Everywhere a Sign

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A years-long mystery that has periodically nagged me was solved today by my friend Hayden Hurst.

On the 14th street bridge, on the left side of the North Bound portion, there’s a square sign with a red octagon (missing one side) with two, smaller, concentric red octagons inside of it. The inner-most part is the face of an Eagle. David Gorsline, a Flickr user, posted a better picture of the logo here, which he found on a sign in Penn Quarter.

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Sign on the 14th Street Bridge.

I’ve often wondered if this was some secret sign instructing the military where to go when habeas corpus has been suspended, or had some sort of secret official purpose.

Turns out, it’s just the old logo of the now-demolished Washington Convention Center. And it’s been there for at least a decade, probably multiple decades, as the convention center opened in 1982.

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Photo of Demolition, via PRWeb.

 

As time goes by and Washington changes, lots of old signs are still up. On Massachusetts Avenue, near the Heritage Foundation (at least when I worked on the Hill) there was still a sign for the MCI center. There are signs for AMTRAK stations everywhere, even though nobody really uses signs like those when we have GPS and Waze.

Hayden reports:

“At least as of last year, there was an exit at Metro Center that still pointed to the MCI Center.”

What about you? What old signs of D.C. and the surrounding area have you seen still in operation that serve no purpose? Weigh in in the comments.

UPDATE: Others have wondered, too, about these obsolete signs.

Walmart Replaces Mike Rowe as Narrator in Iconic Commercial. Why?

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As somebody who studied marketing and wanted to be a copywriter, I love advertisements. I watch them consciously, which is a little weird.

One of my favorite ads in recent years in Walmart’s “I am a Factory” Ad narrated by Mike Rowe. (Even though I am generally opposed to buying a product based on its source for nationalistic reasons.)

Yet, late last year, Walmart re-uploaded the ad. And the ad isn’t narrated by Mike Rowe anymore.

Here is the original:

I asked Mike Rowe on Twitter about it, and will report back if he responds:

Friday Brunch Burger

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At my place of employment, we put out a magazine once a week. And those of us who work on the production side have to stay there pretty late getting it to the printer. Like 1 a.m. late. And then there’s all of the little tasks you have to accomplish after everything has been sent where it needs to go.

As a result, you’ll get home after 1, and since you’re already caffeinated, after an episode of Jeopardy! and the Blacklist, it’ll be 3 before you’re asleep.

So, on Fridays. You sleep in. You’re groggy. When you wake up, you want comfort food.

Here’s my latest creation, the Friday Brunch Burger.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Egg
  • Powdered seasoning of choice (Old Bay, Tony Chachere’s, Lawry’s, Cavender’s, etc.)
  • 1 Hamburger Patty (or fresh ground beef equivalent.)
  • 1 slice American Cheese
  • Ciabatta Bun
  • 1 tsp Buffalo Wing Sauce (Hot sauce is OK as a substitute.)
  • 1 tsp Steak Sauce (A1 or similar.)

Directions:

  1. Toast the ciabatta bun in a toaster or toaster oven while frying the egg in a skillet. Season egg appropriately.
  2. Place the cheese on the fried egg and set on a plate.
  3. Fry up the burger and season appropriately.
  4. Mix Buffalo and Steak sauce in cup while frying burger.
  5. When complete, stack together, pour on the sauce, and enjoy.

Yes, my wife is out of town and has no idea this is what I like to do on Fridays when she travels.

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What The New Republic is Telling Their Print Subscribers

The New Republic recently went from being a magazine to an “integrated media company” — this postcard is what they’re telling their print subscribers about the change.

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The Return of 10 Cent Beer Night

The fine folks at ClotureClub.com have shared a pretty good deal the Washington NHL team is putting on. $79 for unlimited beer/wine/food, and a t-shirt.

Not a bad deal if you like hockey. Now, Washington hockey fans are notorious for knowing little about the sport other than that we had a really good Russian guy donning number 8, but they’re not hockey hooligans like in good hockey towns (a dying breed, really.)

But, this town does like to drink. So who knows what could happen.

All I have to say is Cleveland has tried something similar before. It didn’t end well.

Details below:

 

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Enough With the Alerts

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I’m sick of alerts. How many do we have now? Amber, Silver, Wireless Emergency Alerts, Presidential Alerts. There are probably more depending where you live.

The problem is dead children or dead senior citizens lead to bad laws. Nobody is against wanting to help find abducted kids before any more harm than the abduction itself is done. Likewise, nobody wants to lose their senile grandparent.

Bad things happen all the time. But do we, as a society, have to bother everyone about it?

The answer, apparently, is yes.

Amber Alerts were really the first wave. The modern-day version of milk carton kids, but in real time. Then came Silver Alerts. And then, participating cell phone carriers, the CTIA, and the FCC got together to set up the Wireless Alert System. This one is by far the most annoying and intrusive. Thankfully, it’s optional.

