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August 2, 2000

Abandon Hope

Dear Hopers:

There's a good lesson to be learned from this issue of themail: check your quotations first. But, speaking of abandoning hope:

After a rash of murders, Police Chief Charles Ramsey has announced that he has found a way to put more police officers on the street. Does anyone remember that the City Council wanted Ramsey to put more officers on patrol months ago, and Ramsey protested against their “micromanagement”? Robert Newman has started an ambitious program to get the city parks ready for summer sports by late fall. Last night, I went to Ward Four's City Council candidate's debate between Charlene Drew Jarvis and Adrian Fenty, at which Jarvis promised that in the next four yours upper Georgia Avenue really will get economic development, just as she promised in 1996, and 1992, and 1988, and. . . . Tonight, I attended the Ward One Neighborhood Action Initiative open house, where we were told that this time city agencies really were going to cooperate and be coordinated, and really were going to carry out plans to clean up the worst areas of the city. This time they really, really mean it. Trust them. Oh, geez.

Gary Imhoff


Peripatetically Enfranchised
Charlie Wellander,

Which is to say that some D.C. residents are exercising their right to vote with their feet. On July 31 the U.S. Census Bureau (at reported the latest data concerning voting age populations of the fifty states and D.C. Between 1996 and 2000, the District of Columbia had a decline from 428,000 to 411,000 residents who are old enough to vote for full representation in the Congress if they were allowed to vote for such representatives. Over the same period, every one of the fifty states had an increase in the number of voting age residents (there, they are allowed to vote for such representatives!). Maryland went up by 126,000 and Virginia up by 197,000. The smallest uptick was in North Dakota, from 476,000 to 477,000 — I doubt many D.C. expatriates moved there. Of course, these changes are due not only to net relocations, but also to additions of youngsters reaching majority and subtractions by death. Still, will the last voter to leave D.C. please turn off the Constitution and Bill of Rights?


A Last Word on the Parks
Michael Bindner,

I forgot to mention in my prior post that, until the 1998 Revitalization Act, grass cutting for Public Works and Recreation and Parks was done by work crews from the Lorton prison. As a result of the Act, the Lorton program stopped and has not yet been replaced. I recently heard from someone who had seen the request for proposals for non-prison grass cutting that no one responded because the request was vague on what needed to be cut, so the work could not be priced.

There are three possible answers: take back the prisons and a federal payment that would support them, possibly creating a regional system with Maryland and Virginia, and recreating the Lorton program; write a decent RFP; or work out an arrangement so that Virginia and/or Maryland prisoners cut our grass.


Time to Privatize the Parks Dept.
Ed T. Barron,

Not all functions lend themselves to privatization, but here's one Department where that could be done very easily. Merely set up a set of standards, and goals and let outside contractors bid on the job. Let those contractors hire any capable folks (if there are any) that are currently in the Parks Department.

The failure to perform by Newman and his band of non-performers is just one more nail in the coffin that entombs the kids in the District. And one question — who paid for Newman's “vacation” trip to Canada?


New DC Parks and Recreation Web Site
Bob Andrew, Foxhall,

After flirting with as a website, DCPR has adopted the same look as DC's revamped main website The new web site is Each page provides a side navigator, with web links to services: Guide, Camps, Leagues, Fine Arts, Senior Services, Sports & Fitness, Tennis Courts, Swimming, Computer Centers, Childcare, Special Events, Facilities. Also, Director Robert Newman has posted a Short Term Action Plan and Grass Cutting schedule. The action plan includes “deep cleaning” of all centers, plus naming the ten already promised athletic field renovation and play court projects to be completed by year-end. No later than August 12, DCPR will complete two more playground installations and for all centers conduct deep cleaning and begin minor repair blitz on items like fencing, lighting, plumbing, doors, A/C and other items as warranted, based on recent inspections. On August 13, DCPR will start to put up interior signs at each Recreation Center clarifying the programs and services offered at that center, as well as rules and regulations about park usage in the District. By October 24, DCPR will begin construction or major reconstruction on six centers. By August 4, DCPR will nominate 14 centers to have their restrooms modernized.

Additional staff development was conducted July 29 for summer camp staff, in addition to getting them paid on time (after firing the official held responsible for failing to pay over 100 seasonal workers).


