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December 20, 1998

Absolutely Right in themail

Dear themailers:

Mike Hill found a way to rise to the top of themail's postings two issues in a row, this time by titling his submission, “Gary, you're absolutely right.” How could I not lead off with that? Now, if only he hadn't gone on to write, “But. . . .”

Gary Imhoff


Gary, You’re Absolutely Right, But. . .
Mike Hill,

I want to say that I agree with Gary's assertions, the best way to make our city government better is to shine a big klieg light on any examples of corruption, stupidity, or malfeasance. I would never assert that we need to have a “smiley face” session of themail, because I believe in the intelligence and good will of my fellow readers. I guess what I was trying to say, in a less eloquent fashion, is that sometimes the greatest enemy of the good is the excellent. If we begin to romanticize our problems and the seemingly never-ending series of mishaps the currently characterize city government, how much energy can we put into recognizing improvements and figuring out how to maximize them? Does a constant stream of criticism and cynicism really make for thoughtful debate, or is it just venting?

This is more important to think about in our role as citizens than as readers and contributors to themail. This forum, which is a great asset, is only one aspect of public discourse. It does, however, give us a mirror to see how we are looking at our community and what we focus on and the kinds of biases we are carrying into our neighborhood meetings, voting booths, and so on. Certainly, the opportunity to share successful strategies and efficient agencies is a more powerful and proactive use of this forum. I would like to see as much energy put into, say, a discussion of how citizens can support and improve our recycling service, or identify and reward good civil servants, as went into discussing how we could dismantle UDC. Studies show that in the retail world, people are eleven times more likely to share a negative experience than a positive one. This probably doesn't do much to increase service, but it does lower expectations and confidence. Maybe we can all look at trying to even the odds more.


Moving Out
Jerry Nachison,

We moved to Maryland from Chevy Chase, DC last spring. We needed to leave our house for personal reasons, and moved to a condo (which was much more affordable and well located, with little equivalence in District condos). Be that as it may, turnovers on our block in the last three years before we moved: Us — 4 replaced by 2. Down the block — 3 replaced by 5. Across the street — 1 replaced by 1, and 4 replaced by 2. Around the corner, 4 replaced by 2 replaced by 2 and 4 replaced by 3 replaced by 2. This is NOT a scientific sample, but all the last changes were this year.


Poisoning a Neighborhood and a Process
John Olinger, North Lincoln Park,

The Post reported Saturday morning that the DPW forgave a $130,000 fine against Grade A Excavating of Capitol Heights, MARYLAND, for illegal dumping at the site of the Mount Vernon Convention Center. There are several notable points in this. First, another instance of our suburban neighbors dumping on the district — this time literally. Another instance of the DPW's inability to do its job. But what is most interesting is the role played by the Washington Convention Center Authority. It turns out that the DPW agreed to forgive the fines because the Convention Center Authority suggested the agreement because they want to get on with the business of building their building and they feared that litigation would delay the juggernaut. So the residents of Shaw once again get dumped on and brushed aside. The District loses $130,000 that it could use. Suburban exploiters laugh all the way to the bank. The plunder of DC goes on. All in the name of a convention center. If anyone doubts that the decision to destroy a neighborhood and build a monument to corporate tourism will poison DC for decades to come, we will see more and more decisions like this in the years ahead.


DC Prison
David Sobelsohn,

Just to address some misconceptions and overlooked arguments in Ed Barron's post on this subject: (1) Misconceptions: (a) Ed writes that “Prisons are for long term incarceration of criminals who are doing hard time.” That's not true of all prisons. Prisons house anyone sentenced for over one year. Some prisons have minimum security and house mostly prisoners sentenced to 1-5 years. (b) Ed writes that “To make a prison secure it must be somewhat remote to allow for the installation of those new technological devices that will prevent anyone from breaking out (or breaking in to get someone out).” This is a non sequitur. Remoteness from other human habitation is itself a device to inhibit successful escape; it has no obvious connection to installation of “new technological devices” to prevent escape. Indeed, new technological devices should reduce the security importance of a prison's remoteness. Across the board (telephones, television, the Internet), technological development over the last century has tended to reduce the importance of physical distance. No reason to suppose prison technology would be any different. (2) Overlooked arguments. (a) Prisons provide jobs. It's more convenient to travel to a job in your own neighborhood than to a job hundreds of miles away. A prison will provide jobs to Anacostia residents only if we put the prison in or near Anacostia. (b) Rehabilitation depends in part on a prisoner's ongoing contact with his or her family. Contact with one's family depends in large part on proximity to one's family. It's easier to travel to the prison holding your sibling or spouse if the prison is in your own neighborhood rather than hundreds of miles away. Anacostia residents sent to prison will more likely stay out of jail after their release if the prison to which they are sent is in or near Anacostia.

