themail.gif (3487 bytes)

February 16, 2005

Can’t Sing

Dear Melodic Correspondents:

I’ve been listening, for the past few days, to some great singers with bad voices. You know the kind of singers I’m talking about: Louis Armstrong, Phil Harris, Jimmy Durante, Hoagy Carmichael. Their voices are rough, never pretty. They couldn’t hit a pure note if they tried. Their voices are like mine, and when I was in the chorus for my grade school’s Christmas pageant (we had Christmas pageants then, not winter holiday celebrations), my second-grade teacher, Ms. Reimers, told me that it would be all right if I didn’t actually make a sound. I could stand in the front row and move my mouth as though I were singing. In fact, she said, it might be better if I did just that. (I didn’t mind; I got to do a tap-dance duet with Sue Eggers to “Winter Wonderland”; Susan was cute as a button, and that was fine by me.)

But these singers were never dissuaded by their second-grade teachers. They persisted, and it turns out that their raspy, bad voices were no handicap in becoming first-rate song interpreters. Their phrasing, their timing, and their understanding of their lyrics made them good. Of course, as singers Armstrong, Harris, and Durante were best known for their comic and novelty songs, and Carmichael sang mostly his own compositions, but all of them could deliver a lovely ballad with a haunting melody in an unforgettable way. Think of Armstrong’s definitive version of “What a Wonderful World,” of Harris’ “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” of Durante’s “September Song” and “As Time Goes By” (for that matter, think of Walter Huston’s “September Song” and Dooley Wilson’s “As Time Goes By”), of Carmichael’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Two Sleepy People.”

I was going to write tonight about my miserable failure, several years ago, to get the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to deny a liquor license to the Coach and Four, the restaurant in the Reeves Municipal Center that is now in the news under its nighttime club name, Club U. When I was an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, neighbors of the club and the Third District Police complained bitterly about the rowdy and violent crowds that spread out into U Street when the club closed at night and about the noise from the club. But the ANC commission voted in favor of renewing its liquor license, so I filed a protest on my own. The chairman of the ANC commission championed the club’s cause and testified on its behalf; the priest at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church wrote a letter supporting it; and the principal of St. Augustine’s school testified for it. The ABC inspector found no problems with the club, and the club’s file at the ABC Board, which should have documented the neighbors’ past complaints, couldn’t be located. The police and the complaining neighbors didn’t come to the ABC Board hearing. At the hearing, I looked and sounded, even to myself, like a lone crank with no basis at all for his complaints. Well, now, justification. All it took was a few more years and a killing or two or three, and the ABC Board is acting with dispatch. I suppose that’s some kind of encouragement, and I was going to offer that as the kind of encouragement that you can expect when you deal with the DC government.

But I prefer the encouragement of Armstrong, Harris, Durante, and Carmichael. They teach a more valuable and uplifting life lesson: even if you can’t sing, you can sing.

Gary Imhoff


Spiraling Assessments
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

The proposed tax relief measures proposed by Councilperson/Mayor wannabe are not unreasonable, but I wish to offer my own proposal. I say it is time to cut the property tax rate. Assessments do reflect, in most cases, the inflated value of houses in this area. Those inflated house values should not be used to penalize those who want to live in those houses. It would be much fairer in this time of inflated home prices to reduce the property tax rate to keep the burden on home owners to a minimum.


Rearranging Lawn Chairs
Phil Shapiro,

The Washington Post has done a nice job of redesigning the front page of their site. I won’t tell you which ship these lawn chairs are on, because I don’t know. Neither does the Washington Post.

I went looking for community blogs under the new menus, but couldn’t find any. I asked Jim Brady, the executive editor of, where I could find the community blogs. He tells me there aren’t any. Look south to Greensboro, North Carolina. There the News-Record newspaper figured out that media is not just "us telling them what we think they need to know." It’s a conversation. A whirlwind has started in Greensboro that will spread across the nation. It’s about time the web counter got integrated. Read why at Stay tuned at Spread the word. We’re not sitting at the back of the bus anymore.


DC Funding Priorities and Needs
Richard Layman,

Re: Len Sullivan’s (NARPAC) post [themail, February 13]: While it is great that DC has a budget surplus, and while proposals like taxing federal land are misguided and even dumb, the belief that everything is hunky-dory and there are few structural problems with the revenue side of the DC budget continues to be false. The primary reason that DC has a budget surplus is that money isn’t being spent on important and basic needs, particularly infrastructure, such as road improvements (as much money is being spent, there are still even greater needs), on maintenance of buildings in the DC government property inventory (most buildings, particularly historic buildings, are “under-maintained”), on cleaning streets and sidewalks (it appears that the DPW budget has been reduced in this area as I notice less frequent removal of trash from street receptacles), needs for WMATA in terms of maintaining the aging subway system (DC, along with area counties in Virginia and Maryland, provides the lion’s share of the budget for annual operations and capital improvements out of general fund monies), parks and recreation facilities, funding for cultural resources (historic preservation, City Museum, other arts and cultural activities), etc. These and other programs continue! to be funded at levels that clearly are not commensurate with the needs currently expressed and basic expectations for service levels. And I didn’t mention human services, public safety, and education, which comprise the bulk of the annual budget.

