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January 21, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

I usually only offer free movie passes on the list. (Free membership--just send me an email to join.) But I have some extra passes for the forthcoming film. It's forthcoming tomorrow so if you want to see this film, please send me your reply right away. Please follow the instructions below.


Deep Rising

Thursday, January 22 Cineplex Odeon West End 1-4 1101 23rd Street, NW Washington, DC 7:30 PM

An action adventure film on the high seas of the South China Sea, this film stars Treat Williams as one of the few survivors of an indescribably terrible invasion. In the middle of nowhere--living amidst a nightmare--escape seems impossible.


To be eligible for a reservation, send an email message to with "Deep Rising" in the SUBJECT line. In the body of the text, write your name: last name first. Do not send back a copy of this message.

I will send out email messages by Wednesday night confirming your reservation. This message will serve as a pass for you and a guest. A printed copy of your email response is necessary to enter the theatre. You may request an additional pass for two people. (I have plenty of seats for this screening.) But please request each pass with a separate email message.

Jeffrey Itell


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Drop Everything And Read -- All Day, Every Day
Carl Bergman

While Congress, Control Board, School Trustees, assorted Generals, School Board, Council and what's left of the Mayor try to figure out who's got the power, no one's really in charge of DC's schools.Least they all forget, this is a system in chronic and acute distress. As a reminder, here's what the Post's been saying. "We're talking about a school system . . . where an astounding 94 percent of its 10th-graders score at a level indicating little or no mastery of 10th-grade math skills, in which a majority of students fall below basic reading levels. We're talking about literally thousands and thousands of D.C. schoolchildren who can't read or write at their grade level . . . . Hispanics in the District scored the lowest among Hispanic students anywhere. And black schoolchildren in Washington ranked next to last in math achievement." Actually it's two quotes. Up to the second ellipses it's from Colbert King's Saturday column. The rest is from the Post's front page of June 7, 1991. My point. Things have been so bad for so long that the last decade's educational press reports are fungible.

Intentionally or not, we've constructed the great urban failure machine, turning thousands of bright, creative children into illiterate, clueless, unprepared adolescents and adults. Yet, I believe, it's possible to end the system's most egregious aspects, the lack of fundamental reading, analysis and math skills. Take the DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) program operating in several well functioning schools. Once a day, all student activity stops and every kid reads for half an hour. It's a good program, but for our chronically misfiring schools, the proportions will have to change. In their case, nothing else should go on all day except reading and basic math. There's no point trying to teach anything to a child who can't read. This isn't a call for back to basics. These kids never had the basics. Only a focused, concerted, concentrated effort ­ one teachers and principals are held to -- will help DC kids finally get an even break.


The Control Board tries Its Hand At Public Relations - And Fumbles
Steve Donkin

On the evening of Tuesday, January 20, Control Board Executive Director John Hill appeared before the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition in fulfillment of a promise made at our January 15 rally at the Control Board offices. However, Mr. Hill's hour-long question-and-answer session was less than satisfying to many of the thirty-plus coalition members present. One member, Karen Szulgit of the Green Party of DC, said afterward, "We have nothing to negotiate with the unelected Control Board or the new CMO except to insist that they go away and allow us the same rights of self-government enjoyed by all other US citizens. This demand is non-negotiable."

In response to a question regarding the location of the Control Board offices in a building posted with plaques which read "Private Property - No Trespassing," and the message that sends to DC residents concerned about their access rights to government officials, Mr. Hill said simply that no office space was available in public buildings. Thus, the Control Board currently pays $280,000 a year (paid out of DC funds - your taxes, folks) to lease offices in a building (One Thomas Circle) which you may be barred from entering at any time without explanation or justification. The British army and the Atlantic Ocean, you'll recall, provided similar protection to King George from the oppressed American colonists.


