29 February 2016

Federal Triangle Walk (and the BEP)

It was really windy for our last field trip and neither of us wanted to spend all day outside so we did the shorter Federal Triangle walk a little out of order since we're really in the 1910s.  This walk is very compact and heavy on federal buildings, obviously.  There was some information about what was in the area before the redevelopment.  I'd have preferred more, but overall the balance was right for what the walk was trying to do.

We also tried eating in the Ronald Reagan building which turned out to be surprisingly affordable.  The food court there has more and better choices now than Union Station and, if anything, was less expensive.  I'm going to start recommending that to people looking for a place to eat when they've been in the Natural History or American History museums.

And since there was time and since it was close and indoors, we also took a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (the main building was built in 1914 so I guess it sort of counts even though it really doesn't have anything to do with the city). It was interesting.

28 February 2016

So, I obviously don't like Trump.  Here are some reasons why.

1. First, if you get Max Lucado saying you're behaving indecently, you are.  There have been plenty of people talking about how Donald Trump is offensive, a bully, insulting, and so much more.  This is not about politics, personal beliefs, economic status, or anything else.  It's simply about the kind of person I want as the symbolic head of the country and, in particular, overseeing our foreign policy. Being willing to say whatever pops into your head isn't a presidential qualification. There is plenty of junk in politics, but Trump is on a completely different level and a serious presidential candidate should not act that way.

2. Second, he's said a lot of things that are impossible to implement whether you agree with him or not.  It might appeal to a subset of the Republican party to say that Mexico is going to pay for a wall on its northern border, but Trump by himself can't make Mexico do that.  He'd have to get Congress to enact  legislation with provisions to make Mexico pay for it and that's really not going to happen even if he had a Republican majority in Congress. Maybe he thinks the POTUS gets to make laws too? Banning Muslims from the country isn't remotely practical.  Would US citizens who are Muslims be affected by this?  Will immigration add a religious test to its forms?  If you're not religious but your father is, are you still considered to be a Muslim?  Would visa officers working in consulates and embassies all over the world have to ask each applicant to prove they are not Muslim?  How would you prove you're not Muslim?  And the weird thing he said about libel the other day?  He's unsuccessfully sued for libel in the past so he's obviously irritated by this, but it's state law that governs libel, not federal law (unless he thinks he'll get to make state law too, in addition to thinking he'll be in charge of federal law), and there is a pesky Supreme Court case from 1964 that would be hard to get around unless he also thinks he'll be the Supreme Judge of the US. If the man actually wins, I will never be so grateful for the checks and balances in the Constitution as I will be on Jan 20, 2017.

3. Finally, he's suggested concrete proposals on an astonishingly limited number of things, whether you agree with those proposals or not.  Check out the positions section of his website- he has exactly 5 items (immigration, US-China trade, VA reform, tax reform, and second amendment rights [ETA that around March 3rd or 4th he added a section about health care reform]).  That's it.  Sure, he's said all kinds of things in speeches and in the debates, but his campaign literature is where he should spell out exactly what he wants to have happen and how he'll make it happen.  Kasich, Rubio, and Cruz all have much more extensive policy proposal sections where voters can read about what the candidates actually want to do.  Serious candidates should understand the many issues facing American voters and figure out policies and proposals regarding them.  They should not just promote a couple of the candidate's personally-profiting ideas like tax reform that greatly benefits the wealthy.

25 February 2016

Pohick Church and Gunston Hall

We visited these places on a gray, rainy day which was kind of nice.  Pohick Church was both George Washington's and George Mason's church and it was a good spot to visit, both for colonial and Civil War history.  The grounds are lovely too and it's a pleasant spot.

Gunston Hall, George Mason's home, is a few miles away.  The grounds are fairly large and there's a small visitor centers, but the main thing to do there is tour the house.  We were pretty much the only people around that day so they did a tour just for the two of us and it was really interesting.

The area was lovely too, quiet and rural, despite being so close to DC.

