Could Virginia be getting smarter?

September 2, 2008 - Leave a Response

I had a discussion with 3 strangers in a bar about how America was smart inside the beltway but the reason that candidates could get elected with catchphrases and by spending a lot of money on advertising was because a lot of Middle America is stupid.

One woman said, “no, Middle America isn’t dumb, that’s just what they want you to believe” and another patron who grew up in Missourri, said that, no, the people there are considerably less informed.

This got me to thinking as to which states were less informed than other states. Some people often say that Virginia is somewhat of a different animal out of the beltway. The common perception is that the two of us are crammed together in less than desirable circumstances and it results in the rest of Virginia having their say in political matters. The result is uninformed decisions such as voting not to raise the gas tax or supporting tobacco companies, or voting overwhelmingly conservative on presidential candidates (I’m not saying that a conservative candidate can’t be a good idea, but we’ve done it going back to the ’80s, even when bad candidates come along). People from towns in southern Virginia like Lynchburg and even Charlottesville have told me that racism that still exists in a subdued manner in the deep south today still exists in some parts of Virginia, as well. 

I wonder if this will be changing in the near future. Consider that the vast majority of people in my generation from Virginia high schools went to college. I’ve now attended three in-state schools in Virginia and people come from all over the state. Also consider that schools like Mary Washington and James Madison have very active diversity outreach programs, AND that George Mason is itself very diverse. I don’t know about UVA, however. I had a roommate at JMU who got into UVA but turned it down because she has heard reports of racism there (although, to be fair, it was mostly from her mom). What’s more, Virginia has some of the best public colleges in the country.

So I think the future is going to look up for the next generation of Virginians.

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Why I love the Print Media

September 2, 2008 - Leave a Response

I have a confession to make: Even though I find it rewarding that these words are transmitted to the internet to a mass audience, my dream would be if these words could be written and transmitted to you via the print media. The print media is losing out to the world of blogs and other forms of internet writing. I would gladly stop writing anything on the internet, if it could help save print media. I think people in my generation probably grew up with print media and hoped of one day joining it are slightly scared to death about its lack of potential to remain viable as the internet takes over.

So here’s why I still love newspapers:

1. Selectivity-I like to know that the people who are writing what I’m reading are all specifically trained to write and have acheived the highest echelon of the world of journalism (i.e. The Washington Post) through experience. I kind of see the upside of everyone being a journalist through web 2.0, but then again that sort of makes no one a journalist (like that guy in the film “The Incredibles” who threatens to end the superhero profession by making everyone a superhero). Well, I still like the idea of journalists out there, and I think that there should be devices out there that seperate the men from the boys. I think there should be a gate keeper of some sort, and I don’t believe there was ever much of an unjust barrier of entry to the print media industry to begin with. If you are a good enough writer and have had enough experience, you will make it. I believe all Web 2.0’s blogging revolution does is empower the inexperienced and less able.

2. Not a second wasted searching-I don’t have to wait a second weeding results through a google search to find pertinent or relevant information. The newspaper divides it up quite nicely into sports, style, metro, international, and national news. And you always know where to find everything. 

3. Not too much information, not too little information-I don’t want a humongous expose on the state of basketball, nor do i want short sentences littered with pictures, i know what to expect and the newspaper’s articles are geared towards stories that you can read within the time your attention span maintains its interest.

4. Knowing what to expect every week-I know that Friday will be movie reviews, Wednesday will be TV ratings right-ups, Sunday will be a style contests, Saturday will be political cartoons. You can also attach yourself to writers like Dana Milbank, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon and see what new they have to say. Now blogs and website have options where you can subscribe to new posts so I would call this an improvement

5. Mobility-I imagine that with power outages, the monthly costs of cable, connection problems that frequently plague computers, that noone can be completely dependent on the internet today and get that information wherever they go. The newspaper is great to read on the bus, while you’re at a restaraunt, in the park, etc.  It sort of ruins the mood if you’re in the middle of a park and logging onto your laptop.

6. Not looking at a screen-Going along with the mobility reasoning, as the internet becomes more and more prevalent in our lives, we are looking at a screen more often while sitting still. For the sake of the health of your eyes and legs, it is useful not to spend too much time in front of a screen. Now more than ever, as much as I like what the computer and internet can do for me, I see anytime I can spend away from a screen as a good thing for balance’s seek

7. I’m promoting a good cause-If I believe that the existence of professional journalists is a good thing (although some of you might disagree), then it’s good to support the newspaper with a mere 50 cents a day, which is one of the best bargains around in terms of entertainment value.

