Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Washington, DC

Washington, DC, one of the world's finest capital cities, is a little surreal. Its carefully manicured street and parks around the monuments on the National  Mall stand in contrast to its seedier neighborhoods to the south east and north east - areas where untidy and unkempt streets are littered with the bullet-ridden bodies of the drug wars. But it's surreal for other reasons, both related to politics.

First, it is home to about 650,000 government workers. The heavy density (and I choose the word carefully - dare I call them a "thicket"?) of flexi-time and part-time, largely disengaged individuals, turn the District's beltway into a parking lot from about 5am. It seems, in the interests of "public service" that huge numbers of these employees attempt to "clock" their hours early enough not to actually have to meet and greet the public they are paid to serve. While this isn't an altogether bad thing it does mean that long lines in key government departments necessitate a day off work for a visit that should really only take minutes in actual service time. The morning "rush hour" lasts from 5am to about 9am. The afternoon "rush hour" starts at about 1pm and dribbles along for the rest of the afternoon. The pervasive active disengagement of such large sections of the city's working population manifests in attitudinal dissonance on subways and buses and represents a viral contagion that spreads via proximity. Misery, so it is claimed, enjoys company. Extreme unhappiness appears to be their only pleasure in life. The infrequent exceptions - the ones daring to offer a glimmer of a smile - prove the rule.

Second, DC provides the stage for the nation's only real soap opera - the tragi-comedy that plays daily between Capital Hill and the White House. This week, in the thick of election campaigning, it was unusually quiet. Only "rent-a-mouth" Newt Gingrich, was making the usual disgraceful headlines offering his version of moral clarity defending Senator Akin's "rape" comments. There is something a little perverse about a serial philanderer and charlatan offering comments on moral certitude, but this doesn't cause Newt to pause for a second. I guess divine inspiration has its benefits. The reflexive muscle that connects his jaw to his knee, jerks in a way that completely bypasses his diminishing brain, and he spews forth nonsense without his stupidity ever registering or troubling his synapses. For the leading Republican "intellectual" thought leader, these are barren times. Consistently on the wrong side of all the issues that will come to define this age, Newt exists in a time-warp of his own making, caught between pretending to be scientific while maintaining his support for a party who denies the reality of climate change, evolution and a whole series of other "settled" scientific problems. I recall attending one of Newt's speeches at a private gathering. His full throttled contempt for "Obamacare" was woven into a Biblically justified hostility that claimed the moral high ground for though, somehow, attempting to provide basic healthcare for all represented a crime against humanity. The echo of his words had hardly dimmed when I stood, as the first questioner, and made the obvious point. " If it is morally wrong, for ethical reasons, to provide universal healthcare, was it morally right for you to cheat on two wives, one of whom was suffering from cancer at the time, and to lead the impeachment of a sitting President for allegations of misconduct that you, yourself, we're at that very time committing?" As a so-called student of history, Newt could only manage a form of historical revisionism of the type that the author of the Hitler diaries well understood. It seems that there is little difference between lying for Jesus and misleading others for a greater cause...apparently behavior that will reward him as one of the chosen few in the life hereafter. Hell sounds idyllic by comparison.

I managed two circuits of the town on successive days. The Reflecting Pond has never, in my view, been a place that encourages reflection. Standing at the Washington Monument the Lincoln Memorial is beautifully framed by a setting sun and the water is bright orange and yellow. I enjoy the long, straight pathways that connect these two structures. I can step out more purposefully and the wide avenues enable me to avoid the inconsiderate groups who persist in walking across the whole pathway. 

My first run took me to the north of the Lincoln Memorial, across the Arlington bridge and upstream on the West Bank of the Potomac. I chose the diversion around Roosevelt Island which includes about 1.5 miles on an elevated boardwalk. There were few people around and lots of wildlife. There are few places in DC where it is possible to escape the noise of traffic, but the north end of this island is one of them.

Georgetown high street is a place to avoid and I dropped down to K Street and picked up the Ohio and Chesapeake canal before rejoining 24th Street just before Washington Circle, NW. 9.5 miles of reasonably  quick running and I was tired.

My second run was less adventurous. Taking the same initial route as my first run I opted to circle the Basin around the Roosevelt and Jefferson Memorials before taking the south trail along the National Mall to Capital Hill. This is always a busy place with runners and cyclists competing for space with the large numbers of daily tourists. Approaching darkness helped thin the numbers and made running easier, but this also brought the added obstacle of homeless people lying on the verges, grabbing whatever sleep they could before the capital police moved them along. 

I did see one spectacular collision and was thankful not to have been involved. The lake and fountain directly in front of Capital Hill always attracts photographers at nightfall. The illuminated dome reflected in the water is a favorite snapshot. It's strange, but even with zoom lenses on the most basic cameras, many aspirant photographers seem to need to take several steps backwards to better frame their chosen picture. Their movements aren't always easy to predict, and a runner just ahead of me took a flyer over a backward stepping leg, crumpled on the concrete and then rolled into the water. Shock quickly turned into anger and in no time the offending photographer was dragged into the water and his camera submerged with him. Excessive retribution, even disproportionate, but only egos were hurt and I quickly skipped by and disappeared into the dark.

I can't seem to imagine a "President Romney". This socially inept, out of touch multi-millionaire seems about as qualified for President as Sarah Palin was for Vice-President four years ago. Even Newt seems lukewarm in his endorsement. If Romney can't excite mercurial Neanderthals like Newt he'll have a hard time dealing with Obama's sophisticated reasoning. Even magic underwear and the will of God won't turn this situation in his favor. Still, when defeat is confirmed at least Newt will be able to explain the reason - Romney just wasn't praying to the same God as him. I spent the last few miles fearing that Washington somehow contributed to people becoming stupid and I wondered if I would be smart enough to know if I was similarly affected.

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