24 February 2016

Dupont Circle

This field trip was a little more complicated to do since there isn't a historical trail about it (really?) and none of the walks I could find online or in guidebooks covered everything I wanted.  So I street viewed sites on the African American trail to see if there were signs to read and went out a few days before to check thing out and we toted around several books and brochures while we were out.

There are many places to look at around Dupont Circle (check out the NPS sites for information about the Massachusettes Avenue, 16th Street, Striver's Section, and Dupont Circle Historic Districts), but here are few places that don't seem to be as well known or that I thought were especially worth mentioning:

Larz Anderson House- There are plenty of lovely homes in this area, but since most are embassies you can't just wander inside them.  However, the Anderson House is open with free tours and both my son and I thought it was a worthwhile stop to represent the early 1900s (decade).

1700 block of S Street- (see here) In particualr, stop at 1727 to read the sign and learn about the house at the end of Corrigan V. Buckley, a 1926 decision where the Supreme Court upheld exclusionary covenants.

Metropolitan AME Church- Do stop by this church.

Also, we saw all five of our Stan Embassies.  That wasn't an intentional part of the walk since we were focusing on the decade of 1900s, but there they all were.

22 February 2016

Primaries and Caucuses

Like many Americans, my husband and I are pretty much appalled that anyone is voting for Trump.  Not only that, I am getting more concerned that he will win the Republican nomination- not because a majority of Republicans want him, but because no one other candidate will get enough votes to beat him.

In my mind, Cruz is no better than Trump (except that he's more presidential which does make him preferable- their policies and proposals, such as they are, are quite similar on the issues I care about most strongly) so if we're in a three-person race (Kasich, you have no chance and should get out yesterday even though you're by far the most decent guy up there), I have to hope Rubio wins for the reasons outlined so neatly in the piece linked above.

My husband and I both registered today to vote online in the Utah Republican caucus so we can vote for Rubio.  Utah Republicans recently switched to a caucus system instead of a primary which usually means people not living in the state don't get to vote, but they are trying out online voting this year.  I am glad to get a chance to vote this time even if I am voting against Cruz and Trump instead of for someone (because I don't want Rubio as president, not at all).

There is one other statistic that concerns me greatly.  I was truly shocked to read the exit polls from South Carolina where 75% of the voters said they agreed with Trump about "banning Muslims," whatever that actually means, from entering the US.  If South Carolina isn't an anomaly, then maybe there's nothing that can be done because too many people actually do agree with Trump.

16 February 2016


-Supreme Court.  While I completely understand why Republicans think Obama shouldn't nominate a SC justice (and I firmly believe that there would have been as much yelling on the Democrats' side if, say, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had unexpectedly died in mid-February in 2008), Obama should nominate someone.  It's over 11 months till the next president takes office and I think we need a Supreme Court with 9 justices again as soon as possible. I think it's unreasonable to arbitrarily lop off the last year of a president's Supreme Court justice appointing duties.

Of course, it's pretty much certain that no matter who Obama nominates, she won't even get a hearing, much less Senate approval, so in a way it's a moot point, but I don't think that we're near enough the end of Obama's term to say that he ought not nominate someone.  

Also, I am not at all comfortable with the idea of politicizing the SC in the way it will be (unless the vacancy is filled quickly, which it won't, although I'd love to be wrong).  We vote for a president, not for specific people who would be nominated to the Supreme Court and this will get very close to allowing people to vote for the next SC justice.  It's always been more theoretical before.

-On how we talk about terrorism.  There was an NPR story this morning that talked about how we connect the recent attacks in Paris in San Bernadino, and that they really probably shouldn't be so connected.  I've been thinking about this a lot, including before we knew whether San Bernadino was a terrorist attack.  It was precisely that uncertainty that made San Bernadino so different from Paris in my mind because part of the point of a terrorist attack is to use violence or the threat of violence to further your political goals.  The San Bernadino attackers didn't even make it clear that they had a political agenda, much less claiming support from ISIS which it turns out they didn't have.  An ISIS-inspired attack is very different from an ISIS planned and supported attack.

