is supposed to be happening in about three years. Luckily, NASA has a web page that clears up all the misinformation going around. So don't sell your house just yet, let's take a look at what NASA has to say. I have quoted NASA's web page in italics, below.

"2012: Beginning of the End or Why the World Won't End?"

Remember the Y2K scare? It came and went without much of a whimper because of adequate planning and analysis of the situation. Impressive movie special effects aside, Dec. 21, 2012, won't be the end of the world as we know. It will, however, be another winter solstice.

Well, maybe it went off without a hitch for you, but I personally found that my Palm Pilot was screwed up. It took at least a week before it worked right again. What's a Palm Pilot you say? Oh, never mind. But another winter solstice!! Thanks for making us feel safe, NASA. Wait. What's a solstice?

Question (Q): Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.

Answer (A):Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012.

Whew! 2012 should be an awesome year. Nothing bad will happen!




Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.

I have two things to say.

1) 2012 will be the first year of the millenium with no Oprah Winfrey show!!

2) These credible scientists do not live in Washington, DC, obviously. Because 2012 is an election year and bad things will happen.

Q: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?

A: The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth.


Q: Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?

A: The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids

OMG! Asteroids too!!

...although big hits are very rare.

Try telling that to this guy!

The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs

Jesus Herbert Hoover Christ! 65 million years ago? Obviously we are well overdue for a giant disaster. Without question, we should all prepare for the post-apocalyptic world where the moon has been shattered like a cheap golf ball and large jungle cats have learned to talk.

Q: How do NASA scientists feel about claims of pending doomsday?

A: For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science?

Where's YOUR science, NASA? This, coming from the same guys who can't even decide if Pluto is a planet or not? All your talk of so-called "rare asteroid hits" and "planetary extinction" doesn't make me feel a lot better.

The long and short of it is that NASA clearly does not have their shit together, and we should trust no-one, least of all some government-funded hacks who haven't managed to get back to the moon in 40 years. If they ever actually went in the first place. Luckily, though, there is proof that the world will not end in 2012. At least not entirely. Because someone will discover a guitar a hundred years later in 2112.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Love Note to Fort Totten

Fort Totten Trash
Fort Totten Transfer Station, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Though I criticize the government of DC, from time to time, there are many things I love about living in the city. At the top of that list is not the gorgeous architecture, nor the Metro, nor the monuments, nor Rock Creek Park, nor even Target. No, it is the giant mountain of trash that resides in Northeast Washington, in smelling distance of Catholic University. It is the Fort Totten Transfer Station.

Many, perhaps most, live their lives never having set foot on the hallowed ground at 4900 Bates Rd, NE. To those, I say, what you cannot see still serves you daily. Because the refuse of your existence, the by-products of your modern life, most likely rest in this purgatory before being delivered to their final resting spot. Probably in New Jersey. But I embrace this place, I choose to interact with it at a personal level, to commune with the compost. In fact, I went there Saturday. Three times.

The glory of Fort Totten cannot be understated. Where else in the world can one load up thier pickup truck with all manner of debris, be it trash or treasure, rubble or rubbish, and liberate your home from its shadow? It's remarkably convenient location is barely 8 minutes' drive from my home, yet in this short time I can make a truckload of trash vanish forever.

The old couch that festers in your backyard, the bags of construction debris from the never-ending home improvement or housecleaning projects. All those things can become a memory with one short trip to nirvana, northeast.

Fort TottenAt Fort Totten you will be greeted by the smiling sanitiation workers who, upon inspection of your DC driver's licence, the passport to perpetual purging pleasure, will point you to a pile for perusal and pillaging. Oh yes - the transfer station giveth as it taketh away. As I was unloading one of my three loads of rubbish this weekend, I salvaged a perfectly functional security gate, needing only minor repair, callously dumped by someone who didn't see its inner beauty. Unfortunately it didn't fit the door where I intended to use it. But no matter, because I will surely be there again sometime in the not-too-distant future. And then I will return the gate, perhaps for collection by some other trash-picker, or perhaps for it's final demise.

