Sunday, February 25, 2007


despite a thorough addiction to television as a child, i have only just watched the princess bride today. maybe it was that i didn't have cable until i was almost in college. apparently the movie was played on tv nonstop during the early 1990s. despite this deprivation, i still managed to somehow know and use the inigo montoya revenge line though.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

populism, venezuelan/dc style

so apparently dc law has it that you have to clear the sidewalk in front of your property. of course, the dc government hasn't managed to do that quite yet for a lot of city properties or areas with ill-defined property rights, a week after our "big" snowstorm. but that's not what we're talking about here.

occasioned by my running loop, i head down massachusetts avenue down embassy row. the only delegation on my route that has yet to clear the snow from the sidewalk in front of it's embassy is venezuela. you'd think a country that gives out free/discounted heating oil as a sign of it's goodwill towards the poor could manage to shovel off the sidewalk. after all, the people walking skew poor. power to the people indeed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

classic bball - swagger jacking

browsing around free darko the other day and came across their euro guide. awesome stuff as always, especially the illustrations.

this one especially. he only needs a cig.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

democracy and a dash of common sense

so, i was reading about the power sharing government that's been formed between Hamas and Fatah. given the terms, and the lack of concessions that Hamas has made towards Israel (namely, recognizing it), denouncing violence, etc., i'm not so sure how effective it will be at quelling violence in and around Palestine. looks like we'll have to wait a little longer for some meaningful developments in the middle east.

one thing stuck out in the article:

The agreement calls for Hamas to control nine government ministries, the most of any party, followed by Fatah with six.
this got me to thinking. wouldn't it seem that some of the failures of democracy in other countries is that they still operate in ways akin to some sort of spoils system? the spoils system was how the American system operated in the 1800s, where whichever party was in power distributed civil service jobs to friends, contributors, etc. now of course we have a non-partisan civil service, except for the higher level positions which are political appointees in executive branch agencies.

the situation where certain factions, either de jure or de facto, control certain ministries/agenices, certainly seems to contribute to die hard political activism, violence, etc., because people really do stand to lose access in some cases if their party loses. and while with non-partisan ministries/agencies means that it's very difficult to get around bureaucratic obstructions, treatment by these agencies is egalitarian and we have limited corruption. having partisan ministries leads to all sorts of trouble: bribery, graft, selective policy application, use of power against political rivals, etc., with all the concomitant problems. iraq, for example, has situations where certain parties (i'm unclear whether this is de jure or de facto) control certain ministries, where these problems have become endemic.

the point can be made, and it has been made in similar situations, about how the current administrations fixation on "democracy" as a fixative for the problems in other countries is completely misguided. this issue of partisan government agencies only serves to highlight the inadequacies of this perspective.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

CW watch - dc real estate edition

since i've moved to dc, i've been talking about changing the height restriction. now it looks like some scholars from the brookings institution are saying the same thing.

for those who don't know, buildings in dc can't be higher than 130 feet (which i believe is the height of the capitol building). now, some people have told me that this makes dc more aesthetically pleasing. while i do like the row houses, i'm not sure if i totally agree with that sentiment. i certainly don't agree with that sentiment in the face of skyrocketing rents and home prices.

i usually think of this issue in terms of the effect of the policy on home prices and apartment rental rates, but the brookings scholar Christopher B. Leinberger was talking also in regards to the price and supply of office space, which seems also to be an issue. all the more reason.

dc is such a low density city, and the height restriction is one of the problems. if you've ever travelled out to NOVA or seen the MD suburbs, you've seen some of the consequences. concentrating the region's growth within the district has any number of advantages, including reducing driving (with the reduction in road construction outlays, pollution, gas consumption), reducing sprawl, and making the city more affordable, among other things.

unfortunately, for the expansion in housing supply to have the full impact and to attract families with kids, the dc public schools need to improve considerably. the leadership of the city, however, is well aware of this and how it factors in to the city's ability to retain the high tax base young couples (read: yuppies) who have moved to the city in recent years. whether or not they can actually achieve anything in the schools remains to be seen.

some sort of sensible policy that keeps the restriction in place for the areas around the mall and the capitol seems like an appropriate solution. this would allow the historic areas to retain the gravity they have now, while allowing larger development in other areas of the city. with so much of the city's row houses designated as historic, you'd save large portions of these homes while still allowing for larger development on fallow or underutilized land. the key here is sensible, which sometimes is a foreign term for the dc bureaucracy. and some upgrade in the architectural designs of the new developments (compared to what we're getting now...yeesh) would be nice, and might help dispel dc's image as an unimaginative cultural wasteland (which isn't entirely untrue).

i couldn't finish this without commenting on the quote at the end of the wapo piece.

"Rosslyn has tall buildings and views of the city, but if you change the height limit and someone builds in the air rights above the Watergate then you've blocked that view," said Don Kreuzer, a dentist who has lived in Foggy Bottom for 35 years. "D.C. is beautiful because of the height limits. If you change that you're going to ruin the view."
who cares what the view from rosslyn (i.e. virginia) looks like? i'll agree that the height limit does make dc somewhat more pleasing and manageable, but a maximum 12 stories for buildings is just ridiculous (in our nations capital no less!). for the most part, people who live in dc don't have a view of dc, it's only there for the people in the suburbs. i suspect that this guy lives in one of the few high rises in foggy bottom that actually have a view of the lincoln memorial, and he's just phrasing it in a manner that seems less self-interested. furthermore, if you keep the restrictions in place around the mall, the capitol, and the monuments, then this wouldn't even apply.

hopefully this idea reaches the point where it becomes more than just something academics mention occasionally at panel discussions and gets some serious debate.

Update: DCist harks on this as well, and raises a lot of good additional points. they come out on the same side of this as i do. they also pointed out the faulty assertion about the relationship between the capitol building and the height restriction. mythbusters!

Friday, February 2, 2007

whither iran...and iraq

so, despite the fact that we haven't even come close to figuring out the first mess that we started, as josh marshall points out, the true question right now in american foreign policy is unfortunately whether or not we will attack iran. the administration can't even be bothered to stay focused on staying the course. hawks are out insinuating that iran was behind the recent attack on US forces in Karbala (although they are now apparently saying that it was actually a bunch of iraqi generals).

meanwhile, i'd say things were going from bad to worse in iraq, but i think we've past the point where such a statement is actually meaningful. it turns out that we're fighting an ever fractious group of enemies, and that, sadly unsurprisingly, the mahdi army has been using the iraqi defense forces as a way to equip and train their members. i think most people thought this was a problem, but not on this scale.

with the new national intelligence estimate on iraq released today, we find the intelligence community extremely pessimistic about the possibility of success for the president's surge plan, and for the future of iraq generally. basically, it finds that even if the surge plan could pacify baghdad to a significant degree, such that political dialogue could even be possible, it wouldn't make a difference. the political and sectarian gridlock is just too insurmountable. the sunnis can't adjust to their new role, the shiites can't make any concessions or accept any affronts to their majority status, and the kurds and their play for kirkuk could have drastic consequences (and lets not even mention the situation with turkey).

not only that, but the NIE explicitly rejects the possibility that iran can have any significant influence, given that iraq is already rending at the seams. i guess that might be the only positive thing about it. but then again, that probably won't even matter to the contingent pushing for confrontation.

Update: James Fallows has a gret piece about how while the choices in iraq are hard and necessitate losses and sacrifices, the choice concerning iran is straightforward and unambiguous: No war with Iran.