Uncut and Unkempt
Vivian Henderson, VHende

I too have been saddened by the uncut and unkempt neighborhood parcels. It certainly takes away from the beauty of this city. It seems to me that Mayor Williams and his administration only react. What can be done to make them act? They see these eyesores and do nothing until the citizens complain. Alley cleaning in the Crestwood area is a thing of past, and so is bulk trash pick-up. DC citizens certainly deserve a more efficient local government.


Parking Enforcement
James Treworgy,

Next time bring take some pictures. I've contested two tickets by mail in the last year or so and won both times; I included photographs in each case. Both tickets were similarly trumped up — one was “blocking an entrance” at a metered spot (it had probably been an entrance fifty years ago, since the curb was sloped, but there was no entrance to anywhere anymore and there was a meter); one was at a bus stop, although the sign clearly indicated no parking only within certain hours, which the ticket wasn't within.

Take a bunch of pictures from different angles so it's obvious where you are and where you were parked. Having access to a digital camera helps, since it doesn't cost anything to do this. Obviously if you don't get around the place of the ticket very often this isn't too convenient, but I tend to get most of my tickets parked legally near where I live or work.

This is not to say the system isn't broken — it's obvious there is either systematic corruption or serious training problems in DC parking enforcement, and the appeal system is ludicrous. I hope that our mayor listens to our continuing pleas for reform. In the meantime, however, having irrefutable proof of your innocence helps sway even a hardened bureaucrat.


The Gate at Auschwitz
Peggy Robin,

If one is going to cite Auschwitz as a metaphor for anything, in the names of the memories of the millions who perished there, it ought to be reserved for something truly horrific — and I've got to say Traffic Adjudication lines (annoying as they may be) don't come anywhere near close to qualifying. But Thomas C. Hall compounds matters by not even getting the quote right: the words on the gate were “Arbeit macht frei” (meaning “Work will make you free” — a bitter joke for the inmates, given that the only way out for ninety percent of them was death. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” was, I believe, the sign on the gates of Hell in Dante's Inferno.

Now, as far as the substance of Mr. Hall's complaint is concerned, I have a suggestion that may help in future cases. (Actually, the idea is my husband's but I'm taking credit for it, because I'm the one who took the trouble to write in.) Keep a disposable camera in your car. If you ever return to your car to find yourself ticketed, when the signs near your car say it's legal to park there, take a photo of the sign. Rather than waste time going in to dispute the ticket, send in the photo and write up your side of the story, and mark the ticket “Deny” and send in your letter and evidence to be adjudicated by mail. Whatever the outcome, at least you haven't wasted half a day waiting for your case to be heard.


Parking Trauma
John Whiteside,

Regarding Peg Blechman's ticket — if you live a block from a residential zone, you should either be able to get a permit, or perhaps your street should be so zoned (allowing you to get a permit under current rules). This is a different situation than what people were arguing for (letting everyone in a ward get a permit no matter how far from crowded areas they lived). I think this underscores why we should have more zoned areas, and the zones should be smaller.

Regarding Thomas Hall's parking-adjudication-as-Auschwitz metaphor — Ugh. Yeah, getting stuck with a parking ticket is a lot like being dragged out of your home, stripped of your property, thrown in to a labor camp, gassed, and thrown in a pit. You get the award for ugly, tasteless contribution of the week. (And by the way, the sign over Auschwitz read, I believe, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (more or less, “work makes you free”). Which makes your metaphor a non sequitur, as well as offensive.


“Abandon Hope” at Auschwitz
David Sobelsohn,

In the most recent issue of themail, Thomas C. Hall writes that “'Abandon Hope, All Who Enter Here' read the sign atop the wrought iron gate to Auschwitz.” Although Auschwitz was a pretty close approximation to Hell, the “abandon hope” line actually comes from Dante's “Inferno.” The sign over the entrance to Auschwitz actually read (with truly evil irony) “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes You Free”).


