themail.gif (3487 bytes)

October 25, 1998

The Answers Are in themail

Dear Correspondents:

I have to admit, we're falling down on our duty. We need to answer some of the burning questions that have been raised in themail, and have been hanging out there in the ethernet, unanswered and orphaned. For example, back on October 11, right in the middle of the Columbus Day weekend, Kirsten Sherk,, asked, “Whence Columbia?” She wrote: “A friend of mine, who is generally my source for the history of Washington, asked me about the origin of Columbia, as in ‘District of,’ as in ‘Guardian of Arts and Industries’ in the Arts and Industries museum, as in Columbia Road. We also presume that the figure in the seal of Washington is that same Columbia. Does anyone know where she comes from?” It's a good question. District of Columbia, Columbia University, even the United States is called “Columbia, gem of the ocean.” We've had two full weeks since Columbus Day to answer, but no one has written in to reply. Now, the origin of this name could be very obscure. Columbia could be a third rank Roman goddess, not even mentioned in Bulworth’s Mythology. But think of the pleasure of showing how vast your knowledge is, when you do extensive research to unearth Columbia, and then pretend you knew it all along. Or imagine how condescending, snide, and supercilious you could be to Kirsten, all the while pretending to be helpful, if the origin of “Columbia” turned out to be something obvious that didn't occur to her.

This is only one example of the kinds of questions that have been raised in themail and haven’t been answered. What are the origins of these various mysterious construction projects? Who on earth, among the candidates for the Board of Education, should we vote for? (I asked that one.) Where can you get the absolutely best pizza in town? (Nobody asked, but I’d like to know.) And who on earth should get credit for saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”? (Considering the way his reputation been treated in the past couple of decades, the answer to that question is probably Christopher Columbus.)

DCWatch and Digital City, a division of America Online, are cosponsoring online chat sessions with Carol Schwartz and Tony Williams this week. Unfortunately, only AOL subscribers can join in, at keyword DC Chat on Digital City Washington. The Schwartz chat will be at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 27, and the Williams chat at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 1. If you don’t have an America Online account, you can do the second best thing and come see them in person — both chats are going to be held in the Washingtoniana Division of the MLK Public Library, 901 G Street, NW.

Recycling is the main topic for us this issue, along with a good mix of Tony Williams, the Carnegie Library, Initiative 59, DPW and trees, UDC, retailers, and reckless driving. You’re free to raise any new issues and start any new discussions you want to, of course.

Gary Imhoff
Bewildered in DC


Ralph Blessing,

While I couldn’t agree more with the comments made about City Council candidate Mark Thompson, the posting on that subject was not mine, as was attributed in the 10/22 edition of the mail.

[No, it’s just not possible that I could make a mistake, ever. Unfortunately, I send used messages to the trash bin after publishing them, and empty the trash bin every few days, so messages can't be recycled. Does anyone want to take credit for the message about Thompson that was published with Ralph's name? — Gary Imhoff]


Tony Williams Again
Tom Berry,

So, we've read reasons why to vote pro and reasons why to vote con Williams. The simple fact that Uncle Marion, pal Rock and other cronies are hanging their names on the Williams campaign coat rack is another reason for me to vote against Williams. Williams may not be a “politician” as some say, but the man ain’t dumb either. Barry's name still carries many votes and Williams wants votes. Slick Marion wants something and he'll cash in his chits after the election if Williams wins. It’s that simple.

Reason #1 for not voting for Williams is his position on a business “gross receipts” tax. I know, he now says he’s changed his tune, but he's been an advocate for one for some time. Singing a new song now is merely campaign politics, folks. I don’t trust him on the issue and I detest the thought of yet another gross receipts tax on businesses. The egregious one we already have is called the “Arena Fee.” Do DC businesses need a double kick in the groin to force them to the burbs? It’s that simple.


Barry’s Support of Tony Williams
Ed T. Barron,

Hizzoner the Mayor is nothing if not crafty and his support for Tony Williams is clearly an effort that he feels will save his cronies in the D.C. Govt. Tony Williams is quite a bit smarter than Marion Barry and will not be swayed or influenced by this tactic. On the positive side, support for Williams from the constituents of the traditional “Barry” wards will help make Williams just that more effective as Mayor. Don’t sell Tony Williams short. He’s plenty smart.


