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On Being Part of the Problem

By Jacob

I’ve been in listening mode these last couple of weeks as Harvey Weinstein’s egregious abuse of what turns out to be dozens (hundreds?) of women has sparked a conflagration of righteous anger among many guys, and self-centered defensiveness, also among many – including some of the guys who are righteously angry. I wanted to take a minute to address that group – the righteously angry guys who are also putting a lot of energy into explaining why they’re not part of the problem.

I’m not going to try to speak for the women who’ve been victimized by this behavior (and by the entire structure of our society, which fosters and protects the perpetrators of this behavior). I’m just going to speak for myself, and state this as simply as I can. (Not very simply. Sorry.)

It’s fun to pile on obviously terrible people who clearly deserve it (hi Woody Allen!), but women aren’t subject to harassment and abuse just because of a few bad apples – it’s the result of a centuries-long marginalization of women, and for every Harvey Weinstein who eventually comes to light there are hundreds of perpetrators who never enter the public eye. And for every perpetrator there are dozens of guys who have let insensitive jokes and inappropriate conduct (and much, much worse) go, rather than risk their own privileged position to help. If you’re a man, you’ve personally benefited all your life from women’s position as second class citizens – and you need to acknowledge that.

Men whose first instinct right now is to make sure everyone knows you’re one of the good guys: keep it to yourself. Your job right now is not to worry about whether you look bad, or to point at other men who are demonstrably worse. Your job is to do whatever you can to acknowledge that the systematic harassment, assault, and abuse of women is happening, that its victims don’t deserve it, and that whether you affirmatively did anything or not you are privileged, and advantaged, by this misogynist society.

I like to think that I’m an ally to women and do my part to help (if you’re reading this, I bet you do too!), but I know I could have done more in the past, could be more aware of these issues, could speak up much more loudly when I see something wrong. So rather than just sit back now and prove my goodness through retweets and likes, I’m taking 10 minutes to write this down and do a tiny bit to affirmatively tell women that I have their back, and to tell guys to take a break from defending themselves to honestly think about how they have contributed to this (and continue to do so).

In summary:

  • Don’t get defensive about how this phenomenon, or the conversation about it, makes you look. This is not about your feelings
  • Recognize that even if you’re a good guy you have played some part in this (by the way, lots of “good guys” are actually not good guys!)
  • Listen to – and believe! – women when they share their experiences
  • Try to learn something from all of the above

As a final note, I wanted to include some links to important pieces women have written about this (or indirectly about this). This is just the tip of the iceberg:

PS, I recognize the irony of this public signaling of my virtue. Mea culpa!

Product recommendations

By Jacob

Hello. I have two product recommendations for you. I’m using Amazon affiliate links so please be aware that I stand to make just a crazy amount of money off of this, assuming someone clicks through and buys, like a jet. Anyway, here are two items that have made my life better.

  1. This “rug pad” is probably really great at keeping your rug in place. I don’t know. What I do know is that it is really great at keeping your dumb sofa cushions in place. I spent about 5 years marginally annoyed at having to shift my cushions back in place every single day. Now they just stay where they’re supposed to be.
  2. This “package opener” has a little box cutter blade that you can use to open all of your Amazon packages (like the one containing your new rug pad) and then quickly break them down so you don’t have piles of empty cardboard boxes lying around. Instead, you’ll have piles of empty cardboard boxes that you have broken down so they take up less space lying around. It’s better.

 

I Have a Problem | Bread Furst

By Jacob

A perfectly reasonable argument from Mark Furstenberg makes clear that there are some places where you can get coffee that are not suitable for long stays:

I do want a third space but one that is community and I’m not at all interested in a place where unassociated people sit with their computers in physical proximity that has nothing to do with relationships. In fact their computers and telephones isolate them in those spaces.  I see that and don’t think I am providing anything more than a chair and table and a cup.

