An Embarrassment of Bitches

rethinking inauguration costs
January 21, 2009, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Politics

by JG

Well, I think I was a little misinformed about the overall cost of the Obama inauguration ceremonies.  Via Andrew Sullivan comes this from Michelle Cottle over at The New Republic:

Yes, this inauguration is going to be more expensive than past ones. That said, the cost comparisons with the Bush 2005 festivities ($42 million for Bush vs. somewhere between $125 and $160 million for Obama) are beyond useless, in part because the Bush numbers being bandied about don’t include security costs (which account for the bulk of the bill at these affairs) and in part because the security and logistical needs for welcoming back a garden-variety second-term president are of course going to be vastly smaller than those for the first swearing in of–altogether now!–the first black president in the nation’s history. Nowhere close to half a million people attended Bush’s second inaugural. Washington has been bracing for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million for this year’s event. The number of port-a-potties alone causes the mind to reel.

As for the idea that the entire inaugural spirit should focus “not on celebration but on civic engagement”: bollucks. No matter how ominous the economic outlook, the inauguration of a new president is something to celebrate. And, yes, that is all the more true because of the “historic nature” of this particular president. (Translation: OMG! Can you believe we finally elected a black guy!) In addition to feeling the burden of the nation’s current situation, the Obama people are keenly aware of the widespread, pent-up desire to celebrate this day with all of the “ridiculousness” that this country can muster. The entire globe is watching. We should not shortchange the moment.

I also learned on NPR today (I learned so much today!) that the cost of all the different parts of the inauguration, from the stage set-up to the mall maintanence to the series of balls, are traditionally split up among different groups.  So the stage set-up was covered by Congress, the mall maintanence by the parks department of the District of Columbia, and the balls were all charity events that in fact raised money for themselves.  So there we go! Seems like I got all worked up over nothing.


a little much
January 19, 2009, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Politics

by JG

Now I love Obama as much as the next guy, but all this inauguration hullabaloo is getting to be a bit much.  Then I ran into this John Heilemann post over NYMag that pretty much captures my sentiments, and strangely enough, Tom DeLay’s as well.

Then there’s the cost of the whole shebang, with current estimates running north of $125 million. It’s worth noting that George W. Bush’s 2005 inaugural cost just $42 million — a figure that elicited howls of protest from the left and calls for restraint from Democratic legislators including New York’s own Anthony Weiner. Some of Obama’s critics on the right are complaining similarly now. If Obama were really “serious” about changing Washington, former House majority leader Tom DeLay said the other day, “he would announce to the world: ‘We are in crisis, we are at war, people are losing jobs; we are not going to have this party. Instead, I’m going to get sworn in at the White House. I’m going to have a nice little chicken dinner, and we’ll save the $125 million.'”


What if, instead, the Obama people had made the Washington component of the inauguration as minimalist as possible — just the speech from the steps of the Capitol? What if they’d canceled all the balls and parties inside the Beltway and instead used their grassroots network to stage mini-inaugurals in every state of the union, each of them a charity benefit on behalf of a designated local cause? Such a course would have set a starkly different tone, one focused not on celebration but on civic engagement. It would have provided an object lesson in how Obama and his crew intend to use the web in dramatic and purposeful ways outside the campaign context. It would have allowed them to expand their already enormous network. And, most of all, it would have been genuinely new.

This just doesn’t feel the Obama we’ve come to know and love, the Obama who asked for personal sacrifice and contributions form his followers in order to get through these tough times.  Do we really need a enormous multi-day celebration to know this moment is special?  Ostentation is never a good look.

Vanity Fair is a real magazine
January 19, 2009, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Politics

by JG

I always forget that fact and then I’m pointed to something like this oral history of the Bush presidency told by the 3rd tier of appointees like the chief-of-staffs of Cabinet members and the like.  It is really really interesting and really really long, but still entirely worth the read.  Here’s a taste:

Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: I’m not sure even to this day that he’s willing to admit to himself that he was rolled to the extent that he was. And he’s got plenty of defense to marshal because, as I told [former defense secretary] Bill Perry one time when Bill asked me to defend my boss—I said, Well, let me tell you, you wouldn’t have wanted to have seen the first Bush administration without Colin Powell. I wrote Powell a memo about six months before we were leaving, and I said, This is your legacy, Mr. Secretary: damage control. He didn’t like it much. In fact, he kind of handed it back to me and told me I could put it in the burn basket.

But I knew he understood what I was saying. You saved the China relationship. You saved the transatlantic relationship and each component thereof—France, Germany. I mean, he held Joschka Fischer’s [German Foreign Minister] hand under the table on occasions when Joschka would say something like, You know, your president called my boss a fucking asshole. His task became essentially cleaning the dogshit off the carpet in the Oval Office. And he did that rather well. But it became all-consuming.

I think the clearest indication I got that Rich [Armitage] and he both had finally awakened to the dimensions of the problem was when Rich began—I mean, I’ll be very candid—began to use language to describe the vice president’s office with me as the Gestapo, as the Nazis, and would sometimes late in the evening, when we were having a drink—would sometimes go off rather aggressively on particular characters in the vice president’s office.

