I found that
cent on Castro St., not far from Mountain View's City Hall. It's the
first one I remember seeing with the picture of the U. S. Capitol being
built on it. It's been a long time since I wandered through that
building, but it never impressed me as one that would be easy to heat
or cool. It occurs to me that if they put the House and Senate in a
modern building they could save A LOT of energy. Maybe while they are
at it they could add enough seats to the "House of Representatives" to
make them representative of more of us, meaning the broader population
of the USA, not just the one percent that can afford to buy Congress
I don't think of Duke
Ellington when I think of the District of Columbia. Instead, I think of
the places on this map. When I lived in the area I enjoyed spending an
afternoon in the galleries around The Mall. There are enough that you
can entertain yourself for a year of Saturdays just browsing old stuff.
I've heard them called "the nation's attic". The title fits, in the
sense that there are probably more than a million things there that
nobody would want to
part with. When I was temping in DC in the fall of '95 my desk was at
least five stories above the L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop, but still in
the same building. During that time the African-Americans had their
million man march, and it really was the most incredible crowd I've
ever seen. I'd seen as many people there several other times, but never
was the crowd as homogeneous, and never was the vibe as good. I shake
my head when I try to figure out how Duke Ellington trumped all that.
It's beyond me.
I learned some
fascinating lessons about activism in DC. Across the street from the
White House in Lafayette Square is a Peace Vigil that has been there
continuously since something like 25 years ago. At least they were
still there last time I visited, most of a decade ago now. I stop by
every time I'm in town. One time a guy that I saw there many
times told me that official Washington wanted them gone. They had done
many things to try and get rid of the vigil. That included getting
Court decisions about how much stuff they could have there (nothing but
the clothes on their backs and a clipboard, not much food and not much
water). He was proud that they hadn't gotten rid of him, but he was
ashamed that the court decision had been used in San Francisco to
harass the homeless in downtown. He felt that every time they open the
eyes of another tourist about the need for political change around the
nuclear war issue a peaceful future gets closer.
All kinds of people go to Washington DC
to try and affect US policy.
One time I read that a year or two before Yeltsin had taken over from
Gorbachev in the USSR he had come to DC to see if they would talk to
him. The towns attitude was "who's Boris Yeltsin?" He spent the whole
visit drunk in his hotel room. After he got elected the city gave him a
lot more respect. Many people have it much worse. St. Elizabeth's (the
place where they lock up kooks for "psychiatric evaluation") has a
special check off box on the intake form for people that want to "see
the President." Some of them even have good reasons for their visits.
Some who are lucky enough to dodge that trap end up broke and homeless
on Pennsylvania Ave., panhandling for food money or whatever.
I've thought about the relationship
between all the above and religion.
One catalyst for my thinking was a Herb Block cartoon that painted the
oil, car, and drug companies as "sacred cows". Another was an AP story
I read at my desk in OC at AOL where a German tourist called the
Lincoln Memorial "A Religious Shrine". I thought about the fact that
there is a statue of Albert Einstein (one man who understood the laws
of physics) overlooking the Vietnam Memorial, a place where I have seen
many Americans of different kinds reflect and/or pray and/or leave
remembrances (some would say sacred objects). The dotted line on the
map traces my "constitutional walk" past many of the icons of American
democracy. I figured that since I couldn't directly affect the US
Govt., at least I could do no harm by seeing them while I was in DC
anyhow. It so happens that I was the last tourist to see the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Magna Carta that
day. By coincidence I got to the National Archives building at the
right time. I still remember watching the guard putting a cover over
one of them before I left. It was a cold, cold day. By the time I
ducked into the subway system at L'Enfant Plaza it was also quite dark.
Since those days I've gotten much more
careful about the way I use
terms borrowed from religion. I still think that pollution prevention
is the holy grail of the environmental movement, for lack of a better
way to put it.
Short as Harrison's stay in the White
House was, there are probably homeless that die on DC's streets every
year after being in the district a shorter time than that. He got a
State Funeral. They get the least the system can do for them.
A $1.47 trillion dollar deficit in
our national budget is hard for me to relate to. I was on Caltrain and
I tried to talk about it with the guy across the aisle from me. He was
twenty or something like that. He shrugged it off. I told him that back
in the '70s I played pinball on a machine where it was something to get
ten points, like you had to at least hit a thumper. A winning score was
somewhere in the thousands. He mulled the idea, muttering "there has
been inflation in that to?" I remain convinced that entertainment value
is much more of a one dollar one vote kind of thing. How much fun can
it be when the number won't fit on a check?
I was watching the News Hour one evening and some Republicanish talking
head said something like "I think people who work on budget issues in
DC get some weird problem that disconnects them from what those numbers
in the budget on the page mean." Fog is fog, but whatever the weather
is, I'm going to remain convinced that a true story is worth a quarter.