Bureaucracy Kills Filmmaking in DC

U.S. Capitol at dawn

You can’t film here.

“As a result of this new policy, film and television producers will think twice before deciding to film in the District,” Palmer wrote. “Why? In a word, ‘Bureaucracy.’”

That was Crystal Palmer, head of the DC Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, on the failed effort to get House of Cards, a DC-based series, to actually film in DC.

I don’t blame Palmer. As the article indicates, filming in DC isn’t the one-stop shop it is in other states and cities. Producers have to deal with countless government agencies (state and federal), various police forces (state and federal), DC councilmembers looking for payoffs, organized interest groups and the NIMBYest of neighborhood organizations in the nation. And they have to navigate these competing bureaucratic interests on their own.

Instead, producers come to DC, shoot a couple of exteriors and establishing shots (like the great opening credit sequence in House of Cards) and then decamp to Baltimore or a California for the rest.

As a Washingtonian, this bothers me. House of Cards does not look like DC to people who live here. The city in the Netflix series looks too gritty and worn – like Baltimore. And we don’t have a Cathedral Heights Metro stop. I stopped watching 24 the season it was set in DC because it was obviously, ridiculously LA – the buildings were too tall and DC does not have a sprawling waterfront district that looks like Long Beach.

TV viewers may be surprised to learn that Washington does not have the sandy hues of a Burbank back lot. It’s greener. There’s more marble. It rains.

We’re no longer able to depict this nation’s capital on film due to the leviathan security state that has grown up over the past decade. The U.S. Park Police, Secret Service, Capitol Police and other agencies have blocked off vast swaths of the city that used to be open to the public and to filmmakers. They’d prefer a capital without people. The loss is not just to directors and producers – it’s to all of us who deserve to see Washington on film.

Friday Photo: Chicken Curry Edition

Chicken curry at Teaism, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC.

Chicken curry at Teaism, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC.

I am not earthy nor crunchy. Veganism seems very sad to me. I don’t meditate and my one attempt at yoga ended in sweaty failure.

Yet, I like Teaism. It’s a small, Asian-inspired eatery near Dupont Circle. It’s the type of place where you’ll find women in earnest conversation about changing the world over a pot of Lapsang tea.

While I get chicken curry most of the time, the bento boxes are also delicious. And if you feel too healthy and ommmm-like afterwards, you can always go around the corner to Dolcezza. Their gelato will restore your faith in gluttony.

Savage Harvest: Among the Cannibals

Carl Hoffman, author of Savage Harvest

Carl Hoffman, author of Savage Harvest

Humans were made to eat like Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, not farmers.
– Chris Kresser, Your Personal Paleo Code

Americans are in love with the Stone Age. They long for the nirvana of the Paleo era, when we ate nothing but free-range mammoths and were strong, healthy and free of neuroses. Chris Kresser claims that our health has declined since the Stone Age while doomster Jared Diamond has called agriculture “the worst mistake in human history.”

It’s the ultimate form of liberal guilt. Our civilization has ruined the land with freeways, processed food and vaccinations. And there’s far too many of us. Man is a plague on the earth, according to Sir David Attenborough.

If only we could go back to when we lived as hunter-gatherers and ate nothing but locally-sourced organic food.

You can. And it all takes is a trip to New Guinea.

Savage HarvestIn researching his book Savage Harvest, author Carl Hoffman spent months with the indigenous Asmat people of New Guinea in his quest to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller. When he vanished in 1961, Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in the world and was collecting primitive art for his new museum.

Hoffman told the fascinating story behind this mystery at Salon Contra, an arts salon sponsored by Philippa Hughes of the Pink Line Project. He spoke before an intimate audience of the culturally curious who sipped white wine and politely asked questions.

To understand what happened to Rockefeller, Hoffman realized he had to understand the Asmat people and their culture which, until recently, included head-hunting and cannibalism. Living in huts in a swamp, the Asmat subsist on the sago palm and small crabs. Hoffman said he didn’t see a green vegetable for months. (There’s some speculation that cannibalism is a necessity for hunter-gatherers who don’t get enough protein and fat.)

In the patriarchal Asmat culture, the women do all the work, traveling every morning to the sea to cast nets for crabs. Most children are unschooled. The men spend the day smoking, drumming and engaging in sex with each other.  While nominally Catholic, they believe that spirits cause people to die and that the world must be balanced between the living and the dead. This need for vengeance to balance out the world has had tragic consequences – the Asmat live in two feuding villages separated by a no-man’s land.

