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April 19, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

Let me put to sleep Allen Roberts assertion that I am in bed with the Teacher's Unions. All I know about teacher's unions is what Woody Allen taught me - that Albert Shanker has the bomb. Maybe today's unions have bio and chem weapons, but not to my knowledge. Are teacher's unions the communist party of the day-a nefarious group seeking to poison the mind of our youngsters and induce them to overthrow our country? Sure sounds that way when some people write about them. Post-modern society will likely crumble when the desire for the bogeyman is replaced with a real one. In the 70s, we sang Love the One You're With. In the 90s, the song is apparently Can't Live Without the One You Hate.

This brings us back to District Schools and General Becton fiasco. Let us acknowledge some historical facts. Many states and localities run or have run fine public schools, without vouchers, without magnet schools, and without charter schools. Even the District ran a decent school system within the memory of many District residents. Like the folks who torched the library in Alexandria, many people want to "burn down" our accumulated knowledge and go boldly into the dark ages with experiments designed to "blow up" the current system. However, school systems are fixable, we know how to do it, and the risk of failure by resorting to vouchers, charter schools, and the ilk are too great. The District's failure has been one of leadership and management, not expertise.

Jeffrey Itell April 19, 1998


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Out The Empty Suits Early!
Marcos Wilson,

Yes, out the empty suits of the Mayoral race, but out them early in the season please. Save us the eleventh hour agony. You know the pain I am talking about: Sometime mid-July panic will set in as the DC collective suddenly realizes that the choices don't amount to much more than bunch of worthless empty suits. Let's see: I-really-do-have-a-pulse Chavous, show-me-the-money-and-I-will-dance-for-you Brazil, and least but not last I-didn't-do-it-I-wasn't-there Evans. Let's stop pretending and dismiss this bunch now and save newsprint, videotape, forum time, and precious oxygen. Carol baby, it is yours to lose.


The Dog Ate His Homework
Jason Juffras,

The resignation of General Becton several weeks ago prompted several D.C. Story readers to complain that the bold and brave General was being driven out of town by carping and self-serving critics. Since then, General Becton has accelerated his departure schedule in a hail of self-pity, attacking everyone from the control board to the city's Chief Financial Officer. His parting legacy -- a $62 million deficit -- will cause serious damage to a city that was regaining its financial stability. Not even the elected school board accomplished such a feat. A little more "carping," and a little less genuflecting, would have been in order.


Pay Up General
Ed T. Barron,

Since General becton was responsible for not cutting the bloated administrative staff in the school system, the schools are facing a $62 M deficit this year That amounts to $113 for every resident, man woman or child, in the District. Since my wife and I both pay taxes to the District, from which the school system gets its money, I am sending a bill for $226 to General Becton for his mismanagement of the school budget. Pay up General.


DC School Vouchers Continued
Allen Roberts,

The teachers union does not want school vouchers to happen because they will lose members. The school board does not want vouchers to happen because they lose power. The PC groupies don't want to happen because it smacks of ideas like "competition", it could impact their most effective method of spreading their ideals, and heck it must be bad because all the other PCs say it bad. (monkey see monkey do) So teachers tell mothers in southeast that their children will be experimented upon if they have vouchers. These mothers have visions of their children with electrodes sticking out of there skulls while someone turns on the voltage. The another bit of propaganda declares that these rich (implied white) folks will take money away from their children's education. Most of these undereducated parents are living in poverty so this lie is cause for great concern. The union tells the teachers that their salaries will fall and their working conditions will suffer. The truth is probably the opposite. Competition for good teachers will increase, driving their salaries upwards attracting more competent people to teaching. The opposite is true for poor teachers, their salaries will stagnate and they will have a tough time finding a job.

The best PC argument echoed by the teachers union is that we will have "segregation" if vouchers exist. Now that is a loaded term used to whip up sentiment and will paint anyone with an opposing view as a racist. The truth is we already have segregation and social stratification. Vast areas of the DC school system are predominately poor minority as a result of middle class flight. Vouchers would promote more integration since the poor bright minority child would have an opportunity to attend a better school that is predominately non-minority. Additionally more mixing of social strata would occur in both neighborhoods and private schools. All and all the these anti- voucher arguments are a disgusting and manipulative way of maintaining the existing power structure.


