TIME Pop Culture

A Weekend With ‘Nerds’ at the Pokémon World Championships

Players at the 2014 Pokémon World Championships in Washington, D.C.
Players at the 2014 Pokémon World Championships in Washington, D.C. Aaron P. Bernstein—Pokémon Company International

Why people travel from all over the world to don their Pikachu ears

Jaxson Piwek wants to be a world champion. He has been training for this day for months, even waking up at 4 in the morning and going to bed at 7 at night for the past week so that the time change between his home in Vancouver and the championships in Washington, D.C. wouldn’t affect his performance.

Jaxson, 10, plays the Pokémon trading card game. And this is his first time qualifying for the world championships.

“It’s very overwhelming for my first time,” he says as he looks around at the more than 3,000 fans packing the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, not far from the White House.

Overwhelming is a good word for it. There are two competition arenas at either end of the massive room—one for the video game competitions, the other for TCG, or trading card game. There is a stage in the front of the room with three screens on which they project the most exciting matches, with live commentary from an ESPN-style booth a few yards away. Gasps and roars come from the mesmerized crowd at crucial moments in the games. If you just heard the audio, you would think you were in a stadium watching soccer.

Pikachu is everywhere. The little yellow creature is emblazoned on t-shirts, backpacks, hats, sweatshirts and iPhone cases, and a giant inflatable Pikachu hangs suspended over the crowd: a smiling cartoonish deity for the pilgrims who have come from 33 different countries to watch the players like Jaxson battle to become world champion. (There are three age brackets—juniors, ages 12 and under; seniors, ages 13 to 16; and masters, ages 17 and up. Jaxson comes in 36th in the junior division.)

Caleb Judkins, 17, is one such pilgrim. He’s an avid Pokémon video game player but isn’t on the competitive circuit. He and his friends traveled here from Gainesville, Va., to see a competition firsthand. “It was on my bucket list to come,” he says. “I wanted to see the battles in progress.”

One person many people are here to see is Ray Rizzo. Ray, 21, is a three-time world champion in the video game—no one has won Worlds more times than he has. He won in 2010, 2011 and 2012 but didn’t make finals last year, so he’s coming back this year with a vengeance.

I talk to Ray after his first match of the weekend; he’s just won his battle so he’s feeling pretty confident. “I don’t really get too nervous anymore because I’ve been playing for a long time,” he says. (This year Ray once again did not make the finals, so he was unable to get a record-breaking fourth win.)

But for those who aren’t veterans like Ray, this weekend is packed with nerves. It’s a year-long road to get here—to qualify for Worlds, players have to compete in regional and national competitions, earning a certain number of “championship points” in each depending on how well they do. The number of these points a player accrues over the season determines if he or she is eligible to compete.

So why Pokémon? What is it about the characters and the games that inspire these people to spend months honing their skills and obsessing over strategy, or to don their Pikachu ears and travel across the world just to be here?

Jaxson Piwek’s answer seems to sum it up —“All the friends I make.”

“Everyone’s so happy and passionate and really enjoying the game,” his mother Shauna says. “It’s a great community.”

J.C. Smith, director of consumer marketing for The Pokémon Company International, says this idea of community is built into the game itself. “The principle they build the game around is communication,” he says. “They really want people to talk and to come together, either online or face-to-face to build these communities. This is the ultimate expression of that. … This is a world championship, but it doesn’t feel cutthroat to me. It feels like a community of people who like to play games, coming together to play games.”

The international element of the tournament does spur some divisions and regional pride—many spectators come armed with their country’s flag, and cheers of “USA! USA! USA!” erupt when American Nikolai Zielinski wins the senior video game tournament.

But people say the game still unites more than it divides. “You can be [an American kid] playing a Japanese kid, but you can totally get it and you can have an interaction through Pokémon,” a company spokesman says of the tournament.

Nikolai, 15, also talks about community, beaming and energetic after his win. “The video game Pokémon community is the best community I’ve ever been a part of,” he says. “Compared to other video games even, it’s amazing. Everyone is so friendly and really nice. I’ve made friends just by placing well in tournaments—people have wanted to become my buddy. And everyone just helps each other out a lot, online and in person. It’s a really, really nice community to be in, and great people to be around.”

Andrea Bacca, 18 and wearing a black and gold costume that includes striped knee socks and ears, puts it both bluntly and affectionately: “I like that we can all fit in and be nerds together.”

