Friday, September 30, 2005

Jeb Bush Gets it Right

As Governor of Florida, I imagine Jeb has quite a bit of experience with natural disaster preparedness and response. Today he has a opinion piece in the Washington Post calling on the Federal government to slow down its rapid movement towards a complete federalization of the response effort.

I think he makes some very valid points, and does so without saying things like "the Federal government is evil and will take your property," which is always refreshing coming from a Republican of Jeb's stature. Not that his opinion is without fault. By placing reconstruction into the hands of local officials and politicians, you give decision making authority to those with personal ties to one area or another. Will the governor, a Democrat I believe, be more inclined to direct funds towards Democratic areas of the state? I don't know the actual answer to that question, but I know that my political science degree says yes, so long as they can do it without anyone noticing.

A federal response is certainly subject to the same patronage problems, but if you appoint someone to run the operation from, say, Oregon... with little or no ties to the region, then perhaps they will be able to make more even-handed decisions. But will that person lack the necessary experience and familiarity to really know what is required?

As usual, I come down believing there is a valuable partnership to be established between the state and federal entities. If the state manages the work and sets the priorities, while the feds watch to make sure it's all done on the up-and-up, then I think the situation will be handled better than if it were left to just one group. Of course, such an outcome is predicated on Congress not doing something which that same political science degree says is rather unlikely.

Setting the Records Straight

I recently received contact regarding Judith Miller, recently released political reporter for the New York Times. According to CNN, Judith was able to disclose her confidential source after receiving a voice confirmation from the source himself, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Let me be perfectly clear on this point, Lewis "Scooter" Libby stole my Washington D.C. nickname.

I have a standing policy to never make press comments off the record, so this Scooter impostor is clearly not me, nor do I endorse his actions of holding reporters to outrageous confidentiality demands. While I believe strongly in the rights of people lower down the food chain to speak in confidence to reporters, I do not believe senior staff and elected officials should have such privileges. You got something to say that the public should know about, and credibility to say it, then get out there and tell people.

If Mr. Libby is reading, please make it clear in the future that your nickname refers to you and not me whenever dealing with the press. Thanks.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sitting on the Board

This afternoon I achieved a goal I long promised myself I would never achieve. That sentence deserves an explanation, because it is rare that we seek to avoid goal achievement. Here at the UW we have two student governments, the GPSS for graduate students (of which I am an officer) and the ASUW for the undergraduates. During my time as an undergrad at the UW, I served in a variety of rolls in the ASUW, most prominently as the ASUW Student Senate Chair. The ASUW Student Senate is a broadbased group of student leaders who establish student opinion. The group stands in stark contrast to the ASUW Board of Directors, a small group of students who has often sought to replace the Senate's deliberative opinion with its own. Given this animosity, I have always made it a point to avoid seeking a Board position, going to Board meetings, or generally liking the institution.

So how strange it was for me to be sitting, and voting, at the Board of Directors. Thanks to a long standing relationship between GPSS and ASUW, GPSS has a voting position which is traditionally filled by the Secretary. Unfortunately, the Secretary, who could not make this first meeting, sent me as a proxy.

And there I sat, for two or so hours, voting and debating issues in this entity which I had despised for all these years. Granted, the people serving on this year's Board are of the highest caliber, and I would count almost all as friend, but that doesn't change the nature of the institution. I still think the very formulation of the group lends itself to self-aggrandizement and narrow thinking. Yes, it is tempered by the personalities of the Board Members themselves; and, this Board will clearly be more Senate friendly than in the past. All that under consideration, I'm quite happy with my decision to never persue the post, and am equally glad that I'm not the GPSS Secretary.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Government Waste FEMA Style

I've written before about government waste in the Department of Homeland Security, and just recently I've been thinking about the high likelihood of waste with the reconstruction effort in Katrina-effected areas of the Gulf Coast. Turns out my fears were right on the money.

