Barber at Brookings

Through a weird confluence of events, I will be discussing Benjamin Barber’s new book Consumed with Barber and E.J. Dionne at Brookings this afternoon. You may be surprised to discover that I was not impressed with this book. Should be a blast! Come if you have the time. Info is here.

Free Kareem! Rally Tomorrow in Support of Jailed Egyptian Blogger

Thursday, January 11, 12:00 pm
Egyptian Cultural and Educational Bureau
1303 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

I’ve never been much of a placard-waving activist, but conversation with my colleague Tom Palmer, international ambassador of liberty, who knows about such things, has made me deeply concerned about the case of 22 year-old Egyptian blogger Abdelkareem Soliman Amer, who was unjustly jailed by Egyptian government authorities for refusing to recant criticisms of repression and religious extremism on his blog. He has now been in jail for over 2 months, and there is now some concern that he may come to harm in prison, which is why a few good folks and I decided it is urgent to make a statement as soon as possible to the Egyptian government in support of Kareem’s (and all of our) basic human rights to freedom of conscience and expression. “As soon as possible” would be tomorrow (Thursday) at noon.

We have organized a rally tomorrow outside the Egyptian Cultural and Educational Bureau near Dupont Circle in Washington. If you are a blogger, and would be willing to spread the word on your blog, we would be extremely grateful. Better still, if you are in DC, come to the rally. We are trying to get a decent turnout of bloggers and blog readers from the DC area in order to create exposure for Kareem’s case, and to send a clear message that the freedoms of conscience and expression are dear and not to be trifled with.

Please notify friends and colleagues you think might be interested, and encourage them to show up at noon tomorrow, or to spread the work to their friends and colleagues, etc. And I strongly encourage you, my good friend, to turn up tomorrow. We don’t need a huge crowd. If we get just 10-15 or so people and we’ll have accomplished something worth having done. The demonstration is over the lunch hour, just off Dupont, so it’s easy to get to, and you can grab a sandwich on the way back to the office. I’d like to think that if I were sitting in jail simply for saying what I thought, others would do at least that much for you. Or at least a blog post.

If you think you’re going to come, please drop me a line, just so I can keep track. And if you’re interested in doing anything else to help.

The details about the vigil and Kareem’s case are at the blog of the DC Coalition for Blog Freedom, an ad hoc group created to bring people together to help Kareem and no doubt (sadly) many others in the future. That’s you!

Here is the FAQ about Kareem’s situation and don’t miss the links in the sidebar that tell the fuller story.

Please join us tomorrow, or least spread the word, to help a young man punished for speaking his mind.

Zygmunt Bauman on D.C.

I was reading a chapter on consumer capitalism in a 1998 book on globalization by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman at the recommendation of my intern, Andrew, and came across this passage about D.C.:

Contemporary cities are sites of an ‘apartheid a rebours’: those who can afford it, abandon the filth and squalor of the regions that those who cannot afford the move are stuck to. In Washington, D.C., they have already done it — in Chicago, Cleveland and Baltimore they are close to have done it. In Washington no discrimination is practised in the housing market. And yet there is an invisible border stretching along 16th Street in the west and the Potomac river in the north-west, which those left behind are wise never to cross. Most of the adolescents left behind the invisible yet all-too-tangible border never saw dowtown Washington with all its splendours, ostentatious elegance and refined pleasures. In their life, that downtown does not exist. There is no talking over the border. The life experiences are so sharply different that it is not clear what the residents of the two sides could talk to each other about were they to meet and stop to converse. As Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked, ‘If Lions could talk, we would not understand them.’

Amusingly ridiculous, with some truth in the mix.

Ridiculous: I think he must mean the Anacostia in the south-east, since there is not much of an invisible border between, say, Georgetown and Rosslyn. 1998 was clearly a different era (the year I moved to the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area), since I’ve lived rather east of 16th Street for four years. My old roomates had a 2000 guidebook that, apparently assuming the reader to be petrified of black people, advised not going east of 14th St NW, which we mocked from our house between 9th and 10th. So what’s happening? Gentrifying imperialists re-occupying the “filth and squalor?” they previously abandoned? Why? Why do I now live at full mile east of 16th?

I don’t know if Bauman is totally mystified by poor black people or what, but talking to one sure isn’t like talking to a talking lion. I recommend these topics to Bauman, should he ever encounter a poor Washingtonian in person: Redskins; Wizards; the popular songs on 95.5 WPGC; how things are going with them, generally; things on TV. For starters. Too, too weird.

