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November 6, 2005

Universal Access

Dear Correspondents:

Our serious-minded contributors in this issue deal with libraries, schools, taxation. . . . So let me continue to deal with a less weighty matter that I mentioned in the last issue of themail, the question of providing ubiquitous, free, public WiFi access. I’ve had one further thought on this issue. The obvious has at last occurred to me: the DC city government doesn’t have to have anything to do with providing WiFi access. If a company or organization wants to provide it, it can. As long as the company doesn’t want city funding, it doesn’t need city permission or licensing — it can just go ahead and build the system on its own. Nothing about WiFi technology really gives the government a good excuse to intervene, or to grant a monopoly license to one company. One company’s providing a WiFi node doesn’t prevent any other company from doing it — several WiFi networks can overlap and be accessible at any particular location, and users can choose which network they want to connect to. If a company or organization wants to give access away, either as a public service (like the Open Park Project, discussed in themail on May 9, 2004) or because it can make a profit through advertisers (like Google believes it can in San Francisco) — there’s nothing to stop it from doing so. Even in Pennsylvania, where cable and telephone companies prevailed on the state legislature to forbid cities and counties from building free municipal WiFi systems after Philadelphia announced its plan to provide one, there’s nothing to stop anybody other than governments from giving away Internet access.

Why am I so obsessed with this? It seems to me that WiFi, or WiMax, or whatever technology will succeed them, is the latest important advance in tying disparate people together in a unified civilization, in advancing transportation and communication among people. Roads and aqueducts allowed us to build cities and to travel between cities; the nineteenth century brought us speedy long-distance communication through the telegraph — the Internet of its day — and it made transoceanic travel a routine matter for the first time in history. The twentieth century, the most explosive era of human inventiveness in history, wired cities with electricity and telephones and increased communication multifold through movies, radio and television broadcasts, and the introduction of the Internet. WiFi and its successor technologies can potentially make Internet access universal and universally available, and that can make human history and literature available to anyone and everyone, anywhere.

The fact that we’ll still use it mainly to search for the latest gossip about and naked photos of Hollywood celebrities is beside the point.

Gary Imhoff


Libraries Matter
Ron Lefrancois, nicmich at verizon dot net

For over a year, I’ve been a lonely voice trying to get action on the reconstruction of four neighborhood public libraries. The DC Library Board in April 2004 awarded a contract to design and build four new libraries. The contractor (rhymes with “mess”) reportedly has decided that it cannot honor its signature on said contract because “costs have gone up.” Somehow this eighteen-month-and-counting farce was allowed to proceed by elected councilmembers who were busy building new schools, giving us smokefree restaurants, paving crumbling roads . . . oops, sorry, I stumbled into a parallel universe. They actually were busy shoveling money at a shiny new baseball stadium.

The city now must award a new contract to demolish the existing structures and build new libraries at Tenleytown and three other locations. Certainly, more months will be wasted. I propose that the city and Library Board get ahead of the curve for once by awarding demolition contracts as soon as possible, so that the straightforward proposition of preparing the four sites for new construction can begin immediately. In the possibly, or likely, naive notion that this could be accomplished in short order, new construction could get underway that much faster.

The level of frustration over our government’s inability to handle capital improvements (Tenley Library, closed; Wilson High School pool, closed; Deal Junior High, crumbling; MLK main library, crumbling; etc.) is so high that it will be a major issue next November. Finger pointing and buck passing will not cut it. If emergency legislation to address driving under the influence arrests can sail through the council in a matter of days, taxpayers should expect similar treatment for a far more pressing case: our children’s education and well-being. Please join in this simple quest by lobbying the chair of the DC Council’s Education and Libraries Committee, Kathy Patterson, for swift action. For further information, or to vent, there will be a town hall meeting at the District Building on Thursday, November 10, from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. to focus on the library mess.


Transparency Denied
Ed Dixon,

On Friday last week, John Hill and Bob Peck of the Federal City Council and Emily Durso of the Hotel Association commanded an audience with Education Committee chair Kathy Patterson to discuss the real meaning of the School Modernization Bill. Attendees included Superintendent Clifford Janey, five members of the elected school board and at least one representative from another councilmember’s office.

The discussion at the meeting led to an impromptu conference call between elected school board members on Sunday over the business communities concerns with the School Modernization Bill. Though supposedly no votes were taken over the conference call decisions have been made for this week. Reportedly, the School Modernization Bill, scheduled for a markup this week will be postponed once again.