Lumping these two incidents together make San Bernadino sound much more concerning than it actually is.  Instead of treating it like a workplace incident, which it barely wasn't, we're treating it like Paris, which it wasn't even remotely similar to.  ISIS doesn't care about the San Bernadino attack, it didn't make videos about it, it didn't plan it.  It's not their thing and it doesn't mean that we should be fearful in the US about ISIS because even though San Bernadino shows that people can be inspired by ISIS to do awful things, there is no evidence that ISIS has actually managed to plan and carry out anything remotely like Paris in the US.  (It makes more sense to me to argue that we should be worrying more about mass shootings not inspired by wackos in the Middle East, but by wackos in the US since the latter has done more damage in the US than the former.)

-The debate on Saturday.  John Kasich was right that it was nuts, but I also appreciated Jeb Bush saying that Trump was wrong about a variety of things.  Sometimes it works to just ignore the crazy, but sometimes it's terribly important to say that the crazy is wrong.  This is one of those times.

13 February 2016

MLK Library, Washingtoniana Collection

This week's DC field trip was to the MLK Library in downtown DC to their Washingtoniana collection, both to check it out and to get ideas for my son's research paper.  We had a few vague ideas of what we were looking for and found plenty of great books in the stacks (which we couldn't check out, but that's okay because we're not DC residents anyway) but the librarian also pulled out a file of newspaper clippings from the early 1900s about protests and demonstrations.

We were specifically looking for information about the Bonus Army which seems to fall into the protest and demonstration category, but the file was really about picketing and we only found one mention of the Bonus Army.  Instead, we had a very interesting time looking through articles about white women picketing for suffrage, black men and women picketing stores that wouldn't hire blacks, and everyone picketing and demonstrating at embassies in the 30s.  There were also a few articles about people protesting a KKK film. And the striking seamen from Baltimore.

Those embassy demonstrations were fascinating.  They generally took place outside the German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish embassies in the years leading up to WWII.  Some got violent and laws were passed to keep protesters 500 feet away from any embassy they were protesting.  Several articles dealt with the free speech and assembly issues those laws raised.  A demonstration against the German Embassy (The Washington Post referred to it as the Nazi Embassy) on November 11, 1938 had many protesters marching along chalk line drawn all the way around the building, exactly 500 feet away.  They had planned to fly kites with anti-Nazi messages over the embassy, but decided they didn't want to push their luck since the police seemed to think there was either a ban on kite flying in DC or that would break the 500 feet rule.  (You can protest outside embassies now, of course, as long as you don't block the sidewalk.)

One of the things I hadn't realized about DC before doing this class with my son is how much the city is affected by protests, particularly in the early 1900s when getting there became so much easier (there were lots of women from the western US getting arrested in DC in the late 1910s- they weren't just from areas near DC). One article we read yesterday talked about a proposal to limit people's protests to their own state to keep people from traveling to DC to protest.  Many protests take place on federal property so the federal government often deals with the actual protest, but municipal police often were called in to help, and obviously many protests (like those around embassies) haven't been on federal property or bring in many people who need different kinds of services. The Bonus Army is probably the best example of this since they set up camp in Anacostia for some time.

We'll have to go back another time to find a better source for the Bonus Army (and also the KKK marches in the 20s which didn't get any mentions at all).

10 February 2016

Greater H Street Trail

This trail starts and ends near Union Station and it was another really interesting walk.  It would have been better to do it later though, anywhere between the 1920s and 1960s or even later.  There really wasn't much from the 1900s (the decade, not the century).

There were a couple of signs down but just one or two.

05 February 2016

Prayer as Action

Paul Ryan talked about prayer as action at the National Prayer Breakfast in response to recent criticism of lawmakers calling for prayer rather than changing laws, in particular regarding gun control.