Notes from the Washingtoniana Division, D.C. Public Library
Roxanna Deane,

A writer last week wrote that the public library would have to incur Convention Center costs because the construction companies would be using the Carnegie building. When the library moved to the Martin Luther King Memorial Library building, the Carnegie building became part of UDC. There has been a lot of interest in that building and the question of ownership is muddy. After a lot of research I concluded that the District owned it, and not a particular agency. Anyway, the budget just passed by Congress includes a $2 million matching funds grant to the Historical Society of Washington for the creation of a Museum of the City of Washington. This is a great use for the building.

The current design for the seal of the District of Columbia was adopted by the legislative assembly of the District in 1871. This was during the 4 year period when there was a governor (appointed by the president) but an elected legislature. The man on the pedestal represents George Washington and the female figure represents Justice. The tablet she holds has the word “Constitution” inscribed. The motto chosen for the city and placed on the seal is Justitia Onmibus.


The Limits of Power
Larry Seftor,

I’m not a lawyer. So I know little about the theory of rights, and I only have a limited understanding of the limits imposed on allowable action by our government. Furthermore, I don’t really have an opinion about the medical use of marijuana, as would have been legalized by DC ballot Initiative 59. However, I have a strong opinion about the unrestrained abuse of power by Congress and the willingness of DC citizens to just accept it. For those who are unaware, Congress has effectively banned Initiative 59 from being accepted or rejected by DC voters in the upcoming election.

While I understand that Congress has great power over DC I have to ask: what are the limits of this power? My naive understanding of civics is that the legislative branch does not have unrestrained power, and that the courts provide a “check” and a “balance” over the abuse of legislative power. If refusing to allow a ballot initiative is not illegal, why not? Of all the talented attorneys that live in DC, are none concerned about this baseless abrogation of rights? Where is the ACLU when the most basic “Civil Liberty” is crushed?

[Here's where things stand, as I understand it: the DC budget passed by Congress forbids DC from spending money on an initiative that would legalize the use of marijuana. However, the Board of Elections and Ethics had already printed ballots that included Initiative 59 on one side of a ballot card. Therefore, they will distribute those already printed cards. Voters can vote on the Initiative, and the Board will count the votes — no additional funds are required for the computer to tally them. However, the Board will not announce the vote results or certify them until the inevitable court challenge, which will be brought by supporters of Initiative 59, is resolved. Don’t worry, there will be a court case, and probably appeals, too. If the initiative is eventually passed, the Control Board or Congress can veto it, or the City Council can pass a law overturning it. Offhand, however, the case for Congress being able to forbid citizens from voting on an issue appears exceptionally weak. What does the ACLU think, Art Spitzer? — Gary Imhoff]


Trees, Telephone Lines, and Bureaucracies
Louis Lieb,

Over the summer a tree on the alley behind my house was hit by lightning; a large branch fell on the telephone line, but is still attached to the tree. It’s been resting there for months. I tried calling PEPCO, Bell Atlantic and the city office in charge of trees. The latter told me that it was the responsibility of the homeowner adjacent to the tree, who is my neighbor. The city worker on the phone said they could come out and ticket my neighbor (a large ticket) but, if they did, they would also ticket every other violation in the area. She implied that there are probably a lot of other violations around, like a tree overhanging a neighbor’s property, or public space. Hearing this, I was afraid to request that they come out. I talked to the adjacent homeowner; she said she would take care of it, but nothing’s happened.

Bell Atlantic doesn’t cut trees, according to them. They just wait for the line to break, then come out and fix it. So here we all sit waiting for this telephone line to break! Does anyone know what these esoteric rules are regarding trees that are worthy of a large DPW citation?


More on UDC
Clare Feinson,

I want to second Harold Goldstein’s recent posting, which said all the things I have been muttering to myself every time some self-important busybody takes on the job of telling us what needs to be done about UDC. I work at UDC and, no, it isn’t Harvard, but it is a serious institution of higher learning with many hardworking people as students, faculty, and staff. UDC suffers from serious budgetary problems, which means that resources are scarce. Scarce resources make life difficult, but it doesn’t mean that the people at the University are stupid or incompetent — they have a tough job and I think most of them do the best they can under very difficult circumstances.

UDC serves an important segment of the community that without UDC probably would not have access to higher education. Instead of trying to undercut UDC at every turn, it would be nice if the rest of the community would work to support and strengthen the University. Education is still the best path to self sufficiency and a decent life and UDC fills an important niche.


Retailers in DC?
Greg Jones,

Lou Lieb asked why large retailers, such as Home Depot, don't locate in DC. My guess (and it’s only that) is that it’s a combination of a lack of suitable, affordable space, demographic factors, and a long history of government indifference (or animosity) toward business. Of course, some chains are, thankfully, locating in DC. For example, I think I saw a sign indicating that the new Borders bookstore on Wisconsin Ave. in Friendship Heights is opening this weekend. (I know, I know... I’ve spend hundreds of dollars at Politics and Prose over the years and will continue to do so. But the big places have their attractions, too.)