Dante vs. Dachau vs. the DMV
Steph “Former copy editor” Faul

ALWAYS check your quotes. Dante Aleghieri wrote “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate” (“All hope abandon, ye who enter here”) as a warning to those about to enter Hell. “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Brings Freedom”) first appeared over the entrance gate at Dachau in 1933. (Dachau was a work camp, not a death camp, though a number of its inmates were worked to death.) The phrase was added to the entrance gate at Auschwitz when that camp was constructed in 1940. While Dachau, Hell, and the DMV may all be places of great suffering, it's unfair to equate Dante with Rudolf Hess.

[Cheryl Fox,; Dean Costello, costello@earthlink.netmade; and Mark Richards,, made the same point, while George S. LaRoche,, added that, “If there's a difference, it's that, as bad as the devil is, he's an honest creature of his word, while the Nazis were the epitomy of smirking cynicism.”


The Mayor’s Line
Sara Cormeny,

Two messages in the last issue of themail asked for advice in dealing with routine DC government activities and responsibilities (in one case building permits, in the other alley cleaning). Perhaps these people had already tried this route without relief, but in general I've had pretty good success by calling the “mayor's line,” 727-1000. In the couple of times I've called, I have been referred to the right office and my query has been handled appropriately.

My experience is also that you can get a “tracking number” from the operator with whom you speak. Your mileage may vary; I haven't figured out whether they ALWAYS provide that tracking number. If you can get one, it's of course always wise to keep a “paper trail.” Should your needs not be met, you can call back and complain with honor, and most importantly with details. As well, it's part of a long urban tradition to call your council member as well if the city hasn't managed to satisfy (again, keep that tracking number!). My experience is that the council members' offices will indeed place a call on your behalf, to the appropriate agency. In the bad old days of the mid-eighties, this was often the only way to get bulk trash picked up, for instance.

Finally, in this wired world, there's lots of information online at I do actually find the city's Web site reasonably useful, though far from as good as calling the mayor's line — it's just nice that on evenings and weekends you can jump-start your search for help.

[I've never had any luck with 727-1000 when I've tried to find government employees through it; either the operators don't have listings for the employees or, in some cases, they refuse to give out the direct telephone numbers. What has your experience been? — Gary Imhoff]


Good Things in DC
Kerry Jo Richards,

Wanted to share my excellent experiences recently with the DC government web site ( The first time I used the site was when the light in my alley was out — to be honest I laughed while filling in the form. At least this will be a good joke, I thought. But then suddenly my light was FIXED! Amazing! Excited by my good fortune, I called a phone number listed on the site to get information about an odd vehicle registration situation. They referred me to a specific office, who told me in no uncertain terms that I must tromp down to the main MVA office to handle my request. I begged and cajoled to no avail. So then, just to see what would happen, I submitted my question online. Happily, they informed me that I could handle my request by mail with no problems. Whee! Life is good for
we online citizens!


Vance in themail
Bryce A. Suderow,

I spoke to Paul Vance, the new Superintendent of Schools, at some length today and told him about some of the problems in the D.C. school system. I also urged him to subscribe to themail because it presents a good and uncensored cross section of community opinion. I was impressed by Dr. Vance's willingness to listen to what residents of the District have to say. I wonder if subscribers could write to themail and list what they think the problems in the school system are, so that Dr. Vance can read what they have to say.


Baltimore and Latin Americans
Bruce Monblatt,

Vic Miller raises some interesting points about the treatment of Latin American players by the Orioles and attributes the team's decline to this factor. This seems to be too glib, particularly since Palmiero and Alomar went elsewhere for more bucks and Benitez represents what has been wrong with Oriole relief pitching for the past decade. The real problem is an ownership that can't keep the good players and the good players who they kept are growing old. Although the Latin countries have given us some great players like Roberto and Marichal and Cepeda among others, I recall that the pathetic Senators of the 1950's were stocked with Latin Americans and it didn't seem to help.


Road Warriors and Doggie Calling Cards
Victor Chudowsky,

Re: Gregory Diaz's post: I totally agree about the Duke Ellington bridge road warriors. I am an avid bicyclist; I also ride my bike to work (Woodley Park to Adams Morgan). Crossing the Duke Ellington bridge wakes me up more than any cup of coffee — it is an experience of sheer gut-wrencing terror. People FLY across that bridge; even the bus drivers speed. And the faded “bicycle lanes” which run along Calvert across the bridge are a joke. They are really not much more than an emergency lane for cab drivers and others who routinely cross into the reserved area. The interesting thing is that there are actually not a lot of cars on the bridge, compared to Connecticut or Wisconsin Avenue. There is rarely stalled traffic. That is why people speed across it; they have the opportunity to really “open up” before hitting Connective Ave. or Adams Morgan. It is like our own little race track, really. Cameras or speed bumps should be looked at as a partial solution.