The Washington Post reports that FEMA contracted with Carnival to have three full service ships available as temporary housing for evacuees at a tune of $236 Million for six months. The best part of the whole article is a statement from Sen. Coburn and Sen. Obama, reproduced here for your enjoyment.
To critics, the price is exorbitant. If the ships were at capacity, with 7,116 evacuees, for six months, the price per evacuee would total $1,275 a week, according to calculations by aides to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). A seven-day western Caribbean cruise out of Galveston can be had for $599 a person -- and that would include entertainment and the cost of actually making the ship move.

"When the federal government would actually save millions of dollars by forgoing the status quo and actually sending evacuees on a luxurious six-month cruise it is time to rethink how we are conducting oversight. A short-term temporary solution has turned into a long-term, grossly overpriced sweetheart deal for a cruise line," said Coburn and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a joint statement yesterday calling for a chief financial officer to oversee Katrina spending.
My question to the Senators, will having a single chief financial officer actually prevent this sort of abuse? Seems we have a single chief-executive officer, and he routinely fails to prevent abuse.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Return to Normalcy

Tonight marks the last day of summer, sort of. Technically school started on Monday, and I did in fact go to class. But intermixed with class were a wide variety of summer GPSS tasks as well as finalizing certain budget issues with the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs (he gave us $5000, $2100 less than I asked for, but $1700 more than he gave us last year). Thankfully that all comes to an end today.

As an added bonus, the secretive GPSS Judicial Committee released its opinion regarding some volunteer appointment issues that brought the ire of someone not selected. It was a rather arduous and thorough process; but, in the end, they ruled that I had done nothing wrong. Woohoo! I didn't think I had done anything wrong in the first place, or at least, things that I had inadvertently done wrong I had done my best to rectify as soon as I learned about it. This just confirms it.

Tomorrow I return to my Power90 routine, which has been on something of an irregular pattern ever since my grandmother fell ill. I've been working out during that time, but not with the religious dedication of the summer (although my roommate has kept with it). Now that school will act as the dominate scheduling factor, I will begin to arrange workouts to fit accordingly. I'm through roughly half of the program, so after a week of getting back into the swing of things I'll punch it up a notch by starting the Session 3-4 videos.

In the next few days I'm scheduling a haircut with a more up scale place than my usual Hairmaster gig. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do with my forsaken head of hair.

Defining Religion for the First Amendment

This quarter I'm enrolled in Freedom of Expression, which focuses on all aspects of the 1st Amendment. It's a really interesting part of the Bill of Rights, both in its historical intricacies and how the law coming out of the First Amendent looks. In the interest of posterity, here is the language in question:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
And with those 45 little words comes American's basic right of expression, thought, and belief. Today's class, while a little on the pedantic side, was interesting thanks to a thoughtful homework assignment: What is "religion"? I limited myself to religion in the First Amendment sense, but the question remains largely the same. Suffice to say, the question is not easy to answer.

Most of class was spent broadening the definition first offered by students... does a religion really need to be organized, must the beliefs be shared, what is a belief? Which were all very interesting questions and lead to an increasingly broader definition. I took a very different tact when trying to answer the question: come up with a definition that includes an accepted religion group like the Catholic Church but excludes an accepted political group like NARAL. Turns out this is not such an easy task.

I eventually developed the following answer.
Religion for purposes of the First Amendment refers to beliefs which cannot necessarily be explained through rational thinking, are held by a large group, and deal with certain non-secular issues. Religious exercise must be confined to those exercises which do not infringe upon the rights of others.
I like the answer, but it really doesn't exclude NARAL as much as I'd hoped. I did get a good definition of non-secular from class: "spirituality and/or creation not grounded in observable fact." But the answer still seems to broad to be workable.

Clearly this class is going to give me a few things to think about.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Geek Parties... Now with Money

For a long time my friends and I have hosted parties. We're not the most social people, but we've had a few go'rounds that have been worthy of note. The Iron Chef Challenge on the premier of Iron Chef American springs to mind. But those parties lacked something that is relevantly new to our lives: excess funds.

Last night we celebrated Brett's 24th birthday, and instead of struggling with my limited English vocabulary in a vain attempt to explain what money can buy you, let me just show you a picture.