School Choice is Not Enough
David S. Reed,

Allen Roberts discussed advantages of school vouchers in dc.story for Apr 15. School choice would allow a better education for most children, whose parents are willing to choose good schools. But we see extreme cases of abuse and neglect by parents in the news every day, and this is the tip of the iceberg of parents who would not choose well. There will be a demand for schools that provide catered social events or other side payments to parents, in lieu of teaching children. There will be a demand for schools that appeal to parents' ideological, racial or religious fears and prejudices, and brainwash children to adopt these views. Children whose parents would not choose well need good schools the most. Choice must be accompanied by standards for schools that reflect a societal judgment of the minimum we owe to every child. A school that does not meet the standards should not receive public money, or be counted as satisfying the legal requirement that children attend school. Most parents will choose well for their children, but we must assure that no disastrous choices are available.


Downtown Ballpark
Andrew Aurbach,

While this story is amusing, it seems to me a better solution would be to redesign RFK as a Camden-Yards style park with center field open to the Capitol Dome. Even with the new ballparks popping up, I can't think of a better view from the upper deck! I still stand by the concept that I will drive to Baltimore (when they get new parking facilities) before I support a team in the Virginia exurbs...the drive takes less time.


Another D.C. Tax Peculiarity
Lorie Leavy,

I found Carl Bergman's comments on the D.C. tax structure interesting, and I checked out the web site he referenced. In his report on the District's tax structure and policy, Robert P. Strauss has it wrong when he states, "D.C. adjusted gross income is reduced to taxable income by reductions for the larger of the standard or itemized deductions...." According to the printed instructions for D.C.'s Form D-40, "...the deduction you elect must be the same you used on your federal return." I know for a fact this is currently D.C. tax policy because a friend was audited and fined for using the standard deduction on his D.C. return while itemizing on his federal return.

Needless to say, many non-homeowners are able to benefit from itemizing on their federal returns solely because of the large D.C. income tax bite. When you force them to itemize after adding back the state tax deduction, many are left with deductions of only a few hundred dollars, as opposed to the $2,000 standard deduction others are allowed to take. Is this inequity being looked at by the D.C. Tax Revision Commission?


DC Tax Follies
Jeff Porten,

Well, this year I finally broke down and filed for tax extensions. Sort of a government sanctioned method of extending your tsoris for four more months. So... off to the web sites to get the requisite forms. Anyone else get really weirded out by the fact that the DC tax web page is at a .com address? It's almost admitting, "we're not here for constituent service, we're just going to take your money." I realize that the CFO office might not be officially government, but at the very least that should be a .org domain. .com is WAY inappropriate. Then off to guesstimate my taxes close enough to fill out the extensions. For thems of you that always have your taxes done the week after Christmas, you fill out the amount you expect to owe, and interest still accrues from 4/15 regardless... but the whole point of it is that you might not have all of the data you need on time.

So, lo and behold, imagine my shock when I read on the DC form that the extension won't even be CONSIDERED unless you send payment IN FULL. Which translates, in my mind, to once again proving that the DC government considers itself justified in being more onerous than the federal government.

So I'm left with three options:

1) Don't send in the extension at all, and just face the music later.

2) Deliberately underestimate my taxes by a longshot, and send that check. You can claim whatever amount you damn well please in the extension, with no corroboration.

3) Send an accurate estimate (as of today), with a check in full, and trust to the tender mercies of the DC government four months later when your taxes are revised using accurate data.

What did I do? Not telling. But I will say that option 2) seems to be the best way out for cover-your-ass purposes, despite the fact that it deliberately invites ethical (if not legal) fraud. Did this seem utterly ridiculous to anyone else?


Crazy Postmen
Mike Hill,

My sympathy to Leslie Miles, who seems to have run into any extra from that Kevin Costner movie. I would encourage you to write that letter, though. If this guy is as demented a you say, he needs to be sanctioned before he hurts someone. There should be a way you can do that and maintain your privacy.

This is always a sticky question for us urbanites. Do you speak up and risk harm to yourself, or stay quiet and allow dysfunction to go uncorrected? I don't do it often enough myself, so I'm not a role model. What do the rest of you think?


Mail Service; Digital Cable
Paul Penniman,

Thanks for your mail service commiserations and suggestions. On another topic, we recently had digital cable installed. As a sports fan, I was mostly interested in ESPN2 and the classic sports channel, but there are also a lot of movie channels--the niches know no bounds. The reception is no better, but it will be nice to have all the hockey and baseball playoff games and Davis Cup matches. If you're not a sports nut, though, I can't see much reason for it. We already have plenty of mediocre movies.


