NOTES FROM THE DISTRICT
New house, new job, new bike!
Columbia Heights, DC
May 13, 2007
Sorry for the gratuitous exclamation point in the
subject line. I started this note weeks ago when it
was all still new enough to excite punctuational
passion. Now I'm just kind of mellowly enjoying a new
and better life in DC.
* * *
For starters, I moved into a huge new townhouse in
Columbia Heights (one of DC's Bohemian neighborhoods,
not yet hip enough to be expensive, though it seems
we're about to be invaded by a Target) with four roommates: one who did Peace Corps in
Turkmenistan, one who's with the Democratic National
Council, a bartender chick who makes a mean tuna avocado
dip, and a guy from Peru. We have two living
rooms, a sun room, a cute little front lawn with
irises and a tree, a back porch and tiny backyard that
we really should do something with, and a good-sized kitchen.
Like my old house, the new one is two blocks from the
nearest Metro. But my new room is bigger, sunnier,
and prettier than my old one, $230 per month cheaper,
and a lot closer to several friends and most of the
good house party houses. You really can't beat house
parties. Lots of good random people, chill
atmosphere, free booze, and often stumbling distance
to home. Sweet.
The new neighborhood is a lot more neighborhoody than
my old one, too -- more trees, prettier lawns, older
houses (neither McRenovated nor McCondos), and
graceful church towers punctuating the silken sky,
rather than the massive construction zones, Stepford
houses (all built identically by the same company but
deliberately made cosmetically slightly different),
and loud playground (or "screamground") I used to live
next to. Plus we're up on a plateau, so if the
Potomac catastrophically floods, we're golden.
Long story short, even though my old roommate kind of
arbitrarily asked me to leave my old place at the
beginning of April to make room for her brother, which
was not very nice, we negotiated an agreement, and I
definitely came out with the long end of the stick.
On the job front, it was one of the warm pleasures of
my life to give my two weeks' notice at that "defense"
think tank. It's been an education for sure, but in
the end, it was too draining biting my tongue all the
time and spending time and energy on projects I found
useless or worse.
Occasionally a project would come along that was
really interesting, like the conference we put
together between U.S. Government officials and
prominent American Muslims to see how they could work
together for mutual benefit. Although in a weird
twist, about half the U.S. Government people backed
out all at once on the same day. Our suspicion is
that Daniel Pipes or someone similar got to them and
"warned" them of the possible public consequences of
cavorting with Muslims, or in Pipespeak, "suspected
But these kinds of projects were few and far between
(or perpetually on the verge of getting funded). For
another project, I was asked to help with a study to
figure out how to bolster military retention and keep
the volunteer armed forces stocked with new recruits
in these difficult times.
The only reasonable thing I could think to say to
anyone pondering enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces in
2007 was: "Don't. You'll run an unacceptable risk of
being used and abused for causes you won't be able to
defend to your grandchildren, if you even survive as a
functional human being. Worse,
the government might not even take decent care of you
or your family when/if you get back."
But we don't get grant money if we say things like that.
(Note: I have friends and family members
who are benefiting from their honorable service
in the U.S. Armed Forces, and of course the
military serves many useful functions such as disaster
relief and, ideally, enforcing international law
impartially. But enough of our men and women in uniform
are, in my estimation, being abused on false pretenses
-- and sometimes on honest but indefensible or illegal pretenses --
that I would not feel comfortable recommending
enlistment right now.)
So I'd been looking for alternative employment for
quite a while when an unexpected opportunity fell into
my lap in March. I was looking at a group house up in
Mt. Pleasant (another Boho 'hood), and although the
room was a little pricey for me, the roommates were
very cool. We kept in touch, and they invited me to a
party at their place a couple of weeks later. To my
astonishment, I noticed on the invite that their new
roommate was a guy I had met in Ramallah two years ago
when he was doing summer courses at Bir Zeit
He'd just finished his Master's at Columbia and was
heading down to DC to start a new job. He forwarded
me an application to the place he would soon be
working, the American Association for Palestinian
Equal Rights (AAPER) -- the first organized
pro-Palestine lobby and public education organization
in America. AAPER's platform is simply that America
should serve as a broker in the Israel/Palestine
question based on the rule of law and the principle
of universal human rights rather than on
distorted domestic political considerations
and power differentials. We believe that this will not
only serve our friends in Palestine and Israel but also
serve American interests and security.