Source: I Have a Problem | Bread Furst

Shaw/Logan Coffee, Quantified

By Jacob

I’ve been working from home for more than six months now, and that really means I’ve been spending a simply insane amount of time in coffee shops near my apartment. I’m a creature of habit, but I also enjoy variety, so I’ve gotten to know almost all of the bonkers number of coffee shops in the Shaw/Logan Circle area. In this post, I provide you with my top picks in a variety of categories, all leading up to my choice of the Best Damn Coffee Shop Near My Apartment. If you disagree with any of these choices, please leave me a comment describing what it’s like to be wrong.

Before I begin, an opening statement about the general quality of coffee in the area: it’s fantastic*. You really couldn’t go wrong with any of these places – which is part of why I happily flit between them depending on my mood, the weather, astrological conditions, etc. There’s never been a better time for people who like caffeinated beverages to hang out near Logan Circle. But, as in sports, politics, and religion, there can be only one winner, so let’s get started picking our champion.

* Related: you should always drink your coffee black.

 

The Contenders

Here are the coffee shops I’ve considered in each category:

The Non-Contenders

For a variety of reasons, I’ve left some area coffee shops out of consideration. Here they are, with my explanation for their omission in parentheses:

  • Big Bear (Bloomingdale, while great, is not in Shaw/Logan Circle)
  • Dolcezza (I’ve only had coffee here once – it wasn’t good, or bad, enough to form any real opinion)
  • Filter (Dupont, while hit-or-miss, is also not in Shaw/Logan Circle)
  • Kafe Bohem (even though it’s around the corner from Mockingbird Hill, I’ve never been)
  • Starbucks (it’s #fine)
  • Whole Foods (they have a coffee station which seems popular! But it’s not a coffee shop)
  • The Wydown (I’ve just never been there, somehow)
  • Anywhere else that I didn’t include (tautology)

 

Individual Categories

Best Prices

For me, this is the least important category – so unimportant that I’m not even going to pick a winner. There are some price differences between these places (especially when it comes to food), but it’s all in the same ballpark. In brief, a cup of coffee is always way more expensive at a coffee shop than making and drinking it at home – but you’re not really paying for the coffee as much as you’re paying for the real estate (a biggie if you, like me, spend a couple of hours working) and for the service. Which brings me to…

 

Best Service

For me, this is the most important category. As mentioned above, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, often sitting at the “bar” area. I interact with the lovely people behind the counter all the time. So it really makes a difference to know I can walk in and know whoever’s on duty will convincingly fake being in a good mood, know how the POS system works, and make a good cup of coffee for me. When that’s true of everyone who works there, it means whoever’s in charge is doing something right.

I have no complaints about any of the contenders on this score (in particular, I want to recognize Mockingbird Hill, the best place if you want to go deep on coffee nerdery), but the clear winner for me is The Coffee Bar, where everyone knows their stuff, and manages to keep everything under control during the morning rush or stranger high-pressure circumstances.

 

Best Coffee on Tap

We all love a good hand-crafted pour-over (see below), but sometimes you just want a quick cup, often to-go. The key here, I think, is sales volume. You want a place that starts with great coffee and sells it fast enough that the current batch is always fresh. That’s easy enough in the morning, but Compass Coffee has a constant stream of customers all day long.

 

Best Pour-Over

This is a tough call. By definition, any place offering pour-over is demonstrating deep interest in great coffee. So I’m going to the tie-breaker: interesting service vessels! Here, you’ve got to give Slipstream the edge. I mean, take a look at this beautiful tableau:

slipstream pour-over

You get your own little carafe and an adorable stoneware mug, all on a wooden tray. The only way this could be any more on-brand is if it came with a sleeve tattoo and a moustache.

At any rate, when it comes to pour-over, the more intricate the ceremony, the better – and Slipstream doesn’t skimp on pomp and circumstance. Also it tastes very good.

 

Best Espresso Drinks

I mostly order americanos, and if you prefer those, macchiatos, lattes, cortados, “flat whites” or other high-falutin coffee drinks, you want a place that knows how to make a really good one. Again, hard to really go wrong here, but my favorite is The Coffee Bar. They know what they’re doing!