Now, I do agree with Ryan that prayer can be a powerful action.  I don't think there are any circumstances where it's inappropriate (although there are certainly times when you should keep it to yourself- you can always pray privately), but while it can be your first response, it is very rare that it should be your only response.  

When I hear about a horrific mass shooting, I do pray for the people affected.  That's my first response. However, I want to help people in a way that actually makes them feel like I'm trying to help them and prayer is not the best way to do that in many cases.  I want our laws to change and only praying for people who were hurt doesn't stop other people from getting hurt in the future.  I vote for people who will change laws.  I advocate for changes in the law. In the end though, there isn't much I can do.  But our political leaders have the power to do something. If we set up a system where things are more likely to happen than need praying about, then we should fix it.   

I do think that this argument played out differently because the topic was gun control.  Republicans have made it extremely clear that they don't have any desire to change gun control laws so arguing about prayer instead makes sense politically.

So Paul Ryan, your refusal to take legislative action on gun control and many other topics does bother me a great deal. I am frustrated that you are dodging your responsibility to make this country safer by acting like your religious rights aren't being respected.  You can pray all you want- no one is stopping you.  You have freedom of religion. But as Speaker of the House, you have been given the power and authority to *do* something.  So do it.

04 February 2016

And the Mountains Echoed

This was a book group read that I liked very much and it was a great book discuss.  Maybe more than A Thousand Splendid Suns, but they are both very good.  This book tells briefly the stories of a lot of different people somehow connected to one house in Kabul.  There are lots of different types of people and stories so there's something for everyone which makes it a good book group book.

03 February 2016


I've really enjoyed the election campaign so far this time around.  I know that we're supposed to hate it, but it's been fascinating to watch and despite what everyone says, I do think there have been many chances to discuss issues rather than fluff.  Also, I get chances to talk about politics with interesting people in real life who care about a lot of the same issues I do (especially foreign policy).  So I'm having a great time.

Trump, of course, is awful, but I'm also not at all a fan of Ted Cruz and I think his ideas are as extreme and wrong as Trump's.  He just packages those ideas more nicely and I think that Trump is far more likely to be able to govern effectively (even if he's trying to implement things I very much disagree with) than Cruz.  Of course, then maybe I should hope Cruz is the candidate.  

Actually, I'm just pleased Rubio did as well as he did in Iowa.  If we're stuck with one of these three, then I'd rather Rubio. Cruz's and Trump's immigration policies are extremely similar with no plan for what do to for the millions of undocumented people living in the US; Cruz's plan has some real problems (he needs better incentive for people to register, for example (also, he needs to make his website more user-friendly rather than making people slog through long quotes from some book he wrote) but it also does far more to address helping people who are undocumented and that's a good thing.  I'd also prefer his foreign policy goals to Trump's or Cruz's even though I disapprove of many of them.

But Bernie and Hillary?  No idea what will happen there.  Bernie is a good man and I like that.  But he's old- 75 in November.  And I'd much, much prefer to have Hillary running US foreign policy (Bernie doesn't even have a foreign policy section on his issues page).  She knows how the system works, she's pragmatic, and she knows how to get things done.  Bernie is exciting but I'm not sold that he would make a great president (or that his ideas would go anywhere if he were elected).  Also, I really like many of Hillary's proposals- they are far broader and reach a much more diverse population than we're used to seeing, and I think at least part of that is because she is a woman.

No idea what will happen and it'll be interesting to watch it unfold, both from DC and Riyadh.

ETA a couple of days later the Rubio's criticizing Obama for visiting a mosque and calling for religious tolerance moves him neatly in the wacko box with Cruz and Trump.  I'm not a fan of Bush, but he has often at least said something reasonable when another Republican candidate says something crazy (saying that the president visiting a mosque is the right thing to do after Trump and Rubio attacked the idea, saying we welcome immigrants after Ben Carson goes off on them in debates, etc.)