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December 23, 1998

Merry Christmas

Dear Holiday Celebrants:

Season's greetings, now that the snow has proven that this really is the season. Yes, the Van Gogh exhibit is definitely worth seeing, although if you stand in the cold for hours in the early morning to get a ticket you may not be in the mood to appreciate it by the time you see it. Do use one of the tips for getting tickets that people have been giving in past issues of themail. If you go to the National Gallery, be sure to drop by the plaster version of the Saint-Gaudens memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the black soldiers in his Civil War battalion — if the DC memorial to black civil war soldiers that is now being erected in Shaw were half as impressive it would be a big deal. And don't miss the Edo exhibit in the East Wing of the National Gallery. I actually enjoyed it more than the Van Gogh exhibit, and at least on weekdays there are no long lines to get in and no big crowds in the Edo gallery rooms. (Shopping hint: if you need to pick up last minute Christmas gifts today, you can't go wrong with the Smithsonian's catalogue for the Edo exhibit; it's huge and beautifully printed, costs only $35, and looks like it should cost $75.)

themail will be published on its regular schedule throughout the holidays, so don't hesitate to write. We'll be here.

Gary Imhoff


Dumping on Shaw, Cont'd.
Beth Solomon,

John Olinger correctly reported on the dumping of hazardous waste in Shaw, but the story gets even worse. A Shaw resident originally witnessed the dumping in progress in July and called the police and DPW. (The resident wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.) A DPW inspector arrived on the scene and issued $130,000 in fines for illegally dumping 26 tons of waste. But top managers wanted to “pull” or forgive the fines, according to DPW documents. Enforcing the law would have been inconvenient for the Washington Convention Center Authority and its new project. Some in DPW, including ousted director Cell Bernadino, wanted to enforce the law. But the Office of the Chief Management Officer directed DPW to find a way to forgive the fines. In the meantime, the soil tested positive for high levels of lead, barium, mercury, arsenic (but no petrochemicals) and other very serious human health hazards. The neighborhood was never informed. The site remained open. Children at the neighboring Immaculate Conception School continued to use the playground adjacent to the waste. Adults and children continued to walk on the property to get to school or the Metro. Throughout the summer, the exposed waste joined what has become a significant amount of airborne dust in the Shaw area coming from the construction site.

According to DPW, the illegal dumpers trucked some of the waste away, and spread some of it around the site, so it would look like it was removed. Then the Washington Convention Center Authority ordered a new round of soil tests that tested a different set of soils. The tests showed contamination by petrochemicals (which are typical on the site) but not heavy metals. The WCCA issued a press release declaring the problem solved. But the problem is not solved. Shaw residents were exposed to dangerous levels of hazardous waste for several months. The extent of the health hazard still is not known. Inspectors who tried to enforce the law have been called “anti business” by top managers and are afraid for their jobs. One official is already gone. Under the direction of the Chief Management Officer, the D.C. government then chose not to enforce anti-dumping laws (not to mention hazardous waste laws), but instead to reward another law-breaker for committing a crime in the District. It's confusing, upsetting and frustrating to watch this go on and be unable to do anything about it.


Roosevelt's Machine
Jeffrey Itell,

Over the past couple of years, public works officials have been building public work edifices in the Rock Creek Parkway, Roosevelt Bridge, E Street, Spaghetti O's corridor. During this offensive, a peculiar, seemingly specialize piece of mobile machinery has remained parked on the District side of the Roosevelt Bridge. I assume its a “Jersey Barrier” machine — equipment that deposits and withdraws concrete road dividers. I've never seen it move and the barriers look like they've been untouched by unhuman hands for years. So I wonder why someone would park a seemingly expensive piece of equipment on the bridge. (Aesthetic reasons should not be considered.) My guess is that machine creates an opening for heavy machinery. If so, construction workers must be planning their activities around my driving habits. I haven't caught them in the act. Any ideas?


At Least It's Not as Far as Africa
Jean Lawrence,

FYI, all, Anthony Williams fell by Phoenix yesterday to tour one of the nation's (his words) “best-run cities.” Among the comments he made: “Frankly, I look at a city like this and they're years ahead of us. Phoenix is training employees on advanced customer service and use of computers and (in DC) you're talking about folks with rotary phones and no computers.” (How about those out-houses, get rid of those yet?) And DC is “like those movies where the car is perched on the canyon, and it's about ready to go. We had to winch the car back up to get it on the road.” Don't take it too much to heart — we just had a home invasion in which some morons shot a 2-year-old for crying. But I thought the new mayor might have been a little more diplomatic about his home town.


