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November 8, 2000

A Book a Week

Dear Readers:

I got an E-mail ad today saying, “Whew! What an election! Aren't you ready for a cruise?” Well, yes. Dorothy and I are going to be on the move and having some fun for the next few weeks, but themail will continue in one form or another. This will be an experiment, but I'm going to try using a web-based E-mail address and cyber cafes to continue to send you themail. The schedule may be a little irregular for awhile; everyone will receive the plain text edition, rather than an HTML edition; I won't be subscribing or unsubscribing anyone; and I won't be posting issues of themail to the web or otherwise updating the DCWatch web site. If there's a glitch, and themail doesn't arrive on time, please forgive me and read a book instead.

But please keep sending your messages. You'll be our only source of news for what's really going on town, instead of being just our chief source, which is what you are now.

Gary Imhoff


DCPS Reading Requirements
Nora Bawa,

In the last themail, Tom Berry has a question about public high school students being required to read 30 books a year in order to be promoted. As a DCPS teacher, I replied to him that at my school there is a yearly requirement of 25 books, and seniors cannot graduate until they have fulfilled that requirement. This is a local interpretation and implementation of one of the recommendations of “America's Choice,” the school reform program which my school and several others in DC have chosen to follow, in compliance with former Superintendent Ackerman's reform policies.

Students are asked to document the pages they have read each day, and teachers are asked to quiz the students, randomly, every day, about their reading material. They may not change books once they have chosen a book, may not select a book after they have entered a particular classroom, and in most cases, may not substitute newspapers, magazines or other reading material for books, unless they are assigned by a teacher. These and other draconian measures are supposed to make fond readers of our students. From the response I hear from students, I fear we are creating powerful resistance to reading in most of the students. Those who are readers to begin with will probably not be deterred, but for the majority, they feel this is just another obstacle in the race for a diploma. A number of students have given this as their reason for transferring to other schools.

Educational reform is problematic at best; there has never been agreement on how to create an educated American. But now that this issue has become so politicized, everyone has joined the fray, for various and often nefarious reasons. Woe betide the students and teachers of our public schools. Only when parents become sufficiently outraged that their kids are being used as guinea pigs for Bill Bennett's or someone else's schemes (often someone who is pulling in big bucks from the school systems) will the standardized testing hysteria and its adjuncts be modified, and education perhaps returned to the much-maligned educators.


A Book a Week
Caroline Polk,

In response to Tom Berry's complaint about DCPS students having to read 30 books in 9 months, I'd like to point out that that works out to a little less than one book per week. That doesn't seem to be a particularly onerous burden, especially because the children are being asked to read things they enjoy, not obscure philosophical texts or statistics. And most children's books are fairly short. The better one is at a task, the more one enjoys it. To become skilled in reading and thus enjoy it, one has to practice it often. I would think that parents who want their children to read would appreciate the school system's efforts.

Would you rather have a child glued to the TV or engrossed in a book? I'd say a book a week would be a minimum requirement.


Police Abuses
Toby Sheppard Bloch,

The MPD should be ashamed of itself. On more than four occasions, officers have refused — refused — to provide me with their name or badge numbers. On two of these occasions, the officers we plainclothes in an unmarked car. When I complained to 911 (as the officers instructed me to when I expressed doubt they were police) their Lieutenant showed up at 12:20 am (4 hours after I called) and told me if I continued to interfere with his officers he would have me arrested.

I wrote to Commander Beach, Councilmember Graham, Chief Ramsey, and Mayor Williams describing my concerns with undercover “jump outs” on my street. The officer in charge of the vice squad in question called me, told me I didn't understand how dangerous my neighborhood was, and asked why I didn't support the police who were trying to make it safer. When I complained to him that the officers who had refused to identify themselves had tried to intimidate me after I wrote my letters (driving the wrong way down the street slowly, staring at me with their heads out the windows and laughing at me) their boss told me it was a free country.

MPD isn't going to get an ounce of respect from this citizen until they stop behaving like power-tripping children. There may well be good people in MPD — but there are at least as many bad cops, violent cops, and cops who lack basic civility, respect, and professionalism. One last thing. The line that Ramsey and Gainer are separate from this culture is bull. Their behavior during the IMF/WTO protests was deplorable -- they refused to make simple gestures of good faith and openness like insisting officers wear badges. Cops might not like it, but in a free country the Police must be open, transparent, and accountable.