A few years back I bought a new phone, and it was pre-set to get such messages. I live near a tributary of the Potomac that floods when it rains. It’s 2 a.m. I’m sleeping. A shrill banshee wakes me up. It’s my phone. Just wanted to let you know it’s raining pretty heavy outside.

No more alerts for me.

In Washington, there’s a big local story about how a female Episcopal Bishop killed a cyclist — a protected class in the D.C. area — while drunk and left the scene, only to come back and admit guilt. It’s a sad story, and hopefully justice will be served, even if it can’t bring back the life of the prominent cyclist she killed.

In Maryland, where it happened, there have been a spate of hit and runs that have gone unsolved. Some argue that the state’s large illegal immigrant population is to blame, fearing deportation if they stop. (Frankly, nobody can drive around here, so while the immigration:hit and run correlation makes sense, I’m not sure I buy that it’s the only reason it happens around here. We have lots of major league assholes.)

In response, a Maryland State Senator has proposed… wait for it… another alert system!

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, is proposing Yellow alerts to disseminate information on hit-and-run drivers, including vehicle and suspect descriptions. Like Amber and Silver alerts for children and seniors, Yellow alerts would pop up on residents’ cellphones, highway billboards and online.

But what about distracted driving, Bryan! How am I supposed to follow those laws and help solve every crime?

I kid, but this is over the top. That’s the problem with trying to do nice things. It starts with an Amber Alert, and then, every time something bad happens, the aggrieved want their own alert.

Here are a list of other proposed alerts, along with other ones I’ve completely made up. See if you can pick which are real and which are fake:

  • Rep. John Paul Jordan has proposed an “Inmate Alert” early warning system that would alert the public when an inmate escapes.
  • Rep. Tony Cornish has proposed a “Blue Alert” to help catch anyone suspect of wounding or killing a police officer.
  • Rep. Matt Santos has proposed a “Green Alert” to alert the public of environmental disasters like oil spills or poison entering public waters.
  • Assemblyman Jim Tedisco has proposed a “Dangerous Dog Alert” to protect people and pets from irresponsible dog owners.
  • Rep. Jim Dudley has proposed a “Red, White, and Blue Alert” to help catch those accused of killing or harming an endangered species.
  • Senator Jackson Richman has proposed a “Camouflage Alert” to alert the public to illegal off-season hunting or poaching on public lands.
  • President Obama proposes “Earthquake Early Warning System.”

The ones by Santos, Dudley, and Richman are fake. The rest are real. And might be coming to a cell phone or alert billboard near you.

As for me, if I really wanted to be up on all of these things, I’d watch the local news.

I’m 14, and I’ve Got a God Damn LLC

NOTE: I wrote this as a “Short Imagined Monologue” and submitted it to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a great site that runs a column of such monologues. It didn’t fit their needs, so I’m sharing it here because I enjoyed writing it.

It’s written by me, if I were an eighth grader in 2015.


The child labor market is tough these days. Fewer newspapers exist for us to deliver their news, and those that do exist tend to use adults with cars. Why? I’m not sure.

Who would you feel better about tipping? The 32 year old living in his Ford Aerostar, or me, an eighth grader? Who is more likely to maintain his mode of transportation? My bike is much cheaper to fix, I can’t buy booze, and I don’t have child support to pay.

No matter. The slow bleed-out of the news industry has forced us kids to revert to the same intergenerational job cannibalism that John in his Aerostar is guilty of.

And that’s why I’m selling lemonade this summer. Not only am I selling lemonade, I’m going to do it legitimately — like paying my taxes legitimately. I’ve lawyered up and created LLCs in Delaware and in Ohio. Health code paperwork? Filed and approved. FUTA tax set aside? Already there. Business checking account as a minor co-created with my dad? Ready to transact.

With the minimum wage rising, the labor-force participation rate in the dumps, it’s hard for kids to get good work experience these days. And I intend to keep it that way. Unless you want to work for me.

Shaker Heights doesn’t have food trucks, but I’ve learned from their detente with the brick-and-mortar crowd. Public opinion and support is nice, but when it comes to the banhammer of local government, it’s far better to have the law on your side.

The food trucks, their war was planned with the army they wanted, not the one they had. They did not heed Rumsfeld, and they were under prepared for a dog fight. They paid for it dearly, relegated to a few city parks with no free reign. I don’t intend to make that same mistake.

Why all this fuss, you ask? Yes, you’re right when you say “you’re just a kid and it’s lemonade.” I hear you. But now, hear me. I am going to fucking corner this market and make an assload of cash. XBox Ones and Playstations don’t pay for themselves, even if your dad is a tax lawyer.