Of course, there are plenty of invisible borders in Washington, but they have become pretty gerrymandered and porous. I wouldn’t say that the Anacostia is an “invisible” border, but it remains one heck of border, that’s for sure.

What's the Message, Washington?

Paul Graham says

I find every ambitious town sends you a message. New York tells you “you should make more money.” LA tells you “you should be better looking.” Rome tells you “you should dress better.” London tells you “you should be hipper.” The Bay Area tells you “you should live better.” And Cambridge tells you “you should read some of those books you’ve been meaning to.”

What does Washington, DC tell you?

The first thing that came to my mind is: “you should get more powerful friends.” What are you hearing?

More Inside-the-Beltway Baseball

Jacob Sullum has a good column up at Reason on the DC baseball stadium financing shenanigans. He cites this open letter, which I hadn’t seen, to Mayor Williams from 90 economists on the likely economic impact of a taxpayer -financed stadium.

A vast body of economic research on the impact of baseball stadiums suggests that the proposed $440 million baseball stadium in the District of Columbia will not generate notable economic or fiscal benefits for the city. Most studies find that new sports stadiums do not increase employment or incomes and sometimes have a modest negative effect on local economies. The reason appears to be that sports stadiums do not increase overall entertainment spending but merely shift it from other entertainment venues to the stadium.

Research also suggests that a baseball stadium alone will not revitalize the Anacostia waterfront. Because sports stadiums are not used most of the year, they do not stimulate much development outside the stadium. Most modern stadiums include restaurant and other entertainment offerings, limiting the money that goes to neighboring businesses.

A new stadium cannot be expected to generate a net increase in economic activity in the Washington metropolitan area, but it may shift some entertainment spending from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs into the District. Nevertheless, the economic benefits to the District are not likely to outweigh the large stadium subsidy proposed by the District. At least 80 percent of the costs of the $440 million stadium are expected to be supported with public funds.

In short, it is dubious to justify the use of public funds to subsidize construction of a DC baseball stadium on economic development grounds.

And there is a very impressive list of signatures.

If you’re a resident of DC’s Ward One, as I am, please send a note to Jim Graham asking him to vote against the stadium financing plan. I’m told he’s on the fence, and could swing things either way.

The DC White Elephants?

Be sure to check out Sally Jenkins’s nice WaPo piece on DC Baseball, which prominently features Cato and the Coates/Humphrey’s Briefing Paper. Cato Executive VP Daivd Boaz gets in a few zingers”

“Politicians have an edifice complex,” says David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute. “They like to be seen building big things.”

The Mayor is a whiner:

Williams has peddled the stadium deal under a false pretense. Baseball will be a great spiritual and recreational addition but not a financial one. If you really want to define the mayor through baseball, look at his reaction when the Cato Institute published a briefing paper on the fallacy that stadiums bring big economic benefits to cities. “I can’t imagine why, with all the things happening in the world, the Cato Institute would take the time to analyze the impact of baseball in Washington, D.C.,” Williams said.

The answer is that the Cato Institute is a think tank with a serious interest in efficient municipal policy, and its scholars live and work and pay taxes in the District. The mayor’s irritated dismissal of independent academic research was a truly defining moment. “What struck me is, you’ve spent the last three years trying to get baseball here, with all the things wrong with the city, so where do you get off saying we shouldn’t do one study?” Boaz said. “He’s clearly spent a larger percentage of his time on this than anything else.”

Jazz Hands Forever!

Although we were not dominant in competition Team Jazz Hands was dominant in spirit (sprit fingers!) at the DC National Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. Jazz Hands member (and beloved housemate), Kelly, is featured prominently, if not exactly by name, in the Washington Post’s excellent coverage of the DC National RPS Championships (but why is this not in the Sports section?). Follow the link. Look at the picture. The boa! Jazz Hands represent! And check this:

Right now the men of DC Gambit are too busy for a formal interview because they are screaming insults at a possible opponent: a tiny woman in a black tank top and tight jeans, brandishing a cigarette and Yuengling beer, wearing a pink feather boa. She is yelling at them about what wimps they are, how they can’t possibly out-RPS her and her friends.

Sure, it’s cute, but you don’t have to live with the tiny, insult-screaming woman.

It must be mentioned that Jazz Hands member, Ryan “T2” Nunn made the finals, and made us all damn proud.

And behold this awesomeness:

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JAZZ HANDS! Next year, man. Next year.