In the spirit of our listmaster's request for our neighborhood based gripes and complaints, I also like Gregory's suggestion about taking photos of people who let their dogs leave “fecal calling cards” on one's front lawn or walkway. However, one must admit that the options for the honest and responsible dog owner are limited when it comes to disposal of this “product.” First, there is the option of simply “letting the chips fall where they may,” in other words, not cleaning up after your dog. I agree with Gregory that this is an abhorrent practice. In fact, it should be a felony. Second, one can go to PETCO and buy one of those clever “pooper scooper” contraptions, which have a long handle and a spring loaded shovel. But what do you do with this thing when you get home, leave it on your front porch? Bring it inside your house? Wash it? Where — in the dishwasher? Plus, they look SO uncool — no casual acquaintance will stop and talk to you while you are holding this smeared device. Third, you can use the fairly unpleasant “bag” method. But then what do you do with the bag? Without a public trashcan close by, the unlucky dog owner is often forced to walk several blocks holding a fragrant bag of used dog food. Any dog owner who does this is familiar with the feeling of, “gee, I hope nobody I know sees me and they want to chat, or worse still, shake hands.” Throwing it into someone else's trash can cause complaints, and I have read that you should NOT throw these bags into a sewer drain because they cause all kinds of problems. I have also read that dog feces are a contributor to rising levels of dangerous bacteria in our streams and Chesapeake Bay. Further, a recent article in Atlantic Monthly takes an evolutionary biology perspective on domesticated dogs, and concludes that they are nothing more than highly successful parasites. Really, the only answer is to get rid our homes of these ridiculous animals which serve no useful function in a modern society, and chew up our shoes and scare the mailman besides. NOT!


A (Hopefully) Final Reply to Mr. Matthes
Michele Rhodes,

(With apologies to Jon Desenberg — I prefer the neighborhood news as well. Where else can we get it?) When I previously replied to Mr. Matthes, I tried to separate a First Amendment question from an equally fundamental question: democratic representation. My point was that American citizens should by right have full representation in their government. To me the fact of that right is the simple starting place of any discussion about representation. Therefore, I continue to be surprised that someone can disagree on this basic point. Of course there WAS a time when the franchise was limited to property owners or European Americans or men — but I rather thought we were past all that. Then I moved to DC and encountered the arguments of people like Mr. Matthes. He would like citizens of the District to pass a test before he extends the franchise to us. Certainly, Mr. Matthes does not advocate tests for individuals, such as a poll tax or a literacy test. Rather, he promotes a kind of collective test. On this point Mr. Matthes writes: “Why should the residents of the 50 states grant votes in Congress to a polity so contemptuous of individual rights?” Why indeed? Is it possible that we citizens of the district are the “enemies of the constitution” he suggests?

With all due respect to Mr. Matthes, we have heard enough hyperbole. What town or city is Mr. Matthes from? If I opened the history books would I find that city innocent of ever trampling some of its citizens rights? If I did find something, would Mr. Matthes advocate revoking the franchise of that city until they passed some test? Is there ANY polity that has not at some time been gripped by passions detrimental to individual liberty? I do not defend the actions of the city council. I merely suggest that we in the District are no different than people anywhere else. Mr. Matthes has supplied no evidence to the contrary. And since we are no different than other people, we should have full representation, just like other people. It is that simple. (By the way, if it takes statehood to get there, I am all for it.)


An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse
Ed T. Barron,

Despite being a confirmed technophile, with nearly every electronic gizmo invented (and generally the first on the block to have one), I have eschewed the ubiquitous cell phone. Until now, that is. What has turned me off about cell phones is the distraction and intrusion factors that come with most of the users of cell phones. It is very common to see folks making calls in restaurants, while driving their cars, and in very public places etc. I consider that a major intrusion in my life and an unnecessary distraction. I can see the benefits of cell phones for use when you need to be contactable or must contact someone but cannot use a regular phone. What changed my mind? Economics.

