After a Month in DC…

So it’s been about a month since our MSFS orientation… This week most of our first assignments were due, including my first globalization/grad school paper. I spent all day writing it (I would have written it earlier but had economics problem sets to work on with a group) so we’ll see how that goes. There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety among the first-years as they try to gauge where they stand relative to what’s expected of them here.

What’s funny is that I’ve been indoctrinating people into the Google cult left and right… I got my international trade/finance classmates to put up the problem set answers on Google Docs so we could all make edits to them. Then I got a few people onto gmail instead of using their other mail programs (why would you use anything besides webmail??). I’ve even got one person into reading RSS feeds. This on top of the fact that I’ve gotten my entire class year onto Facebook so we’re all using it to distribute information, bypassing the weak university’s site. I went to the weekly happy hour at Johns Hopkins SAIS to scope out our competition and none of them are on Facebook. What a bunch of academic, business-oriented squares. As a result of my geek advocacy, I’ve firmly established myself as “The Guy Who Wants to Go Work at Google.org”.

Speaking of which… A couple weeks ago I talked to M and mentioned that I wanted to work there and she told me she had an alumnus who graduated in 1994 who now works at Google as a travel marketing executive. I got his e-mail and left him a note and he agreed to do an informational interview with me. He was super-helpful and let me know about a good approach for getting an in there: write a good proposal that constructively suggests what Google.org should do next, since it has received criticism for taking a while to get moving on spending its huge endowment. This advice was right up my alley since that’s how I tend to operate. So now I’ve been researching the prominent people at Google.org and fleshing out some of my own ideas.

At the same time, I just got my contract approved to work at DAI (Development Alternatives, Inc.), a contractor for USAID. It turns out that quite a few of the projects I saw at the “Design for the Other 90%” exhibit that my mom and I went to in NYC were associated with GDA (Global Development Alliance) and USAID, so my boss (an MSFS alumna, actually!) pointed them out to me. It’s a small world here where everyone is extensively networked. I would have never gotten this sort of access to networks had I gone to UT Austin LBJ… A fact that really makes me happy that I chose here instead! It’s even at the point now where I can’t go to Dupont Circle or even Bethesda without meeting people I know. And this after only a month.

It turns out the GDA is now the USAID’s new director’s focus, so everyone’s abuzz with the anticipation of perhaps new funding, more interest, and more fast-tracking. We’ll see if that pans out, but to be honest I think there’s a lot to be said about public-private partnerships now that Google.org, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the new inclusion of Warren Buffett have drummed up a lot of attention for that model.

My classes are pretty cool… It bothers a lot of the other students that they have to study theory…most of them are not theoretical types, coming out of practical jobs doing dirty work in austere countries. But for me it is just a flood of formalization to help me understand all these vague understandings I’ve gathered through my own readings. For instance, for international relations theory class, Victor Cha is running us through realism, liberalism, and idealism — suddenly the debates seem to make a lot more sense in terms of where everyone is coming from. The international trade and finance classes are turning us all into econ nerds who use the key phrases far too often — now I tend to read a lot of econ-related blogs…Wall Street Journal’s, Paul Krugman’s, Greg Mankiw’s, Brad Delong’s… These guys love to blog online… I’m not sure why.

Our international trade prof has a weird eye that he squints a bit and then laughs out of one side of his mouth like Fire Marshal Bill. He’s a total academic economist who can’t state any fact without qualifying it somehow. I might have mentioned this before but he came up with the Big Mac Index in The Economist, an index that tracks the prices of Big Macs in different countries.

Our history prof is quite an elegant, beautiful lady…married of course… But it’s a history course on globalization. This might sound like the set-up for a bad joke but quite literally the discussions are dominated by an Indian (who used to work for CNBC India), an ex-Israeli Army Jew, and an ex-journalist Jew. The rest of us try to get in a word edgewise…

I can’t stress enough how many beautiful people there are walking around campus. It really is overwhelmed with daddy’s little girls and preppy boys. Lots of suits, lots of skimpy dresses. The weather will start cooling off soon (although it was super hot today) so all those boobs, legs, thongs, flipflops, and panty lines will start going away in favor of…whatever well-to-do people wear. Turtleneck sweaters and cashmere coats? I don’t know.

Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve done so far… Tonight I ran from Georgetown along the Potomac over to the Lincoln Memorial and up the mall, sprinting it out at the end past the big kickball league fields (every team has unique colored t-shirts and you can spot them all over town) up the hill to the Washington Monument. It really is a great run although there were just swarms of small insects at the mall so breathing in got buggy.