To all those who have never known the pleasure of watching a truckload of trash disappear from your life forever, I can only say, go. Now. To Fort Totten. Take your trash, your tree limbs, your old furniture. Take that junk that fills your basement or your backyard, and bring it to the place where it belongs. Fort Totten calls for your garbage. Its appetite is insatiable.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beware the Facebook Scam. And The Cure.

* Yawn * So I got to work at 6:40 AM this morning because of some crazy deadline and was interrupted by a facebook chat from one of my friends. Serves me right, I suppose, for logging into facebook at all when I have so much work to do...

7:53am L hey are you there?

7:53am Jamie: yep

7:54am L how are you?

7:54am Jamie good, you?

7:55am L not too good

7:55am Jamie that sucks. what's up

7:56am L I'm stranded in London got mugged at a gun point last night

(Shockingly, my radar has not yet gone off, despite being a highly skeptical person who knows all about these scams. I blame lack of coffee and early hour.)

7:56am Jamie in london?

7:56am L all cash,credit card and phone was stolen

7:57am Jamie i thought those silly english folks only used knives.
sounds more like a DC story.

7:57am L it was a brutal experience but thank God i still have my life and passport

7:57am Jamie are you ok? not hurt?

7:58am L yea
my return flight leaves in few hours but having troubles sorting out the hotel bills
I need your help

(At this point I am starting to become suspicious for any number of reason... not the least of which is, I have not been in touch with this person too much lately, and they are the kind of person who would absolutely have been able to sort out this problem themselves).

7:59am Jamie what can i do?

8:00am L wondering if you could loan me some few $$ to sort out the hotel bills and also take a cab to the airport?

8:01am Jamie sure, but how will i get it to you?

8:01am L you can have it wired to my name via western union
do you know any western union outlet nearby?

(HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! At this point I pick up my phone and call my friend, who is very pleased to hear from me at 8:00 AM with the news that her facebook account has been compromised.)

8:03am Jamie one sec

(Talking to friend on phone, who is now logged in and able to watch the conversation. Interesting and surprising: you can be logged into Facebook from more than one location simultaneously. If someone's logged in to your account, the act of YOU logging in DOES NOT kick them out. Stupid? Yes.)

8:04am L ok. let talk via email. ojeri51@yahoo.com
facebook is tripping

8:04am Jamie
ummm. yeah right.
ha ha
see ya scammer!

(Friend changes password. This action DOES cause all other sessions to be terminated, at least, which I confirmed by testing it myself from two different web browsers).

The Aftermath

Here's where things get a little ugly. This was all fun and games, and the scammer was booted before any damage occurred.

I reported the abuse to Facebook using their hacker victim form. I did this because I thought it was important to let them know about the abuse to add to their data, and possibly help track the way in which the account had been compromised.

I also clearly stated in the report that I had spoken to my friend on the phone and she had already changed her password.

Within minutes, I received a response from Facebook. They disabled her account. They told me to direct my friend to this page to get access restored. That page has no information on how to get your account access restored after Facebook disables it. The page she receives when she tries to log in is similarly unhelpful.

Facebook's security page advises people whose accounts have been compromised to do exactly this: log in and change your password.

Well, we did that.

What To Do Next Time Around

First and foremost, I wasted a golden opportunity to mess with a scammer. For example, this guy enjoyed quite a bit of wonderful thief-mind-f*cking before he finally moved on.

Second: The moral of this story is that no good deed goes unpunished.

If your facebook account is hacked, or the account of a friend is hacked, DO NOT report it to facebook or you will lose access. The only reason I can think to do this, is if you can't get in touch with the friend whose account has been compromised so that they can change their password. But you are setting them up for a big pain in the ass by doing this.

from The Facebook Team
reply-to The Facebook Team
to (Jamie)
date Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 8:22 AM
subject Re: 419 Scam - Friend Report
mailed-by facebook.com

Hi Jamie,

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have taken the appropriate action to secure this person's account.

In order to resolve this matter, please ask the account holder to view the Security section of Facebook's Help Center:


From here, they can take immediate steps to contact us and reestablish ownership of the account.

Thanks for contacting Facebook,

User Operations

Thanks a bunch, Jasmin!!