The postponement of this bill will be the third and perhaps the last since the bill entered Patterson’s Education Committee on July 14. The last postponement was made for the Hotel Association’s concerns over having to pay taxes to repair public schools. The result of that postponement was a public roundtable in the dilapidated auditorium of Roosevelt Senior High School. Only four members of the business community dared to show up, in comparison to the fifty attendees in support of the bill. Taxpayers and citizens should not be surprised if Superintendent Janey, School Board President Cafritz, and Councilmember Patterson decide suddenly to postpone the bill again this week. Unfortunately, for the students, the disrepair and their educations cannot be postponed.


Testing Principals and Teachers
Bryce A. Suderow,

I think it’s great that DC citizens want to fix the crumbling and decrepit school buildings, but has anyone mentioned the idea of improving the quality of education that children in the schools receive? How about testing the teachers and principals to remove some of the incompetents?


Jos-Arz Charter School and Eminent Domain
Richard Layman,

One of the things that has always frustrated me about municipal politics is a failure to take advantage of the authorities and capabilities possessed by the government. For example, when the H Street Community Development Corporation eliminated the mayoral appointees from its board, I suggested that the city government freeze all funds awarded. The response, "Oh that’s an interesting idea that never occurred to us." Of course, they didn’t bother doing it, but it certainly would have brought about a change in the playing field. Friday’s Post has an article about a Congressional Bill with regard to the use of eminent domain authority by state and local governments -- the bill proposes that Community Development Block Grant monies awarded by the federal government be suspended for a period of two years when the locality exercises such authority [].

Now, I have some serious qualms about eminent domain, but that’s a stupid way to go about providing oversight. The issue isn’t the authority of eminent domain per se but how it is used and whether or not the process is fair and transparent. If the process isn’t transparent, fair, and able to be challenged, and if it isn’t based on a fair an independent economic analysis that can also be challenged, then it is a problem. That’s what needs to be addressed.

Anyway, today’s Post has an article about the Jos-Arz Therapeutic Public Charter School, “A Costly Charter School Failure: $15 Million Special-Ed Plan Was Designed to Save Money” []. The article states that the school has pretty much failed, taking millions of DC funds along for the ride. The article goes on to state that while the public authorities that have oversight for charter schools believe that the buildings should revert to the charter authorities, there are no provisions in the contracts to ensure this. Obviously, that needs to be changed. But there is another strategy available in the short run — eminent domain seizure. The city spent $15 million and has nothing to show for it. The building is an asset from which the city government can begin to recover a portion of its wasted investment.

Begin eminent domain proceedings. And let’s start a serious discussion about public assets and protection of the municipal investments made by District agencies. While each agency sees its asset portfolio as belonging to the agency, these assets are really owned by the residents of the District of Columbia, and we need to step up and begin a fundamental rethinking to reconnect citizen control as a foundation of the asset “management” policies by DC government agencies.


Rubbing Elbows with the Rich and Famous
Ed Dixon,

As reported last week, the property upon which the MacArthur Safeway sits is assessed at $18 per square foot for land, in Northwest DC. The Safeway in Georgetown on Wisconsin Avenue is assessed at a whopping $30 per square foot. Now hold your breath: the Safeway on Davenport in Tenleytown (or is it American University Park?) is on land assessed at $90 per square foot. Can you believe it! But that’s all they’re being assessed for. That’s right the $90 per square foot includes the store’s building value as well. Now there is no reason to believe that Safeway hasn’t worked for these assessments. Safeway’s 2004 Annual Report puts annual profits at $10.5 billion. Safeway’s CEO Steve Burd took home $15 million in stock options and an annual salary of over $1 million in 2004. I know I have a lot in common with Steve however because he only paid $56 more on his Davenport property than I did this year on Q Street. Doesn’t it feel good to rub elbows with the rich and famous?


$99 Ubuntu Computer Reviewed
Phil Shapiro,

In the past 2 weeks a DC-area mail-order company, (which also has three retail store locations) started selling a $99 Ubuntu Linux computer. Ubuntu Linux, a free version of Linux from South Africa, works very well on a lot of older computers. Yesterday and today I’ve been trying out this Ubuntu computer (a refurbished Dell Optiplex GX1) and have been very favorably impressed. I’ve written an initial review at Thanks for sharing this info with people you know who take an interest in expanding access to technology in our communities.

I don’t know if you’ll be reading a review of this computer in the Washington Post. You might — or you might not. Let’s hope the Post doesn’t miss noticing this development. I’m hoping that local radio and television stations might have some interest in this, too.