Sunday evening after the finals sees 12 trophies awarded—one for each runner-up and champion in the three age divisions of the two games. The most coveted awards of the evening, the masters division trophies, went to Canadian Andrew Estrada for TCG and South Korean Se Jun Park for video game.

As the champions stand onstage, holding their Pikachu trophies and being showered with confetti, the cheers from the audience change. No longer are the viewers chanting country names or clapping for individual players. Now, yelling over the triumphant music blaring from the stage, the audience swells behind a single cheer: “Pokémon! Pokémon! Pokémon!”

 

TIME Drugs

The Rules About Pot Just Changed in Washington D.C.

Pot Marijuana Weed
Getty Images

Adults caught with up to one ounce of pot will be fined $25 in the nation's capital

Washington D.C.’s pot decriminalization policy went into effect Thursday, lowering the penalties for marijuana possession to just a $25 civil fine for adults caught with up to one ounce.

The law may still encounter some pushback from Congress, as the Republican-controlled House passed a bill Wednesday that includes an amendment to stop D.C. from using federal or local funds to implement the law. The bill was passed largely along party lines; only six Democrats supported the bill.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who sponsored the D.C. provision, told the Washington Post that pot is “poison to a teenager’s brain” and that the new law would treat teenagers in a dramatically different way to young people right across the Maryland border, where violators younger than 21-years-old are required to appear in court.

The Administration “strongly opposes” the House provision, writing in a letter released Monday that it poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan police department’s enforcement and violates the principle of D.C. home rule.

Washington D.C. has an extraordinarily high rate of marijuana arrests, ranked seventh out of 945 counties examined in a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report. There’s also a huge racial disparity in who gets penalized for smoking weed, according to the same report, which found that black people are eight times more likely than non-blacks to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Possession of any amount of marijuana in the District was formerly counted as a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. It remains a criminal offense to smoke pot in the nation’s capital.

TIME Washington D.C.

Marion Barry Flies on Friday

Marion Barry
Former Mayor and current DC City Council member Marion Barry in Washington, March 19, 2014. Alex Brandon—AP

On Friday night at the K Street aqua backlit lounge Look, Marion Barry, the former four-term mayor of Washington, D.C., burst into song.

“They called it stormy Monday, but Tuesday is just as bad,” Barry belt out into a microphone for a crowd of about twenty five reporters, staff and Look employees. “That’s my blues.”

“The eagle flies on Friday—that’s payday baby,” continued Barry in his rendition of B.B King’s Stormy Monday. “Saturday go out to play. Then comes Sunday morning, what do I do? Get down on my knees and pray. Lord have mercy; Lord have mercy on me…If you see my baby, please somebody, send her back home to me.”

Barry, 78, is selling his blues in the new biography Mayor for Life written with novelist Omar Tyree. While the book describes his humble beginnings and role in the civil rights movement, most readers will be intent on reading about his crack-cocaine fueled downfall, which led to his FBI arrest and sentencing at the end of his third term as mayor. Barry, to his credit, does not shy from the subject. (One sample line in the book: “That was my first time ever trying cocaine, and it felt like I had ejaculated.”) But like all autobiographies, Mayor for Life is a subjective account; he blames the FBI sting on racism. “White folks may let you in their country clubs to play golf, invite you out to dinner, take you out to play tennis, but when it comes to dividing up the money, that’s a whole ‘nother story,” Barry writes. “They didn’t want me creating all of these opportunities for black folks.”

“The book is very honest,” said Barry Friday. “It’s the truth—the good, the bad, the ugly. More good than anything else. I wrote this book to tell people who Marion Barry is.”

And if you wanted to get to know Marion Barry, a two-hour dinner wouldn’t be a bad place to start. At Look, Barry directly responded to almost every question the group of journalists asked, from cocaine use to slavery reparations to changing the Redskins name.

“Don’t try it,” said Barry of cocaine. “Don’t try it. If you do try it, you got to stop. Get some help—psychotherapy…I’m just blessed. For the two years that I was out there, I never missed a rent payment.”

“I believe in [slavery] reparations,” said Barry. “The German people got reparations. The Marshall Plan was a form of reparation. … What’s wrong with us? We helped build this country.”

“He ought to wake up in 2014 and change that name,” Barry said of Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins.

