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April 12, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

I promise not to hold you long while I bellyache about our fair city (which really is quite fair after the mild winter). Nevertheless, I do have a couple of grumbles to share with you. First, the unsinkable but unfloatable school system. Yes, it's a mess. Yes, Becton messed up, seemingly because he confused his majors and colonels for his constituents. Yes, the advisory committee structure is a shambles. Yes, the control board messed up by not overseeing the advisory committee. Yes, Anthony Williams messed up by not watching the money carefully enough. (The school board chief financial officer reports to him--Williams acted swiftly to replace him just before the $68 million overspending became known.) Yes, Kevin Chavous, chair of the oversight committee, oversaw the schools less effectively than Hilda Mason did, which says much. And yes, the Post missed the story (but Colby King's column chewing out the Metro reporter covering schools in print disturbed me).

That said, why in heaven's name are city leaders calling for a more active role by the school board. (OK, they were elected, that's a good reason.) Has everyone had his or her memory chips demagnetized? These folks fought harder for their perks than they did they for the students. We have tried Plan A and Plan B. I am all for trying Plan C (whatever it is, as long as it does not entail vouchers.)


My second grumble, which I am afraid I will hit on repeatedly. The mayor's race does matter, even if it is quickly becoming a symbolic position. The race is on yet none of the candidates has said spit. Given past experiences, I would not expect them to either, since it's easier to piss off the electorate in this town on a single issue than gather them in on a coherent platform. The campaign will only heat up in August when many of you will have enough sense to be away. The Democratic Primary will hit you as you are still shaking sand out of your shorts--leaving only the nearly perennial general election featuring Carol Schwartz. By that time, your right to exercise your democratic rights will have passed you by and you will be left to kvetch on this ezine.


Thanks to everyone for sending in the cinema surveys. We received over twice the response we expected, which does not mean we would not welcome more. My associates and I sincerely appreciate your efforts in this cause.

Jeffrey Itell April 12, 1998


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Stop The Madness
NB Keenan,

Last Wednesday, I went to yet another Convention Center Meeting. The next day I picked up the City Paper, with Michael Schaffer's excellent article "The Lost Riot," about the riots of 1919. He writes "In some other cities, the tensions of the times played themselves out in local politics. In the District, which had no local politics, they simply roiled under a false patina of stability." That struck me as being descriptive of the current day as well. What amazes (and disturbs) me about the debate over the new Convention Center is how devoid of political skill it is. Both sides believe they represent the majority, but both sides are convinced that their only hope is to subvert democracy. Those for it want to railroad it through without discussion; those against it believe their best shot is to disrupt the process. Neither side wants informed debate; both sides engage in outrageous misinformation.

Our neighborhood is being torn apart. I like to joke that in 50 years there will be two political parties in DC -- those who opposed the convention center in 1998, and those who supported it. Sadly, it's not really a joke. Many of my neighbors have stopped speaking to each other over this issue. Is it more surprising to learn about the nice neighbor whose window has been broken or car vandalized because of his stance on the center -- or about the equally nice neighbor who did it, because of HIS stance on the center? Whether or not this center gets built, whether it is the salvation or the ruination of Shaw, its impact on the neighborhood has already irrevocably started.


What Regular Lessons?, Jean Lawrence

Larry Seftor wonders if math and reading aren't the regular lessons, what is. I remember when my daughter (now 16) was at Eaton and they decided not to teach the multiplication tables (arithmetic, not the all-powerful math they were worshipping). I had to make up flash cards or she wouldn't know her "times" if they nipped her on the tush. I also started a math newsletter for parents (exercises, etc.), but ended it after a year when they wouldn't pay expenses.


Bread, Citizenship, and Local Self-Government
Mark-David Richards at

Along with the unresolved issue of where to find the best bread and how to become full U.S. citizens--whether by retrocession, statehood, or Amendment...or?, we better start thinking seriously about how to reform our experimental local government... this round. Once changed, we'll have to live with it for another quarter century. We need public forums to discuss these issues, to work toward local consensus, and maybe even develop a strategic plan if we could actually get beyond the therapeutic little mud fights and agree on something! It wouldn't hurt if our "local" newspapers would practice more civic journalism--less "horse race reporting" and more context so more people, including those who live here but are psychologically tied to other parts of the country, can understand issues and think about solutions. We have a seriously broken civic culture because most of us are more focused on national and international issues than our own front yard. Those who live here should design the next local government so that what happened doesn't repeat. Debt--left for us to pay by both unelected and elected officials--always seems to bring this city to its knees and threatens our quest to join the ranks of the enfranchised.


