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Friday, April 10, 2009
A Recent Long Weekend in Obamaland

Washington, DC, that is. There was food. There was art. There was a very large gaggle of enthusiastic conservatives.

I feel as if I owe my loyal readers an apology for what seems to have been my least prolific period since beginning to blog back in 2004. I'm not entirely sure that sparse interval is ended, though I'd like it to be. Some changes at the office, then more changes at the office, a lingering but not grievous case of the flu, and some continuing family medical adventures have taken their toll on my blogging time, which was never abundant anyway. Such time as remained, I confess, I used for something else, of which more . . . later. First things first.

Two years ago, in February, I used an airline voucher that was about to expire, and I flew to Chicago for a longish weekend of fun and adventure, which I duly chronicled upon my return. I did a similar thing a few weeks ago, except that I went to visit my brother in Washington, DC, instead; I went for a longer long weekend this time; and I took a much thicker book.

Last time, at the recommendation of a writer who lives in my American Fork neighborhood, I took Ron Carlson's A Kind of Flying and thoroughly enjoyed it. In reporting, I piled up adjectives such as "fresh, imaginative, unpretentious, delightful." This time I took a massive tome, freshly purchased at Borders in Provo. An old friend recommended it. He knows of my fondness for political philosophy and for thick, thoughtful novels and could not believe I had never read it. He said he read Ayn Rand's 1168-page tour de force, Atlas Shrugged, during the Clinton years and saw some parallels then. He sees even more now, of which more . . . later.

Friday: Irish, Conservatives, Ad Wit

I flew into -- pause while I verify the full name . . . ah, yes -- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport early on a Friday afternoon. I hopped on the Metro (subway) and rode into the city, where I met the fraternal unit at Union Station, just north of the Senate side of Capitol Hill, which was briefly my stomping ground back in the 1980s. The aforementioned brother works at the Heritage Foundation, so the first item on my agenda was a personal tour of that most palatable of conservative think-tanks. I met several very nice people and one quite delightful character, and I discovered that my brother, too, was reading Atlas Shrugged. (Apparently, we are part of a trend. Sales of the book have spiked in last few months at Amazon. At the moment of this writing, one edition is ranks 27th in sales, another 237th, which is still quite high for a book from the 1950s.)

After the tour, which included a trip to the rooftop observation deck, we walked a few blocks to an Irish tavern, The Dubliner, for a late lunch. There, under a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until St. Patrick's Day, I thoroughly enjoyed my Irish Beef Stew, "a proud combination of . . ." -- well, you know, beef stew stuff.

Besides some scattered bleachers and barricades still left out after the inauguration, there was something else noteworthy: The Gallery Place Metro station, where I changed trains several times during the trip, was festooned with bright yellow Ikea posters and banners, which played on all the favorite Obama mantras by applying them to home furnishings. On Monday, between trains, I watched workers replacing the ads with something else. While they lasted, they declared:

  • Embrace change. Ikea.
  • Bring a sense of order back to the country! Start with a new [Ikea] wardrobe.
  • The time for domestic reform is now!
  • Change is coming!
  • Change begins at home!
  • Fiscally responsible home furnishings for all!

For photos, see this blog post at ApartmentTherapy.com. If you read the comments, you'll note that only some of our fellow humans have a sense of humor. Also check out EmbraceChange09.com, where you can furnish a virtual Oval Office with Ikea products, along with some things they probably don't sell at Ikea, such as a dog, a grand piano, and (what looks like) a Secret Service guy.

Saturday: Graffiti, Santorum, Coulter, Limbaugh, and Five Guys

Riding the Metro into the District from the Socialist Utopia of Maryland, I noted two slogans scrawled in huge letters on structures of one sort or another, for the edification of Metro passengers: "Capitalism is the problem." And "Working people, unite!" Such are the times, but two such mantras is far fewer than one could have read on, say, a bus ride of any length in a large Soviet city, in case you're curious about such things.

After the trip was scheduled, we realized that CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, was in town that weekend, so we -- fraternal unit and I -- decided to make a day of it on Saturday. It was a very interesting day. I won't dump my notes into this particular blog post; that could happen sometime, but for now I offer some general observations.

The two previous days had featured big-name speakers such as Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, as well as some slightly less-known folks I would love to have heard: Ambassador John Bolton, Senator Tom Coburn, Michael Barone. But Saturday was interesting enough.