As the reporters passed a microphone around the tables set up in a large square, and raised their voices to be heard over the loud din of a singles mingle at the nearby bar, Barry would patiently wait, nod his head and interject (When event host Janet Donovan quoted a 1998 Washington Post article—“To understand the District of Columbia, one must understand Marion Barry”—Barry quipped, “That’s right.”), or sing. He deemed Grand Theft Auto “the worst video game in the world” for its cop killing, called on the President to recognize D.C. as a state (What about democracy here?”) and called homelessness the “sin of this nation.”

Barry even reviewed the menu from his perspective as a diabetic. “The worst chemical in the world is sugar, sugar, sugar” he said, before ordering the not too healthy penne with Bolognese. “I got my insulin needle with me.”

But the focus of the dinner was about comebacks. Barry, who currently serves as a member of the District’s City Council, is an expert, accomplishing the stunning feat of winning the 1994 mayoral election after serving a six month federal prison sentence. He spoke of our “society of second chances, of third chances, of fifth chances” and referenced Matthew 18:22, in which Jesus says to forgive up to “seventy times seven” times.

“We all got to regret,” said Barry. “If you live you got to regret. If you live, you’re going to make a mistake. You’ll make a misjudgment about something. I always think of Frank Sinatra. ‘Regrets, I have a few. I did it my way.’ That’s what’s important.”

MONEY Housing Market

The Future’s Most Walkable Cities: Prepare to Be Surprised

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Urbanization of next-door neighbor Cambridge is one of the chief reasons Boston's walkability is on the rise. Boston Harbor Association—Boston Harbor Association

Walkable urban places are the cities of the future, a new study says. And where will those be? New York, Boston? Try Miami and Phoenix. No, we're not kidding.

If you live in Washington D.C., New York City or Boston and your legs are your main mode of transport, this won’t be news to you: These three cities rank among the country’s most walkable large cities, and they are destined to remain so.

After those top three, watch out: Cities known more for suburban sprawl and traffic jams have new development planned that will shoot them up into the top scores as “walkable urban place,” or, WalkUPs, as researchers at George Washington University and advocacy group Smart Growth America call them.

Miami, Detroit, Denver, and Tampa will vault into the new Top 10 large WalkUPs, according to a new study released today. Atlanta, Los Angeles and Phoenix will also take a big leap forward. Future rankings are based on things like planned investment in public transportation and commercial clusters.

jefferson memorial
D.C. ranks No. 1. Its suburbs are as walkable as the central city. Destination DC—Destination DC

“The WalkUPs are witnessing the end of sprawl,” said Christopher Leinberger, a professor of urban real estate at George Washington University School of Business. “This is a change in how we built the country in the 20th century.” Suburban sprawl, he argues, has constrained the country’s economic growth.

Walkable urban places, sometimes referred to as urban burbs, have high concentrations of college-educated adults and demonstrate a strong correlation between urban development, education and economic growth. Office rents in urbanized areas, for example, command a 74% premium over suburban. (Researchers focused on the 30 largest metropolitan areas because they comprise 46% of the U.S. population and 58% of the country’s GDP.)

And homeowners, take note: Walkability and proximity to shopping, restaurants and work are becoming increasingly important to buyers, especially young buyers. Research has shown that increases in measures of walkability such as WalkScore translate into increased property values.

Today’s Top 15 Walkable Cities

1. Washington, D.C.
2. New York City
3. Boston
4. San Francisco
5. Chicago
6. Seattle
7. Portland, Ore.
8. Atlanta
9. Pittsburgh
10. Cleveland
11. Baltimore
12. Miami
13. Philadelphia
14. Denver
15. Houston
Least Walkable: Tampa, Phoenix, Orlando

The Future’s Most Walkable Cities

1. Boston
2. Washington, D.C.
3. New York City
4. Miami
5. Atlanta
6. Seattle
7. San Francisco
8. Detroit
9. Denver
10. Tampa
11. Los Angeles
12. Phoenix
13. Houston
14. Portland
15. Chicago
Least Walkable: San Diego, Kansas City, San Antonio

TIME

What You Need To Know About Flying Drones In Washington, DC

Even the smallest remote control helicopter is against the law if flown in the nation's capital. Here's why.

At the Radio Shack six blocks from the White House, one may be tempted to purchase the $49.99 Propel Wasp remote controlled helicopter. But fly it outside in Washington, D.C. at your own risk.