One Step at a Time
Tom Berry

Home Rule, Statehood and Retrocession; three well-traveled scenarios that assume that the sad District of Columbia is in a position to achieve one of those goals. Home Rule? It was snatched away by our ruling junta called Congress. As for Statehood or Retrocession, we ain't qualified. The District of Columbia has less status than any territorial possession of the United States government. Think of it. Fellow citizens residing on Guam, much farther away from any land than we are from our rulers in Congress are treated and served better than we are. They have status; we don't. And until we gain the same status as our territorial kin, we will never achieve the rank of Statehood or be retroceded to any state.

The big key to territorial status that should gain the support of almost every District taxpayer is the right to forego payment of federal income taxes. "No Federal Taxes" is a concept to which even the poorest taxpayer can relate. Face it, money talks. You tell someone in the 15% tax bracket earning $16,000/year that they can put $2,400/year more in their own pocket and they will listen. The District's rich, middle class and poor could unite behind this common, simple, easily understood goal. With such unity, how could Congress not grant the District territorial status? If it didn't we could, with the strength of our new oneness, reclaim our District and boot that body all the way to Lauch Faircloth's pig farm.

As it stands, we have a faction pulling for Statehood, another calls for Retrocession, and the diehards cling to the dream of Home Rule. But a unified District will spawn a new Territory, which then can justifiably promote talk like statehood for Puerto Rico has done recently. A non-unified District will leave the District that exists for us and our children. Wacko words? Possibly, but it's a more realistic fantasy than the three phrases that began this piece.


Victor Chudowsky,

Stephanie Mencimer writes, on April 8: " But part of this city's many problems is its residents' failure to take responsibility for their own destiny, which starts with electing genuinely competent government officials." Her position is to let Barry run, because he' not THAT bad. You hit the nail right on the head, Stephanie, except for your assessment of Barry. So, precisely because of the political dysfunction of the DC police, I plan to vote for Barry. That way, Congress keeps the control board (which I support), keeps Camille Barnette running the city (which I support), and hopefully a future Republican Congress or Pres. will press for more reform, most importantly a council/manager form of government. Therefore, anyone concerned with this city should vote for Barry, as it would bring more blessed federal control and money, and save us from corruption, demagoguery, ineptitude, and ourselves. Barry can remain in office and continue to provide us with entertainment.


Professor Barry
Lee Perkins,

It is all the more shameful that they picked an education job as the burial plot. What does that say to the children? It says that education is a dumping ground and therefore not important, so why study? Education should attract only the best of the best. They tried to bury him at UDC. It never went through, but I remember the revulsion expressed by some of the students there. They have struggled enough with incompetent substandard professors; they didn't need one more and said so. If someone has to get him a job, let him be a lobbyist and join all the other failed politicians and administrators hustling the legislators. However, as bad a Mayor as he was, he still has something to offer an employer, and could probably get his own job.


Overheard at Hechinger's
Bill Adler,

Recently, I heard a Hechinger's employee at the Tenley store say "All the Hechinger's charge different prices for the same item. This store is probably the most expensive."

Does anybody know if this is true -- that Hechinger's charges different prices for the same item at their various stores?


Stephanie Faul,

Not to accuse you ( of exaggeration, but you can't possibly have called *every* store in town because I've seen it for sale recently although I can't remember where. Try any supermarket/food store in Adams-Morgan, or look in the phone book under "Botanica" and go to the nearest one. It's a Hispanic herb and you'll most likely find it in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

Personally, I think it's disgusting, but chacun etc. and I can understand your eagerness to try it and form your own opinion. Oh, and it's quite easy to grow in this climate -- a friend lives in a religious institution with Mexican nuns who grow it in the back yard and put it in *everything*. Let me know if you still can't find it and I'll find a way to send you some. Herbaceously yours....


Epazote-A Mexican Herb

Ed T. Barron,

In response to the query about Epazote I would caution the inquirer to be a bit discreet in seeking this potent cousin of Peyote, the mind altering offspring of western and Mexican cactus. Cookies made with this herb crate considerably more stonees than could ever be created by those who have tried to add a little MJ to the cookie mix.


Poor Mail Service
Paul Penniman,

About once a month we get either no mail, as happened today, or we get our neighbor's, in which case we get it when the neighbor returns home from work or a business trip. Generally we call the post office, usually around 5 or 6 p.m., to say, "Hey, butttheads! We did not get our mail today!" (Actually, we are quite polite.) The response we get is: call the Friendship Heights branch (not our zip code) the next day. When we do this, we never get the person in charge, and we never get any sort of satisfactory answer from the lower level employee. We never get a call back from the head honcho. This has been going on for ten years. With all the embarrassing third-world- like services the city government has provided us, this non-service by the USPS easily wins the prize.

Any suggestions? Of course we are effusively thankful to my postman when he does it right, and we do dissuade anyone from shipping here by USPS, but is there anything else we can do?


DC Taxes for Married Couples
Cathy Vidito,

As I was working out my DC taxes on the D-40 tax form, I found out that my husband and I will owe a sizable amount. Someone please tell me if I'm doing something wrong, because we just got married in mid-June last year and this is the first time I'm doing taxes as a spouse (filing jointly). According to the D-40, single and married people claim the same deduction ($2000). So a combined income gets the same deduction as a single income?! It doesn't make sense! Is the District trying to discourage people from getting married?


