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March 5, 2008

Lum and Abner

Dear Radio Listeners and Moviegoers:

It’s finally time for me to give the eagerly anticipated second entry in my continuing reports on “Radio Series Characters Who Travel to Washington, DC, in Motion Picture Features.” As everyone will undoubtedly remember, my first report was a mere eight years ago (January 19, 2000). It was on Fibber McGee and Molly’s 1944 visit to DC in “Heavenly Days.” Lum and Abner toured our city the previous year, 1943, in “So This Is Washington.” As everyone also undoubtedly knows, Lum Edwards and Abner Peabody were the lovable proprietors of the Jot ‘Em Down General Store in Pine Ridge, Arkansas, “the biggest small town in the world.” Their decades-long radio series specialized in low-key, rural, homespun (when’s the last time you read the word “homespun”?) humor, and the movies they made were no different.

In “So This Is Washington,” Abner accidentally invents a synthetic rubber while trying to make licorice, and the partners come to DC to offer it to the government for the war effort. In the process, they get caught up in DC’s wartime housing and hotel room shortage; offer good advice to the Senators and Congressmen they meet on a park bench; and express unashamed, unapologetic, non-cynical, patriotic admiration and awe when looking at the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. In other words, it’s not at all suited for our cynical, unpatriotic times. But the Lum and Abner movie has the same message as the Fibber McGee movie: the wisdom of the common man, the average American. Lum and Abner were often treated as simpletons, when in fact they were just simple — in the sense of uncomplicated rather than stupid. They were not Chauncey Gardner (or Chance the Gardener, Peter Sellers’ dimwitted character mistaken for a sage in Being There). This movie could have been the inspiration for Jerzy Kosinski’s novel and screenplay, but while Kosinski portrayed Washingtonians as foolish for thinking Chance’s enigmatic mutterings are aphorisms, Lum and Abner actually possessed commonsense wisdom, and they were lucky enough to exist at a time when the commonsense wisdom of average citizens was valued rather than scorned, even in Washington.

Must reads: Adrienne Washington’s column, “Parents Chase Runaway Bus on School Reform,”; Steve Miller’s exposition of the rationale behind DC’s school privatization movement,, recommended by Sam Smith in his latest City Desk newsletter; and the latest Supreme Court filings in the DC Second Amendment rights case, both from the petitioner (the DC government) and the respondents, both linked from

Gary Imhoff


Required Reading Redux
Dorothy Brizill,

Today, the District filed its final brief in the District of Columbia vs. Heller gun control case that will be argued before the US Supreme Court on March 18. A Wikipedia article gives a good general overview of the case with links to the numerous pleadings that have been filed ( Another web site,, is maintained by Gura and Possessky, the law firm representing Heller. It also provides useful links to pleadings and filings by all parties, press articles, and commentary.


Planning for March 30, But Not for the Youth of DC
Cherita Whiting,

March 30 will be opening day for the multimillion dollar stadium that my tax dollars paid for, but no one asked if it was OK with me that my tax dollars were going towards a stadium that we didn’t need! I am sure the mayor, chancellor, and councilmembers will be there with their family, friends, and financial supporters, while on March 31 the students of DCPS will walk into buildings that will be falling down as the walk into them.

Last I heard, 650 million dollars had been spent for this overpriced stadium. Does the Nationals baseball team even have players who deserve to play in a stadium that costs that much? Hell no! Do the students of DCPS deserve to be in classrooms with air conditioning this spring and summer? Yes!

If Washington DC had over 650 million dollars with nothing to do with it, there is no way you can say that the schools or social services should not have gotten that money before a “bat and a ball”! We already know that fifty million dollars was not being used in the Tax Office.


Local School Budgets
Shelly Nichols,

I need to communicate with anyone who knows about the approval process (and checks and balances) of the local school budgets. I just resigned from a southeast junior high school as a SEC and I have major concerns about how the budget is implemented after approval. Anyone interested in sharing insights, please E-mail me at


Very Unsafe
Ed T Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Right at the bus stop on the southeast corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 48th Street, NW, the city replaced an old fire hydrant with a brand new one. Unfortunately the crew that installed the new hydrant left a gaping hole about two feet wide, a foot across, and eighteen inches deep. The hole is adjacent to the curb right at the bus stop. Should anyone step into that hole they will find themselves pitched right into northbound traffic in Mass. Ave. This was reported to the District’s hot line more than three weeks ago. The outfit that installed the new hydrant came by to view the hole a week ago. The hole was filled this morning, more than three weeks after the call was made to the DC hot line.