First, you will note the blender. That is the greatest blender to ever crush ice. I purchased it as part of my, "Oh God, I'm Lonely, so I'll Buy Stuff" phase of my breakup with Lindsay. I stand by it as one of the best purchases from that period. Yeah, it was little spendy (okay, a lot spendy) but wields such explosive vortex action I might be tempted to compare it to certain vaccum's claim of gravometric proportions.

Next to the blender is a rather large bottle of tequila--moderately priced tequila. Mexican served as the party's central theme... but only to the extent that we ate nachos and I made more blended margaritas in one night than I have consumed in my lifetime up to that point. Back to the bottle... you will note that it is mostly empty. It started full that evening and only seven people attended (with two attendees hardly drinking). That left a rather substantial portion to the rest of us. Sure, the margaritas were a good method, but they lacked sufficient throughput to ensure we polished off the bottle. This is where Trivial Persuit comes in.

Trivial Persuit, you ask? Sure, you read the title of the post, right? Win yourself a pie piece, you and your partner both take a shot. Easy as... pie, I guess. But no, not really. I'm pretty good at Trivial Persuit, and when I get on a roll, I tend to be unstoppable. My team suffered some bad setbacks at the start (Mars/Moon... Keneset/Synagogue...), but in a period of less than an hour we obtained five pie pieces, and the five corresponding shots, all on top of the blended fruit margaritas I was pumping out. I was pretty gone by the time the evening wrapped up.

Much to my surprise, I suffered no ill effects in the morning and was able to make it to the hospital to see my grandmother. Who, by the way, is doing much better and may very well be discharged by the end of the week.

They Bumped this for Grey's Anatomy!

Last year I started watching Boston Legal. Pretty much from episode one I declared it to be the West Wing replacement. Both smart and funny, the show's writing, characters, and general feel were truly stupendous. I'll admit that the legal spin to the show dovetailed nicely with my legal education, but the show was really good without the legal bit. Brett even enjoyed the show... and I think Timber did too.

Well, the show only aired for half a season! And why? For stupid Grey's Anatomy. I'm told that Grey is all sorts of sexy and the Seattle setting is theoretically local and thus appealing (never mind they would have to rearrange the city to make it actually appear as it does in the show). Suffice to say, I didn't really care for Grey's. We were told that Boston Legal would return eventually, next seasons hopefully. As of right now plans are still on to bring back the show (with some minor cast tweaks).

None of that matters now, because the Academy has spoken and Boston Legal is not just a good show, it is an award winning show. And they only got to air half the season. William Shatner took home the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama and James Spader won for Best Actor in a Drama. Take that Grey's Anatomy... you couldn't even win in the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Day of Ups and Downs

Nothing like a whirlwind day of madness to make you long for the more simple relaxed life of yesteryear. This morning I woke up bright and early, ready for a my one and only On Campus Interview. The firm is a fairly sizable IP firm based in Washington, D.C. specializing in patents. Of course, I'm not eligible to sit for the patent bar, so I was surprised to see they accepted my bid for an interview... but if nothing else, it was going to be good interview experience.

As it turns out, the interview went really well. I really enjoyed talking with him and we had a fair number of things in common (for example, we are both Eagle Scouts). Based on that, I would say my chances for a callback are reasonable... however, getting such a callback requires a patent firm to decide they want to hire a copyrights lawyer. It's not impossible, but chances are slim.

After the interview, I went back to the GPSS Office to prepare for a presentation I was to give at the Microbiology New Student Orientation. Just before I was going to leave I heard word from my mother that my grandmother (age 93) had been taken to the hospital for breathing difficulties. Unfortunately, I couldn't go to the hospital because I had to complete the presentation... and even after I was done, Shannan and my Mom asked me to wait before I headed down.

While I waited for them I began preparations for an email announcing that the student governments had agreed to allow all Katrina students at the UW to access student funded facilities free of charge. It's kind of a big deal and one of the small things I'm trying to do to make their lives easier. But before I was able to finish writing the announcement, I was summoned to Swedish Hospital to visit my Grandmother and check on the mental state of my sister and mother.

