Economies of Scale

passports
Alexandria City Public Library Central Branch, June 12, 2016. Line for Passport Acceptance services. Taken from the “three-hour wait to see Passport Agent” position in line, about 20 minutes before opening. Posted hours for Passport Acceptance on Sundays are 1-3 PM.

Mouse is going to summer camp in Canada during the first week of July. Since she has never traveled overseas before, she does not have a passport. As a minor child, she has to appear in person at a Passport Agency or a Passport Acceptance Facility along with one or both parents to be issued a passport. Alexandria City schools being in session until the end of next week (a week before her camp starts), I wanted to take her to one of the Passport Acceptance Facilities in our area to apply outside of school hours. These are post offices and libraries which see applicants in person, collect the necessary forms and fees, and forward them to the State Department for adjudication and issuance of passports.

Not complaining! I have nothing but love for passports, libraries, post offices, or the good people who sign my pay checks. Everyone is doing the best they can to meet increased demand for passports with limited resources. Everyone I have encountered so far in the effort to get my child a passport has been polite and given me accurate information. Unfortunately, it’s been hard to do so far. It’s summer, so more people are trying to travel abroad, and I didn’t plan ahead. I’ve gone to the library three times for Passport Acceptance hours; twice we came midway through the posted hours and were told the all the times for passport service that day were already full; Sunday we got there 20 minutes before opening and, after waiting in the line pictured above, learned that we could be seen three hours later if we stayed in line. When I called one of the local post offices that make appointments for passport services, I was offered an appointment in the third week of July. The others operated in a walk-in basis similar to the library. If I call the National Passport Information Center on Friday, I’ll be allowed to make an appointment at the Washington Passport Agency; that’s contingent on showing proof that our travel is scheduled to occur within the next two weeks (or four weeks if you also have to get a foreign visa).

Not complaining! But it occurred to me that maybe Social Security field offices should become Passport Acceptance Facilities. They’re set up to offer a mix of walk-in and scheduled appointments, much like Passport Agencies and U.S. consular sections overseas, and they have waiting areas and ticketing systems. Plus they are already set up to handle people’s original documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, and so on). Just a thought. Maybe this can be my capstone project for an Executive Potential Program, should I ever rally to apply for one. I’ll put that on my to-do list, right after getting our passports.

Moments in the Culture

This post by (apparently) a professor at a British university highlights some of the aspects of Utopia of Rules that I found most striking. It also draws attention to a university protest in Europe that I didn’t know about. The More You Know and all … In keeping with the Graeber FanGirl motif, I recommend his recent Baffler piece about neckties and the strange gender/power language of business clothing.

My cultural quandary of the week: The novel Gone With The Wind and the film adaptation thereof were two formative cultural influences on my life. I recognize that both were appallingly racist and that no reference I make to GWTW will ever scan as culturally appropriate to a person of color. The issue is that one of my friends with whom I share a guilty love of GWTW is coming to work in my office next week. He occasionally addresses me as “Katie Scarlett” in a fake Irish brogue and I say “Pa!” If one is not an obsessive GWTW expert, this is a fairly obscure reference. Is this going to create a hostile work environment? Related question: is there a term of art for things one loves even though one recognizes that they are philosophically appalling? (Other than “grandparents,” of course.)

Binge-reading everything I can get my hands on by Erich Maria Remarque (except All Quiet On The Western Front for some reason). So far I have read two of three novels I found at the Alexandria City Public Library – Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph are the ones I’ve finished, and I still have A Time To Love and A Time To Die to go – and have had my heart broken by two. It’s just a festival of emotional catharsis over here. Does Philip Kerr channel Remarque’s heroes consciously in his Bernie Gunther novels?

Skipped biology lecture on Thursday night to attend an Art Jamz event at the Sackler Gallery with Turtleduck, marking the first time since grade school that I have attempted to actually paint a picture. Picture was awful and is living in the back of my car, but the process was fun. In related news, now procrastinating from my biology homework to write a blog post.

Shotguns and Story Time

I read a really good book today and shot a shotgun 24 times. It was a good day.

(Oh, wait! Talking of books reminds me that Already Read Books in Alexandria is in danger of losing its lease. This would be awful news. I mean, it’s a well-stocked used bookstore with cats. And quirky owners. In a weird little house off of Duke Street. If you like weird, books, and cats, support this store now before it’s too late!)

Tweenbot and I went to the Bull Run Shooting Center this afternoon to learn how to shoot shotguns and check out the facility. We got shooting lessons for $35 each and then took another crack at shooting targets for an additional $22 (the gun rental was included in our training). The main takeaway for me from this experience was that, 29 years after getting smacked between the eyes by a softball I was trying to catch from a pitching machine, I still have the same depth perception and hand-eye coordination I did as a 14 year-old. I fired 24 shots and hit my target (a clay disc launched from a pitching machine) all of one time. Tweenbot, by contrast, appears to have inherited accurate aim from Pa Protosaur (aka my father) and/or Dino Spouse. He was hitting at the same rate as experienced shooters.

The other cool thing I did today was read During The Reign Of The Queen Of Persia, which proved to be unexpectedly awesome. I have been passing it up on the New Fiction shelves at Alexandria City Library for several weeks now but finally decided to give it a try on the strength of its imprint. New York Review Books Classics, how you satisfy my snobbish heart!

The Fire Next Time

Part of my mission civilisatrice with the young Dinos is teaching them about privilege. White privilege, male privilege, class privilege, ableist privilege – they has it. We have it, minus the male part for Mouse and me, and it is our bounden duty to name it honestly and not treat it as the natural order of things or a reflection of any merit on our parts.

I try to fill the holes in my knowledge of history, philosophy, religion, and literature so I’m working from a more complete perspective than the canon I grew up with gave me. Most of my reading to this end winds up being whatever the “new books” section of the Alexandria City Library yields in the way of books about the history of social and economic policies in the US and books on African-American history, culture, and literary traditions. Luckily the library has been celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Alexandria Library Sit-In, so it’s been Black History Month all year and the pickings are rich. A few weeks ago, I found Negroes and The Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms and Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement. My haul from Thursday night included The Other Blacklist: The African-American Cultural Left of the 1950’s by Mary Helen Washington.

(Long-time paleontologists will know that I have been moving steadily toward the left of the political spectrum over the last couple of decades.  I started out as a mainstream liberal with some libertarian/populist tendencies, so I was already left of center to begin with. I do not discuss my political party affiliation online, but I do feel comfortable saying that I consider the two major political parties in the US interchangeable and almost equally conservative in their platforms. Anything with “cultural left” in the title is like catnip for me.)

Reader, The Other Blacklist has an academic feel to it, with lots of citations and thesis statements. It is not a speedy read. But it made my brain explode. Until Professor Washington explicitly linked Cold War anti-communist political philosophy (self-reliance, salvation by individual works, and refusal to recognize systemic bias or systems of oppression as anything other than individual psychological aberrations) with the FBI’s well-known surveillance and harassment of civil rights activists, it never dawned on me that our current political landscape is dominated by that same philosophy. I was reminded of an Alternet article about how the self-help industry thrives in a cultural climate where individuals have ever fewer guarantees of their rights while corporations are treated as persons.

Remember the 1990’s when we talked about how Yugoslavia exploded into civil war because their strong central government and relative consumer freedoms weren’t accompanied by actual self-determination or free speech? I feel kind of sick now.