Friday, February 25, 2005

Notes from the TigerHawk trip to Washington 

I've been too and fro our nation's capital in the last thirty or so hours, which accounts for the blogging gap. I saw and heard a few things, in no particular order.

As many of you undoubtedly know, there was a dusting of snow yesterday afternoon and last night. It never stuck to the street -- I saw wet pavement and nothing that would impair driving -- but the federal Office of Personnel Management shut down the government anyway. Even long-standing Washingtonians -- who tremble in fear at the rumor of snow -- thought that the decision was silly.

Washington is basically flat. There are relatively few steep hills to climb, and the streets are wide so there is plenty of room to pile cleared snow. Snow only paralyzes the city because the city's government, an organ of the federal government, does an incompetent job dealing with it. It is fascinating to me that the same government that refuses to clear snow lets all its employees go home at the first darkening of the clouds. And they make it all sound so damn complicated:
At 4 a.m. yesterday, Dan G. Blair, OPM acting director, made the call to keep government offices open. By 1:15 p.m., he had made the call to dismiss federal employees two hours early.

"I wish it was a pure science, but it is not," Blair said. "It's always a best guesstimate."

Blair said he tried to balance competing priorities -- looking out for the safety of federal employees and keeping the government open for business.

Excuse me, but this safety argument is spun down, reprocessed, pre-packaged horse pucky. What happens when it snows in Washington? Traffic grinds to a halt. Even if the risk of fender-benders goes up, it simply must be the case that the average speed of the accidents that do happen is far lower. I'd bet dollars to donuts that Washington's snowbound bumper-to-bumper traffic jams are much safer than the normal commute, even if a few tail lights get knocked out. Those traffic jams are, however, inconvenient. We certainly don't want any of those government employees to be inconvenienced.

I stayed at the Hilton Hotel and Towers near DuPont Circle. I had forgotten that John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan there, until a friend mentioned it in an email.

I had dinner with some of our European executives and one of our Australian distributors. Talked a little geopolitics. Learned that it really is true that average educated Europeans think that Jews control American foreign policy, and that the unifying explanation for most of the allegedly stupid things that Bush has done is that Israel will benefit. Pointed out that -- as they know from Michael Moore -- the Bush family has long been known for its close ties with the House of Saud, and that lots of people think that the Bush Administration is a tool of the Saudis. They acknowledged this confusing detail and undertook to revise their thinking. Then I had a similar (but more nuanced) conversation with an American friend the next day. Resolved to suck up more to my Jewish friends, since they apparently have a lot more power than I realized.


The same friend pointed out a little brick building at 1806 Eye Street. It is unmarked, and it is listed in the National Register of Historical Places. It's the "Alibi Club," and it is the most exclusive club in the entire world. At any given time it has only around 25 members (according to my friend), including the current and former Presidents of the United States, Justices of the Supreme Court, and "real" Cabinet Secretaries (Defense, Treasury, State and so forth, but presumably not the various weeny welfare state cabinet departments that have popped up in the last fifty years). Supposedly, Bush 41 used it a lot for delicate meetings that had to be away from prying eyes. In any case, it leaves few tracks in cyberspace -- Google "Alibi Club" and you get only hints of the place.

I'm wondering who underwrites the expenses for such a club. The taxpayers? Or was it heavily endowed at some distant time in the past, and now runs off investment income? How does the Alibi Club govern itself? Is there logo attire? These are the interesting questions.

I took the 5:10 regional train back to Trenton and learned late in the trip that the woman next to me was a public defender in Alexandria. She had spent the last year defending drug and DUI defendants, many of whom are Hispanic aliens. Interestingly, these cases never plea out, because any form of conviction results in virtually automatic deportation. The defendants have no incentive to negotiate, so every case goes to trial. Some of them are even acquitted (although my defender friend said that the police are now so well trained in procedure that it is rare that found drugs actually get thrown out because of police error). By taking a hard line on deportation, we are choking our courts and probably denying justice in other cases. I have no idea whether we should change this policy, but I thought it was an interesting example of unintended consequences in regulation.

Now I gotta crash.


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