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February 23, 1997

Washington Post on Schools

Dear Neighbors:

Moderating this newsletter is an expensive, time consuming habit. Don’t worry—I’m not asking you to reach for your checkbooks. But I support my freelance habit (for now) by helping people buy computers. My market are folks who don’t know a CPU from a hard drive—folks who buy 8 megabyte machines from Best Buy and can’t understand why Windows 95 won’t run. Yes, it’s a pretty wide market. But I need your help finding clients.

I’ve helped neophytes buy top-line, high-performance branded machines at low prices. I’ve helped them make tradeoffs between bells and whistles and cost. I’ve even explained what all that apparatus they’re buying does. Finally, I set up all the software (including lots of free software folks need to use the Internet and their applications) so folks can immediately use it. (This preloaded, right out the box stuff comes out of a Macintosh fantasy world.) And, of course, I teach folks how to use the computer, teach them how they can teach themselves, and provide ongoing support. I also build small business applications.

Some superb Pentiums are now selling for around $1,600. So if you have any referrals please send them my way. My phone number is 202.244.4163.


I will shortly be sending another message describing our new method for posting event announcements. The idea is to hyperlink short messages in dc.story to longer announcements on the web. I know some of you don’t have web access, but most of you do. And if you do, you ought to be able to merely click on the highlighted web address and read the full announcement. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, send me a short message with the words "No Idea" in the subject line. The address is


Here’s an event I didn’t want you to miss.

On Tuesday, February 25, Kathy Merritt, local news director of WAMU, will be hosting an online chat on the White House plan for D.C. The chat will take place from 7:00 to 8:00 PM. Join prominent D.C. policymakers, learn more about Clinton’s plan, ask questions and make your opinion heard.  To participate, you simply need access to Netscape 2.0 (or a higher version of Netscape). Just come to on Tuesday, February 25, at 7:00 PM.

Amanda Huron Soundprint Media Center 202.885.1270


For those interested in reading more about Fannie Mae, check out this week’s issue of Slate.

"A Medici With Your Money": Fannie Mae is a wonderful corporate citizen, donating millions of dollars every year to worthy causes. There’s only one problem: It’s giving away your money. Matthew Cooper explains.


Also free! Free movie passes, short movie reviews, and movie discussion. Send an email message to to subscribe.

Jeffrey Itell


The Washington Post School Series
Kathy Patterson Ward Three Councilmember

The letters have started hitting my office in the wake of the Post’s belated series on D.C. Public Schools, asking, "what have you been doing?" It’s a fair question, a question that has answers, and answers that should have been provided to readers by the Post reporters. Some of the answers:

A year ago the D.C. auditor, at my request, investigated a school system audit of enrollment — a key component in every major decision made by school officials. At the same time, I asked Congressman Tom Davis to bring the General Accounting Office in to oversee the annual student enrollment count. Today the GAO is reviewing D.C.P.S. enrollment procedures.

Last June I urged the Financial Authority and Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams to intercede in the school system’s budget and finance operations. Mr. Williams did so — assigning Dr. Abdusalam Omer to serve as the system’s CFO to bring discipline to school spending.

In October I made a formal request to U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to investigate school officials for violations of federal anti-deficiency spending laws in two specific areas: school food services and Title I funds for special needs students. (The Post has had my letter to Holder since October; at a reporter’s request yesterday I sent over another copy. It’s curious to me that the Post today reports on calls for scrutiny SINCE the Post series, but not requests for scrutiny that predate the series.)

Taking specific action on the schools budget in the two years that the Council has had line item authority is another area neglected in the Post’s reporting. Former Councilmember Bill Lightfoot and I sought to limit inappropriate spending — to reduce central office administrative positions for example — and require other, priority expenditures — like filling kindergarten aide positions this school year. The latter line item, though approved by the Congress, was nearly undone last August by the control board responding to pleas by ex-Superintendent Smith. It took many phone calls and letters to Brimmer and roundabout communiques with the Hill to keep the kindergarten aide funding intact.

These examples are all public record; all known to Post reporters. I’ve made this point before on dc.story: oversight is something the Council does not do enough of, but part of changing that is recognizing oversight when it occurs. Post reporting on my efforts would encourage more and better oversight by other elected officials. Some of the line item votes on the schools budget might have been cast more responsibly — that is, more line items bringing more discipline to school spending — had there been more and better reporting at the time.