To sum up, if we want a new DC prison to help provide jobs to Anacostia residents and to help incarcerated Anacostia residents stay out of jail after their release, we should put the prison in or near Anacostia.Perhaps other factors would tip the balance against siting a new city prison in Anacostia. And of course Anacostia should have other development besides a prison. But we can make a rational decision about whether to build a prison in Anacostia or anywhere else only by taking account of both the social costs and the benefits, not by ignoring one side of the equation.


Jury Duty: A Good Experience
E. James Lieberman, M.D.,

I've been called about five times over the years, but this time was selected from the pool, despite my relative who is an attorney (public defender!). I think the prosecutor let me in because of my age — only two others had any noticeable gray hair. The trial — two men defendants, elderly woman complainant — was about the taking of a TV set from the woman's apartment. Counting selection, the two day trial, and almost two days of deliberation, I lost a week from the office. Costly, but worth it. The jury was serious, hard-working, diverse, intelligent, cordial. Judge Ronna Lee Beck is a gem. The three lawyers faced a test — witnesses included children, an elderly woman, three police officers. One conviction, one hung jury. Judge and two attorneys met us for a post trial discussion.

I'm sure there are lots of unhappy ex-jurors out there, so this is supplied as a balance. Judge Beck thanked us profusely, saying it is hard to get jurors in DC. My attitude in the past was “How do I get out of this?” Now I admire the system, clumsy as it is, and value my chance to participate. As a physician, I've been asked a few times to provide excuses for older people who were summoned for jury duty. Now I would encourage them to serve if at all possible.


Action, Not Reaction
Ed T. Barron,

In the spirit of providing an input that might be a good happening in NW, D.C., I offer the following. In a recent issue of the NW Current there was an article by the newly elected ANC 3E Commissioner, Chris McNamara. Chris noted in the article (in addition to his support for continued funding of ANCs) that he would propose development of a plan (what a novel idea) by the people in 3E for that ANC. Traditionally the ANCs have been a mostly reactive organization that would rise up in horror and anger at some proposed change in their neighborhood. The reaction to the AU Law School is a classic case for 3E. Instead, McNamara is proposing that ANC 3E be pro-active. This just might get the citizens of 3E to develop a plan to make things work better, to solve some headachy problems, or to fix some process that is not working properly. This is a great idea and it will be interesting to see just how much support McNamara's ideas get at the January ANC 3E meeting.


Committee Assignments and Swearing-In Ceremony
Jim Graham,

I have now received my committee assignments for the next Council term. The assignments really will assist me in working with Ward One residents to realize many of the campaign promises and issues. I will be a member of the following committees: Public Works (trash collection, rat control, recycling); Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (abandoned buildings, permits and licensing, public housing); regional affairs (just about what it sounds like). In addition, I am pleased that Linda Cropp has named me as the voting member of the WMATA Board. This will be hopefully a useful appointment due the continuing, seemingly endless construction of the Green Line at 14th and the issues of urban transportation/parking in Adams Morgan and elsewhere in the Ward.

The swearing-in for the Council will be held in conjunction with that of the Mayor, at Freedom Plaza on January 2. I am told that the Mayor elect wants the ceremony to be concluded by noon. The new Council members will be sworn in first, followed by the oath of office for the new Mayor. I want to wish everyone a safe, sober and joyous holiday. I look forward to working with you in 1999!