“These Kinds of Things. . .”
Rick Otis,

. . . simply happen to all sorts of people. Marc Battle is incorrect in suggesting police abuse doesn't happen to white people. I've watched it happen. In one case, it was two black officers and white occupants of a car under circumstances where the car occupants were doing something perfectly reasonable and not playing a tad fast and lose with the registration rules. Several of the onlookers to the event and the occupants of the car openly stated they thought the officers were overacting precisely because of race. No one should operate under the illusion that racism in Washington and across the country is a one-way street.


Positive Voting Experience
Suzanne Griffith,

I took my children, ages 3 and 6, with me to my polling place, Slowe Elementary School in Brookland (precinct 73). As we waited on line one of the volunteers descended upon us, asked my older son if he wanted to vote, and whisked them both away to the practice voting booth where she helped the boys cast their “ballot.” Her intervention allowed to me to cast my own ballot quickly and efficiently while simultaneously giving my children a hands-on introduction to the democratic process. I'm sorry I didn't get the volunteer's name but I want to thank her for making Election Day a positive experience for all three of us.


Being Courted
Jeffrey Itell,

In the past two days, Al Gore called me, Rick Santorum rang me up, Tom Ridge called on behalf of Shrub, so did Shrub’s brother Jeb, Al “Call me Al” Gore called again, Bill Jefferson Clinton checked in to see how I was doing, MTV asked me to “Rock the Vote,” and friends of Al called a few times just to reach out and touch. Custom Mortgage also called; Ralph Nader didn't.

In the “Battleground” state of Pennsylvania, I am a voter. In D.C., I was chopped liver.


A Poet and Didn’t Know It
Bob Summersgill,

Mark David Richards, in the rather informative article “Hallelujah! DC Is Vindicated on Principle!” misidentified a quote from the Star as a poem. He wrote: “The Star (June 17, 1960) ran an article under the headline 'Hallelujah!,' opening with a poem: 'No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; But 'tis enough; 'twill serve.'” This is from Mercutio's death speech in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 1. It is followed, a couple of sentences later, by the line “A plague o' both your houses!” which is an appropriate curse for Congress.


Sinking Deeper into the Constitutional Quicksand
George S. LaRoche,

I agree with Tim Cooper that further amendment of the constitution would enable the people of the District to do things they cannot now do. Ignoring other considerations, this would be good. But an Amendment isn't a free ride, and it's not necessarily a step towards the status the citizens of the District deserve. And Mr. Cooper's survey of Supreme Court opinions, actually, is another reason to weigh the amendment proposal very carefully. Mr. Cooper's survey of the cases is accurate, but leaves out the most important consideration of all. Mr. Cooper correctly paraphrases Palmore to hold that Congress can pretty much do what it wants “so long as it doesn't contravene any provision of the Constitution,” but Mr. Cooper overlooks the necessary consideration: how to deal with a situation when Congress does contravene a provision of the Constitution?

Darby, to which Mr. Cooper refers, is a case in point. It concerned a discrete claim that Congress transgressed the Constitution in a certain manner. The question presented was based on the court's statement in Palmore and it acknowledged every other Supreme Court case. In short, to rule in favor of Ms. Darby, the courts would not have had to reverse themselves or alter anything said before. But the courts couldn't bring themselves to address the question. Palmore itself was also a case in point, in that Mr. Palmore was pointing out a way in which he thought Congress had “contravened” the Constitution, though the courts did grapple with the question presented in his case. In other words, that phrase Mr. Cooper quotes from Darby is a nullity, but not for legal reasons. It's a nullity because the courts are unwilling to heed their own statements of the law as stated in Palmore and elsewhere. Congress's treatment of the District is unassailable, but not because of existing case law. It is unassailable, as slavery and legalized segregation were unassailable for so long, because of politics. The courts of this country have hardly ever been in the forefront of change and have almost never been receptive to the pleas of the disenfranchised, even when challenges are brought to stop government from “contravening the Constitution.” Heartwarming images in popular culture and politicians' speeches notwithstanding, the weak, the poor, people of color, women, blue collar labor, and political minorities face a hard vertical climb just to get into the courts, much less prevail. So an amendment would only be as good as a court's willingness to enforce it.

