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December 31, 2008

Rational Ignorance

Dear Informed Voters:

Ilya Somin, who blogs on The Volokh Conspiracy (, has frequently discussed his theory of voters’ “rational ignorance.” He argues that because the impact of a single vote is rarely decisive, or even significant, in the outcome of elections; because the issues involved in elections are complex, and it is not possible for any voter to be informed and to have expert opinions about all of these issues; and because it is difficult if not impossible to predict issues that will arise even in the near future, much less the behavior of any politician in reaction to these issues, it is rational for voters not to try to become informed about politics. Therefore, most voters make their election decisions based on their best impressions of issues and their best intuitions about candidates, not based on extensive knowledge. For most voters, Somin argues, this is a rational way to vote.

When I first came to Washington as a graduate student, “rational ignorance” accurately described my lack of knowledge of and involvement with the District’s government. I thought of myself as a responsible voter, however, so I read the endorsements made by the editorial boards of the Washington Post and the Evening Star, and I generally voted for whomever they recommended. Over the years, I learned that I had been ignorant, and that the only people who really knew DC government issues and affairs were the people who had the misfortune to deal firsthand with the DC government. Whether they had fallen into the claws of DCRA or DMV, or had children in DCPS, or were trying to get a mistaken tax bill straightened out, or were trying to get their roads plowed or trash picked up regularly, they gained the experience to judge DC politicians, and they knew what they were talking about (especially when they were saying, “Kick the bums out”). On the other hand, most people in the District, to their great good fortunes, didn’t have to deal directly with the DC government in the course of a normal year, and they reelected the bums regularly.

The lack of public contact with the city government explains why Fenty remains so popular with rationally ignorant voters, why Rhee remains popular with those who know about the public schools only through cheerleading editorials, and why most people know about the failures of government departments and agencies only when they explode into public scandals. It explains the past year, and that, in essence, is my year-end summary of 2008. Happy New Year.

Gary Imhoff


Still Have a Foot in DC
Star Lawrence,

I moved to the Phoenix area thirteen years ago after thirty-five years in DC. I still miss my “heart home,” as a recent Pew poll on moving termed the place you “belong.” I read themail with longing and schadenfreude.

Sometimes one of you will E-mail “the exile” privately. Yes, you have weird administrators — but so do we! We have a goof ball, dangerous sheriff who has his minions walk up to brown-skinned people on the street and make them “prove” they are here legally. There are hundreds of illegals being held as prisoners in drop houses and he does nothing about that. We have little suburban fiefdoms with enough money and little trucks to ticket you if your grass is more than six inches high. Hand to god — they come to your door with a ruler. The police seemingly have no height requirements, so we call them the miniatures. They are pretty officious, to say the least, and have a nice little cottage industry of arresting people and putting them into an assembly line to plead guilty and start paying for classes, the probation officer’s salary, and so on. Not to mention the jail meals.

So, I miss my tiny apartment on Connecticut Avenue. I own a house — which is now upside down, having dropped in value 50 percent. I miss renting. When you rent, someone fixes stuff. Here, you match wits with a crafty local who wants $180 to put some fallen palm bark in your yard into his truck. So, if someone passes a law without asking you to a hearing, just remember — you might have to go to that hearing out here! And then get screwed.


Your Technology Columnist
Phil Shapiro,

Well, it looks like I’ve become the default technology columnist here in themail, but I invite others to chime in, too. Here are two new items that might be of interest.

A practical piece, “An easy way to introduce Inkscape drawing program to youth and adults,”

A think piece, “Should public libraries be welcoming homes for ingenuity?”


Meter Plays the Blues
Ralph Blessing,

I received the same BS explanation about special software as Paul Penniman did (themail, December 25) when a recent mail appeal of mine was rejected by Adjudication Services. I was ticketed for an “expired meter” about ten minutes after I had deposited 75 cents for 45 minutes worth of parking. I returned to the car a few minutes later and spotted the ticket, even though there were still 22 minutes showing on the meter. In rejecting my appeal, the Department of Motor Vehicles spouted out some boilerplate language claiming that I had cited a broken meter as the cause of my denying the violation; I hadn’t claimed that, but did allude to the possibility of an overzealous, quota-seeking ticket writer. (Maybe that was my mistake.) I also suggested that if their “special software” does all it’s cranked up to do, they should be able to verify that the meter wasn’t expired when my ticket was written. In any case, I wrote a follow-up appeal pointing out the fallacy of their so-called Statement of Fact, but so far haven’t heard back.