City Manager's First Day Greeted With Protest
Art Spitzer

Steve Donkin writes, "... In case you didn't know, the Control Board, a public body making decisions about allocating the public's resources and governing the public's welfare, resides in a privately owned building, thus allowing them, at their pleasure, to cloister themselves from the public, using the public police force to enforce their desires...."

In case you didn't know, public officials in publicly owned buildings are also "cloistered" from the public with the help of the police. Just try taking your complaint to Bill Clinton in the publicly-owned White House. Government officials' offices are not public forums.


Credit And Blame
Ted Gest

Regarding J.M. Kahn's "Give someone a chance," I agree that all of us should refrain from blanket criticism of Becton, Barnett, Brimmer, and other new D.C. leaders for not correcting all problems immediately. But I part company with the implication that because all of us taxpayers didn't do our part in the last few decades, we should remain silent while the new crew labors away.

To focus on the school situation, I and many other parents have put our children in the D.C. public schools and have worked hard to improve them. We need not feel guilty about that, or withhold criticism from Gens. Becton and "Fiddler on the Roof" Williams for the school-opening fiasco. Yes, we wish them well in trimming the bureaucracy, improving teacher and student performance, etc. But some supposed sense of community blame that Kahn alludes to should not prevent the citizenry from holding Becton, et al. accountable, and reasonably quickly.


DC Education
John Cleave

The appalling performance of the DC Public School system which Victor Chudowsky highlights are achieved at high cost: the public school system in Washington spends plus or minus $8,000 per student a year: more than most inner city systems which, as a group, are markedly more expensive than the country norm. The cost reflects not only of the heavy over- staffing of administrators to which Mr. Chudowsky points, but also of mis- procurement, incompetent budgeting and minimal planning. The details: its all neatly packaged on the web in under Public Education.

So financing per se is not the major problem. But another issue, buried in the NARPAC site, is the responsibility of the society using the system. Our city educators clearly have a lot to answer for, but they also report problems: of lack of parental involvement (50% of educators report this as a serious problem vs. 28% nationwide), students unprepared to learn (40% vs. 29%), absenteeism (31% vs. 14%), tardiness (32% to 11%) and undisciplined behavior in many forms. Faced with such attitudes the best teachers do not have to stay in the District, and clearly don’t. We are talking self- inflicted wounds here.

In a period of full employment whose newspaper last weekend published 156 pages of employment opportunities, the District unemployment rate is still nearly 8%, and in areas of the core city it exceeds 15%. This is a disturbing figure especially if you give more credit to the recent relative drop in crime to the up-beat economy than to self-serving police chiefs and politicians. If a large part of the work force is virtually unemployable, and in many cases untrainable, continuing poverty, more crime and further urban decay will follow as night follows day. The failure of the Public School system should concern us all.


More on Barry and Race
Marie Drissel

Oh, how short Mayor Marion Barry's memory is. (Probably only his memory is short.) Does he not remember that he himself sought out the very best white male surgeon -- who practices out of state -- to save his own life? This white male surgeon, who has developed the most successful prostrate cancer operation in the country, appears to have successfully saved the Mayor's "you know what." Further, I will be willing to bet my last dollar that DC taxpayers paid for his travel and police protection to Baltimore for the surgery and follow-up treatment. I will be also willing to bet that this white doctor is paid handsomely for his success. And I will also bet that because of the Mayor's great health coverage the costs were also completely covered -- unlike what happens to poor folks in D.C. There are some days that I wish the Mayor had not found the very best white doctor out-of-state. Oh, but those moments are only fleeting as I burst out in laughter at what a great prince we have in our Mayor. Maybe Loose Lips should change his play from Macbeth to Prince Mayor.


DC v. VA taxes
Glenn Melcher

Harry Goldstein questions the tax and insurance disparity between DC and Virginia -- without getting the facts straight. Virginia's taxes are lower than DC. According to a recent report (see the Washington Post business section 1/19/98 at page 30) the tax burden per $1000 of personal income in DC is $144.90, ranking DC second behind New York for state and local tax burden. Virginia's burden, on the other hand, is only $98.25 per $1000 of personal income, ranking 47th out of 50 states. A person with a $50,000 income would pay $2,332.50 less to live in Virginia -- without even beginning to address the automobile insurance cost issue. (Automobile insurance is generally higher in DC, but type of vehicle, age, sex, marital status and driving record factor into the equation such that insurance costs are much harder to quantify.)