For instance, the Thirteenth Amendment (outlawing slavery) seems clear as a bell on its face, but slavery continued as a matter of fact until those flaunting the Amendment were forced to release their slaves. Then, those who would hold others as slaves turned to the system called “peonage,” which lasted until the mid-twentieth century, when the United States Department of Justice finally had enough courage and political disposition to try to stamp it out. We still have slavery in this country, of course, but it's hidden and sporadic. Over a century after the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, finally, the Department of Justice and the courts are sufficiently ready to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment that those who would now hold slaves must hide the fact in order to avoid prosecution, conviction, and real punishment. The fact is that no Amendment is self-executing. The Constitution itself is not self-executing and your “rights” are not self-executing. Most people in his country couldn't give a flip about politics (proof: how many of us voted Tuesday?), but they don't have to worry about their “rights” or the Constitution, because they know that somewhere, someone else is enforcing their rights for them. Their collective asses are covered by the few who give a flip. One reason I urge the people of the District to hold out for and never cease pressing for full citizenship under the existing terms of the Constitution (rather than under a novel amendment or legislation) is that the law construing those existing terms of the Constitution has already been written and its meaning is fairly clear. You won't have to go to court over and over and over and over to define the new amendment or the new law, to protect it, to defend it; and when you do have to go to court, finally, you'll find an easier road to follow if it's the same road blazed by everyone else in the country.



Ask the Chief
Jim Farley, WTOP Radio,

DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey takes your calls live for an hour Thursday at 10 am on WTOP Radio. 1500 AM, 107.7 FM, or listen live on To call in, 1-877-628-WTOP or 895-5065, but please don't call until 10 am.


Robert Revere,

America is truly a nation of yakkers! From political punditry to Hollywood gossip to gut-spilling confessional, we are caught up in (obsessed with!) talking about ourselves — and others! This Friday night, you can see the best yakkers in the country when Washington Storytellers Theater presents the Washington premiere of The National Yakkers Theater Ensemble. Critics describe their unique blend of improvisation, stand-up comedy, personal anecdote, and traditional storytelling as, “The Brothers Grimm meet Carl Jung and Monty Python!”

To see the Yakkers and learn about WST, go to Whatever you do, don't miss comic monologist Nancy Donoval, veteran of street theater and the classic stage David Novak, and award-winning playwright and performer Gerald Fierst in an affordable, fun-filled evening that everyone will be yakking about! Washington, D.C. Premiere of The National Yakkers Theater Ensemble, Friday, November 10, 8:00 pm, District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, Goldman Theater, 16th and Q Streets, NW (Dupont Circle Metro). Tickets $12. Call 301-891-1129.


The Poor Clares Concert, Dec. 1
Bill Adler,

The Poor Clares, a traditional Irish band, will be performing a Celtic Christmas Concert on Friday, December 1st at 7 pm. The concert will be at the John Eaton School, at 34th and Lowell Streets, NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children 10 and under. Dirty Linen magazine called The Poor Clares “One of America's best Irish groups.” For more information, E-mail, call 986-9275, or visit



Moving/Estate Sale
Cathy Green,

Friday, November 10th and Saturday, November 11th, 10 am to 4 pm, 3467 24th Street, SE, near Naylor Road and Southern Avenue. All items must go. Old records, historical books, household items, furniture.



Auto Body Shop
Steven Shafarman,

Can someone please recommend a good, low-cost body shop for my 1990 Acura Integra? The driver's side door needs to be replaced.


Handyman Needed
Greg Jones,

I am looking for a reliable handyman for minor tasks around the house. I've seen postings recommending such folks in the past but neglected to print them out.

[Two reminders: first, the complete archives of themail can be searched at, so you can look there for past messages. Second, when you reply directly to a request for recommendations with information that should be of general interest, please send a copy to themail, so others can benefit. — Gary Imhoff]


Cleaner for Brick Patio
Cynthia Harrison,

I'd appreciate recommendations for someone to power wash and seal a brick patio.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
EX POST FACTO: The biggest loser in this year's local election cycle? That would have to be the Washington Post, which saw the value of its once-weighty editorial endorsements reduced to, well, whatever you could get at the local recycling center for all those campaign posters for the Rev. Robert Childs and Charlene Drew Jarvis.
Note: This is the last LL column written by Washington City Paper contributing editor Erik Wemple. Starting next week, veteran City Paper contributor Jonetta Rose Barras will become the new LL.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
THURSDAY-SUNDAY: Brett Butler, 8 and 10:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 10, and Saturday, Nov. 11, and 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9 & Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW. $17-$20.
WEDNESDAY: John Eaton, 8 and 10 p.m., at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $16.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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