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March 6, 2005


Dear Risk Takers:

Everybody — the DC public school administration, the fire department, the police, the Environmental Protection Agency, the newspapers and television stations — everybody should take a deep breath and calm down. Mercury ain’t anthrax. It isn’t the Black Death. As health risks go, it isn’t worth the panic and school closings and excessive expense of the cleanups that DC is going through. It’s probably not a good idea to eat a lot of mercury or to use it as an internal medicine, as people used to do, especially for syphilis; and I wouldn’t really recommend reviving the use of mercury in tooth fillings, as was popular until just a decade or two ago. I wouldn’t even recommend letting children play with buckets of mercury, as least over an extended period of time. Mercury does pose some risk to human health. But our authorities have lost all perspective on how much risk it really poses, how carefully it must be treated, and how completely it must be banished from the environment.

Back in October, when Ballou High School had its mercury spill, I reminisced in themail (October 8, 2004) that when I was in grade school a teacher passed a globule of mercury in a box around the class, and let us play with it and examine how it behaved as both a solid and a liquid. No one died, got sick, or missed a day of school. Back in the 1960’s, when publicity about Minamoto disease alerted the public to the high levels of mercury in the largest species of fish and everyone stopped eating tuna and swordfish, Julia Child, that beacon of common sense, devoted an episode of her French Chef series to swordfish recipes. She responded to her audience’s fear with the question, “How much swordfish are you going to eat, anyway,” and advised people simply to eat a wide variety of foods in moderation. Mix your poisons, and don’t eat too much of any one poison, and you’ll be fine. The world is full of risks, full of things that will kill you. These risks can never be completely eliminated, and minimal risks are not only unavoidable but acceptable.

The kids will be okay. Cardozo High School has now had its third report of mercury in the school in the past two weeks, and we’re going through the same Code Red evacuation and decontamination process again. It’s panic, I tell you. The latest sighting has been described as a dozen or so spots ranging from pin-sized up to BB-sized. Now, that much anthrax could wipe a lot of us out. But the mercury isn’t going to do any damage. It won’t jump up and attack us, and roll through town devouring us like the Blob. Calm down, sweep it up, scrub the floor, and get the kids back in school.

By the way, the DC Board of Elections and Ethics will hold its hearing on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. on whether to assess penalties and fines for the fraudulent petitions for the slots initiative. If you care to come to the BOEE offices to observe, I’ll see you there.

Gary Imhoff


Metro Facts
Larry Seftor, larry underscore seftor .the757 at

Fact 1: On Saturday night, March 5, at about 9:50 p.m., a packed four-car Red-line train pulled into the Metro Center station. When the rail car doors opened, people started streaming in and out in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately, the train operator decided to cut off this flow of people midstream. While inconvenient for those who were trying to get on the train, it was of some consternation to those who were trying to exit the train. Because the train operator tried to shut the doors when there was heavy traffic in the doorways, the doors closed on a mass of humanity. In this case people did what people normally do when a mechanical door closes on them, they push back. The result was a damaged train which sat unmoving for fifteen minutes. Also trapped were several other trains behind this operator-caused damaged train.

Fact 2: Because of seniority, some Metro train operators make over $100K a year. Since the trains operate automatically, the primary duty of these operators is to control the doors. Operating doors for $100K a year is pretty sweet duty. Unfortunately, as noted under fact 1, they don’t even do it well.


Round ’Em Up, Move ’Em Out
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Sounds like the Metro folks are getting ready to convert their passenger cars into cattle cars by removing seats from Metro trains. That’s the wrong way to get people out of their cars and to choose to become Metro riders. A much better way is to add more cars to the trains. This new move will likely make more room in the trains but, at the same time, will drive many existing passengers away from taking the Metro. So there will be plenty of room after they take out the seats. Maybe enough room for the beach chair that I’ll carry aboard.


Two New Procedures in the MPD
Bryce A. Suderow,

According to police officers, it’s becoming more and more difficult for them to do their job of fighting crime because of two new procedures that Chief Ramsey had initiated. An officer told me that the police department has ruled that every citizen complaint has to be investigated, regardless of who the complainer is. Also he says that sergeants no longer wait to confront officers at roll call because of complaints against them. They come to their houses and confront them. Obviously this kind of pressure is going to push officers into not doing their jobs, into doing as little as possible.

An example: at a recent PSA meeting an officer told citizens that he had two new rookies and he’s going to make sure they don’t interfere with drug dealers. The reason? He doesn’t want complaints from the drug dealers to be placed in their files; such complaints would impede their careers.

Ramsey’s insane policy is the reason some of you may have heard police officers or liaison officers at your PSA meetings state that they will not violate the constitutional rights of suspected drug dealers by asking them to move from their drug corners. Experience has shown us that when drug dealers are allowed to traffic in drugs, it leads to violence. As a direct result of this hands-off policy of Chief Ramsey’s, there has been a spate of shootings in the past two or three days in the Hill East neighborhood.