A tagline I
personally use for the organization is, "We're more
pro-Israel than AIPAC in the same way that we're more
pro-America than Dick Cheney." I and many of my
Israeli friends believe that the established
"pro-Israel" lobby in America is harmful
to Israel's public interests and security in the same
way the neo-cons have been a disaster for America.
So I filled out the application, sent it back, and
thought little more about it until I got a call a
couple of weeks later from the President and Founder,
a young Egyptian-American lawyer based in New York.
We arranged to meet at a coffee shop in Dupont Circle
for an interview, and I found that I didn't feel any
need to BS whatsoever. I couldn't improve upon my
actual interests, experience, and contacts. I was
basically custom-made for the job. Hell, I write
research papers and presentations about Palestine in
my spare time. And here was a chance to do it in a
more organized and directed way, and get paid for it.
Ten days later I got another call saying the position
was mine if I wanted it. I was the second employee
So my job is basically to educate Americans about
Palestine in as compelling a way as possible, people
who are in pretty much the same place I was four years
ago: skeptical of both sides but hungry for credible
information. We'll work hard to be air-tight and
appeal not to the "base" (Arab and Muslim Americans
and Arafat-scarf-wearing lefties who just can't get
enough of that kid throwing rocks at a tank) but just
to ordinary Americans who don't necessarily want their
tax dollars going to foreign policy disasters and
crimes against humanity. I not only have to figure
out how to educate people, I also have to figure out
whom to target to leverage ourselves optimally
vis-a-vis actually changing policies. So far we've been
talking to veterans, church groups, and labor
organizations. I plan to meet soon with the survivors
of Israel's deliberate 1967 attack on the USS
that killed 34 American servicemen. The
survivors are still seeking war crimes charges against Israel.
Of course, it's pretty upsetting to be reminded all
day about what's going on over there. But I guess
that's the point -- if we can upset a few other people
(in ways that humanize Palestinians and leave people
feeling empowered rather than just depressed), maybe
they'll start to take exception.
Whatever happens, learning what works and doesn't work
regarding affecting policy decisions and educating
ordinary people about important issues will be a good
springboard for whatever comes next. Seeing if and
how this democratic process of ours might actually
* * *
I got the aforementioned new bike from Craig's List,
and by an amazing coincidence, it's the same make and
model as Eleanor (the mountain bike I had from when I
was 12 until it got stolen while I was in Palestine)
-- a Specialized Hard Rock. It's a men's instead of a
women's, and there's a bit of rust on the spokes, but
otherwise it's like old times. Harold is his name.
* * *
A couple of weeks ago I went to an all-day conference
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and
the topic was whether or not the American Empire is in
decline, and if not, why not, and if so, how can we
reverse the trend and/or soften the landing of our
Lots and lots to think about, the equivalent of trying
to squeeze three or four graduate-level history and
poli sci classes into eight hours. And a lot of smart
kids with diverse careers and opinions -- though I
couldn't help but notice several enormous elephants in
the room that everybody quite obediently tiptoed
around as if by unspoken consensus. It was almost
It was mostly liberal kids, since most DC people are
quite liberal on the whole (and the conservatives, even
the young unmarried ones, tend
to cloister themselves in the 'burbs, which is an
interesting and telling trend in itself), and since
the conference was held at the Carnegie Endownment for
International Peace rather than the Kissinger
Endowment for the Casual Mass Murder of Brown People. (Ha.)
And there was a tall half-Sudanese half-British guy
there who looked eerily like Alexander Siddig, the
actor who played Dr. Bashir on Deep Space 9 and the
Saudi reformist prince in Syriana. My best friend and
I had such a crush on Dr. Bashir when we were tweens
back in Stigler, before we even knew what an Arab was.
Turns out that Siddig is half-Sudanese half-British,
too, and that the guy at the conference, Tarig, is
actually a distant relative of Siddig! Small world...
* * *
Oh yeah, and my security clearance was officially
denied. No classified documents for me. Hooray! OK,
so it's kind of irritating that a jowly-faced judge
and a moronic government lawyer teamed up at my
hearing to ask me a million retarded questions about
how, why, when, where, with whom, why, how, where, and
when I've patronized the Doobie Brothers
approximately twice a year I generally
do so, and then denied me access to classified info
based on excessively minimal doobieage.
"For the last time, the Bedouin just give this stuff
out like candy. It's normal. I wasn't even in the
It's like, dudes. Seriously. Get a life.