Subways vs. Streetcars
January 17, 2009, 7:08 pm
Filed under: Transit

by JG


I’ve got a new post up over at Next American City this week on the comparative advantages of installing streetcars over subways a part of  larger discussion of the viability of the perpetually under-construction 2nd Avenue subway.  Mainly it’s important to dispel popular perceptions of what a streetcar can be.  To many (including a commenter on the NAC post), streetcars bring to mind something quaint, like the San Francisco trolley, that acts more like a bus on tracks than a real train.  Instead of this type of model, which was incidentally picked up in Portland, home of the US’s first real streetcar network, we should look to the “trams” employed in East Berlin like that shown above.  Make no mistake: these are large vehicles, about the size of two buses front-to-back.  Moreover, tram tracks in East Berlin are almost always entirely separated from traffic and frequently run on raised mediums, further insulating them from contact with autos.  This combined with infrequent traffic lights allows for a very efficient and quick-moving system.

A good example of the difference in building a subway-centric vs. streetcar-centric system can be found within one famously divided city: Berlin.  Berlin’s subway first opened its doors in 1902 with an East-West line stretching across the entire city center.  Construction continued in all quarters until the Cold War at which point the West continued to expand it’s subway while the East did not, instead switching its focus to streetcars.  But remarkably, they did so without forcing its residents to sacrifice mobility.

Berlin’s broad 19th century boulevards turned out to be ideal conduits for fast moving streetcars by affording the space to completely segregate the tracks and platforms on raised mediums.   In fact, they’re so wide that they allow for interchanges between the different lines for easy transfers which in turn allows the streetcar system to function as a full-on rail network much like a traditional subway.   But there are additional benefits to streetcars that aren’t specific to Berlin’s cityscape.  They are much more accessibly to the elderly and people with disabilities than subways are.  There are no stairs to negotiate, no escalators, no step up onto the tram and once in motion they cars are much more stable than a bus.

Since I have the space, let me show you an image of Berlin’s rail network.  The gray lines are either subways or subway-like commuter rail lines that criss-cross the city.  The colored lines are streetcar lines.  You’ll notice that they’re entirely located in the Eastern quadrant of the city was formerly under Soviet control:


On a personal note, when I lived in Berlin, the only rail near me was the tram and I never had a complaint.  They have a truly wonderful public transit infrastructure in that city.

Entropa “unites Europe in displeasure”
January 16, 2009, 1:59 pm
Filed under: Culture

by JG


There is a hilariously titled article in the Times from yesterday called “Art Hoax Unites Europe in Displeasure.”  Excellent.  So that’s what it takes!  After all these millenia of bloodshed what really  needed to happen was the hanging of a mildly offensive art installation at the EU headquarters to finally bring all these tiny bickering countries together.  But honestly, it’s a really funny piece in which each country is delightfully caricatured and attached to a large scale replica of the plastic sheets that hold the pieces of a boxed model set before you pop them out to built it.  So France is on strike, Bulgaria is a network of hole-in-the-floor toilets, Romania is a Dracula themed amusement park, and the Italians are all fucking their footballs.  Fantastic.  Check out the slideshow at the times, too.

More on hipsterdom
January 14, 2009, 2:56 pm
Filed under: Culture

by JG


I was talking more with JH about hipsters and decided I should have gone a little farther in my last post.  The row that has been raised over hipsterdom tells us far more about how cultural arbitration works than the idea itself.   People want badly to assign a meaningful subculture to our generation, however, for better or worse, there just isn’t one.  People see the marks of bohemianism in a hipster’s jaunty thrift-store style or in his love of rock music.  But whereas in times past these accoutrements identified one as a beat, a hippie or a punk, they’ve now been stripped of their signification.   When the Jonas Brothers (pictured above) are wearing skinny black jeans, thin ties and vests, I say game over. 

What hipster really means is a certain style of dress and disposition, a certain taste in material goods, all of which, judged against the standards of the day, constitute a certain hipness.  That’s it.  Hipster = hip.  There’s nothing else in there. 

There’s a paper waiting to be writen on why it is that we Millenials have no earnest subculture to call our own.  My off the cuff hypothesis would have to do with the unifying power of the internet which allows us to connect with likeminded fellows without having to don a particular uniform in conjunction with how the internet makes it easy to be into pretty much everything, from environmentalism to socialism to hip hop, specialization being a relic of bygone era.  But who’s to say?  What do you all think?

R.I.P. Freddie Hubbard
January 14, 2009, 9:38 am
Filed under: Culture, Music

by JG

Somehow it slipped by me, but back on December 29, 2008 jazz musician Freddie Hubbard passed away at the middle-old age of 70.  Hubbard was perhaps the foremost trumpeter of a powerful generation that came of age during the late 1950s and that included such greats as Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Woody Shaw and Don Cherry.  His sound is an immediately recognizable blend of warmth and clarity matched by a virtuosic command of his instrument.   Hubbard’s sound and style became intimately associated with the post-bop jazz movement of the 1960s which can still be heard today in his generations of imitators.

Hubbard’s horn has graced the recordings of almost every major mid-century jazz visionary including John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Wes Montgomery, Eric Dolphy, James Spaulding, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Oliver Nelson, Philly Joe Jones, the list goes on and on.  But, like so many great young jazz musicians, he got his start with Art Blakey.  Hubbard was picked up by the Jazz Messengers in 1961 and recorded several classic albums with what is my personal favorite line-up of the ever changing group featuring Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and of course Art Blakey on the drums.  I’ve attached a song here from their 1963 album Ugetsu (Riverside), an album that I cannot recommend highly enough.  If you buy one jazz album this year, try to pick this one up, but for now I hope you enjoy the title cut, “Ugetsu.”


UPDATE: I have no idea why the link isn’t working.  I’ll futz with it when I get home.  Check back for the track tomorrow.