Dean Costello,

Think about it in these terms: As a general rule, large chain stores are designed to serve a region, not a neighborhood. Out in the ’burbs the chain stores can attract people from a much larger area because it is relatively easy to drive to the store location. In the city, where people are not necessarily auto-centric and more inclined to just walk to a store, there wouldn’t be as many convenient people that would be drawn to each store, or at least not enough to keep the chain store viable.

Te occidere possunt sed te edere non pussunt netas est (Roughly, “They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are quite a bit dicier.”)


More On Reckless Driving
Jessica Vallette,

As a biker, I am always being nearly killed by friendly drivers from the wonderful ’burbs. Just this morning as I was leaving my home, I had the green light to cross from Vermont Ave. onto 11th Street going South. Fortunately, I was being cautious because a white truck came barreling North on 11th street, slowed down a bit, and crossed Vermont Ave. against the red light! Furthermore it was a Maryland driver. What is up with these people? I know this is a complicated intersection, but if you can’t figure it out, then you shouldn’t be driving!

Isn’t there some reciprocal enforcement that DC officers can effect against these people? There have been efforts to put up cameras at intersections notorious for red light runners, but I still haven't seen them where the local police have said they are. These cameras should help, but they don’t excuse the lack of enforcement of our traffic laws.


Recycling continued
Joan Eisenstodt,

Here on the Hill, today is our first day of potential recycling. Our stuff is outside getting more like paper mache every moment. I too tried to call the recycling office yest. to determine if “office paper” meant what I tho't or was something else. Went through the recording maze to be told “Our office hours are ....” — which was a time I was calling — left a message and got no return.

Anyone else have an idea about how to get through? Has anyone tried the Mayor’s Command Post number?

[In our section of Columbia Heights, we still don’t have any bins. Bell Clements,, who lives north of us in Columbia Heights, wrote that her street had bins, but we know people who live north of Bell in Columbia Heights who haven”t received them yet. Dorothy used backdoor telephone numbers to get through to the recycling office. She was told that DPW takes no responsibility for distributing the bins, and that the contractor has done a spotty job of distributing them so far. As for guidance on and clarification of the rules, you’re on your own. — Gary Imhoff]


David Hunter,

Did the recycling thing Tuesday night. I wasn’t too happy about putting newspapers in the paper bags but I did it, and it wasn't that big of a deal... I will adjust. Put it all outside for my Wednesday trash pickup and at 6:30 that morning I heard the garbage trucks banging around. By the time I left for work and walked into the alley at 8, garbage gone and recycling gone. Which made me think, the garbage truck used to pick up the garbage and someone would come along later in the afternoon for the recycling. Maybe everything is different this time... However this really looked like the trash guys just picked up everything and dumped it all into one truck. Sure hope not...


Trash Talk
David Wong,

I got my bin, followed the instructions, put it out on the spot on the designated day. Then I came home from work. Voila! Recycables are gone and bin is left for the next round of recycling.

Someone suggest I mark my bin so no one would pick it up by mistake. Good idea.


Jessica Vallette,

Sigh. As an environmentalist, I am concerned about the lack of people willing to recycle. Many commentators question why put recycling bins out on the same day as trash day. Well, its to make it more convenient for people. DC’s goal of a meager 30% of residents recycling is not at all ambitious and if everyone who reads themail stopped complaining and actually recycled, I bet we’d meet that goal. Unfortunately, we are the only household on our very small block to put out our recycling bins. When I go knocking on doors for DAVID CATANIA tonight, I plan on reminding my neighbors what those green bins are for...

I also noticed that there are two trucks that now come on Thursday (the second trash pick-up day in my neighborhood). In fact, the recycling truck beat the trash truck (which incidentally seems to come increasingly later as time goes on)! I’m trying to decide now if I should follow the recycling truck to see where it goes at the end of its run. But as you know, I only have a bicycle and not a car. Anyone else interested?


Forward from the midwest
Barbara Somson,

For some midwest perspective on the recycling issue, I thought I’d share part of an email I got from a former Washingtonian who moved to Madison, Wisconsin a year ago:

“I just read the DC Watch [themail]. I'm glad to hear recycling is getting revived, but it does amaze how DC constituents can kvetch about just anything. Here, in what I imagine is one of the best recycling programs in the country, they don't give us bins and you have to sort and appropriately bundle your stuff (paper bags in a paper bag), newspapers bundled, and bottles and cans in special plastic bags that you actually have to purchase. (We don’t get our trash cans supplied either for that matter.)”