The Maryland state fair vs. a Midwestern state fair

September 2, 2008 - 2 Responses

In the last 2 weeks, I’ve attempted to visit three state fairs (Indiana, Minnesota, and Maryland) and successfully made it to two of them (didn’t catch the Indiana State Fair, they closed an hour early the day I arrived). To put this in context, I was recently on a road trip where I passed through Indiana and Minnesota. I was motivated to see the Minnesota state fair because I missed the Indiana State Fair and I saw the Maryland State Fair because I read about it in the events section of the in-flight magazine en route to D.C. The state fairs of Midwestern states tend to be legendary for their scale, pride, and granduer and while the Minnesota state fair was considerably larger and had more of everything, I found the Maryland and Minnesota state fairs to be surprisingly similar.

                The two main centerpieces are the same: The amusement park rides and the livestock competitions. In a more compact space than its Midwestern counterpart, the Maryland State Fair has a variety of fun houses, scramblers, ferris wheels. Most of the rides are aimed at children but there are a decent number, including the Starship 4000, the Ex-Treme pendulum scrambler and the Supershot free-fall tower, that are pretty thrilling for adults and for $20 (or $15 with a coupon from Food Lion) one can have a pass to ride them all day.

                The latter part, livestock competitions, is something city folk like me don’t see every day, is an interesting look at a different subculture. This might not sound as interesting as it looks, but state fair spokeswoman Edie Bernier says that the livestock competiions are usually packed houses, and part of the crowds are people who had no idea what they were getting into.

                “Many of us are four or five generations away from our ancestors who farmed so we’re not very familiar with animal productivity, so it’s very interesting and educational subject,” said Bernier. “When you first walk in there and youv’e never seen it and you say ‘what it this’ and then once they see it, they find it’s very interesting.”

                At both fairs, there ware exhibitors, public information booths giving away freebies, evening entertainment, a natural resources exhibit, games, newscasts (as in a chance to interact with local news personalities, watch the news be broadcast, potentially be on the news, etc.), and the chance to eat American-strangely-exotic foods in on-a-stick form. U

                Some of this stuff might sound like a wierd way to spend a weekend, but there’s a certain magic to the State Fair that tends to bring out the inner child in you. When we were in the Minnesota state fair, for example, my brother-in-law came up to me when I met him for lunch and enthusiastically told me that he was going to take advantage of the $.99 “all-you-can-drink-in-a-minute” milk booth. Of course, being a steadily employed 28-year old, he could just go to the store, buy a gallon of milk, and drink as much of it as he wanted, but it’s within the confines of the state fair’s walls, that the everyday and weird tends to become that much more fun.

                The Maryland State Fair will still be open until Labor Day and is very accessible to Washingtonians. Without a car, one can take the Marc or Amtrak trains to Baltimore (leaving several times a day) followed by a short trip on the lightrail to the fair grounds in Timonium. The fair is open from 10 am to 10 pm and is only $8 for admission for adults.

 

If you interviewed your idol (Dave Barry) in a forrest, did it make a sound?

August 20, 2008 - Leave a Response

By Orrin

I had the opportunity to interview my idol recently but it might not have counted unless I did something with the interview, and while the interview and the related event might be outdated, the least I can do is publish the information from my D.C. blog in the interview.

So nevertheless, I recently met someone who is on the list of famous people I am a big fan of: Dave Barry, author and Pullitzer Prize-winning humor columnist for the Miami Herald. I’ve read something like eight of his books, which I’m pretty sure is more than the number of books I’ve read by anyone else, considering I’m not much of a reader. I first saw last November that Dave Barry was coming to town for a book signing, and being unemployed at the time and having a lot of free time, I made my way to the bookstore and got his autograph. I told him I was a big fan of him and had read 8 of his books, and he told me that he’s written more than eight books.  I also briefly asked his advice about being a writer, but considering I was in a moving line, I didn’t stay too long.

I then had the idea that maybe I could interview him for the D.C. Scene or possibly some other publication that would pay. By that time, Barry had about 5 minutes until he was about to leave on a plane for his next book tour, so I awkwardly scribbled some contact information on a piece of notebook paper (note to editor: this is an indirect plea for some business cards, please) to his press agent as he was closing in on the book tour and knew it would never work anyway.  