Last week I missed Paul Pillar’s public lecture about national security, which I’m super pissed about. Him, Michael Scheuer, and Bruce Hoffman, three of the foremost counter-terrorism experts in the country, teach here at Georgetown. I went to a grad student happy hour over in Dupont (a big social place for young folks) and met people from all sorts of fields…and I found it interesting that we could all talk about our work — it seems to me as though the fields are converging, especially in the world of development where you need business types, health types, history types, anthro types, and so on.

Also last week, I went downtown after school to see Barack Obama. The crowd was mostly students and they were really jazzed to see him. He got up there with our black mayor, Adrian Fenty, the youngest elected mayor ever. Both guys exert lots of charisma and both are popular for being constructive and productive. Obama’s speech was pretty ho-hum but I’m a detail-oriented guy and public speeches are not for getting technical. I really do hope he becomes president.

In fact I was watching Donald Trump interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, and I gotta say, I really like listening to him speak. He thinks Hillary will win (sadly, so do I, since she’s so far ahead of Obama) and he thinks Fred Thompson’s just a waste… Most importantly he brought up how Bush has picked all these weak people to be his associates…meanwhile we’re playing hardball against other countries who bring their best players to the game. This is why I’m skeptical of the Republican party and conservatives as the self-called defenders of the market. They are just horrible, horrible businessmen who feed off corruption and graft. They don’t believe in hiring the best, they don’t believe in completely open, transparent markets, and they certainly don’t believe in healthy competition.

I saw Joe Lieberman on Saturday while I walked to my class (sigh). It was clearly him — short little guy with a red face. Just him and a couple friends…I presume he went to Yom Kippur services on campus. It took me a while to notice how many Jews we have in our class…and how many Arabs…so everyone’s fasting right now. Anyway, I really wanted to knee Joe in the groin…just the whole JOEMENTUM thing pisses me off.

I saw Ambassador Dennis Ross speak about how to use statecraft (he’s releasing a book by the same name) to increase the US’s leverage in the Palestine, Iraq, and Iran. I would like to take his class at some point…power politics and diplomacy really fascinate me.

Many of the other events have conflicted with my classes… Like Benazir Bhutto was speaking on the Hill today about the Pakistan situation. Famous names are always coming into town and giving talks…it’s free meals and really interesting lectures/debates. We missed a huge national security panel last week with some real heavyweights in the field.

Georgetown is beautiful. I love to see the spires of the cathedral from a distance. In fact you can go on top of the courtyard hidden on top of the central building and look over the spires at the Potomac and south DC. They’re building a new business school which has traditionalists up in arms. The Red Square is right outside my program’s building and students put up organization booths there. One day a “FREE HUGS” guy was out there. Another day, a group of undergrad protestors were gathered for the WalMart ethics spokesman who was giving a speech next door…I don’t know why they were protesting him since he’s probably their best contact to the company…

The houses around here are just beautiful. I want to go walk around with a camera and take photos of some of the little gardens and sculptures people have in front of their rowhouses on the brick-laden roads and narrow streets. I did pull-ups on the bar next to the Exorcist steps, and George Clooney will supposedly be filming a scene for his next movie, running across the Key Bridge and down the street near where I have my morning Arabic classes five days a week.

A couple weeks ago, we threw a house party here and it was a smashing success. It didn’t get going till 9 since people were at an international development forum, but I think at midnight we had about 50-60 people. I won major props for making my dad’s pesto and putting it on tortellinis…then using little bits of chocolate chip dough with raspberries for desserts. We really set the standard and everyone loved our house and kitchen. We have an idea for the next party already…but it will remain a secret. Guaranteed it will be HUGE.

I went to have lunch with the boyfriend of one of my parents’ friends at the IMF… It was great — we talked about econ shit and DC and prepaid phone cards as bank accounts and all sorts of fascinating stuff (at least to us, or maybe just me!). Plus I got to see the insides of the IMF buildings! He’s a really cool guy…windsurfs on his off-time. How’s that for a tax law consultant?

I saw one of my online buddies last night play with his band over in Arlington. Their band is called Yeveto and he’s on the drums. Just an awesome sound…check them out on iTunes. They also have a site that has a cool cubist rendition of them. They were preceded by Harptallica, two harpists who play Metallica songs.

The classmates are so cool here. Everyone’s very interesting and pragmatic — they certainly know how to have fun also. They’re driven and cheerful and inspiring to be around. You can find someone for insight into any news event. I asked my Japanese buddies for their views on Shinto Abe’s surprise resignation and they sent me over full memos. Awesome stuff.

More later…

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