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November 30, 2008

Civil Discourse

Dear Contributors:

I’ve done something in this issue of themail that I don’t like to do, and that I recall having done only once before. I’m not running some submissions because of their content. In the introduction to the last edition, I wrote a brief notice of the death of Jonathan Rees, a frequent contributor to themail in the past few years. In response, I received more than one submission attacking and denigrating Rees personally.

The Internet is a wild and woolly place, but themail hasn’t been like most other open discussion groups. It has been a haven of civil, respectful political discussion, where people can disagree, often vehemently, over issues and ideas without attacking each other personally. In fact, that’s been a rule here, though I haven’t had to repeat it frequently because of the inherent good nature of our contributors: don’t hesitate to criticize each others’ ideas, proposals, and positions — just don’t attack each other.

If you took the occasion of Rees’ death to assail him one last time, feel free to be angry at me for not publishing it. But I’m confident that in time you’ll be glad that you won’t be immortalized in the timeless archives of the Internet for speaking ill of the dead.

Gary Imhoff


Bringing the Inauguration Close to Home
Jack McKay,

The news is full of reports about how awful it’s going to be on the Mall on January 20, with millions of people crowding the Mall, our transit systems overloaded, and security personnel attempting to search each and every one of the millions. Few will actually see anything but what’s on the nearest Jumbotron. Many District residents will stay home, unwilling to contend with the crowds, and perhaps unable to walk so far and stand for hours in the cold.

Well, here’s an idea. Let’s make neighborhood parks into extensions of the Mall, with the same Jumbotron displays that will serve the crowds downtown. Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights is one such location, capable of hosting many hundreds of residents, allowing them to participate in the big day much as if they were on the Mall, but without the long cold trek downtown and back. This will ease the burden on the Mall, on transit, and on security, while permitting District residents, including those with physical limitations preventing them from hiking to the Mall, to participate in this historic day.


Cheery Real Estate News
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com (but I’m only the messenger)

On November 28, the New York Times carried the story, “Got a Room? Inauguration Is a Windfall,” by Katharine Q. Seelye, “It’s the capital’s newest parlor game, literally: How much is your parlor worth? More precisely, how much is it worth to someone who is coming to town for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration in January and needs a place to stay? One three-bedroom house in suburban Virginia is said to have gone for $57,000 for inauguration week. A week at a four-bedroom in suburban Maryland was listed at $60,000, though that, like other offerings, may be wishful thinking.”


“Taxation Without Representation” Street
Gabe Fineman, Porter Street, NW,

If any section of a street should be renamed to promote statehood, it should be the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.


Ward Six Visitor Parking Permits
Commissioner David Sobelsohn,

To cope with increased parking demands because of the new Nationals Park, the DC Department of Transportation tightened up permissible on-street parking in my Southwest neighborhood (ANC6D), as well as other parts of the neighborhood (specifically, ANC6B). To make sure residents and their guests could still park on the street, earlier this year DDOT mailed one free visitor permit per household to neighborhood residents who participated in the Residential Parking Permit program. (Those not already in the RPP program had to know of the visitor-pass option and then ask DDOT for a pass. Many, of course, did not. Presumably they and their guests got parking tickets.) Each of these visitor permits carries on its face, an expiration date of December 31, 2008.

DDOT has decided not to issue renewal permits until mid-January, weeks after the current permits apparently expire. Here’s the explanation from DDOT’s Damon Harvey, “DDOT and DPW will continue to honor existing passes until the new ones have been delivered to residents. DDOT is waiting until January 2009 to mail out the new passes because: 1) The department does not want to send out these passes in the middle of December and run the risk these passes will get mixed in with holiday mail. 2) The department does not want to put out a new parking pass while relevant city departments are gearing up for the upcoming inaugural. Bottom line, all ANC 6B and 6D are valid until new passes arrive in the mail. Feel free to give me a call at 671-0493 if you have any questions.”

