Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Spring Day in Photographs

Kites soar around the Washington Monument during the Smithsonian Kite Festival.

A man prepares his kite for launch.

The kids are delighted by all of the kites overhead.

This guy's happy to have his kite in the air.

A little boy leaps off the ground as he launches his kite.

Bubbles float past colorful banners.

A large, colorful kite floats on the Mall, with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

And since the Cherry Blossom Festival began today, and the blossoms are actually blooming on schedule, here's the requisite shot of the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial in the background.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What If the Diagnosis Were Yours?

Ever since Elizabeth Edwards made the announcement that her cancer had returned but that they were going forward with her husband's presidential campaign, there has been a lot of conversation about whether she's doing the right thing. And while it's tempting to jump in with an opinion, the truth is that it's not really our place to decide whether it's "right" or "wrong." It's not our life, our campaign, our cancer. It's not our decision.

What I think most people are trying to comprehend, however, is what they would do in her position. What if they were the one diagnosed with cancer that is not curable, but is treatable? How would they choose to live?

I see many people answering that they'd quit their jobs, that they'd stay home with family and friends, that they'd do--with family and friends in tow--all the things they've always wanted to do. I think that's instinctively what we all think. But my question is, why aren't we doing that now? If these are the things that are important to us, the things that would make our lives "complete," then why are we forsaking them for other things? In one sense, we've all been dying ever since the day we were born. That's the direction we're all headed in. And we all don't get the "benefit" of knowing how much time we have left. We all assume a good 80 or so years, but that's not always the case. There's not always time to tie up the loose ends, check everything off the list. So why not do now all the things that we want to do before we die?

And isn't it a little bit romantic to think that we could all just quit our jobs and have our spouses quit their jobs just because death is approaching? There will still be bills to pay (in fact, there will be more). You'll need the health insurance. And you might just need the release of something like a job, where you can maybe forget for a little bit about your situation.
Plus doesn't anyone else find it a little morbid to just sit at home and wait to die? If it's a matter of weeks or days, that's one thing...Of course you would want to be home with those who mean the most to you. But with a cancer like that of Elizabeth Edwards (and many others), it's a matter of years. That's a lot of life, a lot more than many "healthy" people will live to see.

So, anyhow, the point I'm getting around to is that, inspired by all these conversations about her diagnosis, I've taken a look at my life to see how I'd live it if I were to ever face such a situation. And the good news is that I don't think I'd make any big changes. I would just do more of what it is that I do now. I'd going on more hikes, take more bike rides, travel more, go home more, eat more good food, write more, go outside more, read more, love more. I'd fight harder for the things I care about. I wouldn't make any drastic alterations, start doing things that I'm not already doing. I'd just do more of them. And since, like I said before, there's no way of knowing how much time we have, I'm going to try to start doing that now. We don't need a diagnosis to start living life the way we want to.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

Smithsonian Woes

Those of you who follow the national news may be aware that the Smithsonian, my place of employment, has come under fire.

The issue that has been making news for the past week is an investigation into the compensation of the Smithsonian's secretary, Larry Small. An audit of Small, who makes over $900,000 per year (!!!) in addition to other compensations including a housing allowance, was found to have improperly charged the Smithsonian for personal spending. Senator Grassley of Iowa, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, has taken on the mission of looking into Small's compensation. In the past, Grassley has looked into the same issue for other major organizations, perhaps most notably the Red Cross, with his investigations often leading to the removal of the organization's leader and a mix up of the board. I'm certainly no expert on executive compensation, but $900,000 certainly seems excessive to me. But more than that, I'm appalled by his spending. He charged $160,000 to the Smithsonian (nearly 4 times my salary(!) and more than the cost of a nice house in many areas of the country). He's also charged $500+ hotel rooms, private jets, etc to the Smithsonian. And what is most troubling to me is that this comes at a time of extreme budget shortfalls in regards to the running of the museum. The Arts & Industries building is, for all purposes, permanently closed because there is no money to renovate the crumbling buildings. Multiple buildings have leaking roofs putting artifacts at risk. And all the museum's are extremely shortstaffed with hiring freezes preventing most departments from filling vacant positions or getting administrative support. Where are the priorities? However, at the moment, I can't say I support Congress's current response. Today they decided to freeze the $17 millionbudget increase they had given the Smithsonian for 2008. I understand their need to make a statement that the seeming abuse of funding must stop. However, I must believe that they realize that this freeze is not in any way going to affect those at the top. The cut is only going to hurt regular Smithsonian staff who will have to forego promotions on their comparatively small salaries and who will have to work extra hard because of a loss of staff that is not being replaced. Additionally, the cut will hurt visitors to the Smithsonian--the taxpayers who fund it--because programs will have to be cut. I'm not sure what the correct measure is. Anyhow, it will be interesting, at least to me, to see how this plays out. A hearing is scheduled for April 11 in Congress. The Washington Post has been covering this pretty closely if you want to look into it more.