Alternative Certification
Ed T. Barron,

If we are to have qualified teachers in the DCPS then we will need an alternative certification program along with strong teacher standards. This alternative certification (which will be thwarted at every turn by the Teachers' unions) should allow qualified and tested persons, who want to teach in the DCPS, to be given that opportunity. The current certification program would completely disallow someone with a Ph.D. in Physics from teaching in the schools in favor of a brand new ed school graduate who doesn't know Kelvin from Celsius. Despite the fact that I'm certified to teach physics in NY State, and have an MBA with good teaching credentials, I could not teach in D.C. because I never took those dumb down education courses.

The DCPS must adopt a streamlined certification program if they really want to put some talented teachers in the classrooms. If we want people with school age children to stay in the District or to move here from other places we have to provide a viable school system. The key to a viable school system is good teachers. Good facilities would help but a good teacher is an absolute must.


Restoring School Facilities
Ed T. Barron,

Ms Ackerman's proposal to rebuild and refurbish all the D.C. schools makes good sense. It is generally far better and more cost effective, over the long haul, to completely rebuild and refurbish old, old facilities that are structurally sound than it is to make nickel and dime Band-Aid repairs that only last for a while and are not integrated with other repairs. One of the problems that the janitorial staff (very overworked according to the Janitor's union) has is that they are dealing with old buildings and systems that are falling apart. This is compounded by destructive elements in the schools who have no respect for other students and routinely trash their own environment. A program to refurbish the schools must also be accompanied by a program that will really punish anyone who trashes the school property or facilities.

With regard to the “overworked” janitorial staff, my own university, in New York, has all the classrooms and labs in a 100 year old razor blade factory building that was falling apart on the inside. This 180,000 square foot eight story building is maintained by a staff of only five janitors and maintenance personnel. That's more than 35000 square feet per maintenance person compared to the 25000 square feet for the average D.C. school janitor. Of course the janitorial staff at my university is a non-union staff. They also have only one supervisor for the entire school which has two campuses and eight buildings. The interior of the building is in very good shape. The students, faculty, and administration held a “paint-in” two years ago and that really helped. This old relic of a building, a blight on the landscape, will be completely rebuilt, outside and inside, over the next five years, one floor at a time, with the help of a $150M Capital Campaign now underway.


Wheel to the Curb
Bernie Chabel,

Earlier this year in Mt. Pleasant there was a mass ticketing for failure to turn wheels to the curb. Apparently, we do have such a law. Outraged residents in mt. Pleasant got a promise for reversal of the tickets after the issue was raised on the Mt. Pleasant Forum (I wonder how much money the city got from victimized parkers who were not fortunate enough to be Mt. Pleasant Forum subscribers.)

What amused me about the incident was the first explanation given by the police. Although the story line quickly was dropped, an unnamed precinct officer said the tickets were issued in response to an increase in car break ins in the neighborhood. This led me to wonder whether the police would respond to an increase in burglaries by randomly pistol whipping people walking down the streets of our neighborhood.


Vehicle Reinspection
Mary Bloodworth,

Alan Abrams explains the merits of privatization of vehicle inspection, including the “convenience” factor whereby we could take our cars to neighborhood service stations to have them repaired and re-inspected. Apparently, Mr. Abrams has never had a car that failed inspection (lucky him!) or else he would know that we already have that option. I've heard that the vehicle inspection station is supposed to give you a list of what stations (or maybe only the ones in your neighborhood) perform re-inspections. I never saw a list, but the inspector told me to call my local station to see if they did re-inspections. It was just as convenient as Mr. Abrams describes.

And how did I come upon this knowledge? I moved to DC in a car with tinted windows, which is apparently Driving Threat #1 here (but that's another letter...).


Vehicle Registration, Again
Ralston Cox.

To add to the positive notes posted previously, I've never had any difficulty with registering my vehicle by mail with the city. It could be because I've had the same car for several years and haven't moved around, but it could also be that we have a reasonably reliable system — not perfect, mind you, but reasonably okeedokee. Given that it's a pretty mindless process, why do we have to re-register the car every year? Why not only do so when you sell it or move? I assume that the underlying need for registration is a public safety one — i.e., so we know who owns a car that's involved in a crime or is abandoned, etc. —
rather than a purely mercenary one — i.e., another way of getting $$$ out of us.