But they are also known for their beautiful woodcarvings, which is what drew Rockefeller to the region in 1961. In Savage Harvest, author Hoffman retraces the steps of Rockefeller in an attempt to solve the decades-old mystery of his disappearance. It’s a true journey into the heart of darkness, conducted by a man who immersed himself inthe spiritual world of the Asmat.

Before you seek nirvana in the Stone Age, check out Savage Harvest. Read this fascinating mystery from the comfort of your air-conditioned home, with a glass of clean water at your side, protected from cannibals, and ponder the benefits of civilization.

Matt Mullenweg Is a Very Dangerous Man

Matt Mullenweg is a very dangerous man.

At the inaugural WordPress for Government and Enterprise meetup on May 6, the co-founder of WordPress & founder & CEO of Automattic, discussed the amazing journey of WordPress from a home-spun blogging tool to the world’s most successful enterprise content management platform.

Mullenweg believes in democracy. He believes in competition. He believes in open-source. All dangerous notions in Washington, DC, a city devoted to closed-systems, insider deals and imperial government.

WordPress is free. Government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on complicated content management systems that don’t work. “Why is the free thing better than what your agency spent $5 million on?” Mullenweg asked.

WorePress LogoFor him, users drive software. They are always right. Users will decide whether WordPress survives or fails – and he accepts that. “You win because you’re the best,” he said.

I asked him how government could avoid debacles like healthcare.gov. He called for more transparency, imagining a world in which hackers could fix the doomed health care site and develop their own, better vision.

No one got fired for healthcare.gov. Why should they? The project managers at HHS followed all the policies and procedures for government procurement and contract management. You can’t blame the contractors either – they were just doing what the feds told them to do, as crazy as it must’ve seemed at the time. Healthcare.gov was built according to all the regulations and was a $1 billion failure.

The world is moving in Mullenweg’s direction. We, as consumers, pick winners and losers – not the government. Yet, we have a federal bureaucracy designed for the 1930s.

Walter Russell Mead calls this “the blue model“. He writes:

The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in.

Big Government doesn’t work in a world that’s become small, dynamic and user-driven. For example, Mullenweg works with a distributed team that gets together once a year. He doesn’t even know what some of his employees look like. In contrast, government spends millions on buildings it doesn’t use and struggles with implementing even the most basic of telecommuting policies.

Working in government, I have an old Dell wired to an ethernet jack. We don’t even have a working copier. Office supplies are locked away. Wi-fi is forbidden.

At home, I have a MacBook Pro, wi-fi, WordPress, a digital camera, Dropbox, an iPad and a host of other tools – as well as better coffee. The consumer market provides me better tools than a billion-dollar bureaucracy.

If government is to survive, it must be reformed. We can no longer afford a massive, unresponsive federal state that’s tied down by endless rules and regulations.

Government must become responsive to citizens. It must adopt the WordPress model that users are always right. Citizens pay for government and they deserve better.

If government does not reform, debacles like healthcare.gov are not only likely – they are inevitable.

Governments like China fear WordPress for the openness and free expression it provides. The American government should fear it too. WordPress demonstrates a new, more democratic and more user-driven way of working together. It’s impossible to go back to the blue model. Matt Mullenweg is a very dangerous man.

Middle Men: Stories of Purgatory in LA

“I look at you and I think: middle management.”

That was that was the insult a friend of mine received. It was perfect. After all, no one in America aspires to be a middle manager. Why would you? Middle man – the title alone speaks of failure. You couldn’t make it to the top so now you manage the work of other people. You spend eight hours in a cubicle and write TPS reports.

Middle men are also replaceable, the type of jobs that get supplanted by technology. Instead of going to Sears and talking to a middle man, you just order what you want from Amazon.

middle menIn his short story collection, Middle Men, Jim Gavin explores the world of men stuck somewhere between their dreams and reality. Appropriate for a book on purgatory, these stories are primarily set in Los Angeles. The sun-blasted landscape of the city looms large in Middle Men. Characters escape to the freeway or Del Taco to ease their troubles.