Capital improvements. This doesn’t even get into the question of how the DC government chooses to collect certain tax revenues and where to spend them. E.g., while $300-$600 million will be collected to pay for the construction of a baseball stadium, imagine the same amount of money being invested in the realization of streetcars/light rail proposals embodied in the joint WMATA-DC Department of Transportation study, Bringing back streetcars would have a return on investment of ten to thirty times. Clearly, there are issues concerning DC government funding and capital investment priorities, and "eight years in a row of budget surpluses" doesn’t change this fact.

DC is like most older traditional center cities (NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.) in that the financial needs, particularly for infrastructure, are far greater than current revenues. (It would take an entire issue of themail to explain that this is historical, a function of out-migration to the suburbs, the support of sprawl and the abandonment of the center cities through federal and state policies, etc., and it is generally understood by “urbanists” without having to explain it each time issues such as these come up.) Where DC differs from many cities is that the Federal Government/Congress has the ultimate say over the budget and revenue side, and said government has imposed restrictions that most any other city government does not have (Congressional tax exemption for Fannie Mae local taxes, taxation of commuters — 71 percent of the income earned in the city is earned by nonresidents, etc.). Proposals by the Bush Administration to reduce the amount of dollars and programs that typically target city needs such as the community development programs of HUD merely propose to extend the problem that DC has vis-a-vis the federal government to other US center cities.


Foibles of DCRA
Clyde Howard,

Once again the foibles of DCRA have come to light. One of their own is caught with his hand in the cookie jar. It seems that the magnifying glasses of building inspectors, when investigating the property belonging to another DCRA employee, become clouded and unusable in ferreting out the unsuitable living conditions thrust on the tenants in one of his buildings. The DCRA employee proclaims loud and clear that he is innocent and was totally unaware of the conditions that existed in his property. For a moment I thought that I was back looking at The Passion of Christ, when Pontius Pilate washed his hand in innocence. If DCRA can’t police the property of one of their own, what do you think is happening when they are cheek to cheek with some of the peewee developers in the city during this construction boom? The problems with DCRA can be fixed if the powers-to-be have guts to fix them. It is a simple way to deal with the entrenched mind set that prevails among those who are entrusted with assuring compliance with building regulations. Simply rewrite the qualifications of each job description in DCRA and have all employee rebid their jobs. Either they qualify or get lost; in this way we get rid of the deadwood. Just changing the head of the agency will not get the elephant out of the living room. Maybe some day someone will realize that until you go deep into an agency to effect change, nothing will change. And, getting back to this employee who is in a conflict of interest based on his position — I bet he will come out of this smelling like a rose. And the beat goes on.


Hazmat Bill Narrowly Crafted?
Paul Wilson, Ward 6, dcmcrider at gmail dot com

Supporters of the hazmat transportation ban suggest that it’s narrowly crafted enough to pass muster with the Surface Transportation Board and the federal courts. I guess we’ll find out for sure after the DC Attorney General spends considerable taxpayer dollars defending it in those venues. The “narrowly crafted” contingent claims it bans the transportation of the materials “only” within a two-mile radius exclusion zone of the US Capitol. That argument is transparently disingenuous to anyone familiar with the region’s railroad network. A quick review of the railroad map shows that the two-mile radius hamstrings all three CSX lines through DC. The ban effectively bars through shipments in an area bounded by Richmond to the south, Manassas to the southwest, Point of Rocks, Md. to the northwest and Baltimore to the northeast.

The second aspect is that the Council arrogated to itself the solemn duty to “protect the Capitol,” using the two-mile exclusion zone device. One wonders why Congress, which indisputably has legislative authority in this matter, does not enact a ban, if it indeed is a pressing security need. The nervous nellies on the Hill, with their ever-expanding rings of barricades in our streets, don’t seem to mind the trains rumbling a few blocks south of the Capitol. US Capitol Police Chief Terry Gainer could probably close down CSX in the middle of the night, just like he did First Street, NE. They’re more than capable of taking care of themselves, it seems to me.


Key to the City
Pete Barich,

Mr. Mayor, What in the heck did Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, do for the District to deserve a $2000 key to the city? Certainly, there are more deserving people. More importantly, why are the citizens of the district paying for such an extravagance?