Luck, or More Good News
Ed T. Barron,

This week I had occasion to make four phone calls to three different city agencies downtown. On all four occasions the phone was answered before the end of the second ring by a human, helpful person. I was not dreaming and all the calls were made within the 202 area code so I was calling the right city. Luck?? Maybe not. There's hope for us all.


Improvements in Government
Beth-Ann Gentile,

Here's evidence of improvement in the District Government. We had a running battle with the Department of Public Works over inadequate catch basins on our street. With any hard rain, a five-foot wide river would flow by our house, jump the curb, and inundate our front yard causing considerable damage to our house. We raised the problem with DPW in 1990. After many letters and on-site visits, in 1994 we received a written promise to install six additional catch basins. The work was never done. In May of this year I thought I'd give it another try since I could raise the issue with the Water and Sewer Authority, not DPW. At their request I sent our file, now several inches thick. Within weeks, we received a call indicating that the work would get done AND IT DID! We now have spectacular catch basins which can handle an enormous quantity of water. We were overwhelmed by the prompt and courteous service. Could it be that we're getting our government back?


Consistency is Easier to Defend Than Accuracy
Leslie Ruskin,

One impression which I could not help but to come away with after reading the myriad postings on “DC vehicle registration by mail” is Wow! I am amazed at what inconsistent experiences residents have had when dealing with the DC govt. After all, DC is not that big of a city. Since I agree that “consistency is easier to defend than accuracy” I think DC needs to get a consistent program together for such activities, then they can start to work on getting the details straight.


DPW and Vehicle Inspections
Alan Abrams,

Since the subject of DPW and auto registration has come up, I will risk redundancy by proposing again that the vehicle inspection process be delegated to the private sector. I'm not suggesting this is a brilliant, original idea, as this is the practice in MD and VA. But to me, it seems like a no-brainer, to cut loose the staff and facilities from the budget (I think it's fair to assume the private sector can absorb the present inspection staff, since the number of inspections will remain constant.) Inspections (at West Virginia Avenue) are a joke anyway — during my last go-around, no one removed a wheel from, much less, looked underneath my car. The emission test was fluffed (I was never asked to rev up the motor). Further, the wait in line was 45 minutes — during August — one can imagine what the thermal and other environmental effects of 60-80 cars, idling, running air conditioners, on a two acre site, all day long. Lastly, privatization would meet the stated objective of the new administration of enhancing the environment, while at the same time make life more convenient for residents (you could drop your car off at a neighborhood station when it needed routine service; you would not have to fuss with returning to W Va. Ave., say, if you failed the initial inspection, and needed remedial repairs...)


DPW and Tag Renewal Notices
Frank J. Pruss, Jr.,

Many also mailed me with a positive history of timely notices and pleasant “renewal by mail” experiences. So I'll go for it. I wonder about why my memory is that I have not received these notices in the past. About the only thing I can think of is that most of the time I was using a leased corporate vehicle. I was responsible for renewing the tags on it. Perhaps the notices were sent to the leasing company rather than to me? Or maybe I suffer from memory loss! Clearly, I owe the DPW some form of apology! I have used the two-year renewal. It is a nice offering.


Registration Renewal Mysteries
Stacey Patmore,

In October I received my registration renewal notice in the mail. I signed it and mailed it back with my check for a one year renewal. (I always renew for one year rather than two because I prefer to hang on to my $75 for another year rather than giving it to DPW in advance and the inspection sticker is good for two years regardless.) Anyhow, about the time I should have been getting my stickers in the mail my registration form and my check were returned to me along with a form stating that I needed to provide proof of insurance. My policy number and insurance carrier were clearly printed on the renewal form (by DPW) and nowhere did the form ask for further proof of insurance. I copied my insurance card and mailed it all back to DPW along with a note asking them why they hadn't asked for a copy of my insurance card in the first place if that's what they needed (yes, I know, a sure way to get my renewal “lost”). My new stickers arrived many, many weeks later. Fortunately for me, I have off street parking.


