When an errant drone crashes into the White House, it triggers a chain of events that leads to the end of the country as we know it.
Welcome to THE SWAMP, my new novel mocks the city that America has come to hate.
THE SWAMP begins on Christmas Eve, when a drone crash causes a security scare at the White House. Fox News screams, “How can we keep the President safe?” A crackpot idea from a cynical TV correspondent – let’s move the nation’s capital to an underground bunker – becomes an uncontrollable political movement. Can the President and the rest of official Washington contain this red state rebellion or will it swamp them all?
From mommy bloggers to scheming bureaucrats, THE SWAMP is a love letter to this city – and a wish for its destruction – packaged together in a black comedy reminiscent of Christopher Buckley and Evelyn Waugh.
The weather has gotten warm, mild May days segueing into June humidity. People still come to Washington to protest, nearly every weekend, but with diminished fervor, everyone waiting to see what happens next in the unfolding story of collusion between Trump and his Russian masters.
A rare event occurred on Saturday – a demonstration in favor of the President, a small band of supporters from Virginia, kids mostly, holding signs and shouting on Pennsylvania Avenue.
You had to really look for them, hidden amid the Segways and selfie sticks of summer tourists that crowd the plaza. Only the presence of TV cameras hinted at the presence of the Trump group, a gaggle of photographers encircling the small protest. At its peak, the Make America Great Again crowd mustered 50 people from the red state across the river.
It was a mostly white crowd, but not entirely. What struck me, however, was how many high school kids and preteens there were, as if MAGA was a form of youthful rebellion, sticking it to teachers and authority figures.
There were counter-protesters, people who had come down early for the March for Truth. They stood a respectful distance away, for the most part not interested in mixing it up with the Trump folks, confident in the strength of their numbers. The one flare-up I witnessed was when a 14-year-old Trump girl began shouting “Build the Wall!” at Trump opponents. “You’re everything that’s wrong with this country!” one responded.
Still, the day lacked the raw tension of Inauguration Day, when you felt that violence was imminent (and it was). The reason is that the Trump people have disappeared from the streets. Nearly every weekend, a massive march has filled the broad avenues of the capital – Women’s March, Immigration Ban Protest, LGBT Makeout Session, The March for Science, Climate March – driving Trump supporters underground. The only time you ever see a Trump hat in DC is when it’s perched on the head of a red state sophomore touring the monuments with a school group.
The March for Truth, which was not a march but merely a rally under the Washington Monument, had an exhausted quality to it. “Protest is the new brunch!” a speaker announced as the crowd emerged from the under the shade of the cherry blossom trees, as if reporting for duty.
The era of the mass protest is over. By filling the streets with hundreds of thousands of people for weekends in a row, the point has been made: we outnumber you.
Now, it’s up to the institutions. The men and women in the Congress and the courts who are entrusted to preserve our precious democracy. We wait for former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on Thursday. Our system of government was explicitly crafted by men like Hamilton, Jefferson and Washington to prevent the rule of a tyrant. We’ll see if our current leaders have a fraction of the courage that these great men displayed.
I ask, cause I’m not sure:
Do anybody make real shit anymore?
– Kanye West, Stronger
I put off getting a new iPhone as long as possible, waiting until the battery life was mere minutes and I carried a charger every time I left the house.
I knew replacing it would be an ordeal. Months earlier, I had gone to the Apple Store and asked about my options. It took an Apple genius 30 minutes and a complicated diagram to explain the new pricing plans.
Eventually, I upgraded, ordering an iPhone 7 through my carrier, AT&T. FedEx lost it. I called AT&T, who blocked the phone from the network. Then, of course the phone showed up. AT&T unblocked it and then, perversely, decided to block it again the next day, making my phone a shiny, non-operational brick. I tweeted in frustration:
new iPhone doesn’t show up, @ATT blocks, new phone shows up, @att unblocks, and then blocks it again the next day
@ATTCares responded. Their Twitter account says that they provide support. But they don’t, they just refer you to the website, to an endless customer service chat. On Friday, I went through a lengthy chat where I had to type in various technical data about my phone. They said they would unblock. And I went through the whole process again on Sunday. My phone still doesn’t work.
This isn’t an unusual story. American life these days largely consists of doing battle with broken things.
On Sunday, while I was trying to work all this out, I had to go downtown. Ten years ago, I would’ve taken Metro. I avoid the transit system now. During the week, Metro features breakdowns and beatings, while on the weekends, it barely runs it all.
Instead, I took Capital Bikeshare. I write about CaBi so much because it’s a system that actually works. Swipe your key, hop on a bike, and go.
Washington seems to be going backwards in terms of transportation, from heavy rail to bicycles and rickshaws. I fully expect a horse-sharing scheme to emerge within the next couple years.