I agree with earlier postings that there is little incentive to register my car for two years, particularly as the city has been reasonably reliable about the renewal process and I get to keep my $$$ for another year. If we can't do away with the annual renewal, couldn't we be encouraged to register for 2 years by giving us a little bit of a break on the $$$? Savings in bureaucracy costs could be passed along to the customer — that's us — and they have fewer bills to mail and checks to deposit, and bad checks to track, etc. It sounds like a win-win situation — the citizen saves $$$ and hassle, and the government saves $$$ and hassle which should, ultimately, mean the citizen could save more $$$. Hmmm. There must be something in this equation I'm missing....


Whose Rights are More Important?
Andrea Carlson,

There's a problem in our neighborhood that no one wants to discuss. Yet it affects us all. And I'd be willing to bet that most of us are mad about it. Are we normally so tolerant? No. Why are we so hesitant to speak out? Because it involves religion, and to some extent, race relations. There is a mosque in the 1800 block of 11th St. NW, a residential neighborhood, that blasts a call to prayer five times a day, beginning at about 5 a.m., every single day. Everyone in my house hears that wake-up call, including my 19 month-old (once she's awakened, say good-bye to sleep). I resent the imposition. Isn't there a noise ordinance that might apply? What are zoning regulations for faith institutions in this city? Where do we take our complaints? What or who is the higher power here? Do the rest of us non-Muslims have a prayer? Art Spitzer, maybe this is one for you. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Good Ramadan to all.


Notes on National Distractions — Sex, Lies, and Video Bombs
Mark Richards,

I was for impeachment when President Clinton signed the Bill renaming Washington National Airport after President Reagan. If he had used his time wisely early on, he might have one more friend with a vote, the District of Columbia. But no, he had other things to do. So now, two of the three Federal Branches are openly feuding while we're trying to get the Holiday spirit. It's as if the transients are acting out some bizarre postmodern cowboy tale. Maybe it's a generational transition thing. Each day William Jefferson Clinton looks from the balcony of the White House directly into the eyes of our premier philosopher of democracy — Thomas Jefferson. An ancestor we admire who said one thing and, thanks to DNA we now know, did another. The “Revolutionary Republicans,” (some with Confederate flag in pocket), captured the HOR, voted right away to muzzle DC residents (etc.), and finally got around to their goal of impeaching the populous Southerner residing at 1600 PA Ave. He hath violated the rule of law by deceiving us about his extramarital sex life. (Is this a family feud? Is this what “the south will rise again” means?) Comeback Billy, not to be outdone, let his military team go out and play with their bombs over Iraq, a job the Republicans had been itching to do for a long time. Were they ever mad! So they backed the boys in the field and called for more spending for defense contractors. Clinton volleyed with a 4.4% pay hike for soldiers, the biggest in 15 years. Meanwhile, a friend living in France since he fled the war in Lebanon sent me an e-mail greeting: “Your country is s**t right now... but, don't take it personally.”

The impeachment hearings opened with Delegate Norton introducing HR? (for DC voting rights on this issue only). Radio commentators couldn't figure out what it was about: “Is this a stalling tactic?” one asked. Unable to come up with ideas, they talked OVER ELH about the good old days when they had to do a roll call vote. Meanwhile, Hillary led a diplomatic mission over the moat and to the Hill to invite House Democrats over after the impeachment vote for cookies with the President and Betty Currie at the White House — so beautiful this time of year. Bob Livingston (eye on the Republican brotherhood looking to him to demonstrate honor by apologizing to his wife for multiple adulterous episodes and setting an example for how Clinton should make a stage left) said we are all pawns on the chess board of life. Just after the storm on Capital Hill ended, both parties ran to stage press events, after which “Operation Monica” (as the English-American attack on Iraq is known in Europe) came to an abrupt halt and our Civilian Commander in Chief thanked our warriors for their outstanding performance. As blues radio play the song “Just leave Bill Clinton alone, everybody's done somethin' wrong...,” Presidents Ford and Carter advocate national reconciliation. All the while, white supremacists and survivalists, fearful of the coming Apocalypse, are driving up rural real estate values.