How do I plan to win? Government. I’ve watched House of Cards, I know how it works. I’m going to be Raymond Tusk with ruthlessness of Francis Fucking Underwood. Those evergreen local news stories about how police or regulators are stopping kids from doing kid-like things… You know, selling lemonade or shoveling snow? Expect more of them.

Sun Tzu put it this way: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

Market research? Oh, I’ve done it. Everybody loves artisanal shit, however defined. And it can’t have gluten. Why waste money on lots of lemons when you can use Crystal Light? I add one slice of lemon to that and customers will be happy as a fucking clam and none the wiser. So, enjoy my gluten-free artisanal lemonade for $1 a glass.

That girl from the Verizon advertisement, Susie? She doesn’t exist, but she’s a fucking inspiration even though she got it all wrong. If Susie were to be believed, “the small business with the best technology rules.” That’s just another things my fellow millennials get wrong. Technology is fungible. Ask Elon Musk. I did.

We’ve gone from the gilded age to the government age, and I’m here to play the game. And I’m playing to win. Don’t think I’ll stop at lemonade. Snow removal comes next, and we’re going to re-take newspaper delivery for as long as newspapers exist.

Long term plans, you ask? Once I’ve achieved critical mass here in Ohio, I’m going to move my operations to New York to take advantage of their StartUpNY plan with no taxes. When that deal expires, I’m going to invert my company and take it to Ireland.

Barring no complications, I’ll be able to retire just as I graduate from THE Ohio State University, and John will still be living in a van. God bless America.

Jimmy Swift is an eighth grade student at St. Dominic’s School in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Paul Krugman Was (Probably) Right!

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It pains me to admit this, but Paul Krugman was probably correct about something. (Though, modern-day Krugman might disagree.)

I’d point you to this excellent NRO item:

But what if 2014’s jobs boom is mostly thanks to the expiration of a program that the Obama administration and Democrats fervently pushed to renew?

That’s the finding of a new NBER working paper from three economists — Marcus Hagedorn, Kurt Mitman, and Iourii Manovskii — who contend that the ending of federally extended unemployment benefits across the country at the end of 2013 explains much of the labor-market boom in 2014.

About 60 percent of the job creation in 2014, 1.8 million jobs, they find, can be attributed to the end of the extended-benefits program. That’s a huge amount, and suggests that long-term unemployment benefits, while there’s a good charitable case for them, could have played a big role in the ongoing lassitude of our labor market. (Indeed, an earlier working paper from a few of the same authors argued that extended benefits raised the unemployment rate during the Great Recession by three percentage points; see a summary of that paper here.)

This brings me back down memory lane, nearly five years ago, to my days as a young and brash aide to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in 2010.

Here’s what Krugman sneered in his column back then about floor remarks made by my boss regarding the large expansion of unemployment insurance:

Here’s what Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, had to say when defending Mr. Bunning’s position (although not joining his blockade): unemployment relief “doesn’t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.”

To Krugman fanatics and haters, it’s not news that Krugman will write one thing, and then, years later with a newspaper column, write something completely different.

So, we went to the Library of Congress and pulled out the text book he had written with his wife, called “Macroeconomics” and look what we found:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. . . . In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

Golly.

So, a letter to the NY Times – something they are known for not publishing if critical — was drafted. And wouldn’t you know? It got published.

Though, we never did hear back from Paul Krugman. But I hope pre-NYT Krugman is feeling somewhat vindicated.

Here’s the letter:

jk nyt unemployment

On ‘Free’ Community Colleges

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Over on Facebook, my friends and I have had an interesting discussion on the elusive details of the President’s budget/SOTU proposal for ‘free’ community college education.

Because of a New Year’s resolution a few years ago, I rarely delve into long, drawn-out debates on Facebook. It’s usually not worth your time. But I made an exception here, in part because of the thoughtful insights from my friends (and a friend/former teacher!) and partly because I wanted to weigh in further.

Here’s my (lightly edited) rant:

Edward and Shawn, I agree with points you both make. The cost of ignorance is high and not everyone has the opportunity to attend a Jesuit school with great science teachers like Mr. Nolan. (Though the Jesuits are trying as hard as they can with the Cristo Rey model, which is phenomenal.)
 
I love community colleges. My grandfather was a professor at one, and my mother attended there before going to tOSU. I’m just opposed because I don’t think this level of involvement by the government is appropriate. It’s my libertarian side coming out.
 
Realistically, this has ~0% chance of passing Congress. The “Pay Go” rules don’t help because anyone who proposes it on the Democratic side will “pay for it” with a tax increase and not a cut, which is how the game is played in Congress these days.
 
If Obama / Congressional Democrats wanted to be clever, here’s how they’d structure it:
 
1.) You apply for this program and by doing so, you agree to forfeit your Pell Grants entirely.
 