[After news outlets picked up the story about the cost of the key to the city, Carol Schwartz introduced a sense of the council resolution opposing the extravagance that was unanimously cosponsored by all members of the council. Mayor Williams’s response at today’s press conference was that he didn’t know what the fuss was about, but that he would find a private donor to finance the keys. — Gary Imhoff]


Another City Rip-Off?
Gabriel Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Clyde Howard [themail, February 13] opposed DC’s charging for use of Emergency No Parking Signs and Reserved Parking Signs, called it gouging. I don’t live in DC but I visit a lot, and I am frustrated by the number of parking spaces lost to various emergencies, constructions, disruptions, etc. Without fees, there’s no incentive for anyone to minimize use or scope or duration of such restrictions. Parking restrictions inconvenience the public for the benefit of whoever needs the space and their ultimate customers. Allowing the restrictions for free subsidizes the real cost of doing business. Why shouldn’t the businesses (and their customers, if businesses can get away with passing through the costs) pay for prolonged use of shared public space? Why is deciding to charge for something that’s been inappropriately free a “rip off”? Why should something that’s legitimate necessarily be free? It’s legitimate that I need to park in DC for business or pleasure, but that doesn’t get me free parking. Same for construction, etc.


The Paducah-Columbine Bus Tour
Ralph J. Chittams, Sr.,

[Reply to Bryce Suderow, themail, February 13:] Please read this entire posting before flaming me. You know Bryce, I agree with you. Based upon the actions of a few individuals it is possible to taint a whole generation as being bad, especially those of the Hip-Hop Generation. However, you do not go far enough. After having read stories of overindulged children whose parents are seemingly more concerned with making money than raising their children, it is obvious that children of dual-income families who reside in the suburbs should not be allowed to attend public schools because of their affinity for making bombs and shooting up the place. Since these incidents happened in divergent states, Kentucky and Colorado, it is clear that there must be something genetic in these white children which causes them to commit mass murder. Therefore, all white children of this demographic should be segregated away from society, for society’s safety, and educated at an institution which can better cater to their proclivity for guns and violence. Can we say NRA High? I know I won’t feel safe until all those gun-toting Jesus-haters are out of my public schools!

The above paragraph is just as ignorant as your posting regarding the Hip-Hop Bus Tour.

Bryce, If you would stop trying to refight the civil war one ignorant E-mail at a time you might actually be capable of learning something. I apologize, in all sincerity, to anyone offended by the first paragraph. I only sought to illustrate that making sweeping generalizations about a group based upon one’s own prejudice and the behavior of a small subset of that group, which at first blush seems to justify bigotry, is wrong.


P. B. Wolf,

I joined Flexcar, found it satisfactory, and got rid of the automobile I’d kept at curbside for years. Perhaps I’m not the only one! Clyde Howard [themail, February 13] may discover that car-sharing, even when the shared cars live in on-street parking spaces, actually eases the parking crunch — producing a priceless public good.


February 2005 InTowner
Peter Wolff,

This is to advise that the February 2005 on-line edition has been uploaded and may be accessed at Included are the lead stories, community news items and crime reports, editorials (including prior months’ archived), restaurant reviews (prior months’ also archived), and the text from the ever-popular "Scenes from the Past" feature. Also included are all current classified ads. The complete issue (along with prior issues back to March 2002) also is available in PDF file format directly from our home page at no charge simply by clicking the link provided. Here you will be able to view the entire issue as it appears in print, including all photos and advertisements. The next issue will publish on March 11 (the 2nd Friday of the month, as always). The complete PDF version will be posted by the preceding night or early that Friday morning at the latest, following which the text of the lead stories, community news, and selected features will be uploaded shortly thereafter.

To read this month’s lead stories, simply click the link on the home page to the following headlines: 1) “Dupont Historic District Expansion Raising Questions of Appropriateness — Proposal Generating Heated Debate”; 2) “Thomas Circle to Regain Semblance of Original Look with Restoration”; 3) “Mt. Pleasant Residents Debate Renewing Four-Year Ban on Single Sales of Beer.”



DC Public Library Events, February 17
Debra Truhart,

Thursday, February 17, 12:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Second Floor East Lobby. Impact of “Brown vs. the Board of Education” on Black Deaf Educational Issues. Dr. Ernest E. Hairston, education research analyst at the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education will present a lecture about educational issues facing black people who are deaf. Hairston is also co-author of Black and Deaf in America: Are We that Different? Public contact: 727-2245 (Voice and TTY).

Thursday, February 17, 12:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room A-5. Patricia Carter Sluby discusses her book, The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. Public contact: 727-1175.

Thursday, February 17, 12:00 p.m. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Main Lobby. Journalist A. Peter Bailey presents a lecture about Malcolm X and shares his personal memorabilia of photographs, speeches and magazine articles. The Black Studies Division of the D.C. Public Library sponsors this event as part of a series of programs in observance of Black History Month. Public contact: 727-1211.