But Officer, I Haven’t Had a Drink
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Not wanting to be socially offensive or having my granddaughters say, “Yewww,” I make sure to rinse out my mouth with Listerine for the prescribed thirty seconds before going out amongst folks. That ritual, followed by a drive in which I might be stopped at one of the police dragnets checking for drunk drivers, might just land me in the pokie for driving while intoxicated. My Creme-de-Menthe-smelling mouthwash is about 44 proof. I don’t recommend drinking this stuff. Now that’s a bit below my Old Granddad bourbon, but it’s enough that it might just record (after thirty seconds of swishing around in my mouth) above the point zero five blood alcohol limit. I could get nabbed for being socially correct.



Trailer Night, November 7
Ky Nguyen,

Get a glimpse into this holiday season’s upcoming movies with co-hosts and local film critics Joe Barber and Bill Henry. They’ll wow you with up-to-the minute Hollywood goings-on and buzz and you get to play amateur critic and test your own theories about what’s hot and what’s not this season. Plus there are always lots of free film giveaways and movie posters and raffle prizes (including theater tickets and DVDs) at the end of the evening of film. Also, look for $5 pop and popcorn combos.

We will see trailers for: Ballet Russes, Bee Season (with Richard Gere), Derailed (with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen), The Family Stone (with Sarah Jessica Parker), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Ice Harvest, The Matador (with Greg Kinnear & Pierce Brosnan), Match Point (from Woody Allen), Memoirs of a Geisha, Pride and Prejudice (with Keira Knightly), Protocols of Zion, Rent, The Ringer, Rumor Has It, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, Syriana, Transamerica, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, Zathura, and many more.

Monday, November 7, 7:00-9:00 p.m., at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, 555 11th Street, NW. $5.00 for DC Film Society members and $8.00 for nonmembers and guests. For more information, call 554-3263 x8 or go to


DC Public Library Events, November 7-9, 22
Debra Truhart,

Monday, November 7, 6:30 p.m., Northeast Neighborhood Library, 330 7th Street, NE. Capitol Hill Mystery Book Club. Monthly chats featuring mystery books. Public contact: 698-3320.

Monday, November 7, 7:00 p.m., Georgetown Neighborhood Library, 3260 R Street, NW. The Georgetown Library Book Group will discuss the book, The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyami. Public contact: 282-0220.

Tuesdays, November 8 and 22, 12:00 p.m., West End Neighborhood Library, 1101 24th Street, NW. West End Film Club. Bring your lunch and enjoy a film. Public contact: 724-8707.

Wednesday, November 9, 1:00 p.m., Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library, 7420 Georgia Avenue, NW. The Shepherd Park Wednesday Afternoon Book Club will discuss The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. Public contact: 541-6100.


Library Town Hall Meeting, November 10
Elinor Green,

Councilmember Kathy Patterson, the chairperson of the DC Council’s Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation, has scheduled a town hall meeting on Thursday, November 10, for residents of the Anacostia, Benning, Tenley/Friendship, and Watha T. Daniel communities. The purpose of the meeting is to allow residents to hear from executive branch officials about the plans and timelines for the rebuilding of the four community libraries that have been closed for reconstruction since the beginning of this year.

The meeting will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. It will involve presentations by the key government officials, including the DC Public Library and the Office of the City Administrator, who supervise the library system and its capital program. The presentations will be followed by questions from community members.

There is no need to sign up to participate. Please come and encourage interested neighbors to do so as well, and feel free to call the Committee staff with any questions at 724-8195.


Walter Pierce Park Cleanup and DPR Meeting, November 10, 12
Mindy Moretti,

Please join the Friends of Walter Pierce Park on Saturday, November 12, from 9:30 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. for our fall clean up and annual meeting. We’ll provide the equipment, you provide the man power, although if you’ve got a favorite shovel that you just can’t pitch in without, please feel free to bring that too. We’ll also provide bagels and coffee in the morning and other munchies during the day. We’ll take a quick break around 10:30 a.m. for the Friends’ annual meeting, and give everyone a brief update of what’s going on in the park and elect new members to the Friends Board. If you can’t make the clean up, but still want to help, please visit our web site ( and make a donation to help pay for continued maintenance of the park.