And I wouldn't be surprised if that was just a
convenient excuse. My unarmed, open-eared time in the
Middle East probably didn't help much. Even people at
the think tank expressed frustration that anyone who
actually knows anything about the Middle East is
automatically considered suspect and preferentially
kept out of the loop. How miserably counterproductive
is that? (Well, counterproductive to sound policy,
not necessarily to certain people's agendas.)
But at least I don't have to worry about it anymore,
and to be very honest, I wasn't entirely thrilled to
carry the burden of knowing things that, if I got
drunk and blurted them out at a party, could land me
in federal prison. Who needs that, right? And unless
they're lying, most of my friends with clearances say
they only learn boring stuff anyway, and only on a
need-to-know basis. It is interesting, they say, to
be able to speak freely while in cleared areas with
other cleared people -- occasionally you do learn
something interesting that way. Oh well.
If only I was a square or a liar...
* * *
I also learned about a soccer team I could join
through a member of my ultimate frisbee team. Soccer
plays after work, when the sun's just going down over
the trees and the Washington Monument. Really
We got slaughtered on our first game and merely
tripled (1-3) on our second game. By the third game,
we were playing like a team and, in our estimation,
only lost on bad calls by the refs. One of our guys,
Pablo, is fast enough that the refs kept calling him
offsides on our best plays because they didn't think
he could get that far down the field if he'd crossed
the defense line after the kick. If even half their
calls had been incorrect, their correction would have
made it a very different game.
We still have several games to go this season, and
next season we anticipate being a force to be reckoned
Meanwhile, my ultimate frisbee team just won the
D-league championship. A-league is
college/professional level, and D-league is slightly
above the level I played at in high school.
Personally, I think it's the optimum level of play,
because you don't get the uptight super-competitive
types and it's not organized enough to be boring.
There are still some good random flings and plenty of
dives, plus a lot of wasted energy running around,
which makes it a better workout.
(I tried to play
ultimate in college for a while, but the skill level
was so high and the play was so rigidly organized it
wasn't even fun -- kinda like college volleyball.
Bump, set, spike, block. Bump, set, spike, block.
Bump, set, spike, failed block -> point. Yawn.)
And the best part was, the captain of the team we
played in the finals was a guy from Stanford who was
president of the Zionist Club (or something like that)
when I was doing my independent study about
Israel/Palestine at Stanford in the spring of 2004.
My old arch-nemesis! (Just kidding -- I actually
thought he was kinda cute.) Anyway, we kicked their
butts, and I'm not gonna say it wasn't satisfying.
First trophy I've won since middle school.
* * *
So, life is good. Hopefully I'll be heading to
Palestine June 14-30, after commemmorating the 40th
anniversary of Israel's occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza on June 10 here in DC with demonstrations and
a lobbying day.
I just hope the socialists and LaRouchies don't show
up and try to co-opt it, like they always do. Throw
your own demonstrations, guys. Seriously. What if
you threw a birthday party and like 50 random guys
showed up and said, "Let's get this high school
reunion started!" and then just acted like it was
their high school reunion? At your party, with your
food, in the venue you set up, with your people
already there trying to celebrate the birthday party?
How would you like that? Huh? Punks.
* * *
This Easter was my grandparents' 60th wedding
anniversary, and for the first time in years, every
single member of our family was there, including Luke
and his family. 31 people, including 11 grandkids and
5 great-grandkids. We hid eggs for the kids, which
they raced through in short order, and then Luke and
his wife, with quiet fanfare, brought out dozens and
dozens of dyed eggs with tissue paper glued on top.
No one knew what they were until Luke took one and
smashed it on the nearest head, at which point it
exploded into a million pieces of confetti. They'd
somehow hollowed out all the eggs, colored them,
filled them with confetti, and glued tissue on top to
stop the hole.
Needless to say, those were also demolished in short
Mom made a huge production of songs and family
pictures and videos, and we all watched and enjoyed
that. Then the fiddlers got out their fiddles, the
guitarists got out their guitars, and the mandolinist
pulled out his tiny instrument. And all the rest of
us escaped to the backyard. (Kidding.)
It was great to be together as a large and expanding
* * *
Oh yeah, and the house where my new coworker lives up
in Mt. Pleasant had a massive crab party last Saturday
that was off the hook. Four kegs, three bushels of
Maryland crabs, and a lot of very random, good people
-- including more folks that I happened to know from
Palestine but hadn't been in touch with in ages. It
is a ridiculously small world.
* * *
I hope you are all doing well, too, and I'd love to
hear about what you're up to.