At least I wasn’t on Amtrak #161, a Twitter saga that also unfolded on Sunday, passengers trapped on a train outside Washington for so long that they had time to order pizza. Their rescue was delayed for want of a stool so that they could climb from one train to another. Richest country in the world.
Romans didn’t just wake up one morning in the ruins of empire. Instead, it was a slow decline. Officials weren’t paid. Water from the aqueducts stopped flowing. Barbarians walked in, unopposed.
We could have a national train system that’s not dependent on a stool. DC could have a safe and efficient Metro (it once did). AT&T could fix problems for customers instead of sending them to chat-based hell.
It’s a choice. As Kanye, bard of our age, asks: Does anybody make real shit anymore?
We can’t cut our way out of crisis. If America is going to move to the next chapter, then it needs to invest in quality once again. We need to make real shit.
As someone who spent many years dealing with consultants, federal contractors, and federal employees …. this book rings all too true. The people, places, and situations are much too familiar … for me, it was a non-fiction “day in the life” – or “you won’t believe the day I had”. Well done Joe! The author has captured life on the Beltway merry-go-round.
I know the reviewer and if anyone is an expert on the Beltway merry-go-round, it is he. Glad that my book rang so true with someone so attuned to the absurdities of life in Washington.
I met Julianne several years ago, when Fringe was just starting out. It’s amazing and inspiring to see how far she’s come. Fringe is definitely something that way too serious DC needs. As she describes in the interview, Washington is very much a city on the rise in terms of the arts.
I’m going to be writing for the Pink Line Project. What’s Pink Line? Describing itself as “a catalyst for the culturally curious”, the site is a guide to DC’s art and cultural scene. If you’re looking to attend fun art parties in Washington, and learn more about the arts, it’s a great site to check out.
I’ve had the experience of looking for work during the worst economic periods of the last twenty years. As a recent college graduate, I passed out resumes during the post-Cold War sag of the early 1990s. I was an unemployed web editor following the collapse of the dotcom bubble in 2002.
And I’m looking for work now. My timing has been impeccable; I’ve left jobs at precisely the worst times.
In Washington, we’re better off than the rest of the country but not immune to down times. Slowly, however, things are getting better. My experience has been that job market goes through four distinct stages. Continue reading “The Four Stages of Job Markets”
Call me old-fashioned, but I think that one of life’s joys is to sit down with a good newspaper. Though I’m someone who’s spent a career working on web sites, there’s some really special about a quiet morning with a paper. And some coffee.
A newspaper is easier on the eyes than a glowing screen. It also offers the chance of serendipity, of stumbling upon some article you never would’ve read, just because you have to turn pages to find the article you’re looking for. A newspaper is also mostly distraction-free (no videos blaring, no animating ads) which, IMHO, makes reading an article in print a richer and more rewarding experience. Things I really want to absorb, I need to see on paper.
Today comes the news (ironically, from The New York Times), that the Washington Post is ending Book World, its Sunday books supplement. Economic reasons are cited. I find this hard to believe. Washington is one of the most literate cities in the country, filled with readers, and writers, too. Hop on the Metro, visit a coffee shop, stroll through a park and you’ll find scores of people lost in good books. The city is home to excellent and popular bookstores, like Kramerbooks and Politics and Prose. With the wide range of books that people in DC read, there’s got to be a need for book reviews. Continue reading “No More Washington Post Book World?”
I attended FOSE (a government technology expo in DC) last week and saw David Pogue’s keynote. He’s the technology columnist for the New York Times. Here are my notes from the session with the three big “megatrends” Pogue sees with technology plus some interesting links to check out:
1. Phone and Internet will Merge
In the future, you’ll use voice over IP at home with a portable number, $20 month. “Voice over IP” is using the internet to call people rather than Ma Bell. You might use Grandcentral, which provides a single phone number for all the phones in your life. One number to rule them all…
Next time you’re looking for a phone number, check out Google 411 instead of dialing information.
Have lots of voice mail? Try a voice to text service, like Jott, which converts your voicemail to text and emails it to you.
2. A La Carte Video
All TV shows will be available on demand, anytime you want, through iTunes, Hulu or similar services. Even Comcast is creating an on demand video service.
The DVD format war is over. Blu-ray is the victor.
Movie downloads won’t kill DVD business, not enough people have broadband. And there are still too many restrictions on downloads. Why do I only have 24 hours to watch a movie?
People in college and younger do not understand nor recognize copyright.
3. Web 2.0
According to Pogue, we’re still early in this cycle of innovation. He provided a nice definition of web 2.0, which I’m paraphrasing as, “We the people, providing the content, and connecting with others.”
Blogs are a new channel of communication for government agencies. After all, Microsoft used blogs to put a face on a faceless org, getting beyond their fear of openness. It’s not PR, it’s authentic.