When I arrived I was immediately struck with how much I dislike hospitals. Just not a very happy place. My grandmother didn't look so good, and was hooked up on a pretty gnarly looking breathing apparatus. But it was later revealed that she was doing okay and might be released as early as Friday. While certainly a scare, it may turn out to be not so bad. The big question we need to face now is when to tell Judy, my aunt in Nicaragua, she should come up. My grandma might live another week or another year. It's hard to tell.

Then I went to play poker... first game in months. The game started out slow for me, but a few good hands and a few well played hands came together, putting me in a strong first place position. But as with all my poker nights, luck turned against me and I was quickly out of the game. Still the best entertainment you can get for just $20.

The real bummer though, after all of that, is that the scheduling of everything forced me to miss my workout session for the first time since I started.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

It hurts... and not just a little bit

First, things are going better in the work world. Issues are under control with LegSim and the computers are all setup at the GPSS Office. But that doesn't mean everything is right with the world. This morning, while working out, I did something horrible to my right shoulder/back region. And when I say horrible, I mean to say I'd rather not have an arm right now then deal with this particular pain. Of course, the pain the is of the variety where you don't feel it until you do something with the arm... which the absence of pain prior to the doing conveys the idea that doing may be a good idea. But no, doing is not a good idea; doing is to be avoided at all costs.

Tomorrow is cardio/abs, so hopfully I won't be using that particular muscle group very much and can give it time to rest and regenerate. But the next weights day is just around the corner, and I'm really not sure what is the appropriate course of action. I know stopping is a bad idea (worse than the doing I advised against so forcefully), but stopping and doing and often diametrically opposed, so there may be some difficult choices in the near future. On the plus side, I now weigh and outstandingly low weight of 155lbs!!! Quite frankly, I don't want to weigh any less. Now the trick is to convert the fat into muscle, and I think that process is coming along quite well.

I have an interview tomorrow with a big fancy D.C. firm specializing in patent law. If I were to be offered a job there, I would seriously drop a lung... but I do want to walk away feeling like I did well in the interview, and this muscle pain isn't going to make it very easy. My strategy, and I think it's a good one, is to rely on the total awesomeness of my new tie.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Absolute Madness

Today I had a phenomenally bad work day... at both work places. In the GPSS Office, we just received a ton of new computers. I now have to begin the arduous process of getting each one setup, secured, and in the hands of their users. And on top of that, I'm trying to train people how to use software that I don't even know how to use. Last time I seriously used Windows was Sophomore year in 2000. This whole experience has really showed me how much better Linux is. People who say that Linux isn't ready for the desktop might say the samething about Windows if marketshares were in reverse.

But that wasn't the icing on the cake--oh no. On Friday I sent an email to LegSim's offsite payment service. Nice guys who have been super helpful, even though there were lots of obstacles and surprises when trying to fit LegSim into their system. The email asked about the feesability of implementing a new feature to help reduce user error. The feature required us to both do something at the same time, otherwise the remedy would be far worse than the sickness. And what did they do with the email on Friday? They implemented the new feature... and when did they tell me? Today! So for more than 72 hours students registering with LegSim were getting bogus registration links. This whole weekend I've been dealing with complaints, wondering why the amount had increased so radically... and, well... now I know.

So, all in all, not a great day for employment. Tomorrow I have a fancy meeting with the Katrina Students Committee, so maybe I'll get some uplifting news while showing off my own managerial skills. More on that as things get solidified.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Patriot Day

Four years ago this nation sufferred a rather horrific attack on its own soil. Regardless of the reasons and rationales behind the attacks, most everyone agrees that the loss of innocent life was a bad thing (although some my quibble with how many were innocent). Suffice to say, our Federal government went ahead and cheepend the day, which ought to have been a national day of remembrance, by naming it Patriot Day. I like the term patriot, I think of myself as a patriot... but I don't think that Sept 11th has anything to do with national allegiance. And since the Congress was unwilling to declare it a national holiday, it's significance in the American mental calendar is about as high as Grandparents day (which happens to fall on the same day this year).