 

Best Iced/Cold Brew Coffee

We’re living in a golden age of cold coffee. Every single one of the contenders offers a very solid iced coffee. My favorite comes from Compass Coffee, where it’s cold-brewed, then served on nitro tap. This makes for a smooth, kind of nutty, ice-free cup of coffee. Perfect for savoring while you write an insanely-long blog post about DC’s coffee scene. Compass Coffee isn’t the only place to get nitro tap cold brew (I think I first had it at Slipstream), but in my opinion it’s the best.

Honorable mention to Uprising Muffin Co., which has the best “normal” iced coffee. On the way home from a run on a hot, humid day, this is a great place to stop.

 

Best Cocktails (tie)

Slipstream is rightfully known for its bar program – helped to no small degree by Tom Brown’s recent assistance. They have a full bar, a good happy hour, and an array of interesting cocktails on the menu. This means that it becomes a terrible place to get work done after 5pm, but I look at that as an excuse to stop working at 5pm.

Our version of a beer and a shot (of espresso)! #happyhour #dc #coffeeandcocktails @ Slipstream DC https://t.co/9tFMVGk4jD

— Slipstream DC (@SlipstreamDC) April 24, 2015

And if you’re looking to drink sherry or sherry-based cocktails, I can’t recommend Mockingbird Hill (owned by Tom Brown’s equally-talented brother, Derek) highly enough. You don’t see much sherry on offer around town, and Mockingbird Hill is a great place to learn a lot about it.

 

Best Food

You can get a satisfying breakfast (by which I mean a bagel or pastry) anywhere. So the real question is where you want to go for something more substantial, interesting, or, for lack of a better word, lunch-y. And although you can get prepared sandwiches and their ilk at a few of these coffee shops, a cornucopia of very good sweet or savory muffins at one (guess which!), and good ham and other tapas-like snacks at another (Mockingbird Hill), there’s really only one option for something you might describe as a meal: Slipstream. They don’t have a real kitchen, so their main gimmick is good, fresh ingredients, in various combinations, put on plates (and often topped with avocado and/or a poached egg). It’s not complicated, but it’s fairly sophisticated, well seasoned, and satisfying.

 

Best Beans

a cup of coffee on my table

Sometimes you just want to go in, buy some coffee beans, and bring them home. For times like these, I recommend Peregrine Espresso. They’ve been doing this a long time and offer the best coffee for the price (which is relevant if you, like me, never manage to use up the whole bag in the 2 or 3 weeks the beans are fresh). Also nice is that you get a free cup of coffee when you buy a bag of beans. Who doesn’t like free coffee?

 

Seat Availability

The surfeit of coffee places in the area means I almost never walk into a coffee shop, see no empty seats, and leave. This is really nice (and very different from the bar and restaurant scene, which remains a post-apocalyptic horror show despite the insane number of places in the neighborhood). But the best coffee shop to find a seat (or even, sometimes, a table), is Compass Coffee. Why? Because it’s big and it has a lot of chairs. That’s why.

 

Wi-Fi

Do you even want wi-fi? You’d probably be a lot more productive without it. Plus you can always tether it to your phone, anyway, so who really cares? In case it’s important to you, though, here’s the deal:

Has it: The Coffee Bar, Compass Coffee, Slipstream, Mockingbird Hill

Doesn’t have it: La Colombe, Mockingbird Hill, Peregrine Espresso

I’m not sure: Uprising Muffin Co.

 

Most Attractive Clientele

I have no idea where all these good-looking, fit people come from (a secret yoga studio just for the idle rich?), but there’s a steady stream of men and women who make me feel just terrible about myself at Compass Coffee. It’s like the cast of every single show on the CW is constantly dropping by for that famous cold-brew.

 

Best Décor

I’m partial to La Colombe, which looks like this:

La Colombe

It’s a mockable combination of industrial loft/natural wood/vintage porcelain, but who cares? It’s very nicely done, and the wall of glass looking out on Blagden Alley is picturesque.

