Wednesday, June 18, 2003

As I was coming back from the Hill this afternoon I saw a oddly perfect scene for both a Washington DC postcard and a reminder of how security-happy the government has become.

From the taxi I saw a huge linebacker type with reflective aviator sunglasses, olive uniform and crisp tan ranger hat under the main arch of a huge federal building just below the capitol. He was completely alone and motionless, but I'm sure his unblinking eyes took everything in. Not a thing was out of place; uniform perfectly creased, military haircut, black skin and dark uniform clearly distinct from the surrounding white marble. He had that peculiar exaggerated unreality of a blueprint in an art gallery, standing there tense and watchful as the world thought better of approaching and continued along Pennsylvania Avenue.

I found myself wondering whether this was a good or a bad thing-- whether the adornment of the US government with these unflinching living gargoyles separates it from their popular basis or if human pit bulls like this one remind those who would challenge their authority and the administration's profound dedication to avenge any wrong done to it.
Wow-- it never rains but it pours! At least all the rain has kept things cool, though extremely humid, for me to deal with the tidal wave of things coming up recently.

I've not heard back from the Kennan Institute after my interview there in the first week of June. I'm worried that I came off as over-qualified, not because I'm arrogant, but since they seemed to expect to spend most of the interview explaining what they do (sponsor research and speakers on Russian and Post-Soviet affairs, prepare policy backgrounders, coordinate interaction between the policy and academic worlds, etc.). They were obviously flustered to find out that I not only knew what they did in general, but knew a bunch of the individuals that were at the Institute both from their research and hearing them speak. Later on, one of the interviewers asked me what languages I know. I went down my list, mentioning that I knew Russian, but wasn't fluent. "But," she wanted to know, "can you figure out what the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet correspond to?" When I told her that I could read Russian newspaper articles, there was another awkward pause.

I'd rather have that than another thing to worry about, but still......

Maybe they were worried that Literacy is the Path to Communism like this great Soviet poster claims. People often don't realize how effective Moscow was in promoting literacy and similar development projects especially in the first years of the USSR. The ideas behind and ways of doing so were incredibly brutal and counterproductive, but it jumped the country from early Medieval throwback to massive industrial power in only a decade or so....

Speaking of heavy-handed government leaders, I spent last week running around for a series of meetings in the Capitol for work.... The fact that there is a framed street sign above the Senate Appropriations Committee conference room that reads TED STEVENS WAY is quite telling. I was impressed, though, with Senator Inouye who showed that he was both extremely intelligent and well-spoken and very interested in doing the right, instead of the most politically expedient, thing.

Got to go back to work.... I'll have more time to post later today.