I think John Whiteside did the math and came up the real tax savings -- no question, it is cheaper to live in Virginia. But there is always the intangible cost of living outside the greatest city in the world -- even with all its problems.


Paul Williams

Be sure to stop by Polly's Cafe at 1342 U Street and sign the petition to help attract a grocery store to the site at 13th and V; it's our final step in assuring that Fresh Fields or another major store chooses to locate in our city! The Cardozo Shaw Neighborhood Association (CSNA) would like to gather at least 2,000 signatures by the end of the week; an ambitious goal, but one that says, yes we want that store! Or, send me an Email with your support.


Historic Districts And Convention Centers
Steph "Did you know that people used to *live* on K Street?" Faul

Ho, ho, ho. You think historic designation has *any* validity where D.C. development is concerned? Go knock on the door of Rhodes' Tavern and ask *them* about it. Or find some members of the historic Elks lodge that used to stand on the site of the present center. They'd be happy to tell you where the balance of power lies between history and profit.


Convention Center Boondoogle
Thomas Smith

In musing over this conflict it dawned on me that what the proponents for this convention center are advocating is a version of the trickle down effect that the lords and captains of this economic system have fooled a lot of people with for a long time. If the big sharks get to kill something at the top of the ocean all of the stray bits and pieces of the carnage can be gobbled up by those creatures that are on the lower rungs of the food chain. And to complete the parallel those creatures, like remoras that have adapted to the sharks methods get some of the juiciest morsels. I say eliminate the sharks and all of their fellow hangers on.


Mazza Gallerie Renovations
Rob Pegoraro

The Washington Business Journal did a story on this last week <>. Contrary to what Larry Seftor was told, the idea is to turn the place into an upscale, pedestrian-oriented row of storefronts--think Wisconsin Avenue North instead of the Rockville Pike South that the mall is now. (The developer that bought the site, CCR McCaffery, is the same one that's putting up a retail building directly across Wisconsin Ave.)

FWIW, if you're curious about goings-on in the real-estate market, the Journal is usually the best source; they cover things in much more detail than the business sections in the Post and the Times can.


Lycra Bandits
Harold Goldstein

A possible bicycle envy sufferer wrote proposing '£20' fines for oafish riders. While I have no trouble agreeing that 'oafish' riders should be punished I am tired of continuously hearing about all the terrible thing riders do with the implicit assumption that they are worse than car drivers. So, please, be even handed and propose £20 fines for oafish use of the roads by all concerned; bicyclists, drivers, pedestrians ... who among us can say they don't routinely break some road law, be it through a rolling stop or a jaywalking, or ... ?


Cruel To Be Kind
Richard "Don't Tread on Me" Rothblum

Re "Cruel to be kind: spot fines on cyclists are for their own good." Wake up, people! This is America! We don't do things for people's "own good" if they don't want it! Virtually anything can be justified on this basis -- e.g., slavery, quartering troops, warrantless "drug" searches, etc, etc. I am against cyclists or anyone else acting in an inconsiderate manner to others. As a cyclist, I am concerned about people taking out on me their frustrations at other cyclists, and with traffic and motorists in general. There are about 900 US cyclists killed each year by cars, and 50 to 60 thousand more injured. In my 50+ years of cycling, I have heard about only one pedestrian killed by a cyclist. In these terms, it's Cars: 45,000, Cyclists: 1. About twice as many pedestrians as cyclists are killed by motorists. Seems to me that cars and drivers should be the target if we are worried about safety of pedestrians. Bicycling might not be for everyone, but it could be part of the solution to our transportation problems. Give a bicyclist a break -- even if he is an annoying jerk! Whatever he did, he doesn't deserve the death penalty. It might be your own kid!