JAZZ Lovers

If you like Coltrane , Cecil Taylor, and John Zorn, then join Transparent Productions e-mail list to find out when the best in avant garde jazz is in Washington for a reasonable price. All proceeds go to the artist. Listen to Larry Appelbaum on Sundays from 5-7 pm on WPFW to hear a preview of the music. On April 29 at 8:00 at the UDC recital hall Myra Melford and her trio will perform. Tickets $10 at the door. Send your e-mail address to or


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.



Carl Bergman,

Has anyone experienced trouble with their ISDN billings from Bell Atlantic. For example, charges for phantom calls?


The Friends of Cleveland Park Library will hold their annual spring booksale on Saturday and Sunday, April 25-26, from noon to 4:00 p.m. at the Cleveland Park Library, Connecticut Avenue and Macomb Street, NW (one block south of the Cleveland Park metro on the red line). Choose from over 20,000 "pre-owned" books in every subject -- there's bound to be something there for you! All books for sale have been donated by your neighbors -- proceeds benefit the Cleveland Park Library. Jill Bogard,


Library Workshop: Researching DC Buildings
Matthew Gilmore, mgilmore@CAPCON.NET

Tuesday, May 5, 1998, 5:45-8:45 the Historical Society of Washington and the Friends of the Washingtoniana Division the DC Public Library will sponsor a workshop on researching building history in Washington DC. Gail Redmann, HSW, and Matthew Gilmore, DCPL, will offer research materials including plat maps, photographs, building permits, and city directories. The program begins at the HSW and concludes at DCPL. Emphasis is on hands-on work with the materials following an introductory presentation. Cost: members of HSW or FWD $10.00, nonmembers $15.00. Call: (202) 785-2068 This is one in a series of workshops offered on various topics; workshops are offered every two months or so. To express an interest in any topic or inquire further, please call HSW or Matthew Gilmore (202) 727-1213.


Upcoming Event--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.


Organics Under Attack
Kathy Carroll,

Unless we act now, the USDA will allow food labeled "organic" to contain antibiotics, to be grown in municipal sludge, to be irradiated, and/or to be genetically-engineered. If you care about the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the survival of organic farming, please join us at Fresh Fields in Glover Park (2323 Wisconsin Avenue -- free underground parking) on April 29th at 7:00 p.m. Postage paid postcards will be available to send your comments to the USDA. Sponsored by Patagonia and Fresh Fields. For more info, call 333-5393 or 333-1776.


For rent July 12-August 21, 1998. Fully furnished close-in, three-bedroom, free standing brick house in safe, quiet, friendly Tenleytown neighborhood in Northwest D.C. First floor kitchen, living room, dining room, den. Second floor master bedroom, study with day bed, sewing room with futon. Finished basement, which can sleep three, with powder room. Air conditioned with window units. Weekly cleaning and yard service. Two blocks from the Red Line metro; 5 minutes to Maryland; 10 minutes to Georgetown. Pets and children welcome. Deborah C. Fort,


House Sitters Available. Two young professionals looking to take careful care of a house/ apartment in the District for the summer. We love taking care of pets of all kinds, gardens, house plants, etc. Available June 1-through late August. Please contact Eliza Leighton at 202-234-0095 ext. 121 or


Queen-size bed, mattress, boxspring -- $285
Gabriel Goldberg,, (703) 941-1657

Newly married couple has upgraded to king-size bed to accommodate both humans and our four cats (we each had two), must sell perfectly fine queen-size bed, complete with frame. Cats not included.


Car for Sale
Gershon Silins,

1991 Mazda 323 2-Dr. Hatchback, 81,000 miles. 5-speed, a/c, stereo cassette. One owner, complete maintenance records. A perfectly dependable car, and a joy to drive. $2,900 obo (202) 966-9566 or e-mail at


KRUPS CAPPUCCINO/ESPRESSO MAKER for sale. Never used. Makes four cups and perfect froth. $85 or best offer. Jon Katz


SAILBOAT FOR SALE - Sunfish sailboat, good condition, with trailer, $500 or best offer. Phil Greene,


A Canadian couple with four daughters is returning to Washington for a three-year stint at their embassy. They need a house to rent beginning in August. Must have at least four bedrooms and be in DC. Prefer AU Park/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights neighborhoods within walk of Metro. Contact them through Susan Price,


Need Help With Your Computer Needs At Home Or In The Office?
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PC hardware repairs and upgrades; hardware/software installation and upgrades; maintenance, troubleshooting and network support; Back-up and archive your files and email on CD-ROM; setup computer network for the small office; build customized database in Access or other programs; web training and web page development; application/Internet training; data recovery. Reasonable rates. Excellent references.


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Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright (c) 1998. All rights reserved.

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