Worth Doing the Research
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Although many folks are distressed at the amount of increase in their home’s assessed value, few take the time to do some research to see how that increase can be reduced. Experience shows that most of those folks who do some research and appeal their assessments are very successful. The data for the basis of assessments are, very frequently, wrong. (That data should be checked to verify that the property size, house square footage, finished area, etc., are all correct. Comparative house prices for similar houses sold in your neighborhood should also be checked (real estate agents can help with this) to see what your house is really worth on the market. Your assessment should not be more than 90 percent of what you think your house would sell for. Other mitigating factors, house condition, traffic on a busy street, should also be taken into account.

It is worth taking the time to fill out the appeal form and mail it before April 1, and then to schedule an appointment with the assessor. I suggest doing that in person.


Good News from CHIME: Citywide Summer Music Program Funded
Dorothy Marschak,

On March 1, the DC City Council unanimously voted to provide $250,000 for a summer music program for DC youth. This was the full amount requested in a CHIME-initiated proposal presented to the Council for which we have campaigned intensively. Our proposal was for twelve music camps to be situated on DCPS campuses around the city (at least one in every ward) during the six-week summer school session that would provide 1500 kids with twenty hours a week of intensive training in theory and performance. We hope this summer program will be repeated and built on in future years, and be a prelude to the revival of music education in our schools from its current sad state, where over a third of our elementary school children have no music in school at all (over 60 percent of them in Wards 6 and 7), and only a handful have access to instrumental instruction.

The Council voted to give the dedicated funds to DOES to administer under its Summer Youth Employment programs rather than to DCPS, but we have been assured they will be used for the DCPS program. The CHIME proposal, presented to the DC City Council by President Marschak at a February 8 public hearing, is available on our web site, CHIME’s next advocacy campaign, already started, is to promote public-private partnerships to support school bands, which are in dire need of instruments, new uniforms and funds to travel to competitions and gatherings. We also believe the 2006 school budget should have adequate and dedicated funds to provide every DC public school with at least one music teacher, and preferably two (for vocal and instrumental music), and have so testified at a public hearing in front of the Mayor on February 15. This testimony is also posted on our web site:

Besides advocacy, CHIME provides free instruction, presentations, instrument donations, and teacher workshops to DC public schools. It also is in partnership with The American University and the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum to document the role school bands used to play in DC in “the glory days.” To find out more about CHIME, a volunteer tax-exempt DC nonprofit, and how you can help, please visit our web site,, or contact us at or 232-2731.


Conveyor Belt Woes at the Library of Congress
Bryce A. Suderow,

The conveyer belt that allows the Library of Congress to send books from one building to another broke down last Friday, six days ago. Technicians are scurrying around through the tunnels linking the Madison, Jefferson, and Adams Buildings, pushing carts loaded with books from one building to another. Meanwhile the repair people are frantically looking along the entire conveyer belt, trying to find the particular section that broke down. A technician pushing a book cart told me that the system breaks down about every other month, but it has never been down this long before. He thinks it will be another week before they fix the problem.

It turns out the manufacturer went out of business fifteen years ago, so the LOC has to order parts that don’t quite fit from other companies. Replace the entire system, you say? Hell no! That would cost money. What about the researchers? They just have to suffer extra long waits for their books.


Exploratory Expenditures
Zoe Yerkes,

DCWatch and the Washington Post are pushing for full disclosure of mayoral Exploratory Committee donor lists, but no one is demanding details of how Committees spend the money.

DC law limits exploratory committee activities to things like polling and travel. If the public doesn’t have details about expenditures, who knows if the spirit of the law is being followed?

Adrian Fenty revealed his donor list to the Post, but not a single expenditure was detailed. I went to one of his “exploratory” events, and it sure felt like a campaign function, with a lot of professional consultant types filling the room. The Post wondered if Fenty is exploring or campaigning; details of where the money is going might answer that question.


A Disservice to the Community
Eric J. Jones,

Mr. Imhoff, you should make an apology for your statement [themail, March 2] about the five members of the city council whom you blamed for allowing corruption to continue in this city because they did not support an horrible bill by Councilmember Mendelson. There were several reasons why that legislation was not passed, the biggest being that it only looked at the exploratory committee from a mayoral standpoint, which is a big problem. The press and the city council in this city has a problem. I will just be honest: the folks in upper northwest need to realize that you know what as long as they don’t do their work and try to force stuff down the cities’ throats we are going to continue to be a divided and segregated city.