2.) Under Pell Grants, you get up to 12 semesters (six years) worth of grants, which, under maximum level at max time before exhaustion represents a little under $35,000. Of course, not everyone qualifies for Pell Grants, or gets the full amount. But you could argue savings by doing this.
 
3.) Cynically, if you wanted to obtain a 4-year degree, then you’d likely go to the student loan market (effectively nationalized since 2010!) where the government could make the money back. (Though, they’ve already used the “profits” from that to defray the cost of Obamacare and it would be hard to count that twice.)
 
A friend of mine, an analyst type, observed that this would be among the cheaper proposals Obama has proposed, even though the costs would be in the tens of billions, according to some estimates.
 
Two states (and others I am sure) have tried “free college programs.” Their examples are instructive. (I still am weary about government involvement in this, but at the state level it is at least appropriate from a federalism perspective.)
 
Arizona, when I worked for Senator Kyl, had something called an AIMS scholarship. If you met certain requirements under their AIMS program — you got a full tuition waiver at in-state schools, provided you were accepted. Of course, the test was not terribly hard and lots of people qualified. Now, it covers 25%, and is renewable — subject to college-specific requirements — over the remaining three years.
 
It was poorly planned. And it was done by Republicans!
 
Tennessee has the “Tennessee Promise” program, a brainchild of their Republican governor, gives free community and technical college tuition (for 2 years) to high school graduates in the state. The program is funded by the lottery. The program, which I also think was poorly implemented as such measures often are, has seen 58k applicants. Double what they expected. They’re learning Freidman’s adage of “no such thing as a free lunch” despite being well-intentioned.
 
Details on Obama’s plan are still forthcoming, but right now we know you have to have a C+ average, these CC’s have to agree to certain stipulations about their programs and credit transferability, and some vague notions of “student outcomes.” The feds expect states to pick up 25% of the cost.
 
While I agree with Mr. Nolan about college/knowledge having an effect on real-world life outcomes, Shawn’s point about high school and those outcomes is also worth delving into. To paint with my partisan broad brush, Democrats only seem to be interested in spending more money, not reforming public education in meaningful ways. (Thanks, teachers’ unions!)
 
So, rather than improve the K-12 system, I think there is room to criticize this proposal as keeping the bad and just inflating the bar.
 
White House director Cecilia Muñoz told Politico that “Obama aims to make college ‘the norm in the same way high school is the norm now.'”
 
Depending on your partisan lens, this statement will be interpreted differently. I see this as what I alluded to earlier — education inflation rather than education reform.
 
Granted, we’re all wasting our time in a thought exercise because this has about the same chance of happening as anything in President Obama’s budgets. Budgets these days are a thought exercise in “how I’d like things to be, but obviously won’t be.”
 
This started the last two years of the Bush presidency, when Congress was controlled by Democrats. They became “Hope Documents” or “Wish Lists.” Even after Obama was elected, his budgets were never taken seriously by Congress because Congress was not serious about budgeting.
 
They quickly abandoned regular order and the normal appropriations process in favor of continuing resolutions and omnibus packages. A power grab by the leadership, disenfranchising moderate and oddball Democrats and castrating Republicans in the minority.
 
Presidential budgets have always been blueprints. Congress is under no obligation to consider them, but Presidents are still obligated by the law to churn them out. It used to make sense, but now it’s sort of a pointless partisan exercise.
 
Boehner tried to restore regular order when I went from the Senate to the House as a staffer. In that, he failed. McConnell has signaled he wants to try his hand at that, too.
 
I wish them luck and hope it succeeds, but I’m not optimistic.
Prospects for reforming K-12 education are equally dire, but then again, while I agree with conservatives on their reforms, I’m of the view that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in the first place on education, a position many conservatives share. Hard to argue that when you’re voting to essentially maintain some semblance of federal control over it, even if it is diminished.

 

GoPro for Journalists

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Last night, I went to the Charlie Hebdo vigil at the Newseum. I figured just by going I’d find something to write about.

I figured, this being America, somebody or some group would try and make the vigil something it wasn’t supposed to be. I was right.

On that frigid and windy Washington evening, I found that my trusty Olympus reporter’s recorder — powered by two AAA batteries that usually lasts for months — was out of juice. Other members of the press who weren’t with TV stations used their phones or recorders, which is fine. But I had my GoPro with me, and it was fully charged. (I wasn’t using the waterproof backing.)

I turned it on and held it in my hand, pointing it at whatever I wanted it to record. Even with the casing, I got good, transcribable audio and stills to use for my story.

With all of the CES coverage, I remembered that I was fascinated by the Polaroid Cube. It seems like a good product, but I already have a GoPro.

So, if you’re a member of the press — remember to keep a charged GoPro or Cube in your arsenal — it could be a life saver. Especially when (for D.C.) it’s cold as hell.