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July 27, 2005

Viking Terror

Dear Norsemen:

Why, when there is reasonable heightened concern about terrorist bombings or other attacks in Washington, does the District government consistently chose the worst options among security measures? Why does it prefer ineffective, intrusive, and wasteful measures, such as expanding surveillance cameras and conducting random searches of citizens; and shun effective measures, such as improving intelligence gathering and spending the federal emergency preparedness money that is allocated to us on things that would actually benefit the public in emergencies? Time after time, the government has failed to act. As I’ve noted here before, it has failed to spend much of its Homeland Security funds, and foolishly misspent much of the rest. At a luncheon of the Federation of Citizens Associations yesterday, people spoke about calling the Office of Emergency Preparedness after Friday’s major storms and getting only a recorded message that the Office was closed for the weekend. Three letters to the editor in today’s Washington Post ( detail stories about WMATA’s indifference and incompetence when faced both with common crimes like theft and with potential security threats like abandoned knapsacks.

The cynical explanation would be that being ineffective, intrusive, and wasteful is simply the nature of our city’s government. I don’t discount that answer; never let it be said that I’m insufficiently cynical about DC government. Neither am I reluctant to credit DC government officials with being cynical themselves. But this is an emergency situation, albeit a long-term emergency. Why can’t our government get its act together to face an emergency? Part of the answer is that this administration is often hostile to and at best indifferent to individual liberties. This administration mistreated both World Bank protesters and uninvolved citizens caught in an MPD dragnet, and failed for years to acknowledge or apologize for that mistreatment. It systematically resists and frustrates Freedom of Information requests. It is eager to use eminent domain to seize private property to give to its favored developers. Its Attorney General has argued, in favor of the District’s gun ban, that the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to DC, and that residents of this city don’t enjoy the full constitutional protections of other citizens.

However, another part of the explanation is that an effective response to terrorism, one that would reduce the threat and increase our safety, requires hard and intelligent planning and work. It requires the Office of Emergency Preparedness to stay open, even on weekends. It requires WMATA to retrain its security forces -- not to use automatic weapons, but to respond more quickly to a potential security threat than to a teenager eating a French fry. It requires the Metropolitan Police Department to engage in its own intelligence investigations, and not just to rely on whatever information may dribble down to it from the FBI. Several years ago, the MPD had an office dedicated to children and youth in each of its seven districts. Admittedly, many of those offices were not well run, and some became dumping grounds for less effective officers. But instead of strengthening those offices, the MPD simply disbanded them, so that when Hispanic youth gangs grew larger and more violent, the MPD no longer had anybody who worked with youth groups and was familiar with them — it had no intelligence resources. It has even fewer resources and less ability to gather intelligence about potential terrorists.

Effective intelligence is hard to do; it’s easier to put on a public show of random searches and useless surveillance, and our government is mired in a policy of doing what’s easy in preference to what works.

Gary Imhoff


Who Is Responsible for a Hugely Overgrown Tree
Judy Walton,

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is stating that it has no authority over an owner whose hugely overgrown tree and its branches and limbs are growing and extending into public domain (the alley) and overgrowing onto my (and others) backyards and garage roof. The operative phrase, I believe, is "public domain" (the alley). The tree branches and limbs are also resting onto utility lines. It is a dangerous situation waiting to happen. Moreover, for the past several years, I have had to incur expenses to pay professionals to clean the roof of my garage and remove the debris (branches and leaves). I have written to my city councilperson, who has asked the DCRA for assistance, and its response is that it has no authority, but will contact the utility company. After visiting the DCRA web site, it appears it has authority over trash removal and grass cutting on private property. So why does it not have authority over an owner allowing his or her tree to overgrow into the public domain? Why should I incur the financial expense of cutting and removing the branches that, if they were adequately trimmed, would not extend over the public domain onto private property? The tree is so dangerously overgrown that if struck by dry-rot or lighting, it would crush my garage and part of my house.

I am asking for assistance in this matter. Who has the authority to notify the owner or to cite the property owner for the tree branches and limbs overgrowing the public domain?


DCERN Listings Raise an Old Dilemma
Muriel Nellis,

Thanks to Bill Adler’s posting, “Emergency Communications for DC Area Residents,” [themail, July 24], I am reminded of the peculiar uncertainty of our community’s designation. After forty years as a resident of Albemarle Street, NW, we remain an undesignated enigma. When located between Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues, we are not in Tenleytown, Cleveland Park, or Chevy Chase. It may be something Realtors call Wakefield, or even North Cleveland Park, but no such name appears on DCERN or any other community service or activity label, at least not officially or consistently. We, the unnamed, may like to join a civic-minded neighborhood group, but where do we belong?


