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January 6, 2002

Sorry Kids, No Snow Day Tomorrow

Dear Writers:

Thanks for keeping us on our toes. An alert reader suggests that, according to FCC regulations, only public television stations and stations run by educational entities can accurately be referred to as “educational television stations,” and that the cable-satellite stations like Discovery are commercial ventures. But that raises another question: in the age of cable and satellite television, what is the role of public television? When several entire stations are dedicated to news, science, history, arts, and children's programming, what does a public television station have to offer that is unique? I'll accept the answer that it's broadcast, so that you don't have to subscribe to cable or satellite to get it. It seems to me, though, that the main difference is that public television stations are able to serve local markets, rather than a national market, and can do locally oriented programming. But, at least in DC, neither WETA nor WHUR does much at all to produce or air programming specifically aimed to serve this city, and WETA seems particularly uninterested in doing so. Am I wrong?

Government officials have been grumbling about Dorothy's characterization of the events of September 11, claiming that if only she knew what had gone on in their secret operations that day and in their private meetings since, she would be impressed with how well the DC government had responded. Yeah, sure. That's why they keep the story of their splendid and heroic reactions so quiet, and why they testified to a Connie Morella's Congressional committee on November 2 that they still were working on a draft plan; so that citizens won't be overly dazzled.

Tomorrow, Monday, the City Council Committee on Economic Development will hold a hearing on the reappointment of John Richardson as chairman of the Sports and Entertainment Commission. Debby Hanrahan will testify on behalf of the DC Statehood Green Party, and she has sent us her testimony early. Debby points out that the Sports Commission has promoted a new baseball stadium and the bid for the 2012 Olympics, and has signed a contract to hold an annual multi-day auto racing event just outside RFK Stadium for the next ten years, and that neither the Sports Commission, the Council, nor any public body held any public hearing or forum to discuss these projects. She asks, “What has happened to open and representative government when the public is denied any voice in decisions of this magnitude? Decisions that affect our fiscal health, our environment, our quality of life? It's not enough to say that the desires of the commission and certain city officials to have a baseball stadium and the 2012 Olympics have been covered in the press. That's not how democracy is supposed to work.” No, but that's how the Sports Commission is supposed to work. The people of DC are here to pay the bills, not to have a voice in the important decisions.

Gary Imhoff


It’s Not Money
Ed T. Barron,

Read George Will's column in the Sunday (6 January) Post to see some very interesting statistics. The DC School System has the fourth highest per pupil spending in the entire country. At the same time DC ranks 49th out of 51 in the State rankings for SAT scores. The problem is not the money. Will blames single parent (and presumably also dysfunctional) families for this apparent dichotomy. Interestingly two states that spend among the lowest amounts per pupil on education — North and South Dakota (41st and 48th, respectively) — both rank in the top 5 in SAT proficiency. No, the problem is not money.

To fix the problems in DC, replacing the majority of classroom teachers and the majority of school principals with high quality instructors and administrators are two areas that would produce the most benefits. If the problems of dysfunctional families could be solved, it is likely that the incredibly high levels of spending on special education (which is bleeding the school system dry) would dramatically decrease. That would permit a lot of money to be used in hiring better classroom teachers and more effective high school principals.


CRS Report on the Horizon
Mark David Richards, Dupont East,

As one of the Senate and House conferees in DC’s FY 2002 Appropriations bill, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) requested and other Members agreed to and directed the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to “analyze the differences and similarities in municipal, state, and national government, including funding, management, oversight, and the rights of citizens, in the District of Columbia and ten other comparable national capitals.” They requested that the report be submitted to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations not later than March 31, 2002. I am very pleased that Congressman Fattah took the lead on this. This suggests there are Congressional leaders who are interested in looking more carefully at the facts of DC’s status. The best source that I am aware of for comparative information on DC compared to other national capitals is Professor Charles Wesley Harris of Howard University. I believe Canberra, Australia, and Brasilia, Brazil, are the Capital Districts most comparable to DC (they are both federal Districts modeled after DC). Both amended their Constitution to grant their Capital District citizens the same rights as citizens who live in states while respecting a clearly defined federal interest, a sort of implicit or de facto statehood. Timothy Cooper and Professor Harris have both written about this remedy.

To read about the Constitutional Clause that has tied DC in knots for two centuries, see

Mayor Williams announced on December 9, 2001, that the Board of Directors of the National League of Cities (NLC) had approved a resolution in support of DC voting rights as a permanent part of its legislative agenda: The organization’s full membership was expected to give final approval to the measure, but I haven’t seen information on that. The League will be back to DC in March 5-12 for its Congressional City Conference.