As far as the bill itself, it should not matter. It is a shame that you have joined the likes of [Washington Post reporter] Lori Montgomery and others who have failed to at least look at federal campaign finance laws, which require that all Exploratory Committees file as a 527 which requires disclosure as of July 31st. It is a shame that you all in the so-called media don’t have the pride to get all of the information anymore. There were so many things wrong with the way that the councilman did not look at how bad his bill sounded and how it was laced with issues. We really need to learn to be more accountable in this city. I am a fourth generation Washingtonian, which is more than what can be said for most of the members of the council and the press writing about this issue, and as someone who has always and will forever love this city I must say you all are bringing us down with this lack of real research and understanding. These are the reasons we are a political laughing stock.

Now if you wanna draft some real news, stop being scared of Adrian Fenty and Vincent Orange and attack them on the fact that Michael Brown and A. Scott Bolden are the only ones who have followed the federal law and filed as a 527, and who will fully disclose on July 31st to the IRS, which will make all of their information public (contributors, expenditures, etc.) and stop kissing up to Adrian for a one-time list release.


Voice Over Internet Protocol
Gabriel Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Edward Elder expressed reservations about voice over Internet protocol [themail, March 2], VoIP, since “My T1 at work goes up and down all the time.” VoIP seems a fine emerging technology, right now good for some people/uses, bad for others. But any ISP providing such an unreliable T1 circuit should be replaced; don’t judge VoIP reliability by that unreasonably and unusually poor performance.


Infantile Humor on WTOP in the Morning
Gabriel Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Ted Knutson asked [themail, March 2], “Is anyone else turned off by the phony ha-has that are becoming more common on WTOP’s morning program?” Have you tried turning off that which turns you off? For extra credit, send them a letter bidding them goodbye. Losing viewers, viewers complaining, might (might!) have some effect..



NCPC Security Meeting on Draft Urban Design and Security Policies
Peggy Armstrong,

The National Capital Planning Commission will hold a special public meeting on draft urban design and security policies on Monday, March 7, 5:30-7:00 p.m., at 401 9th Street, NW, Suite 500. Members of the public are welcome to share their views on the draft policies in person or in writing. Please send written comments to by April 8. The draft policies can be accessed through the “What’s New” link on NCPC’s web site:


DC Public Library Events, March 8-9
Debra Truhart,

Tuesday, March 8, 1:30 p.m., Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Come and see the Carol Reed directed classic film, Odd Man Out, starring James Mason. Public contact 282-3080.

Tuesday, March 8, 7:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room A-5. Local historian C.R. Gibbs presents "Justice Denied: The Roots of the Reparations Movement." Public contact 727-1211.

Thursday, March 9, noon. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room A-5. Women Composers Concert. Washington area musicians present music composed by Maria Hester Park, Amy Beach, Libby Larsen, and others. The Music Division of the DC Public Library presents this program in celebration of Women’s History Month. Public contact 727-1285.


National Building Museum Events, March 9, 12
Brie Hensold,

First two events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.

Wednesday, March 9, 6:30-8:00 p.m. The buildings of architect Steven Holl reflect his fascination with scientific phenomena and the interplay of light and space to create compelling, visual experiences. In 2001, Time magazine named him America’s Best Architect. In 2002, he received the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture. Recently, he won the design competition for the new Swiss diplomatic residence in Washington, DC. Principal of New York-based Steven Holl Architects, he will discuss the firm’s work, including the Loisium Visitor’s Center in Langenlois, Austria, Simmons Hall at MIT, and the addition to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. After the lecture, he will sign copies of his books. This lecture is held in conjunction with Liquid Stone: New Architecture in Concrete. $15 Museum members; $25 nonmembers; $10 students. Prepaid registration required.

Saturday, March 12, 1:00-3:00 p.m. The Venetian Dilemma. Venice is paying a steep price to accommodate all the tourists who wish to visit the famous city. It is beginning to resemble an Italian theme park rather than a true urban place, making daily activities more difficult for the residents. Probing the heart and soul of this beloved place, this film highlights how the power of big government is pushing the powerless to the edge. Following the Washington premiere screening, filmmakers Carole and Richard Rifkind will engage the audience in a discussion of the film. $5 Museum members and students; $7 nonmembers. Registration required. For festival information, visit

Saturday, March 12, 3:30-5:30 p.m. The design of Kenmore Middle School in the Arlington Public School system fulfills the special requirements of the school’s "arts and communications technology" focus. The new school will provide generous natural lighting and space to display student artwork as well as outdoor learning environments. It also will incorporate sustainable technologies. Steve Mundt with Grimm + Parker Architects will lead a construction watch tour of this 206,000-square-foot project scheduled for completion in fall 2005. Open only to Museum members, $15. Limited space available. Prepaid registration required.


John Eaton Annual Book Fair, March 12-13
Stuart Weiser,

On Saturday, March 12 (9 a.m.-11 p.m.), and Sunday, March 13 (10 a.m.-8 p.m.), Politics and Prose book store, 5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW, will donate 20 percent of the revenue from your book fair purchases to John Eaton Elementary School. Buy now for your spring break and summer reading experience. Free parking behind the store. Please come and shop and support John Eaton!