The results of remote hobbyist drone flights can be spectacular, with or without a camera attached to show the view. Until recently, you could watch on Vimeo this DJI Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter piloted by Viktor Mirzoyan taking off from an area rooftop and shooting stunning footage of the nation’s capital. Then there was the spectacular footage shot by Adam Eidinger, which remains on YouTube for all to see.

Too bad it’s illegal—very illegal.

What’s the problem with flying a remote controlled aircraft in D.C.?

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration banned nearly all aviation—including model aviation—from what is known at the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), a roughly 10-nautical mile area centered around Reagan National Airport in Virginia.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 8.47.20 PM

The FAA’s “Temporary Flight Restriction” (poorly-named in this instance because the one over Washington is permanent) lists the rules for the FRZ in painstaking detail, and apparently with its keyboard stuck on caps-lock:

THE FOLLOWING OPERATIONS ARE NOT AUTHORIZED WITHIN THE DC FRZ: FLIGHT TRAINING, AEROBATIC FLIGHT, PRACTICE INSTRUMENT APPROACHES, GLIDER OPERATIONS, PARACHUTE OPERATIONS, ULTRA LIGHT, HANG GLIDING, BALLOON OPERATIONS, TETHERED BALLOONS, AGRICULTURE/CROP DUSTING, ANIMAL POPULATION CONTROL FLIGHT OPERATIONS, BANNER TOWING OPERATIONS, MAINTENANCE TEST FLIGHTS, MODEL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS, MODEL ROCKETRY, FLOAT PLANE OPERATIONS, UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS (UAS) AND AIRCRAFT/HELICOPTERS OPERATING FROM A SHIP OR PRIVATE/CORPORATE YACHT.

So, what would happen to me?

The FRZ falls within a larger security zone called the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), where aircraft are subject to additional security measures but model aircraft flight is permissible. The FRZ and the SFRA may be enforced with deadly force to shoot down an imminent threat, but more often planes are intercepted by fight aircraft and helicopters, escorted to a nearby airport, where the pilots are reamed out by law enforcement, suspended and/or fined.

Knowingly flying a model aircraft or drone in D.C. would violate the rules of the FRZ. —an offense punishable by a fine or up to a year in prison:

49 U.S. Code § 46307 – Violation of national defense airspace: A person that knowingly or willfully violates section 40103 (b)(3) of this title or a regulation prescribed or order issued under section 40103 (b)(3) shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

But will they really catch me?

Doubtful, unless you upload the video to the Internet, crash spectacularly, or get way too close to a really sensitive area like the White House.

What’s the big deal anyway?

First off, there’s the safety of people and property on the ground to consider. These devices can weigh well more than 10 pounds, and dropped from even a few stories can do serious damage. Here’s one brilliant pilot’s attempt to fly a drone through midtown Manhattan last year:

The operator was fined $2,200 by the FAA after the remote controlled quadcopter nearly hit a pedestrian.

Yosemite National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah recently announced that flying unmanned aerial vehicles would earn visitors a $5,000 fine, six months in jail, or both because of the danger and disruption they pose.

And what about privacy?

Good question. Increasingly these mini-aircraft have cameras—some capable of extremely high resolution and transmitting live footage to a laptop or iPhone—and they’re getting cheaper and cheaper. The one used by Mirzoyan retails for about $1000.

Amazon.com

What about if I wanted to fly a drone over the CIA or NSA?

Cute idea, but the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va. falls within the FRZ. The NSA’s headquarters in Fort Mead, Md. falls within the tightly-controlled Class B airspace for Baltimore Washington International Airport, so you’d be breaking the law.

So where can I legally fly my remote controlled helicopter or personal drone?

Under long-standing FAA guidelines, model aircraft may be flown below 400 feet above ground level as long as they don’t pose a hazard to people or property on the ground and other aircraft in the sky. When flying within 3 miles of an airport, the airport operator and/or control tower must be notified. But as long as you stay in “Class G” airspace you should be fine.

FAA

So where’s Class G airspace?

It’s generally airspace below 700 feet or 1,200 feet above ground where air traffic controllers do not provide any services. West of the Rockies it might rise as high as 14,500 feet above sea level in some areas.

Correction: An earlier version of this item stated that CBS used a drone to take photos of the Capitol. It in fact received a permit to use a helicopter.

TIME Washington D.C.