Incidentally, the ratio of cyclist and pedestrian deaths compared to motorist deaths is much higher in Europe, and in particular, England. When I was living there, in the 70's, about half of all automobile-related deaths were pedestrians or bicyclists. I wasn't able to access the Web site referenced, but I am not sure that we would do well to emulate the UK in terms of fostering contempt for pedestrians and cyclists. I suppose this will provoke a response about how respectful the British are about pedestrians in crosswalks. True, but they have no compunction about "knocking down" pedestrians everywhere else.


Clinton and the Law
Steph "I want to be there when they pull him over" Faul

In a recent interview in "People" magazine, the President admitted that he doesn't wear his seat belt in the limo. Yet D.C. code states, "...all passengers in a motor vehicle shall wear a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt while the driver is in control of the vehicle." Maybe someone should alert the driver, who's the person who would get the ticket and two points off his license.

The text of the law itself, of course, has at least one characteristically D.C. feature: It says, "There shall not be penalties...during the first 6 months after December 12, 1985." Yes, that's an 8.


Phony Charitable Solicitations
Richard Koris

I would like to discuss the most persistent pattern of phony charitable solicitation that I've observed here in D.C. This is the teenaged kids selling candy, allegedly to raise funds for some benevolent purpose. They usually say they are seeking contributions to "fight drugs", "build a youth center", "for teen advancement", "for their football team", or "for their church". In fact, none of the solicitations are for any registered or legitimate charity; and none of the money goes for any good cause. Unfortunately, most of the victims of the candy scam don't question the sales pitch. I think its time to stop this scam, perhaps by having the police write citations to the vendors and confiscate the candy. This scam is teaching kids that fraud pays. How does the readership feel?


Stoopid Safeway Coupon Books
Cynthia Harrison

Anyone but me fed up with the stupid Safeway coupon books? The system amounts to double-pricing -- one price for people who arrive with their coupon books and another for the poor dummies who didn't get them or didn't bring them. Why can't Safeway just offer discounts to all comers on various products the way Giant does? It would also eliminate delays in the lines. >From now on, I'm going to Safeway only to buy the specific products on the coupons *and nothing else.* (Okay; so it means two trips to the grocery. I'm sure there's some important principle involved that makes it worth doing.)


So you're interested in that big advertising spot in the beginning of dc.story? Contact Jan Genzer -- the dc.story marketing maven--at or call him at 202.364.0383.



Sassafras Tea:
Gaelyn Davidson

I found some safrole-free sassafras tea concentrate on this weekend's trip to Philly. I can't recall if safrole-free is acceptable, but if it is, you might try contacting either The Spice Shop on 9th Street in Philly or "Pappy's Sassafras Tea" made by H & K Products, Columbus, OH 45830. Hope this helps. FYI, Spice Shop manager says this stuff doesn't taste the same as real sassafras tea, but that he's not allowed to sell anything with safrole anymore, so this is as good as it gets.


Couples Massage Class.
Jenn Weed

Give the lasting gift of Nurturing Touch. Learn basic Back, Neck, Scalp, Arms. February 15, 2-5 pm. Everything supplied but you! $100. Per Couple. $25. Registration fee to: Jenn Weed at 3701 Conn. Ave. NW, Suite #2. WDC 20008 Class Limited 202-966-6113.


Design/Build/Carpentry: Small design build firm specializing in additions, decks, built-in furniture, and custom-designed furniture available for in-home consultation. No job too small. John Taboada


Barely used original AB ROLLER and instructional videotape for $40 or best offer. Call (please don't e-mail; I don't check it frequently) Jon Katz, (202) 659-8600, ext. 22. Jon Katz


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


dc.story is a discussion group. The opinions stated are the sole responsibility of the authors. dc.story does not verify information provided by readers. Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright (c) 1997. All rights reserved.

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