For my 2005 Patriot Day I actually engaged in something vaguely patriotic... I voted in the primary election. I wish I had been smart like Brett and refused to vote in the partisan portion of the ballot, but I had already sealed the envelope by the time I decided an undervote would have been a great way of showing my disapproval of our new partisan electoral process. For the record, the races in question were either no-contest or no serious contest... so an undervote wouldn't have made a lick of difference. But it's too late for such political symbolism now.

Partisan ballots aside, the non-partisan section was actually rather difficult. I don't follow Port issues enough to really know what the issues are, or who to vote for. I usually rely heavily on endorsements to make these sorts of decisions... but several candidates running for the same position boasted strong endorsements. I took the environmentalist road when push came to shove and voted with WCV, who haven't steered me wrong before. Monorail votes were fun, if for no other reason than I got to vote with the masses against a guy who had clearly screwed up. But the city council races were easily the hardest of all. One race pits a former King County Councilman, the current City Councilman (who is a minority), and geeky looking guy with good ideas against oneanother. I ended up voting for Pelz, the former King County Councilman, probably because I met him before and liked the guy... but if I had been asked 10 minutes later, I may have gone with someone entirely different.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Why I do What I do

A lot of people ask why I don't use Windows and sometimes they go so far as to ask why I use Linux. I assure you, the answers to the first question are many and need little explanation... but the why behind using Linux is often harder to grasp. But the questions go beyond that... like, why I don't use mp3s, choosing instead the far less ubiquitous ogg format. Some don't understand my "I am an illegal circumvention device" t-shirt or why I believe the DMCA poses a greater threat to the average American than the Patriot Act. Of course, the simple answer is that it's all interrelated, and if you understand one answer the rest fall into place. But the comprehension level of people on this subject hovers around 2% of those who ask.

Thankfully, today I received a link to an easy to understand video on a concept known as trusted computing. It deals with the issue at a very high level, but it gets the point across and does so with exacting beauty. I would suggest anyone who has ever asked me why, watch and listen.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Calming Down

This week my blog has played a pretty significant role in my life... posting some pretty personal stuff about myself, but also about others. That may not have been the best idea, and out of respect for those people, some comments have been removed. In an attempt to lighten the mood around here, I submit to you an exciting new art purchase that everyone should check out:

The Origami Boulder

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Update on State Aid

Sam, my friend and fellow blogger, dropped by my site a few days ago to point out some additional states that he knew were offering space to evacuees (New Mexico, Michigan, Missouri, Illinois, and California). It raises the total states to 13, roughly one quarter. Which raises two points: One, I'm glad to see that other states are chipping it; two, why did an official FEMA list of states offering support not include every state. Seems like that should be a pretty easy list to keep track of... it's not like it detailed the extent of the aid they were offering.

All that being said, the Seattle Times is reporting that all of the generosity may not be needed... or, at least, not accepted. From the article, it sounds as thought Washington State will only be taking in those evacuees who manage to get up here under their own power. Which is great that we are going to have a place for those people... but what about all of those who need a place to say and lack the means to get here? I'm not sure if keeping them all bottled up in the Astrodome is really the most humane thing to do. Not that shipping them halfway across the country is any better, but I'm perplexed as to why FEMA is trying to avoid distributing the evacuees beyond the immediately surrounding area. Is this a failure to see beyond the next few weeks when those areas begin to complain about the overwhelming drain of social welfare resources?

On a cynical note... the Washington Post reports that President Push is asking for an additional $51 billion in hurricane relief funding. Watch as Congress completes this appropriations bill in under a week. Obviously getting funds to that area to care for the needy is important and rightfully falls to the Federal government (who can tax generally and spend specifically). But I'm wondering if there isn't a few couple billions in there for actual reconstruction of buildings and private property? Roads, telephone polls, general use stuff is great... but I can't help but wonder if there will be money made available to help rebuild apartments and share living spaces. And if there is such money, who is going to own those buildings when all is said and done? They were owned by private property holders to begin with, those property holders charged people who lived there rents, and now those same people are going to pay taxes to rebuild them and still have to pay rents... all to the benefit of the original private property owner?

I don't know how this reconstruction thing works, but it strikes me as being a potential boon for property owners who make money off providing services for profit to the poor. But I admit, I'm feeling cynical tonight.