As I added up my AT&T long distance bill, with its abundance of totally unintelligible charges, and despite the fact that I have a 7 cents per minute anytime long-distance plan (at a monthly premium of $5 additional dollars), my total local and long distance phone calls average out at about 12 cents per minute. A wide area cell phone plan offered to me (six states in their local area — no roaming in those states) encompasses the states in which three of my four kids and all my grandkids live. For a total charge of $40 per month I get 500 "anytime" "local" minutes per month and 500 weekend “anywhere” minutes (U.S. and Canada). Despite the fact that I will not likely use all of the allotted minutes, my phone calls should average out at about 7 to 8 cents per minute (even including amortizing the cell phone cost of $70 over three years). In addition I have voice mail, call holding, caller ID, and a host of other features , many of which I likely will never use. By giving my cell phone number only to those folks who need to call me in an emergency and keeping a single Bell Atlantic line (instead of having a second line for the computer) at home for the computer and to receive incoming long distance calls, it is likely that my total bills each month will be just about the same as we now pay. It was an offer I could not refuse.


DC Food
Cynthia Harrison,

Yes, as Donald Lief notes, sausage is the right food for DC -- pork sausage.


Mark Richards,

I wrote in a posting that there are 14 appropriations bills. That is inaccurate; there are 13, and the 13th one is for the D.C. budget. By the way, the number of general provisions (72 riders) was cited by Rep. Moran during the hearing in the House. I wish that Eleanor Holmes Norton would publish a full list of riders (in layman's language) on her website during each budget cycle.


New Report Available
Danilo Pelletiere,

The New Columbia Chapter of the Sierra Club has released a new report entitled “Restore the Core! A citizen's guide to building a livable D.C.” The report covers issues such as public safety, schools, development, employment, and of course parks, rivers, and green space. Along with a straightforward discussion of what a “livable” city is, this report provides a resource list, advocacy primer, and a lot of other useful information. It is available as a PDF file on-line at or as a paper copy for a $5 donation. For a paper copy, send a check made out to the New Columbia Sierra Club to: Restore the Core, % New Columbia Chapter, Sierra Club, 408 C Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
BRING BACK THE GOON SQUAD: Maryland resident Dennis F. McCarthy has a gripe plenty of D.C. residents have heard before. On a Saturday in late June, McCarthy pulled his Ford Explorer into an open, legal parking space in front of the old Woodies building at 11th and F Streets NW. When he returned to his car, he found one of those ghastly pink parking tickets affixed to his windshield. “Parking in a bus zone,” read the charge on the ticket.
McCarthy took a second look at the position of his car; it protruded 5-and-one-quarter inches from the signpost. “I measured,” says McCarthy.
That kind of persnickety ticketing is supposed to have disappeared two years ago — even when the unlucky target is a soulless suburbanite.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
MONDAY: Forbidden Planet, at sunset (8:12 p.m.) at the National Mall, 17th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free.
INDEFINITE: Rube Goldberg: Comic Art and Invention, on view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily at the National Museum of American History, 14th and Constitution Ave. NW. Free.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at



Alison Krauss at Wolf Trap
Phil Greene,

Two lawn tickets (value $17 each) for sale to see Alison Krauss and Union Station at Wolf Trap, special guest Robert Lee Castleman, on Wednesday, August 16 at 8:00 pm. $34 for both or best offer. E-mail


B.B. King Blues Festival 2000 at Wolf Trap
Laurie England,

Two lawn tickets (value $20 each) for sale for the B.B. King Blues Festival 2000 at Wolf Trap, Wednesday, September 6 at 6 pm. $15 for each or best offer. E-mail



Knitting Program Request for Volunteers
Peg Blechman,

Did you know that knitting was the latest rage? Do you knit or want to learn how? We'll teach you! We're looking volunteer knitters to help with the knitting program at Bancroft Elementary in Adams Morgan this school year. Even if you're a beginner or if you want to learn, let me know. We'll train you. We work with a teacher trained in the Waldorf School Crafts curriculum. So we teach the kids (8, 9 and 10 year olds) using their methodology. Last year, we were at the school on Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 12 noon to 3 pm, but one day a week or even a couple of hours would be great.


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