architecture urban

Washington DC / Fortress of democracy

If the gov­ern­ment build­ings are any indi­ca­tion, Wash­ing­ton DC is a city brac­ing for some­thing. Makeshift bar­ri­ers sur­round the Capi­tol; men with auto­mat­ic weapons stand watch over ran­dom gov­ern­men­tal door­ways and inter­sec­tions. Sure, this is no dif­fer­ent than oth­er "sig­nif­i­can­t†places in the West­ern world — Lon­don and Frank­furt have their share of fortress­es and sen­tries — but as a cit­i­zen and ide­al­ist I'd hope that Wash­ing­ton would be dif­fer­ent. I'd hope that *we* would do it differently.

Flickr photoOur law­mak­ing build­ings were designed to be approached: Sit­ting at the head of the Mall's long run­way, the Capi­tol Build­ing inspires fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion. Nowa­days, if a per­son (say, me) decides to take a pic­ture of the fences around this bea­con of democ­ra­cy, that per­son may get rep­ri­mand­ed by a guy with a gun. I'm just say­ing: It happens.

Any­way, I hope that we'll search for solu­tions to the prob­lem of secu­ri­ty that don't run counter to the ideals of democ­ra­cy: that law­mak­ers oper­ate in the open, that any­one can see how it's done (and indeed that every­one should see how it's done), that peo­ple are inno­cent until proven guilty, and that I'm pay­ing for those fences, dammit, so I should be able to take a pic­ture of them with­out get­ting harassed.UPDATE: Even the new $50 bill empha­sizes the approach­a­bil­i­ty of the Capitol.

50 dollar billCheck out the lit­tle white fig­ures climb­ing the steps on the left-hand side of the Capi­tol build­ing. This seems to imply, to me, that peo­ple can (and should) walk up the stairs to see what's hap­pen­ing with­in the hal­lowed halls of democracy.

lit the ancient past

Lit / Simpler, more anarchic times


Let's just say that I've crossed paths with the Anar­chist Cook­book [Wikipedia] [Ama­zon] a cou­ple of times in my life. In my youth, mak­ing a film can­is­ter bomb was a pop­u­lar diver­sion, and the cook­book teach­es you how to make it with stuff you can buy at a sci­en­tif­ic mate­r­i­al sup­ply store. The first step is mak­ing gun­pow­der — a much more straight­for­ward process than you'd think. Before I moved to Berke­ley in 1995, I'd nev­er owned a copy — I didn't even know that it was sold in book­stores. I fig­ured that you'd have to locate some anar­chists and then trade them some veg­an stir fry and/or a black hood­ie if you want­ed a copy. But soon after I moved here, I ran across a real­ly old copy of it (at Shake­speare and Co on Tele­graph, for those keep­ing track), and I fig­ured that it couldn't hurt to have it around. You nev­er know when you're going to need to make mus­tard gas, right? I brought it up to the counter, and the clerk — a griz­zled, old­er Berke­ley bear­do — glanced at the cov­er, then looked grave­ly at me. He said: "I'm sor­ry, but I'm going to need to see some ID before I sell you this." Assum­ing that one need­ed to be 18 years old to buy it, I start­ed to reach into my pock­et. He start­ed laugh­ing, and said some­thing like, "Hey man, I'm just kid­ding. We still live in a free coun­try, right?" I laughed, and then anoth­er clerk added, "Yeah, some­day you'll have to reg­is­ter that book with the local police." It was qui­et for a moment, and then we all laughed. Was 1995 real­ly that long ago? It seems like a much sim­pler time.Related: the Draino bomb. Beware.UPDATE: I didn't read the Ama­zon entry for this book before I wrote this, but I just noticed that it con­tains a note from the author, William Pow­ell, who request­ed that the book be tak­en out of print: "Dur­ing the years that fol­lowed its pub­li­ca­tion, I went to uni­ver­si­ty, mar­ried, became a father and a teacher of ado­les­cents. These devel­op­ments had a pro­found moral and spir­i­tu­al effect on me. I found that I no longer agreed with what I had writ­ten ear­li­er and I was becom­ing increas­ing­ly uncom­fort­able with the ideas that I had put my name to."Salon chimed in when it learned of Powell's request: "It must be hard to spend your whole life try­ing to live down an unedit­ed screed that you wrote at the surly age of 19, which just hap­pens to con­tain some recipes that might acci­den­tal­ly kill, maim or oth­er­wise dis­com­bob­u­late the bud­ding anar­chists try­ing to brew them."