In an interview at the end of the book, Gavin explains that Middle Men is about mastery. It’s about growing up, learning a trade and accepting your fate in a very uncertain economy. The men in the book start out young dreamers – they’re slackers and standup comics and aspiring screenwriters – and end up grizzled vets grimly hanging on to their piece of the American dream.

There are a couple of great short stories in the book – Illuminati and Elephant Doors – that perfectly describe the entertainment business in Hollywood, stripping away the glamor and revealing an industry in which very few find success. As a failed screenwriter in the book says, “Nothing always happens. The literature of Hollywood is depressingly consistent on this point.” Middle Men should be required reading for anyone seeking fame in LA.

You root for the men in Middle Men, trying to make it in a strangled economy with few opportunities. You believe in them. They’re trying. They haven’t given up the idea that they can be better. And that America can too.

 

Three DC Brewvet Destinations

Brewvet is a beer and biking challenge with the aim to get you to explore new neighborhoods and try delicious new beers. The rules of Brewvet are simple:

  • Eight separate bike rides to a different location
  • Buy or consume a beer at each location
  • Ride a total of at least 40 miles.

You have from May 1, 2014 through June 10th, 2014 to complete this challenge. Like the equally whimsical coffeeneuring challenge, the aim of Brewvet is to turn cycling into a fun adventure.

Where to go in DC? Here are three ideas for Brewvet rides in Washington:

1. Glen’s Garden Market
2001 S St NW
Washington, DC 20009

Grilled cheese and beer at Glen's Garden Market #errandonnee 10

Four-dollar beer. And not just any beer, but amazing local beer on draft, including DC Brau, Port City and 3 Stars, all of which you you can enjoy with a grilled cheese on their outdoor patio. Located north of Dupont Circle, you can also pick up organic snacks and sandwiches in the market. They also fill up growlers if you want to take beer with you. I really love this place. Afterward, I suggest a stop at Dolcezza Gelato to round out your urban adventure.

How to get there: If you’re coming from Virginia, get to the White House then take the 15th Street Cycletrack north and make a left at R Street. Maryland riders should get off Rock Creek Parkway at P Street.

2. ChurchKey
1337 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20005

Weekend remnant - chicken and waffles

Saturday afternoons are the ideal time to visit this popular Logan Circle bar. It’s usually not crowded (especially around lunchtime) and their beer selection is the best in the city. I usually get anything by Bell’s Brewery. Also, they have four-ounce pours and low-alcohol beers if you’re concerned about biking while drunk. If you have friends without bikes, there’s even a Capital Bikeshare stand across the street.

How to get there: ChurchKey is at 14th and Rhode Island, a block from the 15th Street Cycletrack.

3. The Bier Baron
1523 22nd Street NW
Washington DC 20037

Bier Baron

The Bier Baron doesn’t open until three on weekends and the food is mediocre. But, they have a great beer selection from all over the world, a comfy vibe and it’s just a block from Rock Creek Parkway. This makes it a perfect Brewvet destination, especially if you’re coming from MD.

How to get there: Get off Rock Creek Park at P Street, make a left and it’s on your left.

Those are my suggestions for DC – what are yours? Where should I brewvet to in MD and VA?

Friday Photo: One Hundred Years of Solitude Edition

One Hundred Years of Solitude

There’s something about an old-fashioned paperback that can’t be duplicated in this digital age. It’s not neat and clean like e-text. Paperbacks reveal themselves through use. Good books become worn and tattered as they’re passed from reader to reader. The better the book, the worse it looks.

This is my $3.95 copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. It shows a couple decades of use. I read it in college, read it again when I had a job working in one-person library, packed it when I moved to Florida, packed it again when returned to DC, boxed it up a couple more times as I switched apartments in Washington, reread it some more and finally placed it on a shelf with much shinier books in better condition.

It’s the book I won’t part with, no matter how shabby it gets.

Every Communicator Needs a Real Photographer

Leica M9 and prosecco

This recent post by Vocus – Every Communicator Needs a Real Camera – highlights how important photography is for business. We depend on photos for blogs, web sites, brochures, tweets, Facebook posts and other kinds of marketing collateral.

Photos are a kind of shorthand, selling a product more effectively than a hundred lines of copy. They communicate who you are and what your brand stands for. Photos are essential to sharing your message with the world.

