The collapse of the public sector under Obama…

From Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, here. There are two charts and they tell pretty much the whole story: this administration has presided over a very large collapse in public sector jobs. Much of that of course is the result of how the Great Recession played out in the states and localities, but it’s also reflecting a macro-change towards smaller government supported by a distinctly libertarian streak that seems to be growing here in America.

How that will play out long-term here in the Washington DC metropolitan area should be interesting…

Our weather makes the Guardian…

The story of our “Derecho” storm is here. The Institute was up and running yesterday. We’re still waiting on power at our house in Arlington (not very far from the picture of the fallen tree in the Guardian piece). The chaos at gas stations yesterday was very Washington DC. We have an almost unique ability to panic at the weather….pathetic fallacy?

Architecture in Washington DC

Heard yesterday at the Embassy of Finland during the Finnish national holiday festivities:

The embassies have the only interesting architecture in Washington

An interesting comment that I’ll need to think about. Personally, I find the monuments on the Mall quite strikingly beautiful in the right light (for example early morning), although I’m not sure if I would call them interesting.

However, without question, the Finnish Embassy is one of the most interesting and beautiful buildings in Washington–just opposite the Vice President’s mansion on Massachusetts Avenue. According to the Ambassador, it’s also green–although I’m not sure if she was referring to its sustainability or the patina of its copper exterior. Perhaps both.

Tale of Two Capitals

Or should I say two capitols! The people’s house in Berlin was just as cloud covered 48 hrs ago when I took this picture as ours is today.

It’s good to be back. But it was a productive trip.

My first transatlantic crossing (757) in a narrow body jet since I was a kid taking DC-8’s and Boeing 707’s across. I guess they are really worried about the load factor.

PS…no compensation from Siemens for accidental product placement.

Mason and the National Capital Area

The Washington DC area is an odd duck in some ways. Incredibly dynamic, well-educated, well-to-do, and….split over multiple governmental jurisdictions as well as the Potomac River. Although one could certainly argue that New York’s metropolitan area does share some similar traits (it’s often called the Tri-State area), I’d argue that the history of the two places combined with their core businesses make for apples and oranges comparisons.

Part of the history of the Washington DC area (if we exclude Baltimore) is that the historically older institutions of higher education are 1) small (relative to say the big Ivy League schools) and 2) private.

The two state publics, University of Maryland at College Park and George Mason, are quite large, but relative to the other major public research universities, not yet dominating the city’s culture the way University of Texas or Ohio State do for Austin and Columbus respectively.

Thus, unlike many other major US cities, DC isn’t dominated by a single institution (or even two) the way for example Boston, Chicago and San Francisco are.

Another way of putting this notion is that, projecting into the future, the DC area is still up for grabs.

Thinking this way, I see two key points: first, the derivative of growth (writ large) is more important than size. Second, past-decisions put real constraints on the future.

Anyone who has visited Mason over the last several years can’t help but notice how rapid the growth has been. It’s singular frankly.

But more important is that Mason is still young enough, that key decisions (and opportunities) remain for the future. In other words, Mason isn’t constrained for its future growth and has the opportunity to become what UofM is to Ann Arbor, what UCSD is to San Diego.

That’s an exciting future, especially in the Nation’s Capital.

Chistopher Hitchens on Washington

This blog is usually concerned with the intersection of science and policy, but I write it within several miles of the U.S. Capitol, hence I can’t resist to link here to Christopher Hitchen’s recent piece reviewing fiction about my home town.

Hitchens, recently diagnosed with cancer, remains one of the most intelligent writers of our time. And he really is funny, too. For loyal readers who aren’t from Washington, his piece gives you a flavor of its famous contradictions. Enjoy.

Along the GW Parkway in the Fall

I drove home this evening along the George Washington Parkway which parallels the Potomac River opposite the city’s monumental core. The maple trees have achieved peak Fall color (as we say on the East U.S. coast referring to the change from green to orange/red) and were actually reflected in the River. I had the top down on the car and it was simply beautiful.

I worry that those of us who are lucky enough to live in beautiful places often become so focused on the task at hand, the local crisis, getting ahead, that we neglect that sensory festival that some people travel thousands of miles to see as tourists. That’s a shame. It’s a splendid way to engage one’s nervous system.
I stopped in the local fish store to purchase some fresh trout fillets and some calamari salad. The owner, wearing his trademark vintage Detroit Tiger baseball cap, instructed me carefully on how to prepare my fish–he always does. I always follow his directions and it, to date, has worked out pretty well.

Krasnow PI to open U St. Art Gallery

Krasnow PI, Paul So, is of course multi-talented. And he’s the leading exemplar of at the Institute of a cadre of researchers who are also serious artists. His new art gallery (appropriately named Hamiltonian) will open soon on U. St. NW, one of the most culturally active neighborhoods in the City. Paul was recently featured in the Washington Business Journal for his efforts in the arts field.

But considering Krasnow’s relatively small size, there are a surprisingly large number of PI artists. Layne Kalbfleisch has exhibited her beautiful photographs both at the Institute and around the DC area. Ernest Barreto is a world-champion whistler, who has been featured in a recent film, Pucker Up. And Giorgio Ascoli is pursuing a lab-wide initiative to build sculptures of brain neurons.