Missing Mail
Vivian Henderson, VHende

I mailed some letters on November 28 to Silver Spring, MD, and they have yet to arrive. The Post Office replied to my inquiry with "give it time to be returned to you." My husband was just informed that his Washington Post payment, which was also mailed in early November, has not arrived. I have seen nothing in the papers about the mails recently, so assumed we were back to normal. Has anyone else had a problem in this area?


Youth Science Project Expands from San Francisco to DC
Phil Shapiro,

A minute ago I spotted an interesting news article about a youth science project in San Francisco that is expanding to the Latin American Youth Center, in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC. For those of you who take an interest in youth matters, the article can be found at:

The web site of the Latin American Youth Center is at, and the Columbia Heights neighborhood web site (one of the oldest neighborhood web sites in the nation) is at Kudos to the National Science Foundation for funding the above-mentioned initiative: It's been my experience that the NSF represents some of the best of government in action.


Lightening Up
Larry Lesser,

For what it's worth, I agree that people should lighten up about the so-called presumptuousness of religion-based greetings such as “merry Christmas” and “have a blessed day.” Why, I've even heard of people objecting to “have a nice day,” because it's a cliche or something. What about “goodbye?” Isn't it derived from “God be with ye?” Merciful heavens, where does it end? Do these PC police have a suggestion as to what friendly greeting they prefer using and prefer that the rest of us use as well?

Warm best wishes. You got a problem with that?


In Response to Educational Television
Anne Heutte, Brookland,

Might I suggest, gulp, that you read, TV off, of course, C.S. Lewis's adult science-fantasy trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and most especially, That Hideous Strength. If you do, you will never want to turn on that TV stuff again, I promise you.


A Reluctant First Lady
Mandy Katz,

A reluctant first lady? No wonder! Dorothy Brizill's analyses of District politics are usually dead-on, so I can't understand why she would take time out to pick on Diane Williams. The mayor's wife, by all accounts a successful and unassuming career woman, made clear from the start that she and her daughter would avoid the limelight and she would shun the “First Lady” role if Anthony Williams won the mayoralty. Then, as Dorothy reports, she kept her promise. So, what's the beef? After Sharon Pratt Dixon remarried, did anyone gripe that Mr. Kelly failed to choose a public issue, “traditional or untraditional” (whatever that means)? As for rumors about an “undisclosed 'health' problem,” one thing that should not become a tradition is rumor-mongering about the health of private citizens -- even those married to public officials.


Resistance to “Reagan National”
David Sobelsohn,

In the last issue of themail, Robert Frazier, presumably tongue-in-cheek, called using the name “Reagan National Airport” an “insult to DC citizens and the workers at Washington National Airport.” Yes, but this battle is over, at least until a few years after the Gipper (remember “g” before “i” is usually soft) actually croaks (Cape Kennedy's name changed back, didn't it?). I held out a few years myself; hell, I refused for eight years to utter the phrase “President Reagan.” But a few months ago I needed to fly out of that airport. When I told the reservations agent I wanted a flight out of “National” or “Washington National,” she couldn't find the airport.

Dorothy Parker, of course, would've had the perfect reply to Reagan's Alzheimer's diagnosis (borrowed from her comment when she learned of Coolidge's death): “How can they tell?”


Resistance to Reagan
Ralph Blessing,

I second Robert Frazier's sentiments about how we choose to refer to National Airport, though I worry that there's a conspiracy among the local media to force the RR moniker down our collective throats, no matter what. As an example, I noted that every one (and there were quite a few) of the Post's letters to the editor that dealt with the post-September 11 closure of National identified the airport as “Reagan National.” Such unanimity seems highly unlikely, especially given the ongoing resistance to the name change in many circles. Or could it have been the hand of the paper's editorial staff enforcing its own version of proper “style” on letters submitted for publication?


Metro SmarTrip Fee
Katie Kuster,

I can't speak about Metro's cost structure, but if the $5 SmarTrip fee really bothers you, here are a couple of ideas to make you feel better about it — choose your favorite. 1) Think of it as a one-time insurance premium. If you lose a $33 Metrocheck or farecard, you're screwed. Metro is insuring the money you place on your SmarTrip. 2) Think of it as a one-time account fee. Banks, credit cards, insurance companies and others charge money to hold accounts and do record-keeping for you. Instead of getting charged $3 a month, you get a bargain-basement price of $5 for life! 3) Think of it as an investment toward the improvement of Metro services — someday we might be able to use SmarTrip on the bus! That might allow us to pay the same fee transferring from bus-to-Metro as we pay transferring from Metro-to-bus. After just a few rides, that $5 would be a distant memory.

For those of you who haven't, open your hearts this season, and give just $5 to Metro for years of convenient commuting!