Despite this, photography is an unappreciated medium. Because free photos are widely available on sites like Flickr, and because anyone with an iPhone can take a picture, many organizations pay little money or attention to their photo needs. Yet, a compelling business case can be made for paying for photographers and photography.

A couple of examples:

1. At a company I worked for, the CEO received a major award at a trade show. We wanted to run a story on the web site about it. But the only photo we had was a blurry iPhone shot from fifty feet away. Without a good photo, we couldn’t do the story.

2. I was the photo coordinator for the DC Shorts Film Festival, responsible for managing a volunteer army of photogs who captured images of film screenings, crowded parties, red carpet arrivals and VIP events. This is an awesome event that you should attend. But don’t take my word for it – check out the photos and decide for yourself. In addition to helping attract attendees to the festival, these photos demonstrated to sponsors how their products were being enjoyed, were included in the annual report and were widely shared in social media.

The Vocus article states that communicators need a good camera. But a camera is just a tool. You need someone who knows how to use it. That person is a photographer. Look for one in your organization. Don’t make photography “other duties as assigned” but give them the time, money and equipment they need to tell your organization’s story. Invest in photography the same way you invest in web site hosting, email marketing and social media.

And if you don’t have a photographer, hire one through a group like APADC.

In this digital age, digital photographers are essential. Don’t miss the important moments in your company because no one had a decent camera. Hire a photographer to create images that you’ll use for years to come.

Friday Photo: Finally, Spring

Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.

Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.

This was the winter without end, days and weeks worth of single-digit temperatures that made me want to curl up with a bottle of bourbon and stay inside forever. I’ve never had to wear so many layers. It was a real winter, the kind I thought that DC never got with its mild Mid-Atlantic climate.

And it literally just ended  – we had snow a couple weekends ago, as if we lived in Westeros and spring and summer snows were a common occurrence. I am not convinced winter is over.

The cherry blossoms arrived late but, finally, we’ve been treated to a stretch of glorious mild days. I rode my bike down to the Tidal Basin to get the above picture. It’s an iPhone shot and edited in the Flickr app, using the Denim filter.

Someone must like it – the photo has received 75,000 views in two days. 75,000 views from “unknown source” according to Flickr’s stats. I think the pic might have been in Explore.

My advice for visiting the cherry blossoms is simple: go early. Do not attempt to drive. Hop on a bike or the Metro and get there before 8 AM. The light is better and you won’t have to deal with the crowds. Enjoy spring before the snows return!

In the Blueberry Soup: The WABA Vasa Ride

Riverside check-in for the WABA Vasa ride.

Riverside check-in for the WABA Vasa ride.

I survived the legendary Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) Vasa Ride. The ride began early Saturday morning at the House of Sweden in Georgetown. Riders got to choose from three route lengths: 15, 30, and 59 miles. Destinations and routes were not disclosed before the ride. When you checked-in, you were given a cue sheet.

Which I just glanced at, seeing that we were going to Potomac. I signed-up for the 30-mile ride and figured I’d just follow the pack. Wrong!

Starting off from Georgetown, the group of a hundred riders or so threaded its way up the Capital Crescent Trail before making a right (what? should’ve looked at the cue sheet!) at Fletcher’s Cove and heading up Reservoir Road to MacArthur Boulevard.

Once on MacArthur, the road cyclists accelerated away from me on my Specialized Sirrus. I lost contact with the peloton. Behind me were a mass of slower riders – I hope you’re not following me, because I didn’t read the cue sheet…I knew that MacArthur would eventually lead me to Potomac so I kept going.

It was a lovely morning for a ride. The route went through the leafy-green Palisades, then past the faded Glen Echo amusement park, across the single-lane bridge at Cabin John, by the Old Angler’s Inn and the entrance to Great Falls. The road was filled with cyclists, some from the WABA ride, others just out enjoying the day. Every kind of bike and every kind of rider was represented.

It had been a gradual incline up from the river before we reached the massive hill at Great Falls. The top of the hill was a natural stopping point for many cyclists, including me. The Vasa ride went from here to Potomac via Falls Road before returning by Persimmon Tree Road (I found out later).

http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3735/13431535585_4ee74a14c1_z.jpg

The first half of the WABA Vasa ride.

Cars were speeding along Falls Road. I didn’t want to deal with that. And I’m not good at following directions or being part of a group. Continue reading