Multimedia Letters-to-the-Editor
Phil Shapiro,

I’ve been wondering which newspaper in the country will be the first to embrace multimedia letters-to-the-editor, where community members can share their point of view using rich media online. Whichever newspaper takes this plunge could probably do so with little effort or expense, simply asking its readers to submit links to rich media (of a civic nature) that they have placed online. I’ve posted some related blogging on this topic on at — including links to some rich media I’ve uploaded to the web.

At the end of the above blog post is an icon for In case you might not have heard of Digg, it’s a web site where community members choose what news appears on the front page of the site. Yes, on Digg community members have control of what is news or not. They do so by clicking on the word Digg underneath a news story they like. Surprisingly, this works quite well. A few months ago exceeded the New York Times in the number of web site visitors it receives each day. Since Digg was originally started a tech news web site, it maintains that original feeling today. But Digg-like systems may crop in many other contexts outside of Digg, and we’ll all be the richer for the increased participation. Can you dig it?


Ironcutter Media Celebrates Small Press Month
Alivia Tagliaferri,

March is National Small Press Month. Learn what one small press in the Washington, DC, metro area is doing to celebrate the one-year anniversary of its first title, Still the Monkey, What Happens to Warriors after War. Ironcutter Media, a woman-owned small press based in the Metro DC area, has announced free shipping of personalized copies ordered directly through its web site this month, (, with the goal of making a contribution to veteran and active-duty troop charities, such as the USO and DAV (Disabled American Veterans) from a portion of the books’ proceeds in celebration of National Small Press Month.

Still the Monkey, What Happens to Warriors after War was recently designated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as “one of the year’s best books (2007). The book’s subject matter raises awareness and educates on veteran post-combat issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and has been well-received in the veteran and mental health communities. The novel, written by Alivia C. Tagliaferri, is a reality-based work of historical fiction that portrays the mentorship of a warrior of old and a warrior of today, historically accurate depictions of battles in Vietnam and Iraq, the journey through the minds of warriors post-combat, and the rigors of rehabilitation for loss of limb, innocence and emotion. (First Edition, ISBN: 978-0-9788417-3-7)

Author Alivia C. Tagliaferri presents literary discussions on post-traumatic stress disorder, workshops for high school students ‘How to Market Ideas and Creativity,’ and has written follow-up articles on PTSD based on her research with experts in the field of post traumatic study. She was recently interviewed by high school students at West Potomac Academy in Alexandria, VA ,for a film and TV production class assignment. The end clip features a song composed while writing the novel to help deal with the difficult subject matter: She is founder of Ironcutter Media, a publishing and production company that blends socially-conscious themes with traditional and new media technologies to create ‘media that matters,’ specializing in historical fiction, children’s book and reference genres. To support this small press and other independent publishers this month, visit the Small Press Month web site,


Real Property Taxes
Matt Forman,

Ed Lazere claims [themail, March 2] that DC residents pay the lowest property taxes in the region. Ed, can you provide more details on how you arrived at this conclusion? Did you compare the actual tax rolls from each of the neighboring jurisdictions to examine the tax bills of properties assessed at $500,000? Or did you calculate the taxes by assuming a hypothetical $500,000 house and then applying the nominal tax rates? Your report claims to compare the taxes “paid” in DC versus the other jurisdictions, implying that you used actual data, but your web site does not indicate the source of your data or the methodology used. For example, how does the owner of a $500,000 house in Arlington pay $4,200 in taxes, as you claim, when the rate is only .818, which should produce taxes of only $4,090? Also, you failed to note that PG County has an assessment cap of only 3 percent, which means that anyone who has owned a home for a few years will be taxed on a much smaller amount than in DC, making it unlikely that the resulting tax bill will be higher in PG County (or that the taxes in PG County would be higher than Montgomery County, which has a 10 percent cap).

Meanwhile, the fact (if true) that half of DC homeowners are paying less in tax than in prior years is simply not relevant. What is relevant is whether sufficient relief was provided to those who needed it, i.e., the class of homeowners whose assessments had skyrocketed, outpacing income. To give an analogy, if crime had dramatically risen in one part of the city, would it be OK for the city to reduce the police force because the crime rate had decreased citywide? The council’s misguided reduction of taxes across the board, through homestead increases and rate reductions, provided a windfall reduction in taxes for homeowners who had not seen much increase in their assessments and therefore did not need relief, while providing comparatively little relief for those who had. Meanwhile, the greatest assessment increases are now occurring in the poorest neighborhoods: Barry Farms, 19.58 percent; Brentwood, 38.71 percent; Lily Ponds, 25.86 percent; Marshall Heights, 17.91 percent, etc. It’s time to reduce the cap from 10 percent to 5 percent.


