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June 30, 1996

Dissing Ma Bell

Dear Neighbors:

Last edition's mystery word was Schadenfreude Writes Cheryl Donahue, "I actually learned the meaning of this word from an episode of "The Simpsons," where Lisa uses it to chastise Homer because he's so tickled about the misfortunes of neighbor Ned Flanders. Of course, Lisa has to explain the word to Homer after she uses it, thus enlightening us all! (Uh, it means taking pleasure in someone else's pain, right?)"

I don't know, Cheryl. I think I enjoy keeping you in suspense.


klaatu ( took me to task for dumping on Chair-alien Dave Clarke. "Don't give a Man hell because he's being taken out through pain."

Klaatu gave me a chance to clarify my remarks and up the wattage. "I give him hell because he gives us hell constantly, whether or not he's in pain. If he couldn't talk that day, he could have just stuck to a five minute presentation, submitted testimony to the record, or sent a substitute who could get out of bed. He's got a job to do and if he can't do it, we'd all benefit if he used his brain to figure out an effective way to get it done. He didn't help us up there. He never does."

To which Klaatu responded, "Well, in that case I guess he's gotta either get unelected or learn to submit his testimony via the Internet <grin>. I'm not the best at public speaking myself... I see your point though. If he's basically deadwood, I guess he's got to be un-elected... "

Point of Fact: Clarke received the highest percentage of popular vote in the 1994 election.


Jeffrey Itell



Sign found on many utility poles on Macomb Street: Burglary Alert. June 26, 1996. Between Ross Place & Red brick Apartment. 2 men armed w/gun.

David Burka


Press Coverage

Barry needs to add the Chicago Tribune to his list of hated papers. They too ran an article on Friday, 6/21 detailing the bad news about DC.

[The Trib on line doesn't index it's previous articles so I can't cite a web url. The New York Times multi-part story on the District is supposed to begin running next weekend for 4th of July holiday pleasure. jeff]

Andrea Carlson


Post Office

At the entrance of the shiny new Cleveland Park Postal Service office, there are shiny, new, cryptic gates. I believe that they are **stamp detectors** rather than metal detectors. There's a new self-service philatelic/stamp sales area where one can pick up prepackaged wads of stamps. If one were to "forget" to pay (Visa and MasterCard welcomed) for these wads, I think the gates would remind that one to return to the counter. (I did buy some stamps there and each package had a magnetic sensor target included in the packaging, which the seller thoughtfully desensitized for me.)

I agree with Jeff that if I worked at any post office, I'd like to have metal detectors at the back AND the front doors.

[Indeed, they are merchandise detectors, just like CVS and other stores use. jeff]

Charlie Wellander


Bell Atlantic

Well, in the wake of Bell Atlantic fighting the effort to break up it's monopoly in DC, allow me to share my experience from yesterday and today. I called Bell Atlantic on Monday, June 24th, to put in an order to have another phone line installed in my home. The representative was very pleasant, and helpful. He told me that I would have to be home, and that a technician would be here between 1pm and 5pm on Wednesday.

As you can probably guess, 5 o'clock rolled around yeterday, and I had not seen anyone who resembled a phone technician. I called Customer Service, and they informed me that the tech was "running behind" and that he would definetely be here by 6:00pm. Furthermore, she said, "If he is not there by 6pm, please call us back and we will send someone right to you".

I waited until 5:50pm, called Customer Service back, and got a recording stating that the office closed at 6:00pm (it wasn't 6, but ok). I then called the "tech" line. She took my information, reviewed it, and said the order was marked as "completed". She then said that I must call the business office back in the morning.

Well, I cursed ... got ready to go out, when at 6:30pm, guess who showed up a my door? Some guy with a Bell Atlantic label on his shirt. He installed my jack, presented me with a bill for $78.00 and told me that I would have a dial tone on it by midnight. There was still no dial tone at 8:00am this morning. The Bell Atlantic agent on the line didn't know why, and told me that the technician should have "taken care of that last night". Well, he didn't.