[To read the Post’s school series—D.C. Schools: A System in Crisis-visit Jeff] hools/schools1.h™


Compelling Government to Govern
Art Spitzer

Larry Seftor asks about what a citizen can do to compel a public servant to do his or her job or compel members of our government to follow the law? Larry’s questions have several answers:

Re example 1 (failure to write a ticket), the answer is "nothing." No law requires a cop to write a traffic ticket. Perhaps he’s doing something more important, like tailing a burglar or waiting for the President’s motorcade.

Re example 2 (refusal to take a report), I know of no law that requires this, but perhaps there’s a police department regulation that does. You can complain to the Captain or the Chief, and maybe discipline will follow.

Re example 3 (overrunning budgets), the anti-deficiency law is a federal criminal law. You can ask Eric Holder and Janet Reno to prosecute. But you can’t force them to. They have "prosecutorial discretion." It would be impossible to prosecute all crimes (think about jaywalking), and prosecutors have to pick and choose. But citizen pressure can make a real difference in those decisions; for example, look at what Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been able to accomplish.

Re example 4 (recycling): there apparently is a legal duty to recycle, and (as you probably know) the local Sierra Club(?) did take the city to court and got a court order requiring it to continue recycling. I don’t know the current status of the case.

Of course the usual remedy for public officials who don’t do their jobs well is to vote them (or their superiors) out of office. The continued failure of DC voters to do that is one of the basic sources of the District’s problems, IMHO (and speaking only for myself, a la Rob P.). On the other hand, you have no discretion about paying your taxes. But (as Sam Smith’s fascinating 2/21 post indicates), your chances of being prosecuted if you don’t file may be just as slim as a District official’s chances of being prosecuted for violating the anti-deficiency law.


Merchants News
Steph "*Somebody* thinks it’s worth investing in the District — Support your neighborhood institutions" Faul

Enough heavy politics. In the neighborhood news department, the Booeymonger is getting a new "outdoor" seating area, with brick retaining walls, improved windows, new chairs & tables, etc. The old enclosure came down within eight hours; when I walked by in the morning it was there, by evening it was gone. "The new one probably won’t go up that fast," the person behind the counter remarked when I asked about it. "But they’re going to work right through the weekend."


Cineplex Wrecks
Kirsten Sherk

If one ever wonders why Odeon has never been prosecuted for anti-trust etc., go back to the Foundry in G’town .While I love the fact that we no longer have to go to Springfield for $2 movies (actually, I REALLY love this!), I’m always amazed that as a teen I paid full prices to see movies there! Odeon theaters are large and comfortable, generally very clean with excellent sight and sound. If there are fewer screens, I’ll happily trade those minuscule TV sized ones for Wis. Ave. Cinemas, particularly as long as the Embassy and Uptown theaters are maintained.

This does NOT mean that the MacArthur theater should be tuned into a CVS however! Evil! Evil!


Cineplex Odious?
John Whiteside

I echo Larry Seftor’s comments on how the lack of competition to Cineplex Odeon has hurt the DC movie scene. As a relative newcomer I am really shocked by how awful movie theaters are here. While CO seems to have put some effort into a few of the theaters, they are by and large cramped, dirty, and unpleasant. I’ve never sat through so many films that drifted in and out of focus, had my feet stick to so many theater floors, or generally enjoyed movie going so little. It’s particularly galling in a theater like the Embassy, which is spacious enough to be really nice, but falling apart.

Are the suburban theaters any better? Much as I like to stay in the District on weekends — and spend my money in the District — I’m beginning to think it would be worth the drive.

I miss the Kendall Square Theater in Cambridge.


Public (Doesn’t) Works
Tom Berry

Recently, 20th St, NW, between M and New Hampshire had all of its granite curbing replaced with new Italian curbing. Then a few weeks ago the entire street was graded down during two days to prepare it for resurfacing. It remains graded down. In further pursuit of DC anarchy, certain parties propose to start a pool to guesstimate how much longer the street will remain unpaved. Before estimating, however, please be advised that local denizens believe that the city is waiting for the ungraded surface to develop its own potholes so that the grading will have to go far enough to find some artifacts dating to the pre-Barry days of stewardship, thereby establishing an archeological find of enough importance to halt all resurfacing until all relics have been recovered. Believe it or not, all of this work will force the city to reopen Pennsylvania Ave. in front of Bill’s Place so that traffic can progress unimpeded throughout our fair burg.