Trying to Help Students, Bunches at a Time

Today I represented GPSS at a meeting of campus-wide administrators discussing how to prepare, process, and provide services to student evacuees from the schools closed by hurricane Katrina. The meeting gave me a glimpse of the complexity of disaster planning, and I am beginning to understand how FEMA could have gone so horribly wrong with their disaster management. If you can imagine, representatives from the President's Office, the Office of undergraduate Education, College of Arts & Sciences, Financial Aid, the Registrars Office, Housing and Food Services, Gateway Center (Undergraduate Advising), the Graduate School, Student Fiscal Services, the Provost Office, and five student representatives all trying to figure out what needed to be done!?

Thankfully, the meeting went pretty well thanks to the excellent leadership displayed by the President's Special Assistant, Dr. Kravas, who did an incredibly job keeping things together and focused. Of course, there are still lots of unanswered questions, like what are we going to charge for tuition, where are they going to live, how are they going to register for classes (consider: if you don't start the pChem series this quarter, you lose an entire year, and suddenly your four year biochem degree becomes a five year program), how we are going to get financial aid, or what we are even calling them. Some like the term non-matriculated student, others prefer transfer... I like Visiting Scholar, only because it sounds like an enviable position and thus something to be proud of.

Graduate Students are going to be an even tougher situation. Each graduate student is a very unique case, with special funding considerations and research needs, and while universities may be roughly comparable, departments are so unique that one can't just transfer from Tulane PoliSci and expect the UW to provide everything that is needed. Grad students also rely quite a bit on state support or grants. Washington State cannot provide support to non-residents and most federal grants are tied to a lab, not a student, and those labs are currently back in Louisiana and under 6 feet of water. The only good news about graduate students is that a great deal of Universities are prepared to take grads, so hopefully the number arriving will be relatively low and we can provide the necessary support to those who do come here.

As a welcoming gesture, and a smart political move, the GPSS Officers have agreed to sponsor a resolution allotting a GPSS Senator Seat to the evacuee students so that they can have an official voice in the student governments. The UW can always benefit from a little more bottom-up information flow. Hopefully we can find a student who would be interested in filling the seat and coordinating the students.

But a word to FEMA, should you happen to come upon my blog. The UW has a reason to be in disarray as we plan for this... we aren't setup to do this sort of thing. FEMA exists for the very purpose of preparing for emergencies. Stop worrying about vague terrorists threats and start focusing on things we KNOW will happen and thanks to global warming are only going to get worse.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Why So Few?

Yesterday I posted a link to a huge list of law schools opening their doors to students evacuating from Tulane and Layola. Seems like almost every top-tier school in the country, and many not so top-tier, are accepting anywhere from 5 to 50 students, rather impressive when you think about it. So why are so few states stepping up to care for the rest of the evacuees (they are not, for the record refugees in the modern sense of the word). Here is the complete list of states offering temporary housing:
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • Arizona
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Tennessee
  • Colorado
  • Washington
That is eight states in total. Out of a possible 50!!! Everyone talks about America's renowned charity, our churches and volunteer aid programs. It is commonly cited as justification for our rather pathetic government-sponsored social safety network. Personally, I think government coordinated aid programs are much better than volunteer based programs. Not to discount what the volunteer programs like Red Cross accomplish, it's just that governments (when run properly) are in a more informed position to determine the proper disposition of limited resources.

But that's not the system we have here in the States (FEMA aside) so victims must rely on the voluntary charity of others. So where is it?! Why are there only eight states stepping up to provide space for these people? Why is the entire East Coast absent from the list?

As an aside, one of the great advantages of the American system is that it does not have a single point of failure... when FEMA dropped the ball, other independent organizations are able to pick up the slack. In my opinion, this kind of independent networking approach is critical to all policy making decisions.