She told me that she would send someone else out today. I told her that I didn't want to take another day off. She said that I had no choice, but she would make sure someone would be here by 11:00am. It is about 10:00am now. We'll see.

My point is this: Bell Atlantic has publically claimed that they do not need any competition in the city of DC, and that such competition would be harmful to the customers. "Poor Service" is something that they always say will result from such a monopoly breakup. I didn't really have much of an opinion before, but the last two days have showed me in living color, why the lack of competition, easily leads to total incompetence.

The next time you see a Spokesman for Bell Atlantic on TV, or in print, claiming that the breakup of the Bell Atlantic monopoly will lead to poor phone service, don't buy it. I have experienced the current "service" first hand, and I would welcome a competitor.

------Later that day------

It is 11:45am. No phone technician. Called Bell Atlantic. They "don't see" the order. If any startup phone companies out there need investors, contact me. [So, Rex, don't leave us in suspense. jeff]

Rex Toler

[The promo for the movie "The Cable Guy" announced that the film was coming to a theatre near you, sometime between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. I think this was a Jay Leno joke. jeff]



If you're into gambling, as I am, one of the key things you should know before you pony up your bucks is the mathematical edge for the casino/house/government. For example, take the dice game Craps. Played poorly, taking the high-risk high-payback bets, the casino has an edge of 17-30% on every bet, which means if you bet $1,000,000 $1 at a time, you are mathematically likely to end up with somewhere between $700,000 and $830,000. And a huge package of freebies from the casino.

Craps played well, however, can reduce the casino edge to 1%-2%, depending on the rules of the table. So mathematically you'll lose only $10K on the $1,000,000 bet; put another way, you have to be much less lucky to walk away a winner, and having no luck (i.e., dovetailing with the odds) will cost you a lot less and take a lot longer to break you.

All casino games have an edge, of course -- the sole exception being a single bet at the craps table (which you can only take if you've made other bets that have an edge), and a blackjack table under certain limited circumstances. (The ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck can tilt the game so it's actually in the player's favor by 1%-2% or more; that's the essence behind counting cards.)

So... bringing this back to the Keno discussion. One of the biggest problems I have with lotteries in general is that the house edge is insanely higher with the government than it is with casinos. Keno is typically the worst game in the house in Las Vegas: a 25% edge for the casino. Even the worst slot machines are only a 20% edge. Government lotteries and lottos, however, offer a 50% edge for the government, most easily expressed by the $500 payout on a 1-in-1000 chance of hitting a number in the 3-digit game. (Based on what I've read, the bookies used to pay $800 for the same hit.)

High-bucks wins are even a greater scam: as I understand it, the payout is determined to be half of the take, i.e. $5 million for a $10 million rake (the amount bet). But that $5 million is purchased as a 20-year annuity by the government, at a fraction of the final payout total. So on the megabucks wins, the government is sucking in a lot of cash.

So the government allows gambling, but only if they can run it, and then they offer a game with a house edge that any gambler in their right mind should stay far away from. (Or, at least, any educated gambler who knows about odds.)

Now, let's take Keno. As previously said, it's basically a lotto that's drawn every five minutes. And I presume that it maintains the 50% house edge -- a sucker bet, no matter how you slice it. But what's worse are the exacerbating factors: 1) the every five minutes bit is encouragement for players to churn a lot more money; 2) the Maryland Keno game allows you to bet between $1 and $20 on each game, unlike a lotto ticket which is $1 a pop. Result: far more money bet, and the majority of that coming from a few players who play a lot, not more players.

I don't call that a particularly moral thing for a government to engage in.

In defense of gambling, however, it's not a bad thing for those who know how to handle it. That's maybe 10% of the people in a casino on any given night; the rest are probably going to get fleeced. Unlike some people, I have very little sympathy for the fleecees in casinos -- the only thing stopping them from choosing the right games is their own ignorance, and they can get educated at half the bookstores along the Boardwalk.