Seeing the Van Gogh Exhibition
Ed Kane,

My wife and I arrived at the National Gallery at 12:30 on Thursday, December 17th, went to the second floor desk which handles “Tickets Today” for the Van Gogh exhibition, and were immediately given two tickets for the 12:30 entry. (These tickets had been turned back in by viewers who did not need them.) We got into line at 12:35, and were inside the show at 12:50. We were lucky, of course, but we had been told that showing up Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, around midday, optimizes your chances of success. We encountered the usual band of ragged scalpers outside the Gallery. I particularly noted that some were flogging expired tickets to would-be viewers. Caveat emptor!

I must note my disagreement with the judgment of Ms. Hopkins on the show. I certainly was not “disappointed.” The exhibition is extremely well arranged and well explained. Of particular interest was the myriad of paintings of which we had not even previously heard, let alone having viewed them anywhere else.


Scalping or Services?
John Whiteside,

Harold Goldstein and others, I'm sure, may be horrified to see someone selling their Van Gogh tickets, but I'm not. The “price” of the tickets is several hours — maybe less —- waiting in line. If someone chooses to pay someone else to go stand in line for them, I don't have a real problem with that. If it was getting to the point that the line was filled with people getting tickets, it would be a problem, but there's no sign of that; it seems the number of people willing to pay to avoid getting in line is pretty small. And the limit on the number of tickets an individual gets keeps this from turning into a large enterprise. Also, as a Washington Post story noted a while back, selling your Van Gogh tickets is not against the law, so even if you think it's morally questionable, it's certainly not scalping.



Alzheimer's Caregivers Workshop
Robert Frazier,

Are you caring for an elderly person? Is that person suffering from Alzheimer's Disease or other dementias? Would you like to learn caregiving tips to make your life easier? Would you like to talk to others who may be dealing with the same problems as you? Caregiver's workshop, Wednesday, December 30, 1998, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m., Downtown Cluster's Geriatric Day Care Center, Inc., Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. For more ,information contact Thomye Cave, 202-347-7527.


Beatles at the Newseum
Lois Kirkpatrick,

“I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: The Beatles and the Media” A free discussion on how the Beatles became one of this ,century's biggest stories. Speakers: Judd Rose of CNN, George Harrison's sister Louise. 7 p.m. at the Newseum in Arlington.



Heating, Air Conditioning Repair Service
Victor Chudowsky,

Can someone on the list suggest a good heating/air conditioning repair service for my home? Someone dependable and honest — if you have a good service you are really happy with, please email me directly — . Thanks a lot.



Workshop Facilitators Needed
David Sobelsohn,

The Maryland Center for Assault Prevention works to improve the quality of life for children by reducing their vulnerability to victimization through assault prevention education. MCAP is currently looking for individuals to present the Child Assault Prevention (CAP) Project workshops to elementary school-aged children in Montgomery County. Responsibilities will include: completion of 45-hour training; memorizing a script and enacting it in a workshop presentation for children and teachers; conducting brief post-workshop review sessions; filing reports of suspected abuse/neglect with Child Protective Services when appropriate; completing evaluative and statistical paperwork; and attending monthly staff meetings. Candidates must be available to work part-time flexible hours, a minimum of three school days per week. Salary: $8-9/hour. Reliable transportation and a police background check are required. Candidates must be comfortable working as a team member. Resumes will be reviewed as they are received. Resumes should be faxed to (301) 962-6711 or sent to: Facilitator Search, MCAP, 2424 Reedie Drive, Suite 220, Wheaton, MD 20902. Deadline: January 8, 1999.



Points of Light
Marie Clark,

Nominate your exceptional volunteers for the President's Service Awards, the nation's highest honor for volunteer service. Spread the word (via newsletters, listserves, e-mail, website, etc.) and encourage others to nominate their volunteers for the President's Service Awards. Seeking Community Heroes for the 1999 President's Service Awards. Individuals, families, groups, organizations, businesses or unions can be nominated. Traditionally, the President personally presents the awards at a White House ceremony during National Volunteer Week, April 18-24, 1999. All nominations will be considered for the Daily Points of Light Award, given each weekday to exceptional volunteers.

Nomination forms for the President's Service Award are due on January 13, 1999, and are available by visiting our website at . If you have difficulty downloading the form, please contact me via e-mail at or call the Recognition Hotline (202) 729-8184 with your mailing address, phone and fax number, and a nomination form will be sent to you.


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