Additionally, adding to the troubling news out of this institution, is the External Review of Art Museums that was made public yesterday. This review, conducted by a panel of outside "experts," comes down pretty hard on the Smithsonian American Art Museum. You can read it here. What's interesting about the report is that it was done while the Museum was closed, undergoing a 6 year renovation. The figures the experts based their reports on were from 2005, a full year before the museum reopened. Additionally, the "tour" of the Museum they were said to have taken, occurred while the museum was a hard-hat construction zone. I don't even think there was a single piece of art on display. There were few, if any, public programs going on. The Museum was practically dormant. Interesting, then, that they were able to make such sweeping judgments. Also interesting is that the information which they were given as a basis for their judgments is all in an appendix that, according to the Undersecretary of Art, is just too big to put on the Web, pretty much making it inaccessible to all but the most intrepid. Very upfront, isn't it? And also interesting is that the report, which has an entire section on how the Undersecretary should become the lead player on just about everything Arts related, was commissioned by him and that he sat in on all the meetings. And in yesterday's meeting, he had the nerve to tell us that he never asked for his $500,000 a year job and that he doesn't really want it. Boohoohoo. And yeah, right. And finally, my favorite thing about this report is that at not one single point were board members, staff members, the general public, or anyone else interviewed or asked to provide information. Sure it's an "external" report, but it sure seems to suppose a whole lot of information that is awfully hard to know about from the outside. (Especially when there wasn't even an "outside" so much, considering the Museum was closed and not really on anyone's radar.)

For me, personally, I guess the most interesting part of it all and the part with most potential impact is that the report recommends a merger of SAAM and the Portrait Gallery. The report states that this should be an "administrative" merger, but we've since been made aware that apparently "administrative" applies to every department except curatorial. The report was hastily approved by the Board of Regents, and supposedly the merge is to take place by the Fall. That may or may not happen depending on other events. Regardless, I'd have to say the news was a huge boost to staff morale. Hahaha.

Anyhow, I'm sure some of you are seeing flashing red lights about my posting this on my blog, but this is all public news. I'm not saying anything that hasn' t yet been said in national news sources or on major art blogs. And in a meeting today, we were told that we were free to write about and discuss this without retribution. Anyhow, the Museum itself has issued its own rebuttal of sorts on its own blog, which you can read here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Almost Spring

Although today's icy rain and cold weather remind me that it is still winter, the weather on this past Tuesday and Wednesday made it clear that spring isn't far away. As I took a break from work to enjoy the warm temperatures (high 70s), I remembered just what a lovely city DC is in the spring. This city must have been designed in the spring, because that is when it really shines. DC is best enjoyed on foot. It's a compact city with most attractions within easy walking distance of each other. However, in the summer, the heat and humidity make walking unpleasant, just as the cold winds of winter keep most of us scurrying head down to get inside and stay inside. But in spring, you could walk forever. The sun is warm but the breeze keeps you cool. The scent of magnolias floats on the air. The cherry blossoms bring color to the once bare trees. Everything feels fresh and alive. And I feel the desire to get out and explore the city in which I live. Hurry up spring. I'm ready for you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Room (or Desk) of One's Own

Check out my new set-up. For my birthday, Jeff got me a writing desk and the HUGE world map hanging above it (I think it's 70 inches across). Today, we did a little rearranging in the bedroom and set things up so that I can have my own area to write. I think it's pretty nice, and hopefully it will lead to me being more productive with my writing.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

For Posterity's Sake

Here's a picture of me on my 26th birthday. I'm wearing one of the super cool aprons my mom sent me. (I asked for an apron and she made me four of them!) Isn't it awesome? I'm pretending to ice the cookie cake that Jeff made me, because he said it needed to be an action shot. (But he also wanted me to make sure everyone knew that he did all the baking and icing himself, and I did not in fact have to make my own cake.)