5A Bus Stop Sign at L’Enfant Plaza
Ann Carper, rochester54 at

I work at L’Enfant Plaza and frequently notice people (usually foreign tourists) waiting for the 5A at the stop David Sobelsohn mentioned [themail, December 28]. I redirect them to the one on the other side of 7th Street, but I can tell they are somewhat skeptical since the sign at the foot of the stairs clearly indicates it’s a stop. I E-mailed WMATA (via its web site) twice about this about six months ago, and got no response. At about the same time, I also spoke to an inspector-type person sitting in a Metro vehicle at the correct stop. She said that she had reported it. So Metro is well aware of this.


Happy New Year, Everyone
Qawi Robinson,

Wishing all the readers and submitters of themail a blessed and prosperous 2009. In reading December 2008’s editions, I was disturbed to find that, although freedom of speech has protection, several submissions went unchallenged. In the spirit of the New Year, I’m not going to attack anyone personally, but when I read “enacting government sponsored abortions to reduce crime,” how “DCPS is better under the Fenty/Rhee regime than before,” and “salary concerns about prospective Nationals players,” I tend to wonder if there is a dearth of concerned citizens in DC. Don’t get me wrong, all opinions have a place, but does anyone really care about the whole city, or does the sense of community only rise up if our self-serving issues are met? We are a collection of diverse Wards, communities, and neighborhoods. Yet when it comes time to talk about things that will empower everyone across the city, very little is discussed. As Washingtonians, I know we are better than that. Do we still not realize, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”?

I’m foolish enough to believe that I’m not the only idealist who lives within the boundaries of Washington, DC. I pray that 2009 is filled with submissions that will raise the level of consciousness of the reading public and inspire them to action. As I challenge you, challenge me to do the same.


Preserved Apples
Bob Levine,

[Re: Another Case of Hysterical Preservation, themail, December 28] As a long time PC user and a former Georgetown resident, I’m positive that an Apple store would ruin the character of Georgetown.

At least it wouldn’t be another bar or shoe store.

The ANC does it again.


What Would Really Help DC
Philip Fornaci, DC Prisoners’ Legal Services Project,

While we all share Colbert King’s (and Gary Imhoff’s) concern about “the erosion of public safety” in DC, the solutions proposed by Mr. King (and supported by Mr. Imhoff) will only make matters worse. Mr. King and Mr. Imhoff may rant and rave all they like, but a new round of even more harsh “get tough” criminal justice policies targeting juveniles will not help the people of DC. Rather than more incarceration, more supervision, and more punishment, youth (and adults) in DC need real economic opportunities and chances to succeed.

People convicted of felonies in DC, including youth convicted as adults, are shipped into the federal prison system. (The DC government plays no role in this system, except to abdicate any responsibility for their treatment and to maintain ignorance of where they are sent and for how long.) I won’t detail the atrocities suffered by DC prisoners in federal institutions here, but suffice to say DC prisoners face particularly brutal treatment while incarcerated. Upon their release, and 99 percent will be released, they return to few housing or employment opportunities, extremely stringent parole supervision by our federal overlords (such that more than one-third are returned to prison within a year for violating parole rules, not for committing a crime), and an often hostile community. It is legal, and in fact encouraged by the Board of Trade, to discriminate against them in housing, education, and employment. Producing thousands of unemployed, homeless, and psychologically damaged citizens is good for DC? This improves public safety?

What would really help DC is a serious effort to reintegrate into our community people who have paid their debt to society and want to get their lives back. This overwhelmingly African-American population (more than 92 percent in the criminal justice system) deserves a chance to succeed, not ever more punitive public policies. Further, if we want to improve public safety, we need to do all we can to prevent more juveniles from ending up in this hideous system, and ending their productive lives before they even have a chance. This does not mean ignoring their crimes, but it does mean taking seriously the notions of rehabilitation and education, and concerning ourselves with the person who will be returning to our city after serving their time. Mr. King believes that longer prison terms and more aggressive policing will reduce crime, an indefensible position that has been disproved repeatedly over the last twenty years of mass incarceration. Such policies simply produce more desperation, and more crime.