Fastfoward to last May and I attend the annual Washington Post Scavenger Hunt. This is a really great one-of-a-kind event in May that is really a must for someone looking for an exciting activity that can only happen in Washington, in which people must gather in teams of 3 or 4 and search for clues in a treasure hunt that’s based around parts of Washington. One can find more details about it here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/18/AR2008051802315.html 

Nonetheless, I saw Dave Barry on the microphone at the treasure hunt and it seemed moderately easy to get access to him since he was lingering around in an outdoor area for several hours so I thought, what the heck, why not interview him. That’s what we journalists do: Interview now, think later. I got a pen and paper from a hotel, tried my best to clean myself and look professional, and approached him and Weingarten with some questions. Barry didn’t remember meeting me last (thank god) but I told him anyway that I read a ninth book of his. I asked him some questions, wrote down all the answers but since I didn’t really have anyone wanting this particular story very badly (as in willing to pay me for it), I just never got around to printing it. To me, interviewing Dave Barry was enough of my dream, but then again, you can’t interview someone unless you do something with it. So here’s what I got about this story:

The treasure hunt happens to be organized by Dave Barry and his friend Gene Weingarten as well as Tom Schroeder, who works for the Washington Post, I’m pretty sure (this is what happens when you report on a story 2 moths after the event). Gene Weingarten is a writer for the Washington Post who holds the distinction of being the one who “discovered” Dave Barry. Weingarten gave Barry his first job in 1983 when he worked for some newspaper in Miami (or Philadelphia or Washington, definitely one of those three cities….hey, factual integrity is more of a guideline in the world of blogging*)  but he is gradually beginning to emerge into his own right as he has just won a Pullitzer Prize. 

I asked Gene how one would go about marketing Dave Barry from just a funny guy into what some consider to be the most successful humor writer in America. Barry joked, “He advised me to not be a woman and change my name from Deb to Barry.” Gene said that he didn’t really need to market Dave and that his writing speaks for itself.

Weingarten and Barry have organized and planned the clues for the anual event for 17 years. They start planning for the event about four to five months in advance. Barry travels to Washington D.C. about four to five months before the event and the two start walking around a section of the city and thinking up ideas for clues and maintain correspondence to iron out the details and keep tabs on the sites where their clues are arranged. This year they selected the Penn Quarter and clues included competitors having to look up the Chinese symbols for the Chinatown arches and comparing the inscription on the front of a library to a page on the Washington Post magazine. They even went so far as to contact three comic artists in advance of the Sunday Post to imprint hidden in numbers in their comics on the day of the treasure hunt to be used as clues on the day the comics came out.

“We can’t affect foreign policy but we can get them to change the comics,” joked Shroder.

Dave Barry has ties to the city because of Weingarten but he was also an intern for Congressional Quarterly in the 1960’s. He discusses those experiences and his other observations about the city in the book “Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway.” (quick plug!: http://www.amazon.com/Dave-Barry-Hits-Below-Beltway/dp/0345432487/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215844259&sr=8-1) I asked Barry about the book’s cynicism of the Washington area and he said he was just trying to be funny.

The first three to finish the treasure hunt won a trip to Florida, and while it seems like most anyone would have a chance, the winners all had extensive experience in the sport. The second place team was actually from Florida and travelled up to Washington D.C. just to participate in the treasure hunt. Needless to say, the second place team was very experienced and weren’t even in the race for a trip to Florida. The first place team, a group of 40-something friends from Northern Virginia were also highly experienced and had gotten together to study the map beforehand before the clues were even posted.  Jack Rita, one of the members, even hosts a small scavenger hunt of his own for his friends every Halloween.

*Upon further checking: It was the now defunct Tropic in Miami where Dave Barry, and Washington Post staffers Gene Weingartern and Tom Shroder, met.

 

 

 

In addition, his work used to be syndicated in the Washington Post’s Sunday edition until 2004. He was discovered by an editor named Gene Weingarten, who gave him his first job. Weingarten is a well-known columnist at the Washington Post and just won his Pullitzer Prize (I’ll cover that in the next post).

 

He h

An appreciation for the metro

August 20, 2008 - Leave a Response

By Orrin

If you’re ever thinking to yourself as you travel up the escalator at Rosslyn, “man, this escalator is so big, it’s probably the biggest in the world. Well, it actually was the biggest in the Western hemisphere at one point, so not that far off.

Few people might not realize that our metro is one of the newer and better systems in the country. New York, Chicago, and Boston’s systems have been around for over a century (Boston Metro’s website http://www.mbta.com/about_the_mbta/history/ claims that their system has been around since 1651, in an unrealistic manner of speaking) and it creates far more problems than it does a sense of historic appreciation. New York is currently struggling with overcapacity on the Upper East side, Boston juggles multiple types of trains all within one system in a fairly messy arrangements, and Chicago has to spend a lot on repairs and renovation.