Mayoral Candidates at Ward 6 Dems, March 15
Jan Eichhorn,

The next meeting of the Ward 6 Democrats, on Tuesday, March 15 at 7 p.m., will feature an issue forum on the controversial DC campaign exploratory committee law. Colbert I. King of the Washington Post editorial page will serve as moderator. Participants will include the one announced candidate for mayor, Councilmember Jack Evans, and the four who have created Mayoral exploratory committees: Councilmembers Adrian Fenty and Vincent Orange, A. Scott Bolden, and Michael Brown, as well as Councilmembers Sharon Ambrose and Phil Mendelson, Ed Davis, Common Cause Vice President for Policy and Research, and Doug Patton, a former ex-officio member of the Federal Elections Commission who helped draft the federal law.

The meeting will be held at the Calvary Episcopal Church at 6th and I Streets, NE, the site of our June 2004 debate of candidates for the at-large DC Council seat. The church is one block north of H Street, NE, on the Southwest corner of 6th and I; the church’s lighted parking lot is on the Northwest corner of 6th and I and is entered from I, a one-way street going east (take 5th north from H and turn right on I). The Ward 6 Democrats hold our meetings at changing sites throughout the ward.


Robert Bobb at Chevy Chase Citizens Association, March 15
Sarah Pokempner,

The Chevy Chase Citizens Association is pleased to welcome City Administrator Robert Bobb as the featured speaker at its general meeting on Tuesday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Chevy Chase Community Center, Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street, NW.

Mr. Bobb came to our city in October 2003 and has grappled with many difficult issues since his arrival. He will talk with us about his experience coming to a new city and his agenda for the months and years ahead. There will be a period of questions and answers. If you’re concerned about schools, property assessments, lead in the water, the stadium, or city services, you will want to attend this important event, which is being cosponsored by ANC 3/4G. All are welcome and refreshments will be served.


Community Obligation Health Forum, March 21
Morgan Taylor,

Is CareFirst meeting its $75 million charitable obligation to DC? A Community Obligation Health Forum, cosponsored by the DC Primary Care Association and the DC League of Women Voters, will be held on Monday, March 21, 3:00-5:00 p.m., at 1616 P Street, NW (7th Floor). Group Hospitalization and Medical Services, Inc. (GHMSI), is the District affiliate of CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield. CareFirst DC, or GHMSI, is the city’s largest health insurance company. CareFirst is a nonprofit, which means CareFirst pays no taxes, and it is by law a “charitable and benevolent institution.” The State of Maryland said two years ago that CareFirst was not meeting its nonprofit mission. DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice decided to see what the law said about that, and worked with Covington & Burling and Mathematica Policy Research to find an answer. Appleseed wanted to know if it was the law, how much was CareFirst’s obligation? It found that CareFirst is legally obligated to support charitable activities and that national research shows CareFirst should have spent between $41 and $61 million in 2004 in DC; it spent $1 million. By 2008, CareFirst should spend $67 to $100 million on charitable activities in DC. For a full copy of this report, go to To RSVP to come to the Community Obligation Forum, E-mail your name, organization, and phone number to

Speakers will include Walter Smith, Executive Director, DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice; Debra Chollet, Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research; Phyllis D. Thompson, Partner, Covington & Burling; and Sharon Baskerville, Executive Director, DC Primary Care Association. CareFirst representatives have been invited but are not confirmed.

Testify at an Insurance Commission hearing on March 24, 10:00- 4:00, First Floor Auditorium, One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street, NW on CareFirst’s charitable obligation to the District. To testify, call Leslie E. Johnson at 442-7756 or E-mail her at by close of business on Friday, March 18. Witnesses should bring twenty copies of their written testimony to the Public Hearing. Public witnesses will be permitted a maximum of five minutes to testify. Let District’s Insurance Commissioner Lawrence Mirel know what you think about CareFirst’s charitable obligation to the District.



Ron Leve,

Two sets of cabinets/shelves. Each six-foot unit is 32" wide and made up of three separate sections (making it convenient for transport). Sections are a cabinet with doors, a cabinet with glass doors, drawers, open shelves, and display shelf. The pine units have been painted to match the wall of my previous residence (oyster white), and it’s easy to do the same for your place. $85 each.

Five-foot two-cushion sofa. Off-white sailcloth upholstery in good condition. Very heavy duty. $95.

Also, a variety of lamps, including a matched set in Oriental style.



Computer Monitors
Matt Gardner,

My organization has several computer monitors we’re trying to unload. They’re in perfect shape, 15 to 17 inch monitors-- we’ve upgraded. Preference given to needy nonprofit or educational groups. E-mail me at


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