DC Property Taxes
Ann Loikow,

I would like to take exception to Ed Lazere’s posting that DC homeowners have the lowest property taxes in the region. For individual homeowners, the real issue is what the actual dollar amount of the tax is, not just the tax rate to be applied to the assessed valuation. The long-standing problem in the District is that the assessment process is broken, that assessed values of property are often arbitrary and capricious and increased way above the true market value of the property being assessed. Until the assessment process is fixed, District taxpayers will continue to pay outrageous amounts in property taxes. So far the mayor and council have resisted fixing the real problem as that would cut off the unmerited cash cow that rapidly rising assessed values have created for the city. As a result, they have ferociously fought Peter Craig’s class action lawsuit to correct the assessment process. If the mayor and council were really serving the public interest and the interest of the voters who elected them, they would make sure that the assessment process follows DC law and accurately determines the true fair market value of each property individually. Without that, taxpayers will continue to lose faith in the fairness of our tax system.


An Opusculum for This Forum
Charlie Wellander,

[Re introduction to themail, March 2] As we said in the Sixties: different decora for different fora. Whether you are forum or againstum, until you can see through the rules, you can only see through the rules.

Love that Latin language and -a plurals of, -um, words. Speakers at the podia of several auditoria in the Mall musea have told of floral exhibits of many chrysanthema, nasturtia, and gerania (but they’ll have just one azaleum this spring). But before throwing one of my famous tantra, I consulted with several of my cha. They agreed that only hoodla or cockalora would hyperbolize this agendum. So I won’t be one of those ba.



Historic Silver Spring on PBS, March 9
Jerry A. McCoy,

Grab your bowl of popcorn, family and friends for the television broadcast on PBS WETA-26 this Sunday, March 9, when two documentaries on historic Silver Spring will be broadcast. Silver Spring: Story of an American Suburb, at 6:00 p.m., and Next Stop: Silver Spring, at 8:00 p.m. WETA-26 reprises the co-production Silver Spring: Story of an American Suburb, created in partnership with local filmmaker Walter Gottlieb’s Final Cut Productions and the Silver Spring Historical Society. The 2002 film presents a 160-year survey of the Washington suburb’s history, exploring the community’s rise, decline and ultimate rebirth — and how Silver Spring was shaped by historical forces.

Premiering on WETA is Next Stop: Silver Spring, also by Gottlieb and Silver Spring Media Arts, Inc., in partnership with Montgomery Preservation, Inc. The film chronicles the history and restoration of Silver Spring’s Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station. From this station, countless local residents went off to war, went to visit loved ones, took trips West, or set out to start a new life. The program intertwines the history of the station itself with the story of the renovation and painstaking restoration of the present 1945 Colonial Revival structure, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To read an article about Walter in the March 5, 2007, Gazette newspaper, click on

After you learn all about the B&O Railroad Station, come see the station in person when the Silver Spring Historical Society sponsors a free open house on Saturday, March 15 from noon to 4:00 p.m. The station is located at 8100 Georgia Avenue (at Sligo Avenue) in downtown Silver Spring, MD. Limited free parking is available in front of the station (please do not park next door at the fire station) with ample street parking and a parking garage available nearby. The railroad station is also an easy four block walk from the Silver Spring Metro station on the Red Line. Signed copies of the award-winning book Historic Silver Spring will be available for purchase ($20, cash or check only) along with a variety of Silver Spring-themed postcards and stationary items.


National Building Museum Events, March 9-11
Jazmine Zick,

Sunday, March 9, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. A Day of Flying in the Great Hall. Model Airplane Workshop (9:00-11:00 a.m.). Construct your own rubber band-propelled model airplane with the DC Maxecuters, then try a test flight in the Great Hall. Cost per plane: $7 members; $13 public; $15 Cub Scouts (includes special patch and snack). Ages 8 and up and Webelos Cub Scouts. Prepaid registration required. Flying in the Great Hall (11:00 a.m..-4:00 p.m.) Watch as the DC Maxecuters fly their model airplanes in and across the Great Hall! Free. Drop-in demonstration program. All ages.

Monday, March 10, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Women of Architecture: Challenging the Paradigm: A Conversation with Three Women Deans of Architecture. Women’s leadership — does it make a difference in architecture? Deans from the University of Virginia, Illinois Institute of Technology, and University of Oregon explore the future of architecture education and the challenges and opportunities facing women in the profession. $12 members; $12 students; $20 public. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

Tuesday, March 11, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Spotlight on Design: Emerging Voices. Presented in partnership with the Architectural League of New York, Emerging Voices turns the spotlight on architecture firms just beginning to achieve prominence in the profession. This program will be held at The Catholic University of America. Free. Registration required. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


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