The Washington Metro is safe, clean, efficient and designed so that it didn’t interfere too much with existing development (i.e. most of it is below ground or nestled between highways).

The rush hours can get overcrowded and they should bring in trains more frequently late at night, but there’s a lot to appreciate about the metro as well.

Legg Mason tennis classic coming up

July 14, 2008 - Leave a Response

One of Washington area’s biggest sporting events the Legg Mason tennis classic, is being held at Rock Creek park this August from August 9th to August 17th. It is one of the stops on the World Tennis Association’s tour in the leadup to the U.S. Open which covers 6 cities in North America for the men’s tour that leads up to the U.S. Open. Past U.S. Open champions Andy Roddick and Marat Safin will be present as well as Tommy Haas, Mardy Fish and Juan Carlos Ferrerro will be present. They also still might have volunteer oppotunities which will enable you to meet some of the world’s greatest tennis stars up close.

Gold in Northern Virginia

June 4, 2008 - Leave a Response

If your head is filled with excitement from National Treasure 2, Indiana Jones, and the annual Washington Post treasure hunt that took place a couple weeks ago, how about an actual treasure hunt.

In 1755, legend has it that General Edward “I Was a Lousy General but at Least a Major East-West Highway in Northern Virginia is Named After Me” Braddock was seeking to lighten his load as his regiment ran into some clay so he buried two canons filled with gold in hopes that he would recover them on his way back. Braddock died in battle (because he was an ill-equipped to deal with Indians)  and so did most of his troops, so they never recovered it on their way back. One of the people who managed to survive, was actually George Washington. Nevertheless, I’m writing an article on this so I don’t want to give too much away, but here are a couple links to the legend of Braddock’s road, including one that heavily disputes the veracity of the claim.

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/braddock/general.htm

 
www.fairfaxhistoricalsociety.org/Gilliss.pdf
 

 

What most people don’t know who arrive into the D.C. area

http://www.fairfaxhistoricalsociety.org/buried_gold.html

-orrin

The Kansas Jayhawks come to D.C.

June 4, 2008 - Leave a Response

The Kansas Jayhawks who won this year’s national basketball championship by a hair, came to D.C. tonight and will be in town for two days. How do I know this? Pure coincidence, I was at my local gym which happens to be located in the Key Bridge Marriott, and lo and behold, a large crowd of people with Kansas paraphernalia was hanging around in the lobby. Some of the people in this party were very tall, and then it struck me that these people might be the basketball team itself. I then saw Russell Robinson, the point guard of the championship team walking down and recognized him fairly quickly.

This is one of those times where I should make it a point to always have a camera and notepad on hand but I didn’t have either, unfortunately, so I just shook a couple of their hands and thanked them for helping me do well in my pool this year. I might go tomorrow with a camera and try to capture these guys on camera if that doesn’t bother them too much.

The Jayhawks are in town to meet the President in the White House. It is the custom of President Bush to invite every collegiate champion team, and every professional sports team to  the white house for a photo op and meet-and-greet. If you’re follow-up question to reading this sentence is what constitutes a professional sport? I know that Major League Baseball, Football, and Basketball champions get to meet the president. Since half the hockey teams are Canadian, I’m not sure if NHL championship teams do the standard meet-and-greet, and I’m not sure about MLS. I imagine if he didn’t meet with the WNBA champions, it would spark controvoursey. Perhaps, someone could enlighten me on this.

 

 

 

Hows Your News is coming to Washington D.C. this week

May 28, 2008 - Leave a Response

With my severe A.D.D. I like to think of myself as a disabled journalists, but there is a truly inspirational group of journalists out there with mental down syndrome and cerebral palsy who travel across the country in a program called “How’s Your News” conducting interviews. This week they’re in Washington, and from what I understand they’ll be doing man on the street interviews, so don’t be surprised if you bump into the “How’s Your News” crew this week. 

http://www.howsyournews.com/abouthyn.html

-Orrin

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 20, 2008 - 3 Responses

Well, I just saw the new Indiana Jones movie this past Sunday, which was a special advance screening.

Although not as good as the previous 3, I still think it is worth seeing. I also think that this movie will bring in around $150m over the 5 day period counting Memorial Day.

Not to give anything away, but there are some great action scenes and as rumored, a tie-in to aliens.

-Sparks