Al Franken, John Oliver Talk Politics And Comedy

+ READ ARTICLE

SNL star-turned-U.S.-senator Al Franken tells ABC’s This Week the transition from comedy to Congress was smoother than it might seem, while new HBO host John Oliver thinks politicians provide great material.

TIME

Celebrities Gather at TIME and People Party in Washington

Katherine McPhee, Uzo Aduba, and Lupita Nyong'o joined TIME and People in Washington Friday night to mark the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner.

TIME White House

Secret Service Tries to Dodge Another Bullet After Latest Controversy

U.S. President Obama shakes hands with U.S. Secret Service agent Pierson after she is sworn in as first woman Director of the Secret Service in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) with U.S. Secret Service agent Julia Pierson (L) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 27, 2013. Larry Downing / Reuters

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson defended her agency after two incidents within a month saw the White House security detail caught up in controversy

The head of the Secret Service is looking to reassure lawmakers that the latest instance of misconduct by agents traveling with President Barack Obama was an isolated incident.

“I have made clear to the entire workforce that I will not tolerate unprofessional behavior or misconduct at any level—both on and off duty,” Secret Service Director Julia Pierson told senators Tuesday, CNN reports. “I remain committed to swiftly and vigorously addressing any instances of misconduct that are brought to my attention.”

Late last month, three agents charged with protecting Obama during a trip to the Netherlands were forced to take administrative leave after one passed out in a hotel hallway following a group drinking binge. That came after two secret service personnel crashed a rental car in a small Florida Keys town on March 7. A local trooper detected “a slight odor of alcohol” on the agent driving, the Miami Herald reports.And in May 2012, the agency made headlines after several agents were disciplined for boisterous reveling and soliciting prostitutes ahead of the President’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia.

A year after that incident, Obama appointed Pierson to lead the agency, the first woman to fill the position.

“These are isolated incidents of misconduct and we’re working every day to correct our behavior,” she told reporters as she was leaving the Capitol.

[CNN]

TIME elections

D.C. Has Had Enough of Scandal-Ridden Mayor Vincent Gray

DC Mayor Race
Muriel Bowser celebrates after winning the Democratic mayoral primary in D.C. on April 1, 2014. Cliff Owen—Associated Press

71-year-old incumbent Vincent Gray, who was elected mayor in 2010 but was buffeted by corruption allegations, lost to challenger Muriel Bowser in the Democratic primary, securing just 32% of the vote compared to 44% for Bowser

Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was defeated in the Democratic mayoral primary election on Tuesday. Challenger Muriel Bowser won the race by a large margin, securing 44% of the votes to Gray’s 32%.

Eight candidates were on the ballot, but the contest was quickly narrowed down to a two-person race between Gray and Bowser. Gray’s campaign was ridden by scandal, and allegations that he was aware of an illegal fundraising scheme that helped him win the mayoral election in 2010 took a toll on his poll numbers.

Bowser will face independent David Cantania in the mayoral race in November. The capital city is overwhelmingly Democratic and the winner of the Democratic primary election has won every mayoral election since Washington began electing mayors 40 years ago.

“Muriel’s vision to move D.C. in a positive direction resonates with the District’s working- and middle-class families,” Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

 

TIME weather

Winter Storm Shutters Washington D.C.

But Alaska was unseasonably warm

A winter storm shut down Washington D.C. on Monday as this year’s cold, snowy winter continued to batter the weather-weary country.

The federal government was shuttered Monday, and the House and Senate canceled votes scheduled in the evening, reports Politico, due to the snowstorm set to bring over 5 inches of snow into the nation’s capital. The House was scheduled to vote on a series of resolutions, including one that calls for an end to violence in Venezuela. Washington’s closing also comes as Congress mulls a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

President Barack Obama, however, defied the poor weather by going ahead with his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The Supreme Court was also expected to hear oral arguments.

The mid-Atlantic region was hit by five inches of snow across West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey, according to Accuweather. Sleet was reported from Texas to Tennessee, and over 2,000 flights were canceled.

While the weather in the Mid-Atlantic continues to be cold and dreary, conditions in Alaska are unseasonably warm. Competitors and dog sled teams in the annual winter 1,000-mile Iditarod race faced weather uncomfortably warm for dogs as temperatures hit the high teens over the weekend, reports the Daily Mail.

The topsy-turvy weather in the United States may be the result of a changing jet stream pattern, scientists say, which causes northern latitudes to be unusually warm and southern latitudes to be cooler.

[Politico]

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