 

Best Place to Be a Regular (i.e., the Favoritism Award)

This is an odd category, but basically the question is whether they remember their frequent customers and make them feel special (or, put differently, like human beings and not just sources of revenue). I have no complaints about any of the coffee shops in this list, but I love the folks at The Coffee Bar, who are friendly and remember my name and my usual drink order.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing (If I went somewhere else as often as I go to The Coffee Bar, would they know me so well? Do I go to The Coffee Bar so often because they know me so well?), but there’s only one coffee shop on this list where I’ve left my apartment keys for an out-of-town guest – so they win and it’s not even close.

 

Broad Categories

Taking all of the above into account, let’s hand out some superlatives:

 

Best Weekend Coffee Shop (tie)

(AKA the best place to meet a friend and talk about other friends behind their backs.)

The answer here is Mockingbird Hill. As you may have noticed, Mockingbird Hill doesn’t appear much in the specific categories above. This is because they aren’t open during the day on weekdays*, so on those days they’re basically disqualified from consideration for most coffee shop functions (drinking coffee in the morning, drinking coffee in the daytime, etc.)! This is a damn shame, because their coffee program (when they’re open) may just be the best in the entire city. Great iced coffee, amazing and varied coffee options for pour-over, a knowledgeable and friendly staff, and – best of all – seats basically always available (when they’re open).

So okay, they’re only open during the day on weekends. So obviously that’s why they’re the winner of this category. But wait, it gets more frustrating. They’re also not open until 10am on weekends!!!!!

Are you serious?! Yes, I’m serious. If you wake up early and want a fancy cup of coffee or three, you’ll have to go somewhere else.

So okay. Mockingbird Hill is my pick for weekend coffee after 10am on weekends. Better pick somewhere else for the early risers.

Congratulations, Compass Coffee! You have my favorite cold brew coffee, you’re filled with attractive people in workout gear, and perhaps most importantly, you’re open!

* Technically, they’re not open during the day on weekdays anymore. As I recall, they used to open at 8am every day of the week. I went all the time, and I was usually the only customer in the entire place. Hmm, starting to understand why they stopped doing that…

 

Best Place to Work

Slipstream has wi-fi, lots of available seats and tables (during the week), and good food. If you need to spend a few hours banging out a press release or amortizing capital spending or whatever, you’re in good hands here.

 

Best Place to Hang Out Alone, Read a Book, Browse Twitter, and Drink Some Coffee

If I hadn’t mentioned Twitter up there, I might just go with La Colombe here, but they don’t have wi-fi. I guess you can just use your phone, or maybe your iPad has cell data, though. If so, okay: La Colombe is a solid choice. It’s a pretty small place, so better to be alone for seating purposes. But it looks great, is well lit, and has great coffee. Great place to while away the hours.

But for me, the winner in this category is also the overall champion…

 

The Best Damn Coffee Shop Near My Apartment

Emphasis on the “Near My Apartment”. For all of the reasons I’ve already enumerated, The Coffee Bar is my favorite coffee shop in DC, rivaled in my esteem only by the ghost of the much-loved, long-mourned Mid-City Caffé (whoa, I’m pretty sure that’s me in the photo!?!)(ETA: never mind, it’s not me – just some other really good-looking guy). More than anywhere else, The Coffee Bar is where I go to read, write, and drink coffee.

And I like it just the way it is, so please don’t mess this up for me, people.

Someday maybe I’ll be “the” Jacob.

A photo posted by Jacob Wolman (@jwolman) on

Schrödinger’s Shift Key [link]

By Jacob

Allen Pike:

In iOS 7.1, Apple changed the design of the shift key. This was the worst thing to happen in the history of software.

When the shift key is on, it blends in with the letter keys. When it’s off, it blends in with the function keys. Neither state sticks out enough to read as active, especially in a split second.