I'm a lot more concerned about players of the lottery; the government does not take on the moral responsibility of educating its players about the game. There are a lot of people who think of the lottery as a legitimate investment: play often enough, and you'll have money at the end. Our governments should not be encouraging these ideas. On the other hand, I'm much more for a riverboat gambling center, or whatever else people are thinking of doing -- the edge is a lot smaller, the controls more rigorous, and you can't place a bet on every street corner.

Finally, an aside about Atlantic City. I've been heading there since I was a pup, and it's always been pretty decayed. With casinos, it's still decayed, but at least now there's *something* there to pull people in. No question gambling should have done more for the city, but the blame for that falls on five consecutive indicted mayors, not the casinos. Before gambling arrived, that city was dying. Now it still is, but much more slowly -- and there's at least a chance that someday enlightened leadership will be able to take the flow of tax money and do something with it.

My parents now live and run a store in A.C.; without the presence of gambling and tourists, they would probably be a thousand miles away from there.

Jeff Porten


Van Ness

I was delighted to read Andrew Frank's observations on Van Ness, and take him up on the invitation to respond. But first a little gushing: Mr. Frank and his business have made in real action most of the points he makes in writing. He is to be commended for putting his money and time where his mouth is, to everyone's benefit. Van Ness needs some plant life and umbrellas? Sirius has planters and umbrellas. Van Ness needs a gathering place other than the dive-y cafe and bar next to the Safeway? (Which, of course, has its merits, including cheap and pretty good breakfast.) Sirius provides it.

The area is in need of a face lift. Tall buildings and lots of concrete impose an urban feel on an area that needs to have more of a neighborhood feel. Area landlords need to be convinced to add green: trees, flowers, park benches, bike racks, and other things that give visual clues that it is a neighborhood, not the inner city. Most retail areas along Connecticut Ave. in NW DC are one or two storeys high, while Van Ness looms at 7+ storeys. This could be brought to "neighborhood scale" with tastefully designed awnings, more trees and more park-like public space. The unsightly edifice of the building housing Boston Market and Office Depot could be improved tremendously by commissioning a large, colorful mural.

Many of the apartment dwellers are transient, and I speak as one of them. I do, however, have some loyalty to the neighborhood. Because I would like to see the place flourish (mostly so I can enjoy myself close to home) I'm loyal to places like Sirius who seem to want my business. Given the rents that people like myself pay, though, and the fact that thousands of us walk past the strip on the way to the metro, I'm astounded that there aren't more merchants trying to separate us from our obviously bountiful cash. Perhaps if I understood this phenomenon better I'd be in business instead of just writing about it.

The neighborhood lacks critical mass. There are lots of good businesses in Van Ness ... they're just spread out over several L-O-N-G blocks, instead of being clustered right next to each other like Cleveland Park, Woodley Park or Chevy Chase. So the question before us is: Why, when Van Ness has critical mass of wealthy customers, are there not more businesses? One can't blame businesses for being hesitant to locate here when places from Pizza Hut to the Gap have failed to make a go. But I'd argue that each case can be traced to individual causes, not to general poor business climate in Van Ness. My antipathy to The Gap's building design I've made clear. Neither was Pizza Hut very inviting. Ordering take-out was a chancy affair. As for going there, the strip between it and the street was perpetually muddy, and what *is* that asphalt wasteland to the left of Pizza Hut? The access needs of UDC, the Metro parking lot, and the Safeway loading dock and roof deck don't require a 43-foot-wide road. The road leading to the Calvert-Woodley parking lot opposite is also too wide, but at least it's broken up by a beautiful tree and pedestrian island. Given the heavy pedestrian traffic and light vehicle traffic, the design in both places ought to favor the pedestrian with a raised, different-colored walkway, a sidewalk that extends into the road, and maybe bricks instead of asphalt. If the area really needs to be that wide for Safeway semi-trailers to get in, pave the whole thing in brick. A plaza that is driven on is far preferable to road that is walked on.