As an ANC commissioner, on Wednesday, November 19, I told Mr. Harvey that delaying issuing new visitor passes until mid-January was a serious mistake. (I also informed him then of the importance, to my neighborhood and the city, of the date January 20, 2009. He claimed not to know.) The old passes say they expire on December 31. It’s nice that DDOT and the Department of Public Works will continue to honor them past their apparent expiration date. But unless DDOT makes an effort to communicate that point to residents of our neighborhood, few residents will know that. Moreover, promising to honor the old, ostensibly expired passes “until the new ones have been delivered to residents” gives no specific true expiration date for the old passes. This will generate uncertainty for our residents and for law-enforcement as well regarding how long these old passes, which say they expire December 31, will really be honored. Since, in the nature of postal-mail delivery, some passes will get delivered before others, unless DPW honors the old passes for weeks after the new passes are mailed, inevitably some residents or their guests will get undeserved parking tickets. Dismissing those tickets will take time, and lead some residents and visitors to pay tickets they shouldn’t have been issued just to save themselves time. I will let others provide the right adjectives for a city agency’s decision to set up a system likely to lead to issuing undeserved parking tickets. Of course, on the other hand, honoring the old passes until well after mailing of the new passes will mean some lucky residents for some period of time will have double the number of usable passes they should have — if they know to use them. Finally, if by “the middle of January 2009,” Mr. Harvey is using words in their ordinary meaning, DDOT plans to send out the new visitor passes around January 15, in time for them to arrive just before the Inauguration, generating exactly the complication DDOT purports to avoid by delaying issuing the new passes. DDOT should issue the new visitor passes as soon as they are ready, not wait until mid-January. Those who read this interchange should save it, remember that DDOT first heard this warning November 19, and hold DDOT accountable.


Wonderful Washington Winter
John A. Stokes,

“Wonderful Washington Winter,” the agency’s 2009 Winter Activity Guide, is now available to residents throughout the District. The guide, which features activities and events for children, teens, adults, adults with special needs, families, and seniors, was made available to the public weeks earlier than it has been in previous years. The 2009 Winter Activity Guide includes an updated directory of Department of Parks and Recreation facilities, a guide to educational and child care programs, a directory of recreation and enrichment programs, sports and fitness resources, a listing of senior services, and a directory of therapeutic recreation services.

The majority of the programs listed in the 2009 Winter Activity Guide are free of charge to District residents; nominal fees are charged to nonresidents. To register for DPR programs, one can visit the agency’s web site at and click on “Register for Programs..” One guide per family is available at agency facilities while supplies last. Winter programs begin on December 21. “Wonderful Washington Winter” can also be downloaded from the DPR web site at (in PDF format).


DC Cab Fuel Surcharge
Joan Eisenstodt,

Jim Champagne wondered in themail (November 26], why the fuel surcharge is still in effect. I have asked a few drivers and all I get is that it’s not been rescinded by the Taxi Commission or the District government. I wrote to suggest it be removed.

The response on November 28, with my name spelled incorrectly (clearly they are taking lessons from DCRA!), was: “Thank you for contacting the DC Taxicab Commission. This issue has been addressed and will be handled accordingly. We are working towards dropping the gasoline surcharge. DC Taxicab Commission.” I wrote back to ask what exactly that meant and what the timeline was. I’ll update when I hear.


DCRA — Feh!
Joan Eisenstodt

Reading Peter Orvetti’s post about DCRA [themail, November 26] and the (poorly written and incorrect) packet he received from them and the lack of response, helped me remember that I too have had so little response from them. I called in the last ten days to ask questions and complain about the recurring “demonstrations” outside 901 E Street, NW, by people who are hired by the union to make lots of noise which is supposed to, I guess, cause the building to use workers other than those they are using.

A union supporter, I’d be more in favor of the demonstrations if a) they were by the union instead of “hired help” (yeah, I know, they may be homeless people who are earning money and that’s great but isn’t there a better way to do so?), and b) they weren’t so loud. Living and working on the same street is a nightmare when this goes on — the noise is so bad that even phone calls are impossible.

But I digress; it’s DCRA that is the greater problem. All the outgoing messages (if you can get through to voice mail that is not full and won’t accept messages) say that they will return the call in twenty-four hours. Maybe those are “dog hours,” so it means twenty-four hours times seven, but, you know, it’s still longer than that.