The first two speakers I heard were former Senator Rick Santorum, a genuine thoughtful conservative, and current Minnesota Governor Tom Pawlenty. The latter has been mentioned as a possible presidential or vice presidential candidate; the former impressed me as more of a leader, more thoughtful, more solidly grounded in reality, and perceptibly less swayed by his own rhetoric. Of course, it's not particularly safe to judge presidential timber by a speech. (Think about it.)

I was particularly pleased to hear and see Bill Bennett, the philosopher laureate of American conservatives. I once thought he was presidential timber, too, and I might have been right, but we'll never know.

The crowd was large and upbeat all day, but it was Ann Coulter who filled the room in the morning session and received a long standing ovation at the beginning of her remarks. (I and some others remained seated.) She favored us with about 20 minutes of her characteristic, acerbic stand-up comedy. Two minutes would have been enough for me, but it was interesting to observe the phenomenon.

I heard a number of other good-to-excellent speakers, and I was there for the final keynote speech of the conference, by a bigger rock star than Ann Coulter: Rush Limbaugh. People lined up for hours to get in. He was not at his analytical best, I thought, and I like him better on the radio, but I enjoyed the speech, which stretched longer than an hour.

It wasn't a profound or brilliant speech, but it was intermittently insightful and consistently entertaining, especially if you've developed a very useful taste for his playful pomposity. He cheerfully called it his "first speech to the nation." You can find it here if you want to read, listen, or watch. It was broadcast live on the Fox News Channel and has since played on C-SPAN and elsewhere a few times. The BMA instantly cherry-picked a few soundbites to galvanize the liberal lemmings.

Ahem. How dare Rush Limbaugh or anyone else suggest that, insofar as he believes President Obama's policies are bad for the country, he hopes for their failure? What does El Rushbo think this is? A free country?

And how dare he have fun at this? Sometimes that seems to be the most offensive thing about him, to those who choose to be offended. He's having fun, and it's rather infectious.

Sometime near midday, my brother and I left the Omni Shoreham briefly, went the extra block or two beyond the nearest, very crowded restaurants, and were well rewarded with a quiet, uncrowded little Indian restaurant with a nice lunch buffet. I didn't note its name, but it doesn't matter. I've never been to a bad restaurant in Washington, DC. For what it's worth, for dinner we patronized a "Five Guys" in suburban Maryland -- my first time -- and were quite pleased with both the burgers and the fries. I have not yet been to any of the chain's new locations in Utah, notwithstanding the billboards along I-15.

Monday: Art for Art's Sake, and Lots of Snow in Honor of Global Warming

(I spent a quiet, pleasant Sunday at church and at my brother's apartment. I can't think of anything that would interest you about the day, so on to Monday.)

We cancelled a planned morning junket to the new Smithsonian Air and Space annex near Dulles International Airport, due to several inches of snow and a cold, brisk wind. (It was not as cold as the wind in Chicago in February 2007.) To get there we had planned to rent a Zipcar for a few hours. We'll be seeing some similar car sharing service come to Salt Lake City within the next few years, I think. It's very convenient and economical in a metropolis where one can otherwise travel mostly on public transit.

We spent much of the afternoon at the National Gallery of Art, one of the Smithsonian's staple attractions. I saw the one Leonardo da Vinci painting currently on permanent exhibit in the US. (I believe there are less than two dozen extant in the world, counting some of disputed origin; I saw one other at the Hermitage.) I also enjoyed works by Vermeer, Renoir, and others, and a visiting exhibit of stunning Dutch cityscapes. I didn't see the portraits I wanted to or the Rafael Madonna (that gallery was closed), but there's always next time.

From there I rode the Metro back to the airport, where I remembered what I had earlier forgotten: There was a large demonstration that very day on the Mall in Washington, DC, in the bitter wind and heavy snow. Don't ever let anyone tell you that God or Nature or Whoever Is Ultimately Who doesn't have a sense of humor, because the folks who flew in from around the country for this frigid outdoor demonstration were none other than . . . the global warming crowd. Many of the passengers on my flight from DC to Minneapolis had participated; some still sported shirts, hats, or placards opposing coal. I have to give these true believers credit; they were still in good spirits when it was all over, nasty weather notwithstanding.

On Tuesday I was back in the office, engaged in the daily grind. Alas.

By the way, it was another month before I finished Atlas Shrugged. During the month of March I consciously spent most of my sparse blogging time reading it. I suppose people with less of a taste for long, philosophical novels would find it tedious, even unbearable, but I did not. Perhaps I will expand on this sometime soon.

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