Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On the move

Even though a new week of studying has already started, I should first tell about how I ended the last one. After handing in a homework assignment for econometrics and doing a test for Arabic on Friday, I was happy to go to Jazz in the Garden, a free open-air jazz-concert in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art. Starting around 5pm, this event attracted all kinds of people, many of whom brought some snacks and drinks to enjoy the music, the weather, the nice athmosphere and of course the beginning of the weekend. It was great to hang around there while friends and friends of friends who brought more friends (and food and drinks) came along to start off the evening. When the concert was over and most people were gone - around 8pm, we decided to go to some party at the rooftop of an appartment building right next to the Capitol. While the DJ was playing hip-hop tracks we had a great view of the capital and the rest of DC. However, DC doesn't really have an impressive skyline like NY or Tokyo, because the buildings can't be higher than the Capitol.
The next day I had to get up early to go to Vienna, Virginia again to campaign for Obama! This time it wasn't as hot and it seemed more people were at home (or answered the door), so I had some interesting conversations. The most remarkable was a man who first indicated that he was still undecided and mostly voted republican, but after talking to him for a while he said he'd probably vote for Obama! He even showed admiration for my efforts and encouraged me to 'go knock on some more doors', which of course I did. In the end I had visited some 50 houses and talked to some 20 people. And Obama is leading the polls again, so let's hope it's going to work out!
On Sunday I had the strange experience of packing my bags again in less then a month, because I moved to a new place. After putting up with taking the metro to university every day, having police cars and helicopters inspecting the neighborhood frequently and all kinds of insects invading the kitchen, I decided I should move to a cleaner house in a nicer neighborhood closer to unversity. So now I live more downtown, on the first floor of a house with 8 appartments sharing an appartment with one other guy (my room is right above the door). It's also in a 'mixed' neighborhood, but here you can find all kinds of shops, bars, restaurants and street vendors. So instead of a boring residential area I'm now surrounded by some of the best venues in DC, including Black Cat, where all kind of concerts take place, Utopia, where jazz-concerts accompany the food, Whole Foods, a big supermarket with only organic products and numerous other places along the famous U street. Maybe you can compare it to moving from the Bijlmer to Leidse Square in Amsterdam, so I'm very happy with my new home. And what makes it all the better is that my new housemate, an Italian employee of NASA working on a sattelite monitor climate change, can make the best pasta, fresh pesto, limoncello and probably a host of other Italian delicacies! So I won't starve here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Getting out the vote

The presidential elections are of course a hot topic and it's hard not to take sides. For me it's not hard to make up my mind about my favourite candidate though: a lot of things need to change in the way politics is done here in the U.S., and I think Barack Obama can make a difference. His focus on diplomacy instead of war, social security instead of big business, environment instead of oil and human rights instead of terrorism shows that he will make US (foreign) policy reasonable again, instead of based on unreasonable fear. And even though I can't vote myself, I can still try to convince people that they should vote for Obama. So last saturday I joined the GW College Democrats on a campaign-trip to Fairfax, a suburb of Washington located in the state Virginia. That state is still undecided (it's not clear whether Obama or McCain will win the elections there, see this map), so every democrat supporter there who will go to the ballot box can make a decisive contribution to Obama's victory. About 45 students were willing to wake up early that saturday and take a metro to its last stop, Vienna. There, we were told how to go 'canvassing' and we split up in groups, one for every neighbourhood. Each of us had a list of about 50 names and adresses of people who still hadn't decided who to vote for. We went to their houses, knocked on their doors and tried to get them to vote for Obama. That wasn't an easy task. First of all, most people weren't at home. In that case, we could leave a brochure. But when we got to talk to people, it was hard to convince them in just a few minutes. But at least we showed how dedicated the democratic party is to 'get the vote out', and that even students were willing to spend their saturday walking the sun-burnt streets (it was about 33 degrees celcius, I guess) talking to strangers, just to make sure that the US and the world will face a better future. We'll probably go on such trips regularly the next few weeks, until the elections are on the 4th of november.
On sunday, I went out in the streets again despite the high temperature, this time to visit the Adam's Morgan Day-festival. Adam's Morgan is a nice neighborhood a bit north of down-town DC and for the festival some streets where closed for cars. Instead, there were many places to buy food, art, clothes, jewelery, craftwork, stages where music was played and basketball-courts where dances were performed. The most intriguing dance I saw was a group of (I assume) native americans who had bright purple costumes, dancing (or mainly jumping) to indian music with a loud house-beat. Not exactly what I had expected to see from native americans, but a clear indication that they still adapt their culture to changing circumstances. They also invited the audience to join them in the jump-style-dance on the indian-beat-music. Further down the street, people were dancing to salsa in a dancing contest. The high temperature didn't hold them back from giving all they got while a salsa-band provided live music. It was great to see people have so much fun on a spot where normally just cars are driving by. Then I went back home, though, because I decided to change my intermediate microeconomics course for econometrics. I wanted something more challenging, and econometrics certainly requires some time before I completely understand it, so I'm afraid now I really have to start focussing on my studies.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

New languages, new discussions

Last tuesday classes started, so now I'm enjoying my first weekend after a regular week of going to the university, studying and meeting friends. Until now, classes haven't been too demanding, so I don't have to study all day and night. Actually, many of my fellow students also work part- or full time, so for me it's not too hard, concentrating just on my courses. This also allows me to take some more courses than stictly necessary. Next to the two mandatory courses History of the International Trade System and International Trade Theory and Policy, I'm also taking Intermediate Microeconomics and Intensive Elementary Arabic. And I must say, that last course is intensive! Instead of once a week, like the other courses, Arabic classes are every day. We have homework every day, so I'm regularly trying to learn the new writing and pronunciation. And I must say, it's great to learn a new language. I wanted to learn Arabic already for some while, and to really do that now is wonderful.
Like Arabic, economics can be seen as a language as well. Especially here it's seen as the most important factor in making policy-decisions and analyzing the results of any taken measure. So I'm happy that I get a chance to interact with many more people by learning to use those new languages. And while economics is basically about numbers and models, the teachers here are continuously stressing that it's just an imperfect model of reality. That reality is much more complex and that there will always be benefits and costs to any economic measure you might take. Actually, I'm relieved to hear that, because going to Washington I was afraid to hear nothing but the infamous Washington concensus: that countries should just practice free trade and that everybody will benefit from that. But academics do have a more nuanced view of how things work, and the Washington concensus had already been the subject of discussion for a long time. I'm looking forward to the discussions on economic theory we'll have in class!