The Department of Parks and Recreation is hosting a public meeting to present final reports regarding the Walter Pierce Erosion Control Project as well as concept design for erosion mitigation in the designated project area. Please come to the First Church of Christ Scientist at the intersection of Euclid and Champlain Streets, NW, next Thursday, November 10, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., for a presentation and discussion about the purpose of the erosion control project, the project history, the findings from the final archeological survey report, the findings from the final subsurface geotechnical survey report, the design concept for erosion mitigation including community gardening alternatives, and the project implementation timeline. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


National Building Museum Events, November 10, 13
Brie Hensold,

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

Thursday, November 10, 6:30-8:00 p.m. For nearly fifty years, Frank Schlesinger has designed modernist private residences, offices, and religious buildings, many of which demonstrate an ongoing interest in the use of courtyards as a basis for spacemaking. He will discuss his firm’s work, including Washington, DC’s National Place, 3336 Cady’s Alley in Georgetown, and the St. Francis of Assisi Parish School in Virginia. Following the lecture, he will sign copies of his book The Architecture of Frank Schlesinger (Grayson). $12 Members and students; $17 nonmembers. Registration required.

Sunday, November 13, Block Kids Building Contest. In this program, co-presented with the Greater Washington, DC, Chapter #67 of the National Association of Women in Construction, participants create their own buildings using boxes and other craft materials. Children also use interlocking plastic blocks and additional materials to construct a second project for a contest. The top three entrants receive awards. Free. For 1st-6th graders. Registration required by Friday, October 28.


Austrian Emigres, November 17
Diana Cohen Altman,

Amb. Richard Schifter, Claire Leder, and Kurt Kleinman were born in Vienna, Austria, and were sent to the United States to live with relatives or foster families. They will relate their stories through personal experiences. Coeditors of Don’t Wave Goodbye, Iris Posner and Philip Jason will discuss the history of the rescues and the creation of the book and will be available for book signings. This event, cosponsored by the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum and the Austrian Embassy, is part of an area-wide program of cultural presentations related to the contributions of Austrian émigrés to America. November 17, 12:00-2:30 p.m., at the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, 2020 K Street, NW. Attendance at the event is free. A kosher box lunch may be ordered for $12 prior to the event. For more information or reservations, please call 857-6583 or send an E-mail to

Don’t Wave Goodbye is the first anthology of memoirs of the only unaccompanied children rescued from the Holocaust by America. One Thousand Children (OTC) is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to identifying and locating the refugee children today and documenting their journeys. Among the One Thousand Children were those of Austrian descent, three of whom will discuss the influence and impact of their Austrian heritage, their escape from the Holocaust, and their life in the United States.


Community Forum on the National Capital Medical Center, November 21
Josh Gibson,

The Ward One Democrats will host a community forum on the National Capital Medical Center at the True Reformer Building, 12th and U Streets, NW, on November 21 at 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Attend and find out from city officials and hospital representatives about the plans to shift beds from Howard University Medical Center and its impact on Ward One residents.



Dunbar High School Christmas Trees
Dawn Dickerson,

The Dunbar High School marching band, the Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School Crimson Tide Marching Pride, is sponsoring a holiday tree sale to raise funds to attend the Toyota Gater Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, on January 2, 2006. Purchase from a great selection of Fraser fir, Balsam fir, and Douglas fir trees: 4-6 feet, $40; 6-8 feet, $75; 8-10 feet, $100. Other varieties available. Call 483-0755 to inquire. Wreaths, tree stands, and assorted holiday items will also be also available!

The sale will be held on Saturday, December 3 and Sunday, December 4, from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., and on Saturday, December 10, and Sunday, December 11, as a rain date or if inventory is still available. It will be on the grounds of Dunbar High School, 1301 New Jersey Avenue, NW. Presale orders are being accepted until November 11; there is free delivery on all presale tree orders. Order forms are available by calling 483-0755 or by E-mailing



Ship Shape: Personal Organizing
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. Special price for themail readers.


Cleaning Lady Available
Tashia Hudson,

I clean everything, bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms, and I even take out the trash. I do windows. I do vacuuming, scrubbing. I’m very detail oriented.

When you reply to this E-mail, please give me your phone number and the part of Washington, DC, where you live.



Free Broadband in DC
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

There are lots of locations in the Washington area where you can pick up a broadband connection at no cost. The way to find these places is to load up JiWire onto your computer []. This program will identify free and pay locations in any area of the country you select. It will tell you if the airport you are flying into or out of has free broadband or any locations within any radius you select from your the location you will be at. JiWire is free and updates frequently as new locations (both pay and free) are identified.


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