Speed and Red Light Cameras
Clyde Howard,

Speed and red light cameras are springing up like poppies in a field after a rain. It is amazing how these cameras are proliferating throughout the city, yet they are supposedly for the safety of pedestrians and drivers alike. I do not think that there is an explanation convincing enough that these camera are the end all for the control of reckless drivers in our city. If the police were doing their job, rather then acting like glorified chauffeurs, we would not need robotics in our lives. Personally, I believe that these cameras are serving as a backdoor way of taxing the commuters, since we are unable to tax the commuters’ income. At some point, the local and federal representatives of these commuters will began to take a hard look at the amount of money being paid to the city through tickets and began to question the need for these cameras. They will claim that the residents and drivers of their states are being unfairly treated, since they are probably the largest group that are being ticketed. You can only go to the well so many times before it runs dry.


Searches Just Moronic Window Dressing
Star Lawrence,

I read that in New York, if you have marijuana in your backpack, they can act on that — all in the name of anti-terrorism. The police are now terrorizing the citizens. This is a distasteful spectacle on a par with those idiotic talking heads on television sitting there in their $2000 suits and blabbering about "the enemy" and "killing the enemy," like they would have the stones to do any of that themselves! So fake-macho, it’s to laugh. And so are these searches! But — over time — this farce could erode our rights, which are dribbling away now.


Bus Service
Katherine Howard,

It’s interesting to hear comments on the Metrobus service that I noticed going bad many years ago, and attributed to just another example of how things have not been working properly in the District since the current mayor’s term in office. When referring to this particular person, I have had a simple description for a while now: this current mayor is a “wanna-be,” who wants to be a member of the elite, and hobnob with the rich and famous. Issues of importance to the proletariat — men, women, and children alike — are of little or no importance to him. What you get in the working of basic city services is the result — they don’t work.

When I have asked about the Metro system supervisors, who used to be seen in their white trucks at major intersections, and why I don’t see them anymore, I have been told by many drivers that budget cuts resulted in a drastic reduction. Even now, if you see a white Metro inspector’s truck parked nearby, you will see that bus come on time. The good drivers have told me that soon a good number of them will soon be retiring, which will further affect service. I see WMATA as being just like most of our local government — incompetent, and bloated with useless middle managers who do nothing but draw large salaries.

My defense has been to always have something good to read with me, although that can no longer be used at night, due to my being held up at gunpoint at a bus stop. Of course, if the bus had come on time, this would not have happened. Nothing like standing in one place so long you become the target of a predator! Since I have seen the bus service dramatically decline during this mayor’s term in office, I would naturally assume that it will improve and become more normal during another mayor’s tenure, but not before.


Random Metro Searches
Malcolm Wiseman, Washington Free DC,

I’m with you on this one, Gary. But, I’m not going to feel really safe until the searches are complete. This random thing is not going to cut it. We need to deal with security in the subway system at least as well as we do in the airlines. Aren’t there similar numbers of people in danger? Besides, randoming will surely involve profiling and personal prejudging in determining who is “random.” That’s not fair. If it’s to be really random, then drive it with an easy to build PC (that’s personal computer, not politically correct) random number generator and a device that cannot “see” details of the putative terrorists. Or, Take-a-Number!


Vikings as Marauders
V. Lord,

I can’t resist finally using my (generally useless) education to reply to Willie Shatz’s last comment in themail [July 24] concerning the Vikings as terrorists. The Vikings did indeed strike terror in the hearts of the Irish, the Franks, and the Britons. While I would prefer to use the term raiders or marauders, it is certainly a well known fact that the Vikings looted, pillaged, burned, and murdered throughout the eighth and ninth centuries. (The fifth century raiders who came out of the North — Jutes, Angles, and Saxons — are generally not referred to as Vikings, although of course, they came from roughly the same geographic area.) All of this theft and bloodshed predates the colonization and settlement of the Vikings in all three of these countries (hence Normandy, as well as the Viking cities of York and Dublin among others). My favorite reference to the terror these raiders inspired is the Old Irish poem “Is Acher in Gaith in Nocht”:

It is bitter, the wind, tonight
Tossing the white tresses of the sea
I don’t fear the Norsemen this night —
They ride the quiet seas

Is acher ingaith in-nocht,
fu-fuasna fairggae findfolt
ni agor reimm mora minn
dond laechraid lainn ua lothlind.

James Carney has a slightly more poetic (but less accurate) translation of this in Medieval Irish Lyrics. The Irish is beautifully dramatic and resonant of terror when recited aloud.