Vehicle Registration
Bruce Abramson

My registration was set to expire on 1/6/97. I called them in early December and asked how to renew my registration by mail. They refused to tell me, other than to say that if registration was due to expire in January, they had already sent out a renewal notice.

I called again in mid-December to ask where my renewal notice was. They told me that if I hadn’t received it yet, I probably wouldn’t .I was advised to put copies of my registration and zone 3 permit, along with a check for $150 in the mail, to extend my registration for 2 years. I also asked them to check their records to see if they had picked up my change of address—sent to them in writing 6 months earlier. They had not. I put all of the requested material, including a letter with change of address in the mail on December 17.

I started calling them again right after New Year’s day. During my first half-dozen or so calls, their computer was down. I finally reached them when the computer was up—on January 9. They told me that they had just received my check, and that my stickers were in the mail.

I called back on the 14th, and was told that they had already been sent out. I called again on the 17th, and was told that my renewal stickers had been sent to my old address, and that address changes had to be made in writing. Somehow or another, I managed to convince them to record my change of address over the phone. The representative I spoke to assured me that she had just put renewal stickers in an envelope for me and put them in the mail herself.

Two calls later, my renewal stickers arrived on January 27, postmarked 1/24. In the meantime (between 1/7 and 1/26) , I had received two tickets for an expired inspection sticker.

On 1/29, I started calling to track down my zone 3 sticker. I was assured that it was mailed out the same time as my registration stickers, but in a separate envelope. It is now 2/21, and I’m still waiting. On my last 3 calls their computer has been down. I have been told that all that I have to do is come down to their offices with a copy of my cancelled check . . .


Virginia Haufler

Funny you should mention DC vehicle registration—I was just about to send a message on that very topic. BUT I wanted to point out that sometimes the DC government works just as it is supposed to work. I received my notice of vehicle registration renewal, sent in my money, got the appropriate stickers within about one week, went to the inspection station where there was no line—and but for a burnt out taillight bulb I would have done the whole registration dance in about ten days. Quick, efficient, responsive, friendly service every step of the way. Yes, this was in D.C.!

[Here’s what I learned registering my car on Friday. Most folks will not get a renewal by mail. Those who don’t must renew in person. The central computer is usually down. If it is, you’ll have to come back to the registration office or hang out until they get the squirrels running again. The H Street office provides limited services so if you’re playing license lottery, go to C Street. Bring your insurance identification or binder or you’ll have to make another trip. Finally, the employees are at wits’ end trying to do their job. Sympathy is much appreciated and will grease the wheels as well. Jeff]


UDC Layoffs
Harold Goldstein

Another significant event this past week was the formal firing of 125 faculty members from UDC. While not the end of the institution it is, to paraphrase, the beginning of the end. I was one of those 125 and while we were treated outwardly with respect (no nasty scenes, no lockouts), we were, in fact, royally screwed. One has to wonder where, in all this, our elected and unelected officials were.

We were given what accounts to 40 days of severance pay. Our contracts, which are industry standards, contain a 1 year terminal contract guarantees. This means that when my present one year contract expires this spring I should then receive a final year. Effectively I should be paid, by contract, until May 1998. This is the universal approach for College and University faculty.

There was no thought towards softening this blow in any way shape or form. Many costless things could have been written into the termination (guaranteed re-hiring if anyone in our department leaves, for example). In fact few firings were really necessary if the University had chosen to divest itself of properties not instrumental for its mission. The faculty had developed several scenarios for this (including a faculty give back amounting to 15% of pay for the next year) which were, essentially, ignored.

Finally it is mind boggling to me that no one has requested a congressional rider to make honor our contracts. The control board decided, probably illegally, to abrogate our contracts without any thoughts as to individual repercussions. In a time when billions of dollars are thrown around, a matter of 7 million to honor our contract was too little to be of concern. Indeed, when Clinton forwards a billion dollar package to deal with traditional state functions, but excludes higher education that sends a signal.

The events that have heralded an end to UDC are indeed bizarre (no other agency saw its budget drop during the Kelly years!). Who or what decided that UDC was not to be in DC’s future?


Gun Laws
T Hardman <>

The District has very restrictive gun laws, some of the most restrictive in the country. Yet Washington DC has one of the highest handgun death rates in the world! Why _is_ this?

