Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sleeps Tonight

What a strange place it is, Our Nation's Capital: I almost took to my heels this morning when I passed a guy on the street who sang out "Good mornin', nice day!"

I thought he was a nut! But the next passer-by was just as chatty, and soon I realized it was that magical thing, Southern charm (or Southern Bourbon).

There are garden signs here calling on support for all sorts of quaint causes: "Public Option Now!" and "D.C. Statehood — Yes We Can!" and even one which asked that we consider "Pat Smith's Reality."

I suspect reality has foreclosed in on Pat Smith lately, though Washington is as charming and gentle-seeming a place as ever. One would need weeks to see all the assembly of glory, the museums and cultural centers and monuments. It's so quiet that the locals seems to lollop along like rocking horses.

On a previous trip to Washington, I thought of how this is the anti-capital city. If anything, New York City has the big muscles and big bad bark of the alpha city in any country. Decisions are made in D.C. — you never hear them — which affect entire continents, which might go like this: "any more abortions in your country, and there'll be no more aid for you."

Harsh though I may sound, I think that it's easy for hurtful decisions to be made at the heart of any empire. Here you are surrounded by memories of other people's sacrifices. "Take us seriously," the monuments here seem to say, "we mean what we say." If you are to sustain all this, you'll take whichever decision necessary.

It was entertaining yesterday to spend time with someone who at this point in American history might be considered a bit of a player on the stage of the American world, "a person of interest," as the FBI might say: a young man born in Yemen.

He mentioned that his mother shares the fears of the New York Times:
In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.
I am naive. Books I read disbelievingly as a teenager, books which sometimes claimed that the U.S. was a country sustained only by its ability to conduct a constant series of wars, now seem to have something to them after all. There have been covert American actions in Yemen since 2002, according to Salon, which also asked how the Department of Defense budget was passed without a word, whereas the Obama healthcare plan has now been beaten to death in public by the Republican Party armed by the HMOs, and ably assisted by large numbers of Democrats.

What a good thing it was that the Yem-and-I had other fish to fry, otherwise an afternoon of healthcare and foreign policy would have been as boring as a night on the town with Newt Gingrich. (Imagine if he were Scottish: "Hoots mon ahm ging tae be rrrrich!") (Oh, never mind!)