On a related noted, I read an interesting article that I can no longer find about the rebuilding of New Orleans and how the city will change. The point they made is that many of the areas inhabited by the city's poor will have to be demolished as the areas are now uninhabitable. But don't think for a moment that the area buildings will be replaced with similar dirt-cheep housing. It is hard to build dirt-cheep housing and make your money back. You can build "affordable housing" which may cover some of the city's poor, but certain not all of it. The end result is that the poor (read blacks) of the city will be forced into areas outside of the city limits where housing costs are lower, recasting the population of New Orleans and creating an entirely gentrified metropolis.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Law Schools Come Together

Here is a complete list of law schools accepting Tulane and Layola students as visiting scholars. I found this list to be awesome in its scope, and there are probably thousands of positions being made available in total... I believe more than enough to accommodate every student. It's very cool to be part of a community that looks out for its own so well.

I Have Been on a Long and Interesting Trip...

...and to quote the steps of the University Street Station, "there are many ways in which I could talk about it." Whether through friendship, lost loves, political fortunes, building of lasting bonds or renewing old ones, exploring new places, gasping at the grandness of our nation, or feeling dispair over its ineptness to help the helpless, each day had its own unique story with perplexity and purpose.

It seems things often come to a head when one travels. Something about the removal from familiar locations and comfort zones forces you to really think about issues, explore new facets of yourself, and with any luck, challenge your very rationale for life. I'm not saying the past fives days are pinnacle moments for me, but I do believe they will have lasting effects.

Some of these stories I have retold in previous posts, others are perhaps too personal to properly express through words alone. Not to be unreasonably melodramatic, but often times feelings can only be expressed with a full understanding of the person expressing them... and while I consider myself reasonably good with the word I don't fool myself into believing I can express the past week nearly as well as I wish I could, or it deserves.

I'm back now, safe in my comfort zone, surrounded by the possessions and in control of my future. I don't think I will offer my friend a place to stay after all... several conversations with good friends have brought me to the realization that my friend is probably using me more than seeking genuine help (which begs the question... is he really a friend?). Certainly my heart goes out to the many suffering in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, but law students have a bright future that affords them the ability to borrow large sums of money. I personally think it is disingenuous of them to drain society of volunteer resources which could be going to people more in need. Tonight I will sit down and figure out my finances so that I can cut a check to Second Harvest. I think it will be money better spent.

As a final thought, when I arrived home last night I learned two things. First, I have come down with some kind of illness. Generally plane flights do weird things to my body, so I hope this is only temporary, but you never really know. Second, Chief Justice Rehnquist died last night. This opens a second position on the Supreme Court, and many believe this to be a big deal. I believe the legal community morns his passing, because if he did nothing else, he empowered the federal judiciary to stand against an overbearing Congress in more than one occasion. He is the reason and rationale behind the phrase "Imperial Judicary." However, this does not give President Bush an opportunity to push the court further right, since Rehnquist was already pretty right of center, unlike O'Connor. I guess time will tell, but first we much see to the confirmation of Mr. Roberts.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Difficult Decisions

I have in my little blue book seven fleshed out blog posts about my ongoing trip to Washington and New York. Lots of unique events and interesting observations that are worth sharing, or at lest worth preserving. My plan was to prepare the text for the posts while I was on the plane and then post when I get home. However, I find myself with some spare moments and a computer while I wait for my hosts to wake up. But this post is not about my trip.

Last week New Orleans and the surrounding area were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, flooding much of the city, leaving tens of thousands homeless and end many, many lives. Until last night it seemed rather distant... unfortunate to be certain, but a issue beyond my control and outside of my world view. I had a few discussions with some friends on the topic of donating to the relief effort, noting that with previous disasters SO much money is focused on the affected area that other needy areas go without. As I understand it, when a donor dedicates money to a particular area, that request is binding; even if the Red Cross believed other places need the money more, their hands are tied.

Last night the issue became someone more salient for me when I learned that an undergraduate friend of mine attending Tulane Law School (in New Orleans) had evacuated and accepted as a visiting scholar at UWSL. He always wanted to attend UWSL, but I doubt this is the way he envisioned getting there. I also learned that his recently purchased condo in New Orleans had survived the flooding unharmed, leaving him with a full mortgage payment, and that his financial aid remained impounded at Tulane.