Thursday, February 17, 1:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room 221. Something Novel book club. Read and discuss Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Public contact: 727-1295.


Washington Renegades Rugby Recruitment, February 20, 22
Mike Stebbins,

If anyone has been thinking about playing rugby and would like to meet some of the team, please join us! Join the Washington Renegades Rugby Football Club, coaches, and supporters at the following happy hour recruitment events: Sunday, February 20, Hamburger Mary’s/Titan Bar, 1337 14th Street, NW, 5-8 p.m.,; Tuesday, February 22, Fado Irish Pub, 808 7th Street, NW. 6:30-8:30 p.m., Come learn more about the sport of rugby and the Renegades and enjoy drink specials and light hors d’oeuvres.

The Washington Renegades Rugby Football Club is a Men’s Division III Club affiliated with the Potomac Rugby Union. The club prides itself on providing a solid rugby and social experience for both experienced players and newcomers to the sport. We have an experienced coaching and training staff that is dedicated to proper training techniques and most importantly to teaching the game of rugby. Short or tall, lean, big or muscular, rugby players come in all sizes and shapes and there is a place for every body type on the pitch (field). All are welcome to play for the Renegades. We are a mix of men from across the spectrums of life who have one common goal -- to play, and excel at, the greatest sport on Earth!

If you can’t make the event please contact us for more information, or with any questions about the Renegades, at 331-4471; or visit our web site at


Polshek Partnership Architects, February 25
Brie Hensold,

Friday, February 25, 6:30-8:00 p.m., National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW. The buildings of the New York-based firm Polshek Partnership Architects demonstrate elegant architectural responses that are both technically and socially relevant to their time and place. Recipients of the 2004 Smithsonian Institution Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture, the firm’s partners — Joseph Fleischer, Timothy Hartung, Duncan Hazard, Richard Olcott, James Polshek, Susan Rodriguez and Todd Schliemann -- will discuss their work, including the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Brooklyn Museum Entry Pavilion and Plaza, the New York Hall of Science, the Heimbold Visual Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College, and the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Following the lecture, the partners will sign copies of their new monograph, Polshek Partnership Architects 1988-2004 (Princeton Architectural Press). This program is presented in collaboration with the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums. Tickets: $14 museum members, $19 nonmembers, $10 students. Prepaid registration required. Register online at or call 272.2448.


Destiny Called a Parent-Teacher Meeting, March 19
Brad Hills,

Washington Storytellers Theater presents Onawumi Jean Moss: The Day Destiny Called a Parent-Teacher Meeting at the A&P, at The City Museum of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, Saturday, March 19, 8:00 p.m. Ticket price $15 (senior, student and group discount rates available). Purchase at the door or in advance by calling 545-6840 or on-line at Parking on street or garage parking nearby (check web site for details). Metro: Red line (Chinatown), Green/Yellow (Mt. Vernon or Chinatown), Blue/Orange (Metro Center).

Warm tones, gentle humor and soulful rhythms draw you in when Onawumi tells a story. Her dramatic voice, expressive face and graceful movements transport you into the worlds of adventurous girls and women, charming creatures, scheming tricksters and wicked demons. The Duel Between Cat and Mouse by Frederick Guirmo cautions us to reconsider the import of participating in both the ups and downs of a flourishing community. The animal characters are at once humorous and poignant, creating an array of channels through which the story’s meanings are conveyed.



Notary Public Available Thursday?
Paul Penniman,

Can someone notarize a document for me and my sister together sometime between 5 and 5:30 this Thursday? We will be near Connecticut and Nebraska and are willing to travel up to fifteen minutes away.



Alverda Ann Muhammad,

I have a floor model lamp, Tiffany-style glass shade, like-new condition, to sell for $75.00. I paid $125.00. I will include a matching table lamp that I accidentally dropped. Only one light bulb socket broke, which can be easily repaired. The other socket works perfectly. They are all individually operated by a pull chain. Call 744-0293.



Good Used Sewing Machine
Maude Bauschard;

I’d like to practice my long-lost sewing skills. Anyone have a working sewing machine collecting dust that you’d like to get rid of? Please contact me.


themail@dcwatch is an E-mail discussion forum that is published every Wednesday and Sunday. To subscribe, to change E-mail addresses, or to switch between HTML and plain text versions of themail, use the subscription form at To unsubscribe, send an E-mail message to with “unsubscribe” in the subject line. Archives of past messages are available at

All postings should also be submitted to, and should be about life, government, or politics in the District of Columbia in one way or another. All postings must be signed in order to be printed, and messages should be reasonably short — one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal — so that as many messages as possible can be put into each mailing.

Send mail with questions or comments to
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)