Kent Jeffreys <> suggests that the Federal government should reimburse DC for extra policing in the areas that are made unlivable by handgun violence, since the Feds won’t disarm the rest of the country (where DC gets its guns). First, Second Amendment considerations preclude wholesale forcible disarmament, and great strides are already being made to restrict the formerly unencumbered trade in handguns. But recently we saw one man use a handgun for the intended purpose - he shot a robber in his own home. This home-defender is placed at great risk by the District’s gun prohibition - he the burglar’s presence showed that the burglar believed the home to be defenseless even if occupied. Had he been concerned about getting shot he wouldn’t have been there.

Gangsters and hoodlums rule parts of this city not because they have guns and are fearless, they rule the streets because they are fearless because they know that nobody _besides_ them has guns.

Washington, more than any other city in the country, needs a permits-shall-issue law to permit law-abiding District homeowners to carry concealed handguns after mandatory attendance at police-quality (or better) marksmanship and legal-responsibilities courses. Did Washington have such a law, crime would drop precipitously, even with a mismanaged and underfunded police force.

Oh, re: car theft? Anytime you get broken into, you need to get re-keyed: inside every new car, welded to the door, is a label with a number, from which number any competent locksmith can make a key for your ignition.


Ward Six Polling Results - Taken 17th February
Paul McKenzie

A poll of 224 Ward 6 residents who vote frequently, taken by the John Capozzi campaign, shows Capozzi pulling away from the pack. Capozzi is leading the large field of candidates with 21 % of the vote. The question was "If the election were held today, who would you vote for?" The results were:

Capozzi (21%). Gray (4%). Stallings (15%). Hamilton (3%). Robinson (6%). McCall (3%). Croft (5%). Ambrose (5%). Undecided (45%).


Zoo Lecture

Thursday, 20 March 7 p.m. Book signing and reception, 8 p.m. Lecture

In a program sponsored by the National Zoo and the Healing Forest Conservancy, Wade Davis, ethnobotanist and author of "One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest," will sign copies of his new book and present a lecture. This lecture, illustrated with archival photographs, follows the adventures, tragedies, and discoveries of Richard Evans Schultes, one of the greatest Amazonian plant explorers of the 20th century.

In 1941, Schultes took a leave of absence from Harvard and disappeared into the Northwest Amazon. Twelve years later he returned, having mapped uncharted rivers, lived among two dozen indigenous tribes and collected 25,000 botanical specimens, of which 300 were new to science. The world-authority on medicinal and hallucinogenic plants, Schultes was instrumental in bringing the vast riches of the rain forest to the attention of Western scientists.

Education Building. Enter at Connecticut Ave. Park in Lot A. Free, but RSVP by calling (202) 673-4801 or e-mailing to

Margie Gibson NZPEM053@SIVM.SI.EDU Office of Public Affairs, National Zoo (202) 673-4866


The Language of Fertility: The Mind-Body Path to Conception and Parenting

This April 12 Saturday morning workshop, which is being offered by the DC-based Center For Mind-Body Medicine, will be conducted by Niravi Payne, founder and director of the Whole Person Fertility Program in New York. Ms. Payne’s unique approach can be a valuable compliment to assisted reproduction, enhancing the success of in-vitro and other procedures, or it can be a wonderful alternative to medical intervention. The workshop will be held at the Washington Ethical Society on 16th Street, just a few blocks south of the DC/Maryland line. For more information, contact the Center at 202/966-7338.

Kay Halperin


Hockey Tickets

I’ve got some excellent seats to see the Washington Capitals and have a pair of great seats for a number of their games in March to sell. Looking for the *best offer*.

Steve Hoffman 301.270.8520


Make Your Best Deal On An 18" Satellite Dish

I’m a distributor for Echostar and The Dish Network for their 18" Satellite Dishes. Why an 18" Dish vs. Cable? The Dish gives you digital quality picture, CD quality sound, more channels than cable and all for a lower price than cable (you can also take your Dish with you if you move-anywhere in the country). Our Dish will be adding features over the next several months including Internet access and local programming (check our competitors, they don’t have the capability!) And, yes, even if you live in a high rise, the FCC has mandated that you can have a Dish. And I will beat any stores retail price.

Charlie Adler 202,333.8992



Buying one shouldn’t be so scary. Setting one up shouldn’t be so scary. Getting on the Internet shouldn’t be so scary.

Jeffrey Itell (He’s not so scary either.) 202.244.4163


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