Henry Townsend,

Willie Schatz is “mystified by the last sentence. ‘For a few centuries ago, the Vikings were the terrorists.’ Really? To whom, other than the natives of what is now Greenland?” [themail, July 24]

For one recently published answer, see Jared Diamond’s Collapse, pp 181 ff.. He says the Vikings raided everywhere in Europe, “from Ireland and the Baltic to the Mediterranean and Constantinople.” They founded Kiev, settled in England and France, and in many other places.


Viking Terror
Peggy Robin,

I realize that this is getting far afield of DC politics, but since in the last issue of themail [July 24] Willie Schatz wondered if the Vikings had terrorized anyone but the native inhabitants of Greenland, I thought a bit of history was in order. The answer is that the Vikings from approximately 750 to 1060 CE raided the coasts of Northern Europe from Ireland to Russia, plundering, raping, and pillaging wherever they went. Their attacks on Ireland were so frequent that a common prayer arose, “God save us from the Norseman’s wrath.” Unlike empire-building conquerors such as the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Vikings were not interested in imposing their political system, culture, or religious beliefs on the people they attacked; they mainly took whatever they found of value, including humans to be sold as slaves, and then left. While they did send migrants to settle some lands that they found attractive — particularly the northern part of France that came to be called Normandy (meaning Norseman’s land) — their historical reputation is primarily that of fearsome raiders. In fact, the term “Viking” refers only to male warriors; it is not the term for the people, who were called Norse. As to the question of whether their bloody raids were a form of terrorism, my answer would be, not as we think of terrorism today. There was no political motive behind Viking attacks and no religious motive, either. They were fierce people who admired those willing to die in battle and they had no scruples about attacking the weak and helpless, but blowing themselves up in public to kill as many innocent people as possible would be a strategy I think even they would have regarded as contemptible.



DC Public Library Events, August 1
Debra Truhart,

Three exhibits at Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW. August 1-24, in Gallery A-2. In God We Trust, paintings and photographs by Navjeet Singh Chhina, Randall Holloway, and James Stephen Terrell. August 1–30, 2nd Floor exhibit halls. An Asian Odyssey, an exhibit of photographs by Edmund L. Millard. August 1–October 2, main lobby ceilings. Lightspace Art, an exhibit of mobiles made of copper, brass, bronze, aluminum, steel, and piano wires by artist Paul Sikora. Public contact: 727-1183.

August 1-21, Let’s Communicate in American Sign Language (ASL), Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW. Beginning Level ASL on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Conversational Level ASL on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Please check the bulletin board in the outer lobby of the library for class locations. All ages. Public contact: 727-2145, voice and TTY.

Monday, August 1, 7:00 p.m. Georgetown Neighborhood Library, 3260 R Street, NW. Georgetown Library Book Group. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields will be discussed. Public contact: 282-0220.


Celebrate National Night Out, August 2
Laurie Collins,

On Tuesday, August 2, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood will join forces with thousands of communities nationwide for the annual National Night Out (NNO) which is sponsored nationally by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW) and cosponsored locally by the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance and the Metropolitan Police Department. In addition, this year Mt. Pleasant will launch Operation LiveLink, the first project of its kind in the entire city. The Mt. Pleasant National Night Out event will be held in Lamont Park (Mt. Pleasant and Lamont Streets, NW). Mt. Pleasant residents are asked to turn on their outside lights, lock their doors, and spend the evening with family, fellow neighbors, and the police officers who patrol their neighborhood. A blues band, Danny Blew and the Blues Crew, will be performing during the evening, featuring Lt. Daniel Ewell, who has been responsible for Mt. Pleasant’s PSA 310. Additionally, free ice cream and beverages will be available to those participating in the event. Among the many activities for children, include face painting, bubbles, helium balloons, sidewalk chalk drawing, and a chance to explore the inside of a police vehicle.

Operation LiveLink, cosponsored by the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance and MPD, will be launched at the NNO. The community will have direct access to a foot beat officer and a scout car officer between the hours of 6 and 10 p.m. by cell phone. Residents may contact the officers during those hours to report suspicious activity, alert officers of a wanted suspect, or provide leads and tips. This program does not replace 911/311; in fact, residents must first dial 911/311 before using LiveLink. Residents must identify themselves to the officer when reporting any information to the officer via Operation LiveLink. If you have any questions, would like to volunteer to assist in the event, or would like to make a donation for the event, please contact Marika Torok, Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance, 246-5113,,



Ship Shape
Andrea Sexton,

If you’ve been using TV trays since 1988 because you can’t find the table and you hyperventilate when friends hint about visiting; if your file folders are bulging with bills, letters, and manuscripts and you can’t decide what to keep and what to junk, don’t despair. I will bring order to your chaos. No mess too embarrassing! Reasonable fees by the hour or job. Paperwork a specialty. Call ShipShape at 543-8607 for a free telephone consultation. Our service is private and confidential.


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