Recycling an "Essential City Service"?
Rich Rothblum,

Recycling is not essential. As practiced in DC, it is probably environmentally detrimental. At best, it is extremely low on the priority list of problems facing our city. From an environmental standpoint, the money would be much better spent correcting the sad state of our storm and sanitary sewer system. This would control sewage overflows into our parks and streams, reduce pollution of the river, reduce runoff and erosion of our streets and soil. I am going to write to Camille Barnett and urge her to indefinitely postpone recycling as an official function of the city. I hope all people who are focused on reality will do the same.


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If you know of college students who are looking for summer work, we are helping staff campaigns in the area. Please call Matthew Schneider at 202/667-9114 or email me at


GARDENERS NEEDED: The Biltmore Triangle Flower Garden in the Kalorama -Adams Morgan area (19th St. & Biltmore St., NW) is a neighborhood favorite. Unfortunately, there are not enough gardeners to tend the 10 mostly sunny plots which are now overgrown. Gardeners are needed to adopt plots and bring them back to their glory. You can be creative! If you are interested in a plot or want more info, please contact Marianne Josem ASAP at 202-265-7594 or We need your help NOW! A garden day is planned for Saturday, April 25th at 10:00 AM to meet the other gardeners and work together to beautify the garden.


Art Minded Volunteers Wanted
Bruce McBarnette, Esq.,, (703) 404-8429

The Good Knight Child Empowerment Network seeks volunteers to assist it in marketing art that has been donated to it. Assistance may include such things as obtaining donations of satchels, display panels, and other art supplies, assisting in getting art work framed, and organizing art shows and auctions. The Good Knight Child Empowerment Network is a not-for-profit corporation that protects children by providing classes on safety awareness to children and adults.


Workshop for Women
Connie Ridgway,

Minerva's Well, a coalition of women in the healing and fine arts, is sponsoring a weekend for women: "Anger into Creative Passion: Claiming Our Whole Selves." The workshop will incorporate music, dance, writing and art, ritual, silence and other group activity. Cost is $235 if paid by May 1, 1998, and location is at a nearby retreat center. Call (202) 785-9411 for more information.


Washington Storytellers Theatre
Robert Revere,

On Sunday, April 19 Washington Storytellers Theatre will present a workshop exploring the idea that Greek myths have remained vital for more than 2,000 years because they reflect personalities and problems that still exist among us today. Participants will review the major gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus and have an opportunity to weave them into relevant stories, contemporary or classical.

"It's Greek to Me! A Review of the Royal Family," taught by Barbara McBride-Smith, will take place at American University, 1-4 PM. The fee is $40. Information: 301/891-1129.


Latin Dance Parties to Benefit the Good Knight Child Empowerment Network April 23, and April 29 Bruce McBarnette,, (703) 404-8429

7:30pm - until at Fellini's 1800 M Street, NW Washington DC. Salsa and Merengue Classes, dance performance, and music provided by "El Salsero" Ricardo. Food and Silent auction included. Business attire. $10 at the door. The Good Knight Child Empowerment Network is a charity that protects children by providing safety awareness training.


On April 25, at from 9 am to 12 noon there will be a Shaw-wide Cleanup to celebrate Earth Day, followed by a lunch. Volunteers are needed. Meet at Kennedy Playground (7th and P, NW). Tools and equipment will be provided, but bring rakes, shovels, brooms or bags if you have them. For more info see: or call Dan Amundson -- 588-5626, or email me,


Theater Group to Discuss, Attend "Irish Masterpiece"
David Sobelsohn,

On Tuesday, April 21, Footlights--the drama discussion group--ends its series of plays about madness with what Britain's Guardian newspaper called "an authentic Irish masterpiece": "The Steward of Christendom" (1995), by Sebastian Barry. Our discussion will feature Dr. Christina Mahony, author of a forthcoming study of modern Irish literature, & recent Helen Hayes nominee Serge Seiden, director of production at Studio Theatre, where "Steward" opened April 1. We will meet at TGI Friday's, 2100 PA Ave., NW (2 blocks E of Foggy Bottom metro), with dinner at 6:30 & our discussion from 7:30-9:30. Then, on Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m., Footlights will attend "The Steward of Christendom" at Studio Theatre, 1333 P St., NW, starring Helen Hayes nominee Ted van Griethuysen. Tickets are $19 & include a post-performance discussion with the cast.

Make reservations to attend our meeting by e-mail to Purchase tickets to the play by check payable to "Robin Larkin" & mailed asap to Robin at 5403 Nibud Ct., Rockville, MD 20852 ( Indicate whether you'd like to join us for dinner. For general info about Footlights send e-mail to


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