On the east side of Connecticut we have another set of problems, starting with the bus stop. Is this place a disaster or what? Rows of paper boxes constrict the sidewalk so one has a hard time getting past the people waiting for the bus. The bus stop is notable mostly for a tree stump in the mud. CVS has made an effort with its trees, and the plaza there is OK but really not all that welcoming.

Neither side of the street gives people much in the way of windows to look into, except for Calvert-Woodley and then Boston Chicken and north. Safeway is just a white wall with people going in and out, and CVS isn't much better. The purpose of all those glass facades you see on the interstate (Waffle House, etc) is not to help people to see out, but rather to see in, so that they know it's open, and that it's a warm inviting place. The need for this isn't quite as large in urban retail, but the principle is the same.

Am I really arguing that people make shopping decisions based on whether there's a tree in the middle of the road next to the store? Or newspaper boxes jamming the sidewalk? Absolutely. At least, I do, and my reading of the urban design literature suggests that others do as well. People are remarkably able to tell when an effort is being made on their behalf, and when it is not. The only place making an effort on behalf of people walking is the plaza in front of Sirius and north of there. Otherwise, the driver is king. The lack of cross-walk markings and wide roads together say that the effort is being made on behalf of the driver, and drivers respond: they tend to pull in front of me when I'm crossing and force me to walk around the back, inhaling exhaust. After a couple of blocks of this, do I want to hang out and shop? No, I want to get someplace friendly, like my apartment or Soapstone Valley Park. No spending going on there! Of course, many people will also drive long distances to shop in astoundingly ugly and unfriendly strip malls which commit far more aesthetic sins than a big road next to the Pizza Hut. But these places have one thing which Van Ness hasn't got, and that's low prices. Low prices and unfriendly beat high prices and unfriendly every time.

The ANCs for the area are terrified of giving liquor licenses; when they do, the licenses are bogged down with restrictions that tie down operators' hands unnecessarily. The chief concern of the ANC is that liquor licenses bring noise, traffic, and unruly folks into the neighborhood. As a resident of the neighborhood, I am sensitive to these issues. However, the virtual moratorium on new licenses prevents ethnic eateries, bistros, and cafes from locating in Van Ness, preventing the formation of any critical mass. All other neighborhoods along the NW Conn. Ave. corridor have lovely eateries that DRAW quality people - neighbors AND non-neighbors - to the neighborhoods, not frighten them away. My friends and I make a bee-line to Cleveland Park if we want to eat.

Well, I don't expect Van Ness to rebuild as a pedestrian plaza for me anytime soon. But perhaps my view of the place will find some resonance with at least some people.

Will Schroeer


Announcing EXPLORING RELATIONSHIPS IN RECOVERY:SPIRITUAL CONNECTIONS. There will be a workshop on Sunday, July 7, from 1:30-5 p.m. at St. Alban's Satterlee Hall (Wisconsin & Mass. Aves.) Three featured speakers will discuss the trials and tribulations as well as hope for people involved in relationships as well as Twelve Step Recovery programs. Come hear Drew Permut, a clinical psychologist with expertise in both addictions and couples counselling, Pat Petrasch, LCSW, co-founder of Counselling Associates for Adult Children of Alcoholics, and Caroline Adams Miller, Eating Disorders expert and author of several books, including the bestselling "My Name is Caroline". Suggested donation of $10 will benefit the church's outreach program for the homeless. Refreshments will be served. Please call Katie Craig for more information or if you are interested in volunteering at (202)362-7192 or Michele Armitage (202) 473-9742.

Sally Craig


Room opening up in shared house near Connecticut Ave. and Nebraska Ave. $400/month. Separate phone line. Avail. mid-August. (202) 686-5465.

Phil Shapiro


For Sale: two tickets for the Peter, Paul & Mary Concert at Wolf Trap, Saturday, August 24, 8PM. Orchestra seats. Cost is $44 for both. Please call Marsha, 363-1195 or e-mail

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