I've had a really great birthday. Thanks to everyone who called, sent cards or emails, or did anything to make it a special day!

It's My Birthday

So go out and celebrate. In case you lost count, I'm turning 26 today.

For those who were wondering, also celebrating their birthdays today are: Chuck Norris (67), Jim Valvano (would have been 61), Osama bin Laden (the big 5-0), Bobby Petrino (56), Shannon Miller (30), Carrie Underwood (24).

On this day in history:
The first Punic War came to an end with the Romans sinking the Carthaginian fleet (241 BC).
A formal ceremony took place to mark the Louisiana Purchase (1804).
Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call (1867).
The Ford Mustang is first produced (1964).
James Earl Ray pleads guilty to murdering MLK Jr. (1969).
Astronomers discover rings around Uranus (1977).
I was born (1981).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I'll Take Pizza With My Books

In this article, so-called experts argue that Pizza Hut's Book It program is bad for America's children, families, and schools. I call bullshit.

As a grade school student, I participated in Book It, gladly reading books in exchange for certificates for Personal Pan pizzas and the hope of a classroom pizza party if everyone in the class met their reading goal. I didn't need an incentive to read as I have always enjoyed reading, but I certainly didn't mind getting a little reward every now and then.

One of the arguments opponents to the program present is that it doesn't really foster a love of reading, but instead pretty much bribes kids into reading. Well, the truth is that some kids need bribing. Not all kids love to read. Many kids have no desire to even touch a book--but throw in an incentive and maybe they will. And maybe in the process they will learn that reading isn't that bad. Maybe they'll even come to think of it as fun and then start doing it on their own, without incentive. If nothing else, maybe they'll at least improve their reading and comprehension skills. If we take a look at the literary skills of America's students, we'll see that more reading is necessary, and I don't think there's really a bad way to get kids to read more. Almost any way that works is a good way.

The other argument is that rewarding kids with a pizza contributes to childhood obesity. This is an asinine argument. Sure, pizza isn't the healthiest food in the world, but a personal pan pizza every now and again isn't going to kill anyone, and it's not even going to make anyone obese. Kids who are obese or on their way to being obese are eating a lot worse than that. They're probably eating multiple pizzas a month, and probably in much larger sizes than personal pan. To fight obesity we have to teach kids (and their parents) to eat smart. That doesn't mean abandoning foods like pizza but learning to consume it in moderate amounts. Denying children (or adults) any and all treats does not lead to a healthy approach to food. And, the major factor is that in the end, it is the parents and not the schools and not the government who are ultimately responsible for the health of their children.

In summary, Pizza Hut supplies a product that not everyone thinks is great. They market their products to families and to children. They will continue to do that regardless of whether Book It is in place or not. Families and children will continue to eat pizza regardless of whether they have a coupon for a free pizza or they have to order it at full price. If in the process of doing their business, Pizza Hut can encourage a few more children to become readers, then good for them, and good for America's children.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Things I Don't Care About

1. I don't care that Al Sharpton's genealogical tree includes a relative that was owned by someone in Strom Thurmond's family tree. Pretty much any African American's family tree is going to include ancestors who were once owned by white people. We had no reason to believe that Strom Thurmond, a known racist, didn't descend from people who once owned slave. So how is this, as Sharpton called it, "shocking"? And what does it really matter?

2. I don't care whether Britney Spears has a full head of hair or is completely bald. I don't care about what tatoos she was or was not able to get. And I don't care whether she is or is not currently in rehab.

3. I don't care who the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby is. If there are four or five men who claim they could be the man, I really don't have the time of day for you.

I don't care about so many of the things that the media tries to throw in front of me and call news. It's not news. It's not interesting. It's not important. It's not worth my time. I just plain don't care.

So what about you?