Hello... is something wrong with this script? What does it need? Maybe the Third Branch should send the Senate binoculars as a reminder to stretch their eyes past our bandaged monument honoring our city's Founder, into the eyes of Lincoln, and beyond to the graveyard in General Lee's former front yard. Lincoln did not lose faith that this nation could remain one multiracial constitutional representative democracy. For national unity, a meaning embodied in his temple, he paid with his life. These days, the people who are fueling the increasingly frequent cultural flash points in the fifty states must be writing the script for the national stage. Should we be alarmed? Calling all statesmen and diplomats — you're ON!!



Cleveland Park Congressional Church Advent Season Events
Paul McKenzie,

Cleveland Park Congregational Church at Lowell & 34th Street: Wednesday, December 23rd, 7:00 PM, Christmas Caroling. Everyone is invited to sign Christmas carols for the Cleveland Park Church neighborhood and then return to the church for hot chocolate and Christmas cookies! Thursday, December 24, 5:00 PM, Christmas Pageant, Children will act out the story of Christmas; 8:00 PM, Fireside Service, Program of readings and carols.


12th Annual Matzo Ball
Michael Goldstein,

The Society of Young Jewish Professionals, Join us once again for the 12th annual MATZO BALL this Christmas Eve, December 24 at LuLu's New Orleans Café, 22nd & M streets, NW, Washington DC. Directions (202) 861-LULU. Doors open at 8pm. Last year SOLD OUT! The MATZO BALL will feature a DJ, dancing, karaoke, hors d'oeuvres, door prizes. Tickets: $15 in advance or $20 at the door and portion of the proceeds will go to the National Holocaust Museum. Info: or (202) 452-5541. Tickets (888) 633-5326 or


Ice Skating in Georgetown
Bill Starrels,

The Ice Rink is back in Georgetown! Starting with FREE skating on Christmas Day. The location is just west of Washington Harbor on K Street next to the waterfront in Georgetown. The rink is bigger and better than last year. It is run by the Nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Washington DC. Phone 202-861-5839. Hours 5 AM TO midnight! All ages are encouraged to come and skate.


Tasting Society International, End of December/January Calendar of Events
Charlie Adler, cadler@DGS.DGSYS.COM

December event: “Van Gogh with the Tasting Society,” Wed. Dec. 30th, 3 pm, National Gallery of Art, $65, in advance, very limited availability. January events: “California vs. Australia/New Zealand Wine Tasting,” Thurs., Jan. 14th, 7-9 p.m., Wyndham Hotel, 1400 M St., NW, $45. “French Country Wines,” Thurs.., Jan. 21st, 7-9 p.m., Wyndham Hotel, 1400 M St., NW, $38. “Wine Basics 101,” Wed., Jan. 27th, 7:00-9:00 pm, Wyndham Hotel, 1400 M St., NW, $35. Mardi Gras in Washington, D.C. Feb. 16th (Fat Tuesday), more details soon. RSVP at (202)333-5588 or email: , or the Reservation Form at our Web Page at



Mechanic Wanted
Mike Hill,

A Shaw youth group is seeking one or two energetic, organized people who are proficient in bike maintenance and repair to teach the first session of our recycle-a-bike program. The ideal person is a trained mechanic or highly skilled amateur; true bike enthusiast; organized and task-oriented; comfortable working with a diverse group of teenagers, 12-18 years old; in possession of a complete set of the necessary tools; familiar with the recycle-a-bike concept; available to teach Saturdays.

Our schedule calls for up to five 3-hour sessions beginning in January (including one make-up session). Sessions would be held every other weekend, and cover basic maintenance and repair. Adults from the youth group will assist with each session. A generous stipend is available to the right person(s). For more information, please contact Mike Hill, , 202-462-2961 [h], 202-272-2448 [w].


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
Loose Lips presents the 1998 Loose Talk Awards: D.C. residents will awake this Christmas morning with plenty in their stockings to warrant rejoicing. This city has undergone a revolution so staggering and pervasive during 1998 that even another Barry spiritual rejuvenation couldn't knock it off course. Read the entire Loose Lips column this Friday at:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
Tuesday, Dec. 29-Thursday, Dec. 31: Pablo Francisco, at the Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW. $12-50.
Thursday, Jan. 7: Loudon Wainwright III, 8 p.m. at the Barns of Wolf Trap, 1624 Trap Road, Vienna. $18.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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