[I replied to a very similar posting by Mr. Fornaci in the introduction to themail on February 6, — Gary Imhoff]



DC Public Library Film Series, January
George Williams,

Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 6:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Auditorium A-5. Popular Movies. January 6: This Christmas (PG-13); January 13, The Family that Preys (PG-13); January 28, J.T. and The Sky is Gray (NR).

Wednesday, January 7, 6:00 p.m. Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, 945 Rhode Island Avenue, NW. Big Kid Movie Night. For more information, contact 671-0267.

Thursdays, 10:30 a.m., Woodridge Neighborhood Library, 1801 Hamlin Street, NE. Preschool Films and Stories. For more information, contact 541-6226

Thursdays, 4:00 p.m., Woodridge Neighborhood Library, 1801 Hamlin Street, NE. Afternoon movies for school ages. For more information, contact 541-6226

Fridays, January 2, 9, 16, and 23, 3:30 p.m., Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, 945 Rhode Island Avenue, NW. Anime Fridays, ages 12-19. For more information, contact 671-0267.


DC Public Library Events, January 3, 5
George Williams,

Saturday, January 3, 10:00 a.m., Palisades Neighborhood Library, 4901 V Street, NW. Palisades Lace Group. For more information, contact 282-3139

Saturday, January 3, 11:00 a.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Children’s Room, Room 200. Braille Book Club for Kids ages 6-12. Discuss Curious George Takes a Train by Margaret and H.A. Rey.

Saturdays, January 3 and 17, 1:00 p.m., Capitol View Neighborhood Library, 5001 Central Avenue, SE. Glamour Girls Rule Book/Activity Club, ages 6 - 12. For more information, contact 645-0755.

Monday, January 5, 12:00 p.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, SW. Adult Book Club. For more information, call 645-5881.

Monday, January 5, 6:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Auditorium A-5. Reel Geography Film Series: Geopolitical and Historical Issues on Film.

Mondays and Wednesdays, January 5-28, 6:30 p.m. Capitol View Neighborhood Library, 5001 Central Avenue, SE. Step Aerobics. For more information, contact 645-0755.

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 10:30 a.m., Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library, 3660 Alabama Avenue, SE. Computer Classes for Seniors. For more information, call 645-4297.

Mondays, 7:00 p.m., West End Neighborhood Library, 1101 24th Street, NW. Qigong, a form of Chinese medicine using movement, breathing and meditation techniques. The DC Public Library is not responsible, nor does it endorse health information given to participants during the program. For more information, contact 724-8707.


DC Public Library Martin Luther King, Jr., Events, January 5-6
George Williams,

Monday, January 5, 10:30 a.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, SW. Dr. King Story Time. Enjoy stories, films, and reading activities about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ages 1 – 5. Contact: 645-5881.

Tuesday, January 6, 4:00 p.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, SW. Poems of Dr. King’s Footsteps. Read and write poems on the events of Dr. King’s footsteps. Ages 6-12. Contact: 645-5881

Tuesday, January 6, 6:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Great Hall. Dr. King and the Media, with columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. Civil Rights groups today contend that the media has attempted to portray Dr. King as a conservative and opponent of affirmative action, citing his desire to have his children judged by “the content of their character” rather than by the “color of their skin.” Page explores Dr. King’s belief in affirmative action and whether writers have misinterpreted, misunderstood, or taken his words out of context. Contact 727-1261.

Tuesday, January 6, 6:00 p.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, SW. Black History Movie Night: Hotel Rwanda. See a true story about Paul Rusesabagina, a five star hotel manager who uses his wits and persuasion in striving to save more than 1,200 Tutsis and Hutus from being massacred by the Interahamwe militia during the 1994 Rwandan conflict. Contact: 645-5881


National Building Museum Events, January 6
Jazmine Zick,

January 6, 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Join us in the Building Zone for a reading of Sara Anderson’s Noisy City Day, which follows a day of activities in a busy city. Readings at 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Free, drop-in program, recommended for ages 3 to 5.

January 6, 12:30-1:30 p.m., post-election analysis: What the Outcomes Mean for Smart Growth. Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, analyzes the election results and the implications for state and local governments’ ability to implement a more sustainable approach to growth. Free; registration not required.

