Washington perspectives

2D made 3D in the sculpture garden.

While Callum, poor boy, worked manfully through a three-hour maths exam this morning (he finished his course with an A, we found out this evening), Declan and I whiled away our time in the local Starbucks and considered things American.

For a country that spends so much political time obsessing about tax increases, they sure have a lot of little taxes along the way. The coffee advertised at $2.80 actually costs $3.04. It’s the same for almost everything, the prices are given without taxes and that means you can add 10-20% depending on the item and where you are before you even move.

Then there’s the tipping. It’s like some secret society with rules so arcane that only lifelong members can really understand what on Earth you’re supposed to do. But leaving the etiquette to one side, tipping means that in a restaurant, hairdresser or similar place you can then add another 20-30% to the advertised price. So by the time you are done your $10 meal is actually a $15 meal thanks to the taxes both overt and covert. And I can only look upon tipping as a covert tax, if the system provided for a decent living wage tipping would presumably not be such an issue. And I wouldn’t be so confused about prices!

Strange perspectives.

Anyway, this afternoon we did a round-up of the museum things we’d missed so far. We returned to the Air and Space Museum mostly to buy some robot Christmas decorations. We visited the National Gallery and admired the French Impressionists; and grinned at the well-meaning docent who feared the boys would be bored.

The highlight of our afternoon was a return to the Museum of Natural History to see the David Koch Hall of Human Origins, which beautifully explores evolution. It tied in wonderfully with some of our early museum visits and also with our visit to the cave paintings in France.

The Koch Hall led us to a bit of research into the man whose money made it possible; a man who Jennifer, when she saw his name said “Umm, isn’t he the devil incarnate? What’s he doing supporting an exhibit about evolution”. Turns out it is the same man who has been described as “the Tea Party’s wallet” and an absolute arch-conservative. But in a very American fashion he’s far more complex than that – he’s completely focussed on individual liberties and so in that context supports a range of surprising things from gay marriage to stem-cell research. It’s this sort of thing that makes America so complex and so endlessly engrossing to watch.

Even without the political undertones, the level of philanthropic spending here is fascinating. It’s not hard to draw a parallel with the tipping though, perhaps if more tax was paid the personal philanthropy wouldn’t be required in the same way. Who knows?

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