Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Hoovers than a Vacuum Store

Republicans are once again harping on the deficit like it actually means something in the short term. In their attempt to be the oppositional party, they have taken up the failed notions of Herbert Hoover in trying to balance the budget at the time of a severe economic downturn. Mainstream economists (I am still not sure why we are listening to them given recent events...) acknowledge that the actions of Hoover certainly increased both the depth and length of the Great Depression. Most economists recognize that short term spending to stimulate lending and thus allow capital for projects is a key step for any recovery.

In related news, Bushvilles are springing up across the country. I am still amazed that people don't understand that when you cut social services and depend on private charity you are setting yourself up for disaster. Many private charities and non-profits depend on donations or membership fees which decrease in a downturn, particularly one as severe as this. Combined with a lack of adequate social services, it is not surprising that people are having to turn to tent cities in hopes of weathering this storm.

The most disheartening thing about this recent trend is that once someone becomes homeless it often begins a cycle that is difficult to break. Because they have no permanent address it is extremely hard to get a job; without a job, income is difficult to come by (except through illegal and often dangerous means). This is compounded by the rapidly rising unemployment rate. While no one is a fan of paying higher taxes, clearly the U.S. is failing it citizens in a variety of ways. Demanding these tent cities be removed only pushes these people out of the small amount of safety they had as a group. While some are saying we are reaching the bottom of the downturn, I remain skeptical. For all our sakes, I hope they are right.

New Adventures

With the recent return of Spring, Heather and I have begun planning some fun and exciting things we would like to do while in D.C. Today we are heading down to the Kite Festival on the National Mall which sounds like it should be a lot of fun. It is always timed to coincide with the Cherry Blossom Festival, which we are also excited to see. Some locals are whining about how many tourists there are and how they "don't know anything", but I am just glad to live in a place people are excited to visit. If you just expect things will take a little longer than normal, you won't get frustrated.

On Monday night, Heather and I will be going to hear William Julius Wilson, a noted sociologist, speak about his new book More than Just Race at one of our favorite bookstores. I am still amazed by the amount of great authors that regularly come to this particular bookstore. I have already read the whole book despite it coming out in early March, because I am nerdy like that. It should be an interesting talk and discussion afterwords. 

Also on our list is to visit the National Zoo. From what I have heard, Spring is a great time to visit the zoo and the animals are quite lively. I can't believe all the free places in this city and how well they are kept up. Between the Smithsonians and all of the federal sites, I can't imagine when I will actually have to start paying for my entertainment again.

I am starting to accumulate some decent holiday leave and so Heather and I will have to start planning a bigger trip somewhere exciting, hopefully this year. We would both really like to hit up multiple destinations in Europe. It feels weird to have to plan out my breaks as opposed to just having them set for me...

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I am continually amazed by the quantity and especially the quality of restaurants within walking distance of our apartment. I post this to tempt any of you to come out! Some highlights:

Mi Rancho:

An excellent Mexican restaurant with some of the most authentic flavors I have found living out here. Everything was great including the service. Heather's chimicanga earned rave reviews (even a close comparison to El Toro Viejo, the gold standard for Mexican places). My vegetable enchiladas included a much greater variety of vegetables than I was expecting. And the three sauces that came with it were all good; though I probably could have drank the salsa verde, it was so good.

Ghar E Kabab:

One of the strangest names for a restaurant I have come across. This Nepalese/Indian place has some of the highest quality South Asian food I have ever had. I am amazed everytime when I receive the bill how reasonably priced it is. Heather loves her Chicken Korma like it is going out of style and I have yet to be able to order anything but the Bahigan ki Bharta (an eggplant curry, and suprisingly one that is spelled completely different at each place that has it). The naan and rice are both excellent and the service doesn't dissapoint.

Asian Bistro:

A hodge-podge of a restaurant. When I first entered this place I was quite skeptical. Usually pan-asian fare leads to sugary glops of MSG that leave you feeling ill. Much to my delight, my concerns were completely unfounded. The food and sauces are all high-quality and contain no hint of MSG or sugary slop. The variety on their menu is unmatched and includes Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. They also have an extremely extensive vegetarian menu and it is regularly ranked one of the top vegetarian places in the D.C. area. Heather raves about their sesame chicken, the sauce has a gentle ginger and garlic flavor which is mouth-watering. Their vegetarian pad thai and kung pao tofu are also excellent. I still need to try the faux shrimp (made out of baby yam) sometime.

We have gone to many other amazing places, and I will try to continue to update as I find time.

I guess it is a good thing we just got a Wii Fit...

You Can't Kill an Idea

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the failed uprising in Tibet and the one year anniversary of the crackdown on Buddhist Monk demonstrators, tensions are running high in the region. It is amazing that despite China having one of the largest armies in the world, they are utterly afraid of a relatively small group of monks. The fact that all foreign journalists and international tourists are being kept out of the region at this team speaks to their ongoing concern about what more protests could bring. Though I was extremely disappointed by Hillary Clinton's lack of providing either carrots or sticks for improved Chinese treatment of Tibet, I was sadly not surprised. This unwillingness to press for Tibet's independence (or autonomy, or even well-being) is one (of many) of America's major foreign policy failings. 

Many apologists for the policy argue that due to our need for China to buy up our debt and help stabilize the region, we cannot denounce their policy for fear of backlash. As any student of international relations can tell you, this simple dichotomy of do nothing or incur the full wrath of China is a false one. There are many gradations in policy that could be used to thaw relations and tie Tibet to other issues where there is mutual interest between the U.S. and China. One of China's biggest fears is international perception of the Tibet issue. Having closed door conversations on the matter that lead to an actual softening of China's position could be an advantageous option for all sides. 

One thing is for sure, we must not fall into the same malaise and inertia that has kept our human rights policy so anemic. We have a president that believes in the rule of law and inspires people around the world. America has the obligation to continue to provide hope to those in duress. We must not turn our backs on causes we know are just. We can no longer sustain regimes like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, and many more to continue on the path they are on. Increased diplomatic efforts must be used to forge consensus on shared goals and to facilitate slow, positive changes to happen in these countries. By sustaining these regimes, we only increase the difficulties we will face when we are forced to deal with them eventually and further the suffering that those oppressed by these regimes experience. 

The Dalai Lama puts it well:

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

Our callous disregard for the consequences of our actions cannot continue. Though change won't happen overnight, we must act in positive ways to increase the well-being of those least capable of doing so themselves.