January 6, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Sustainable Communities: Green and Affordable Neighborhoods. Developer Jonathan F.P. Rose discusses his firm’s Highlands Garden Village — a walkable, transit-oriented development project located in Denver, Colorado. The project is featured in the exhibition Green Community, which will be open for viewing prior to the lecture. $12 Museum; $12 Student; $20 Nonmember. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


Childhood Obesity Epidemic, January 8
Aneesa Din,

You are invited to an Evening Policy Forum on The Childhood Obesity Epidemic and Academic Achievement on Thursday, January 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, 1201 17th Street, NW (Metro: Farragut North (Red Line)). Research indicates that proper nutrition and increased physical activity lead to higher academic achievement. Student participation in school breakfast programs, for example, improves academic, behavioral and emotional functioning and leads to increased math and reading scores. Unfortunately, a lack of physical activity and poor eating habits have lead to an obesity epidemic, and childhood obesity has become one of the most serious health problems we are facing as a nation. Recent studies have shown that rates of childhood obesity have increased to three times what they were almost thirty years ago and that obese children and teenagers are developing type 2 diabetes in record numbers. While childhood obesity is a growing problem throughout the country, it is especially problematic within our local community. According to a 2003-2004 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), 22.8 percent of 10-17 year-olds in the District of Columbia are considered obese, the highest rate in the country.

The District of Columbia has committed collaborative, multi-agency attention to address and reduce the rates of childhood obesity among our students and our residents, thereby increasing their chances for academic and personal success. In February of 2008, Mayor Fenty released the District’s first ever Child Health Action Plan, which includes an initiative to reverse the trend in local childhood obesity rates by 2010 by improving the nutritional options available to children and families. The plan also utilizes new physical education standards to increase the physical activity of children in schools. Additionally, the OSSE released a state-level education strategic plan in September of 2008. The plan contains an objective to improve student health and wellness, including an objective to reduce the percentage of students classified as overweight or obese by the year 2011.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education is hosting an evening discussion to allow practitioners, researchers and stakeholders to explore strategies for effectively reducing obesity rates in the District of Columbia. Speakers include Laura Segal, Director, Public Affairs, Trust for America’s Health; Ginny Ehrlich, Executive Director, Alliance for a Healthier Generation; Sandra Schlicker, Director, Nutrition and Wellness Services, Office of the State Superintendent of Education; and a representative from the District of Columbia Department of Health. Please RSVP by Wednesday, January 7, to Aneesa Din at or 727-7207 to reserve your space for this event.


The People’s Inaugural Ball, January 16-18
John Capozzi,

DC for Obama and The People’s Inaugural Planning Committee cordially invite you to participate in the historic celebration of the inauguration of the forty-fourth President of the United States of America by sponsoring or hosting The People’s Inaugural: Celebrating Grassroots. The People’s Inaugural will be a weekend of pre-inaugural events, January 16 through January 18, celebrating the grassroots organizers, activists, and volunteers that worked tirelessly to elect Barack Obama the next President of the United States. All three nights of celebration will be hosted at the Historical Society of Washington,

The People’s Inaugural is presented by a coalition of grassroots organizations committed to continuing to work to support the Obama-Biden administration and empowering all Americans to become actively engaged in their community. Proceeds from this event will go to support the DC Statehood Fund and participating host organizations. The District of Columbia Statehood fund is a nonpartisan fund established under DC Code § 1-123(g) to support outreach and education about the District of Columbia’s lack of voting representation in the United States Congress and limited home rule as a result of the Districts’ non-state status.

For more information about the People’s Inaugural ball, or to buy tickets, go to


DC Presidential Inaugural Gala, January 19
Hazel Thomas,

You are cordially invited to join the District of Columbia Presidential Gala Committee’s DC Presidential Inaugural Gala in honor of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Monday, January 19, 8:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m., at the US Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE.

The event is black tie, and tickets are $244.51 per person. Join us as we celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Experience renowned entertainment and talented local artists; visit the small intimate parties hosted by the communities of Washington, DC; enjoy jazz, big band, old school, and hip hop; partake from a variety of dining and beverage stations; receive an official program and listing in the souvenir booklet at a special rate; collect photos and memorabilia; and have an unforgettable evening celebrating with family, friends and community. Tickets must be purchased by January 12. Tickets may be purchased via the Internet. Please visit and follow instructions. Purchased tickets will be available for pick up beginning January 14, 2009.


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