SmartTrip Redux
James Treworgy,

The fee hasn't prevented me from getting one. For me, the convenience is worth the small price but, since Metro is in part a publicly funded organization, I am still bothered that they chose a policy which would tend to reduce the number of people adopting the technology, and hence increasing overall the operational cost. You may call someone a cheapskate for refusing to pay this fee, but the collective of cheapskates means fewer people using SmartTrip, and the more people who use it, the better for everyone. Beyond that, it is fundamentally annoying that one would have to pay for something that saves the service provider money. Would you give $5 to Exxon for one of those key chain things to wave over the pump? Would they dream of trying to charge for it?

I appreciate the security needed for exit fares. However, this could have been approached in any number of other ways: 1) Allow users to automatically recharge their balance to a linked credit card when it falls below the maximum train fare for example, such as nearly every other similar program like EZPass. This is far more user-friendly than the current situation of expecting users to put large quantities of cash ($180, the maximum) up front on their cards to avoid frequent recharges. 2) Label the charge a security deposit and allow it to be refunded if you turn in your card. 3) You have to show ID and fill out a form when you get one. I don't see people just tossing their card out because of a long line. Which of course would be moot if you could recharge automatically. So how about give the first one away free and charge only for a replacement, if this is really expected to be a problem?


SmarTrip Cards
David Sobelsohn,

Are SmarTrip cards personal — i.e., is each registered in an individual's own name? If so, there's another advantage to SmarTrip cards: you don't lose everything if you lose a well-charged card. I once left my regular Metro card, with $16 charged on it, in the pocket of a garment I brought to the cleaner's. It disappeared at the cleaners, probably into someone else's pocket (does anyone know a cleaners where that wouldn't happen?). With a SmarTrip card, could I have called Metro, canceled the card, and got a replacement? In that event, the $5 is insurance.


Smart Trip Cards
Annie McCormick,

The SmartTrip cards are indeed very convenient, and I didn't see a problem with the one-time $5 fee. But I do have a slight problem with them. I had a regular Metrocheck card which is worth $10.85 which I had before I got the SmartTrip card, and I could not transfer the amount to the SmartTrip. So I have to use the paper card all the way down, which totally defeats the purpose of having the SmartTrip card in the first place. Is there a magic number amount that the machine will let you transfer the balance from a regular card to a SmartTrip card? I also have cards for .10, .15, and .50 which it will not let transfer. But my brand new card, which I get from my employer (I pay with pretax dollars) transfers just fine to the SmartTrip card.


Mixed Progress on Revitalizing DC
Len Sullivan,

Was 2001 a good year for DC? Is there measurable progress towards becoming a truly outstanding capital city? If not, why not? What do the latest statistics show? How many domestic urban wars is the mayor trying to wage at once? Could he benefit from some of the assets available to President Bush for his single-purpose war against Evildoers? You may not agree, but our answers to this year-end retrospective can be found in the January update of the NARPAC web site at Don't just sit there. Get positively involved.



DC Mystery Writers Reading
Victoria McKernan,

If you want a break from real life murder, mayhem, and bioterrorism, come hear local mystery authors George Pelecanos and Victoria McKernan read from their new novels. Pelecanos is the author of ten crime/noir novels set in and around Washington, DC His newest is Hell to Pay. McKernan's fourth mystery/thriller The Mosquito War, recently published (under the name V.A. MacAlister) concerns a bioterrorist attack on DC using a deadly strain of malaria.

The readings are part of the “Adda” series usually held at Chi Cha lounge the first Tuesday of each month. This reading, however, will be held at Staccato bar and lounge, 2006 18th Street, NW (18th and U Street), Tuesday, January 8, at 7:30 p.m.


P’Shara: Mediation in the Jewish Tradition
Ivor Heyman,

Did you know that there is strong precedent in Jewish law for resolving conflicts through mediation as opposed to litigation? Over three sessions, Ivor Heyman will teach a workshop on the meaning, origins, and application of the concept of P’shara (defined as compromise or settlement) in Jewish law. In this interactive workshop, participants will (1) examine the Jewish approach to conflict and peacemaking, (2) learn how Jewish law uses P’shara to generate peace between conflicting parties, (3) compare and contrast P’shara with modern concepts of conflict resolution including litigation, arbitration, and mediation, and (4) obtain support from Jewish texts for using mediation (a modern form of P’shara) to resolve family, business and other disputes. Ivor Heyman is a private mediator and facilitator who works with nonprofit and other organizations in the DC metropolitan area to resolve internal conflict and undergo systemic change.

Thursdays, January 10, January 17 and January 24, 7-9 p.m., DCJCC, 1529 16th Street, NW. JCC members, $10/session or $20 for the series; nonmembers, $15/session. For more information, contact Shuly Babitz, 777-3268. Please make advance reservations.


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