This would only be moderately annoying, except that iOS suddenly engages the shift key in certain circumstances. It’s usually convenient, but if you need to type apike is my username, I am from B.C. and live in Vancouver it’s crazy-making and requires good feedback about what’s happening.

It is astonishing that Apple shipped this in the first place. Absolutely boggles the mind that, a year later, they haven’t fixed it. And, for what it’s worth, the obvious solution – display the keys in upper caps when the Shift key is active, in lower caps when it’s not – is also the best solution.

The Nationals employ more than 1,100 people who never get an at-bat or throw a pitch [link]

By Jacob

From the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga, here’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the people in charge of the logistics of a professional baseball season. Pretty impressive (and great photos).

In classic “fish or cut bait” scenario, “cut bait” wins

By Jacob

Let’s take a break (or at least a dislocation) from discussing the horrors of American football and make note of a positive development in world futbol: Fox made the right call and gave up the Gus Johnson experiment. As noted in these pages, Gus never really got the hang of soccer, and wasn’t improving at an encouraging pace. Better for Fox to make the change now than to stubbornly stick to its guns and screw up the 2018 World Cup more than FIFA already will.

The moral imperative to stop watching pro football

By Jacob

Forget, for the moment, about concussions, slurs against Native Americans, corporate greed, non-guaranteed contracts, and all the other ways the NFL has tried to make itself persona non grata among right-thinking people. Here’s one more reason – reason enough on its own to justify quitting watching football cold turkey:

It’s been well-established that NFL leadership doesn’t give a shit about women, but with newly-released footage of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in the face prior to being gently wrist-slapped with a two-game suspension, one has to wonder: do NFL fans give a shit about women?

To be clear, this is footage that the NFL either saw, or lied about seeing, prior to announcing Ray Rice’s joke of a punishment. This is repugnant, outrageous behavior, and it’s no longer enough for fans to merely express their disgust. We need to make our disgust felt through actions, starting with finding another way to spend our Sundays.

Supporting NFL football is insane/immoral

By Jacob

This is a great interview and I highly encourage you to read it:

At 8:30 pm E.S.T., the NFL jumpstarts its ninety-fifth season with a donnybrook between the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and America’s sweetheart hunk of cheddar, the Green Bay Packers. More than 20 million viewers will tune in tonight, and more than 100 million will catch a game over the opening weekend. Football rules the sports landscape. The NFL is king. Break out the nachos and settle in for the 2014 season, right?

Go ahead, but Steve Almond, author of the profound, searching, occasionally squirm-inducing book Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, won’t be joining. After four decades of being a devoted Oakland Raiders fan, the father of three is calling it quits.

Anyone who pays any attention to the NFL knows we’re not exactly running short on reasons it doesn’t deserve our time (or our money).* Yet the league maintains a stranglehold on its position at the center of American sports culture. I find it basically impossible to defend – “but fantasy football is so fun!” is an atrocious argument for supporting something so fundamentally rotten – but, like so many others, I just can’t bring myself to turn away. Steve Almond does us all a service by calling us on our hypocrisy.

* And as a homegrown fan of the Washington Football Team, I have an entire extra set of reasons to find the sport abhorrent.

Michael Brown didn’t do anything as a teen that I didn’t — but only one of us got killed [link]

By Jacob

Matt Yglesias makes the obvious comparison, and draws the obvious conclusion:

When I was Brown’s age I also dabbled in drugs and alcohol. Even used Swisher Sweets to roll blunts from time to time. For that matter, I also did some shoplifting. Got caught one time by a security guard at the K-Mart on Astor Place who confiscated the stuff I’d stolen and yelled at me a bunch. So I suppose that, when an undercover officer came upon me and two friends smoking cigarettes and drinking beer on a park bench that night, he could have shot us dead and then the Times could have reported that we were no angels. We weren’t.

The NYT’s Michael Brown obit is shameful, but provides a helpful distillation of the insane double standard being applied here, where a kid’s possible youthful transgressions are held out to implicitly justify his cold-blooded killing at the hands of a police officer.

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