Accidental Insult or Clue to Priorities?
Susan Ousley, Es El Ousley AT AYE OH EL dot cOM

This year’s One Fund online,, has lots of interesting information. For instance, you’ll find that the District is listed dead last under “regions.” Anyone know what that says about how funds are being allocated?


Fixing DC Schools
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

The most important part of the educational services occurs in the classroom. Many folks, however, are clamoring for improved facilities. Super, high-tech facilities won’t make a significant difference in improving the educational processes it is only the teachers and principals that can educate our children. I agree that the tools these teachers use must be up to date and in good working order and that facilities that are used every day (bathrooms, lunch rooms, etc.) should be clean and serviceable. But the buildings themselves need not be palaces. They need only to be safe and comfortable. If money is to be spent improving the education of our kids then that money should be spent in the classrooms not in creating Taj Mahals out of the buildings.

Our very own School Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, graces the cover of the December 8 issue of Time Magazine [,9171,1862444,00.html]. Though I’m out here in the other Washington, I manage to keep up daily, via the Internet and the Washington Post, with events in DC.. Rhee is pictured on the Time cover holding a large broom. Some will suggest that Rhee is a witch or something that rhymes with witch. In fact, Rhee is sweeping the school system clean of those elements that prevent our students from getting the education they deserve (and that we pay for). The five-page article in Time, entitled “Can She Save Our Schools,” will give Rhee some national recognition. Note the word “Our” in the article title. This can’t hurt Rhee in her battle against the recalcitrant DC Teachers’ Union and should also help now that she also faces strong resistance from the “dumb down” American Federation of Teachers. Perhaps President-elect Obama, who mistakenly has not made education one of his top priorities, will read the article and lend some support to the Rhee/Fenty cause.

The surest way to fix the DC schools that have terrible bathrooms and poor lunchrooms is to get rid of the custodians and the custodians’ union and replace them with contracted custodial service organizations. Much like the teachers’ unions, the custodians have long been an impediment to making the school facilities safe and comfortable for the students. The custodians will say that they have not had enough money to accomplish their assigned work. That is no excuse for the poor state of our schools. Put that work up for competitive bids to maintain our schools and you will see just how much better the condition and functioning of the schools will be.


Youth Violence
Bob Levine,

I have been reading about violence in the city schools and by youths on the city streets with great concern. I understand that we must educate our children and show special mercy to minors, but it is also very necessary for society to be protected from its members that prey on others and commit violent acts. Schools must be places that the students can feel free to get an education without fear of violence, and our citizens need to be able to walk the streets without fear of roving youth gang violence. Violence in the school cannot be acted on effectively because the students cannot be suspended and there is no disciplinary action that seems to exist that has any effect at all. The same situation exists in our greater society for minors that are arrested for violent crimes, prosecuted through the court system, and quickly released back into the society. There is no punishment for the offender, and our citizens do not feel safe in their homes and walking the streets. All of this has led me to the belief we must change our laws so that that violence by minors must lead to strict incarceration — with education available within the institution, of course — but the society must have the recourse to remove violent offenders, no matter what their age. The nonviolent among us have the right to feel safe in our society, and violent offenders should be strictly punished no matter what their age. This posting comes from a person who believes himself to be a lifelong progressive, but also one who feels that our city is not safe for our law-abiding citizens. I understand the horror that some who read this will feel at the suggestion, but I also understand the fear of violent youths that many of our city feel.



Forbidden Loves, December 7
Ed Bruske,

Sunday, December 7, 2:30-4:00 p.m., Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW. Free admission. HSW Author and Lecture Series: Forbidden Loves: Paris Between The Wars, by Patricia Daly-Lipe, visits an age of transition in the aftershock of the Great War and in the shadows of the next world war when Paris was the cultural capital of the Western world. This is a story replete with historical detail, universal conflict, and sensational romance. Basically, it is a true story: the protagonist is the author’s mother who died when she was eighteen. “ I have had to fictionalize her persona. However, the characters she knew, including James Joyce, are well researched and accurate.” Forbidden Loves: Paris Between the Wars includes Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic; Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Joseph Campbell and Hemingway in their own words; the Surrealist movement; lady pilots Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart; Black Thursday; the ravages from and newspaper clipping of the Great War; omens of a new war brewing; and much more. Ages sixteen to adults. or 383-1828.


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