Which brings me to the difficult question. He needs a place to stay in Seattle. His sister lives there, and his family lives some distance away, but neither are very good options in his mind. He tells me he is hoping for a law student to open their home to him. I'm pretty sure he means me. But the issue is complicated, not the least of which is my roommate who doesn't even know the guy.

My friend (name, in case you hadn't noticed, isn't important and I'd rather not have it come up on a google search) and I once lived together in DC for a summer, which was an interesting experience. He was often inconsiderate of my needs as a roommate, and happily spent his money (and his parents) while I barely afforded to eat. We didn't end that summer on the best of terms, but eventually reconciled into an uneasy friendship that has waned over the years more because of distance than dislike. I didn't actually say no to his request, because he never actually asked. Instead I focused on things I knew were within my capacity for compassion: orienting him to the school, introducing him to friends, getting him into the poker games. Stupid stuff. Certainly not the stuff of heroes.

[But] how can I shut my own door and expect a stranger to offer housing to a friend of four years? Sure, he's not the greatest person to walk the Earth... but he's been there for me in the past, don't I owe him more than a pat on the shoulder and a cup of coffee? I have emailed Brett to get him thinking about the possibility, because I'll need his approval before I do anything. But it seems increasingly possible that I will have a new roommate in a few weeks time.

In the somewhat larger context, I'm wondering about my earlier thoughts on donations. It is true that the Red Cross (or whoever) has a better sense of where the money should go. But at the same time, there is something about the helplessness of natural disasters that deserves special attention. Many of the recipients of aid are in systemic situations that require a shift in regional political planning to truly resolve. Aid is nothing more than a band-aid. But with natural disasters, the people most effected are not in power and won't have a chance to expressed their dislikes to local politicians until elections roll around next year. These people need help and they need it now; the situation is beyond their control.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Better than Airtravel, and Without Competition

I rarely taken trains, but ever time I get on one I fall in love again. There is something rather romantic about the whole affair. The sounds, the view, the kinds of people who are attracted by its cheap fairs. Something very communal about the whole experience.

But now I have an even better reason to like trains... in seat electrical outlets! Yes, that's right, I can plugin my laptop and run for hours! In an airplane I'm surrounded by fancy gadgets, TV's built into the chair in front of me, 23 different audio channels... but not outlets. I'm limited to the length of my battery life and then that's it. Why can't they put in freakin' outlets!? And why does Amtrak, who has no competition to speak off on the rail lines, have better amenities than a flight that costs hundreds more to go the same distance?

Missing McDermott's

Sitting at the Union Station getting ready to leave Washington for New York may have been one of the saddest moments of my recent life. You'll notice that actually happened quite a bit on this trip... I might want to think about seeing a therapist about this. But even watching a police office riding through the terminal on a Segway wasn't enough to life me out of my funk. And the source of the funk? Regret, I think.

The day before I had gone to visit the folks at Congressman Jim McDermott's office, where I interned in the Summer of 2002. To my surprise, nearly ever staffer still worked in the same office, three years later... which is really amazing for a Congressional office. Unfortunately, only one person was actually in the office that day because it was recess (compare against Smith's office, where Lindsay and her cohorts were required to stick around until 6pm). He welcomed me with open arms and we had a good talk. But he had to get going so it was a short meeting. I had hoped to go back there today, but something about lugging my luggage through the Capital metal detectors didn't really do it for me. Instead I called the office to wish my best to those who had come in, which was nice.

But I think that was the catalyst that got me thinking of my short abbreviated trip to Washington. Sure, I hated the heat, everything was expensive, and Republicans rule... but there is something about the city that calls me. Something tells me I am supposed to be here, using whatever particular talents I have for the betterment of the nation, or at a minimum my party. At yet I was leaving, and had no particular plans to return. There was always the joke when I was an undergraduate about the race to D.C.... who would get a job there first, blazing a trail for the rest of us. Two years out and only Lindsay has actually moved there, and she graduated two years after me.

It raises all sorts of difficult questions about what I'm doing in law school, where I'm going when I graduate, what is the point of my current way of life? I don't have answers, all I have is a strong feeling that I need to return to Washington and figure out why the city calls to me... maybe I'll find out it just wants to chew me up and spit me out, but at least then I'd know.