Recycling in themail
Ginny Spevak,

Just an FYI re recycling. About 3 weeks ago we received a new recycling container and quite a clear flier about how the whole thing was going to work. Collection from our alley in Friendship Heights occurred as scheduled on Tuesday. They did leave some cardboard. However, a very sturdy box hadn't been broken down properly. Kudu’s, not complaints from me.


Recycling — and a motto
Nancy Henderson,

My Chevy Chase neighborhood received our recycling bins, and most bins seem to have been picked up this week, but not on my block, in the alley where our garbage is picked up. At least we know the garbage truck didn't take it. Of course, I haven’t been able to reach a live person to report this. Is the truck too wide to fit in the alley?

So you want more mottos for DC? How about: “The city that (sometimes) pretends to recycle”


Recycling — get a grip — and a motto
John Whiteside,

Reading themail today was a good reminder of how Washingtonians love to complain, no matter what goes right. Now that recycling is back, people are complaining about having to put things in bins, having to recycle the same day as trash pickup (convenience being a bad thing, apparently), having to tie or bag papers separately, etc.

I get the feeling some people will not be happy until someone from DPW comes into their home, picks their recyclables out of the trash can, and takes care of it for them. Folks, DC is using the same type of program that’s working well in communities all over the country (including Arlington, where I live). Save it for when something is really being done wrong — you shouldn’t have to wait too long.

Maybe there’s a motto here — “DC — District of Complaint”



DC Historical Studies
Roxanna Deane,

The 25th Annual Conference on Washington, D. C. Historical Studies will be held at the MLK Library on October 30 and 31. Highlights of the sessions include a look at the fight to keep freeways out of neighborhoods in the 1960’s and a look back at the 1968 riots with a panel composed of people who were there. The conference concludes on Saturday with a trolley tour of upper Georgia Avenue. For more information call 727-1213.


Les Compagnons de la Parole Francaise
Aysegul Acar,

Les Compagnons de la Parole Francaise is a diverse, social, international group that has been meeting for a happy hour in French every Thursday from 5:30 until 7 pm in Washington DC since 1967.

After the happy hour the group usually goes to dinner. The Compagnons also organize parties, picnics, hiking, camping trips etc. Share with us your ideas for activities etc. The happy hour is held near the GWU campus. For directions and detailed information etc. please contact Aysegul at . Please note that only French is allowed at the meetings. Au revoir!



Housemate wanted
Louis Lieb,

Takoma, DC. Charming bungalow, quiet neighborhood, near Metro. Porches, fireplace, yard, big trees, ample space. Vegetarian-friendly. No pets. $475 including utilities. Call Lou 202-208-0012 or 202-723-5909.


Scrabble group seeks temporary home
Ted Gest,

As many of you know, the Chevy Chase Community Center is about to close 6 months for renovation. The official Scrabble club for northwest DC (there's another one in northeast) has met there Tuesday evenings for time immemorial, but needs a temporary site during renovation. We’re checking out many alternatives, but suggestions are welcome. We need a room where 12-20 folks can play 2-person games from about 6 to 10 p.m. No/low cost and proximity to public transportation strongly preferred. Restaurants are possible if they have the space — we’d bring business. As an aside, I’m disappointed that other D.C. public agencies have not risen to the occasion here, but I won’t name names publicly. (The rec department has already relocated many activities in other community centers.) And any of you who might want to join us for challenging and enjoyable competition, please do. E-mail queries/suggestions to my address above or call 202 966 5215. Thanks.



Multi-family Yard Sale 17th & U, Sat. Oct. 31st
Jessica Vallette,

Our friends are dumping unwanted wedding gifts and we’re dumping tons of miscellaneous household items including wood and metal kitchen cabinets, camera equipment and even a ceiling fan. Please join us on Halloween and buy our stuff!!!


themail@dcwatch is an E-mail discussion forum that is published every Wednesday and Sunday. To subscribe, to change E-mail addresses, or to switch between HTML and plain text versions of themail, use the subscription form at . To unsubscribe, send an E-mail message to with “unsubscribe” in the subject line. Archives of past messages are available at .

All postings should also be submitted to , and should be about life, government, or politics in the District of Columbia in one way or another. All postings must be signed in order to be printed, and messages should be reasonably short — one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal — so that as many messages as possible can be put into each mailing.

Send mail with questions or comments to
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)